Monday, January 31, 2005

Raising out of nature

Habermas (in KHI):

“What raises us out of nature is the only thing whose nature we can know: language. Through its structure, autonomy and responsibility are posited for us. Our first sentence expressed unequivocally the intention of universal and unconstrained consensus. Taken together, autonomy and responsibility constitute the only idea we posses a priori in the sense of the philosophical tradition.” (p. 314).

Question: what does “raising out of nature” means?

Peter Douglas (in "Habermas, Schelling and Nature" in Critical Theory After Habermas):

“Returning now to the question of in what sense it can be said that we have been raised out of nature, if it can be maintained that nature permeates language, then the answer is not at all.” (p. 161).

Habermas on Language (and its half transcendence)[in TCA: 11]:

"Language and culture neither coincide with the formal world concepts by means of which participants in communication together define their situations, nor do they appear as something innerworldly. Language and culture are constitutive for the lifeworld itself. They are neither one of the formal frames, that is, the worlds to which participants assign elements of situations, nor do they appear as something in the objective, social, or subjective worlds. In performing or understanding a speech act, patricians are very much moving within their language, so that they cannot bring a present utterance before themselves as “something intersubjective,” in the way they experience an event as something objective, encounter a pattern of behavior as something normative, experience or ascribe a desire or feeling as something subjective. The very medium of mutual understanding abides in a peculiar half-transcendence. So long as participants maintain their performative attitudes, the language actually in use remains at their backs. Speakers cannot take up an extramundane position in relation to it." (pp. 125-126, emphasis retained).

An explanation:

The above quote explains how language transports us to this half-transcendence and why. Language does this through taking an extramundane position vis a vis us such that it is neither a formal concept nor an innerworldly thing. However there is no idealism involved in this as far as language discloses this half transcendence only through the initiation of those who speak the language. Language cannot initiate anything, it is dependent on the interpretive accomplishment of participants. The “medium of mutual understanding abides in a peculiar half-transcendence” only “so long as participants maintain their performative attitude”. It is through adopting a performative attitude that participants unleash this half transcendence, language cannot do it on its own and it can do it only to the extent that this performative attitude is maintained. However language can do this, and this is an answer to the why question, because it is a natural language. It is natural language in the sense that it is “thing of this world” and the half transcendence achieved through it is ‘transcendence from within’.

A Critique of Peter Douglas:

Peter Douglas raises a false dichotomy between natural language and “raising out of nature” because he does not consider the possibility of ‘transcendence from within’. He also does not differentiate between a broad concept of nature and a limited concept of nature. Combining these two points we can conceive of (at least of the possibility of) raising out of nature (in the limited sense) however without transgressing the boundaries of nature in the broad sense.

natura naturans in early and later Habermas: A comparison

Habermas: (in PT)

“It seems to me that it has been clear since Marx that the normative content of modernity can be taken up and preserved even and especially under materialist premises.’

““Nature in itself” does not coincide with objectivated nature. What Marx had in mind is the emergence in natural history of the sociocultural form of life of Homo sapiens, which goes beyond physically objectified nature to conceptually include, as it were, a piece of natura naturans.” (p. 20)

Dews’ comments on the above:

“Habermas’s gesture towards the double terminology of natura naturata and natura naturans is as surprising as it is illuminating.”(The Limits of Disenchantment Essays on Contemporary European Philosophy p. 161).

Habermas again (in KHI):

“Marx in the idealist tradition tacitly retained synthesis as a point of reference: the synthesis of a portion of subjective nature with nature that is objective for it, while the contingent conditions of synthesis point to a nature in itself that has been disclosed. “Nature in Itself” is a construction. It designates natura naturans that has created both subjective nature and what confronts it as objective nature. But it does so in such a way that we, as knowing subjects, in principle cannot take up a position outside of or “beneath” the cleavage of “nature in itself” into a subjective and objective nature.” (p. 286).

My question:

Compare what Habermas says in PT and KHI and try to figure out what is surprising in his recent formulation, i.e. in PT.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Peter Dews and Habermas' weak Naturalism (2)

The fundamental problem with Dews’ interpretation can be articulated by concentrating on the following remarks on Seel. Dews, understands Seel’s and Habermas’ position to be essentially similar, though he asserts that Habermas moves beyond this position in the direction Dews suggest (though not fully it would seem):

“Seel’s conception is, fundamentally, dualistic. On the one hand, he repeatedly emphasizes that human beings are ‘living natural beings’ [lebende Naturwessen]. On the other, he also makes it clear that human beings must be regarded as ‘subjects’ who are capable of reflectively choosing and pursuing their own life projects. But if nature is not at all subject-like [subjekthaft], and yet beings are simultaneously both natural beings and subjects, then the two dimensions of human existence which Seel identifies appear to enter into contradiction. One might ask: where does the subjective freedom of human beings emerge from, if pre-human nature reveals no self-related structures and no capacity – even unreflective one – for self-determination in accordance with an immanent norm?”(The Limits of Disenchantment Essays on Contemporary European Philosophy p. 158).

I take the above to be Dews’ formulation about Habermas’ position as well (form which he moves in his recent articulations according to Dews). So let us try to understand Dews’ argument on this:

1) Habermas’ attempt to combine naturalism with anti naturalism is ‘dualistic’. It is dualistic because on the one hand he categorises human beings as natural being but on the other hand he also considers human beings as being with reflective powers, i.e. power to go beyond nature.

2) In the above formulation Dews seems to be already working with two presuppositions: on the one hand he is supposing that ‘nature’ and ‘reflection’ are mutually exclusive. Unless he is supposing this how can he characterise a position which combines reflection with nature as dualism? It should be kept in mind that making relevant distinction does not necessarily lead to dualisms. Only dichotomous distinctions lead to dualisms. On the other hand Dews also seems to equate nature with nature in a narrow sense, as when we use it for mountains and forests etc. However to contrast human beings to nature in this narrow sense is already presupposing non human nature as paradigm for nature in the broad sense. The fact that human beings are natural beings in the broad sense does not imply (or at least should not necessarily imply) that they have evolved from a long evolution which started with non animate matter? Why, on the other hand, it cannot be presupposed that human beings, and animate and non animate beings are all natural beings in the sense that they are being of this world and that is what they share and that would only require denying supernatural status to human beings-the status as a beings belonging to the other world (who have somehow fallen or find themselves here among alien circumstances).

3) The above becomes clear when Dews rhetorically asks, “But if nature is not at all subject-like [subjekthaft], and yet beings are simultaneously both natural beings and subjects, then the two dimensions of human existence which Seel identifies appear to enter into contradiction.”. But the very question makes it clear that Dews is presupposing that the pre-human nature from which humans evolved is the same as nature in the limited sense (as applied animate and inanimate beings excluding humans) i.e. why pre-human nature (i.e. stones and trees) must have traces of subjectivity that we find in human beings.

4) Dews asks a legitimate and pertinent question, “where does the subjective freedom of human beings emerge from, if pre-human nature reveals no self-related structures and no capacity – even unreflective one – for self-determination in accordance with an immanent norm?”. However there are few things to be noted about this pertinent question. Firstly a 'space for freedom' is not the same as a capacity of 'self determination'. Capacity for self determination surely requires a space of freedom but it does not follow from this that space for freedom already contains capacity for self determination. This would be to confuse the conditions of possibility with what is possible within once those conditions obtain. Secondly, for sure Habermas needs to show if he can how a being with capacity for self determination can come into existence within an overall natural framework but Habremas’ weak naturalism does not aim to show this. It simply assumes it and this assumption is made clear by Habermas. Habermas also makes it clear that this assumption is revisable. Haberms does not try to ground this assumption apart form what is presupposed within modern worldview. Habermas’ problematic starts with the above presupposition it does not end there. Habermas problematic is to show how in an overall naturalistic worldview the existence of the space for freedom can be explained without reverting to or presupposing supernatural being (be it God, or individual or collective transcendent subjectivity). This is a problematic within weak naturalism.

5) For the above Habermas does not need to show or presuppose that pre human nature already contained some sort of subjective self reflective capacity or that stones and trees by extension share the capacity of some sort of primitive self reflective capacity with human beings but to show that given the overall natural origins of human beings, how the space of freedom can be conceptualised without reverting to supernatural explanations. For that Habermas cannot presuppose subjectivity or use it to explain the space of freedom because any such action would lead him back to supernaturalism he wants to avoid(The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, p. 292). Habermas needs to explain space of freedom without presupposing subjectivity or self-reflective powers of human beings (since such power already presuppose space of freedom). Once space of freedom is explained it would be possible to explain the emergence of subjectivity or self-reflective powers within such space.

6) In order to explain the possibility of space of freedom within an overall naturalistic framework Habermas needs to explain relationship between freedom and limits. I would argue that, in order to do this, Habermas needs to go beyond Kantian/Hegelian conceptions of relation between limits and freedom to do this (but on this more later).

Friday, January 28, 2005

Peter Dews and Habermas' weak Naturalism (1)

“Many of the influential philosophers of the twentieth century . . . have felt compelled to contest the cognitive exclusivity of the natural sciences in the domain of nature, without believing that it is possible to establish a metaphysical theory of nature. Since for all these thinkers subjectivity emerges from nature, yet also remains a part of –intrinsic to-nature, we cannot, as thinking subjects, make nature the target of a theory of any kind without distorting an essential co-belonging. But this fact does not preclude philosophical elucidations of a reality which merits the title ‘Nature an sich’ in so far as it cannot be reduced to the forms of its interpretation. Furthermore, such elucidations need not fall victim to the illusion, which both Seel and Habermas so fear, that one could derive detailed prescriptions for the conduct of human life from a totalizing speculation on the meaning and purpose of nature. They can freely advertise their own provisional status.” (The Limits of Disenchantment Essays on Contemporary European Philosophy p. 160).

1) Dews claims that “cognitive exclusivity of the natural sciences in the domain of nature” can be contested without necessarily relegating to “a metaphysical theory of nature.”. I believe that this is a defensible claim if it does not imply (as it seems to imply) that Habermas holds the position it is rebutting. In fact Habermas allows three sorts of claims to be made within communicative action and one of those claims is claim about ‘objective nature’. In so far as communicative action presupposes space of freedom (on which the emergence of the space of reasons is dependent)[for this see "The transcendental turn: Habermas’s ‘Kantian pragmatism’", by Kenneth Baynes; in The Cambridge Companion to Critical Theory] claims raised within it cannot be construed as objectivistic claims in the sense of treating objects of nature as necessarily instrumental. All claims made within communicative action (including claims related to the ‘objective nature’) reveal a primordial space of freedom as the condition of making any such claims. In fact this was Habermas’ point against positivism and scientism. Positivism and scientism come into existence when they forget their root in self-reflection. Self-reflection and (hence freedom) is the condition of the possibility of science, claimed Habermas, as early as in his Knowledge and Human Interests. The fact that we can abstract from the conditions in which scientific claims emerge and depend on, makes us forget that that those conditions are needed to make the very abstraction that are claimed as evidence of the non existence of those conditions. Habermas’ later move from semantics to pragmatics (formal) and his rejections of Chosmskian notion of linguistic competence as abstraction and his making the notion of linguistic performance as the corner stone of his explanation of linguistic competence and hence his move from the monological conception of competence to communicative competence [see T. A. McCarthy, "The theory of Communicative Competence" Phil. Soc. Sci. 3(1973): pp. 135-156] is based on the insight that performance (and hence freedom) is primary and on it depends any abstractions. Freedom is the condition of making any abstraction, communication and performance is the condition of the instrumental use of language and our cognitive faculties (see The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume 2 : Lifeword and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason, pp. 77-118> and "Individuation through Socialization: On George Herbert Mead's Theory of Subjectivity", in Postmetaphysical Thinking, pp. 149-204). The same point is the basis of Habermas’ critique of monological conceptions of modern truth semantics as it has come to us from Frege up to Quine and Davidson. And so is his positive appraisal of Dummet’s move from sentences to assertion (through his distinction between ‘truth’ and ‘assertibility’) as the basic element of semantic analysis ( On the Pragmatics of Communication, pp. 287-288). All this makes it clear that Habermas in no way limits “cognitive exclusivity of the natural sciences in the domain of nature”. Habermas considers scientific enterprise as essentially abstraction but the one, which is legitimate and useful, as far as it acknowledges or at least does not suppress the very conditions of its possibility (i.e. space of freedom, reason and self reflection).

2) Dews further on mentions contemporary scholars who have emphasised the “co-belonging” of human beings and nature. He mentions that for these thinkers although subjectivity emerges from within nature it remains part of nature and thus we cannot talk about nature as whole without compromising this essential ‘co-belonging’. There are few things that should be noted in this context. First, I would emphasise that what Dews says about other contemporary thinkers is also true for Habermas. Dews, tends to think that Habermas only belatedly realize these facts. In fact Habermas’ work from Knowledge and Human Interests to Truth and Justification is permeated by this realisation. Habermas conception of lifeworld, which he rightly equates, with Heidegger’s conception of Being in the world (The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, p. 144),is meant to emphasise the “co-belonging” of human beings and nature Dews talks about. Again Habermas talks about the language as that which brings us out of nature (Knowledge and Human Interests, p. 314), however it should be emphasised that this language for Habermas is always a natural language ( On the Pragmatics of Communication, p. 297). Thus what brings us out of nature is itself natural. A further point which needs to be emphasised in this context is Dews’ ambiguous use of the term nature. We can take nature in a broad sense as including all that is the case, and nature in the narrow sense of objective nature. The former will include human beings, objective nature including living and non living beings while the latter depending on how we define it can be restricted to all other beings except human beings or just to non living beings. Now Dews does not differentiate his concept of nature in the way indicated here and uses the ambiguity that results to make his point. However once we clearly differentiate the concept it becomes clear that there is no justification for expecting more than a general affinity between human beings as natural beings in the broader sense and objective nature. The fact that human beings are natural beings does not entail that they share there distinctive characteristics (i.e. subjectivity or freedom) with objective nature. By ignoring this difference Dews tend to equate (or at least confuse) objective nature with natura naturans.

3) The above takes us to Dews’ final point in the above quote that the conception of co-belonging is compatible with an endeavour to arrive at a conception of ‘nature in itself’ in so far as nature is not reducible to ‘forms of its interpretation.’ However Dews’ use of 'thing in itself' is ambiguous here (as is his use of the term nature). The notion of ‘nature in itself’ can be construed in the Kantian terms and contrasted with ‘nature as it appears to us’ or nature as phenomenon. However this reading of nature in itself is unacceptable given Habermas’ rejection of the whole dichotomy between ‘appearance’ and ‘reality’ (with his rejection of the philosophy of consciousness), which is ultimately derived from Heidegger’s critique of Kant. True that Habermas concedes that Kantian distinctions reappear on the level of formal pragmatics (Truth and Justification, p. 90 but they play different role than creating dichotomy between appearance and reality (essentially their role is to preserve Kantian distinctions, however without reproducing Kantian dichotomies). The purpose is not to reduce an interpretation of reality to reality as such, however without creating the dichotomy between appearance and reality. The notion of ‘nature in itself’ on the other hand can also be construed as ‘ground’ in the Heideggerian sense. According to this interpretation ‘nature’ in the broader sense is the ground of both human subjectivity and nature in the narrower sense. This is a fundamental presupposition of Habermas’ weak naturalism but as we will see (in the next post) it does not lead however to conclusions Dews wants to draw.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Peter Dews and Habermas' weak Naturalism

I have found Dews' work on Habermas' weak naturalism extremely useful and illuminating. However I find his following comments a bit strange:

“Henrich argued that Habermas’ philosophy finds itself torn between the contradictory tendencies of naturalism and transcendentalism. Habermas’ position, he claimed, is philosophically inconsistent, because – on the one hand – it presupposes a pragmatic and socio-scientific conception of language and communication, and – on the other hand – also draws on the tradition of transcendental phenomenology in its elaboration of the conception of lifeworld. In reply to this criticism, Habermas insisted that his naturalism was not to be confused with the physicalism and of the modern natural-scientific world-view: ‘It seems to me that it has been clear since Marx that the normative content of modernity can be taken up and preserved even and especially under materialist premises.’ And he continued: “Nature in itself” does not coincide with objetivated nature. What Marx had in mind is the emergence in natural history of the sociocultural form of life of homo sapiens, which goes beyond physically objectified nature to conceptually include, as it were, a piece of natura naturans.” (The Limits of Disenchantment Essays on Contemporary European Philosophy pp. 160-161).

Commenting on the above remarks he quotes from Habermas, Dews writes the following which I find problematic:

“Habermas’s gesture toward the double terminology of natura naturata and natura naturans is as surprising as illuminating.” (The Limits of Disenchantment Essays on Contemporary European Philosophy p. 161).

Dews implies in the above quotes that Habermas' turn to 'weak naturalism' is only recent (and so is surprising). However I do not see any element of surprise in Habermas' reply to Henrich. It is strange that such a close reader of Habermas as Dews can make such a claim. Habermas' position since Knowledge and Human Interests has been consistently a weak naturalist and has never been a physicalist. Habermas even in Knowledge and human interest has been aiming at combining transcendentalism with naturalism and naturalism in that instance as now was always to be construed in broader sense rather than in a physicalist sense. Habermas clearly states this in his recent work:

"Knowledge and Human Interests answered the basic question of theoretical philosophy in terms of a weak naturalism and a transcendental pragmatic epistemological realism." (Truth and Justification, p. 7).

A further minor point is that Dews mentions Henrich depiction of Habermas' conception of lifeworld as based on and derived from a phenomenological conception of lifeworld and fails to mention that Habermas' conception of lifeworld cannot be reduced to a phenomenological conception.
(to be continued).

previous post

Habermas, Rawls and democracy

Habermas asserts that Rawls gives priority to liberal rights over democratic rights. Habermas rightly sees priority of liberal rights as constraint on democratic rights. Habermas also rightly sees that political liberalism means constitutional Liberalism. And of course Dreben is dead right when he says that for Rawls democracy is always constitutional democracy (Burton Dreben (2003) “On Rawls and Political Liberalism” in Cambridge Companion to Rawls, p. 322). Habermas argues that liberal and democratic rights are co-original or co-primordial (gleichursprünglich) and presuppose each other ( Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, p. 104), Charles Larmore (1995) “The foundations of Modern Democracy: Reflections on Jürgen Habermas” European Journal of Philosophy, vol. 3 (1): pp. 55-68, here, p. 64). However Habermas’ point is more substantial than this. Habermas understands Liberalism to be based on “the intuition that the person and her individual way of life must be protected from the intrusion of state power” (Jürgen Habermas (1998) “Reasonable versus “True”, or the Morality of Worldviews” in The Inclusion of the Other, p. 100). Habermas contrasts this with his own “Kantian republicanism” (ibid; p. 101). Habermas rejects the negative conception of liberty working in political liberalism. As he puts it:

Nobody can be free at the expense of anybody by way of socialization; the freedom of one individual cannot be tied to the freedom of everyone else in a purely negative way, through reciprocal restrictions. Rather, correct restrictions are the result of a process of self legislation conducted jointly.

[I]t is left to the democratic process continually to define the precarious boundaries between the private and the public so as to secure equal freedoms for all citizens in the form of both private and public autonomy (ibid; p. 101).

Habermas, as against most Liberal theorists thinks that human rights are the conditions of the fulfilment of democracy and are rooted in it and are not prior to it (in justificatory terms) or cannot be seen primarily as freedoms from state or any other intervention. Thus Habermas’ notion of autonomy is (primarily) public and is the basis of his romantic conception of the public sphere ( Habermas and the Public Sphere) and his early infatuations with the Greek idea of democracy( Theory and Practice ). Habermas seems to be a proponent of radical democracy as against constitutional democracy at this point.

I have two major criticisms to make here.

First Habermas’ account of democracy as far as it seems to be advocating radical democracy is ahistorical. If Habermas had taken the historicality of democracy seriously he would have realised that the relation between democracy and capitalism is primordial( Foucault and Capitalism: A reconstruction). In the modern world we cannot talk about democracy except in terms of capitalism and hence constitutional democracy is the only democracy we know in immediate historical terms. If Habermas wants to claim the flag of radical democracy he has to show us how he relates it to the hegemony of capital or if he has any plans of overcoming the hegemony of capital. Since Habermas does not do this his talk of radical democracy is simply anachronistic.*

However my second criticism is more fundamental. I would argue that Habermas’ claim of being an advocate of radical democracy is merely a sham. His view ultimately gels very well with constitutional democracy. Thus Larmore writes:

At first glance, Habermas’ vision of radical democracy seems to lack the defining feature of the liberal point of view . . . . But the appearance is misleading. In reality, Habermas’ description of his theory as involving the primacy of popular sovereignty fails to capture its actual structure. Democratic self-rule, at least as Habermas understands it, depends on an unacknowledged premise, a premise expressing an antecedent moral commitment and affirming the existence of a fundamental individual right. Other conceptions of popular sovereignty would have, no doubt, a different character. But Habermas’ conception is so constituted as to imply that political principles ought to be rationally acceptable to all those whom they are to bind. And that is the feature which brings his idea of democracy back within the liberal fold, as generally understood (Charles Larmore (1995) “The foundations of Modern Democracy: Reflections on Jürgen Habermas” European Journal of Philosophy, vol. 3 (1): pp. 55-68, here, p. 66).

Thus Habermas’ emphasis on the political will and public autonomy is blunted by the fact that autonomy is conditioned by the rational. So the emphasis really is not on the political process but on the rationality of the process and what modes are most suited for it. Similarly Habermas emphasises discourse but discourse is only the means, the real thing is rationality which some how only manifests itself in discourse but is not the same as discourse. Habermas says that his criterion of rationality is immanent in discourse but that is what Rawls says too. Rawls’ political liberalism is self-sufficient and its justificatory strategy does not need any direct reference to any non-immanent principles. . Habermas’ straightforward Kantianism is after all not that straightforward. His is also a strategy of avoidance but in a more concealed way than Rawls.

*Although his account of the colonisation of lifeworld seems to be a candidate for such a strategy it has gone in the background in his recent work any way. Not to mention the inadequacy of this account. Habermas does not realise that capital does not only colonise lifeworld it also destroys it in all its non capitalist forms.

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Monday, January 17, 2005

The Linguistic Turn in Hermeneutic Philosophy

A review of Lafont's The Linguistic Turn in Hermeneutic Philosophy can be read here. Few Habermas related excerpts (related to issues discussed in some of the recent posts:

"Lafont is determined to give both the communicative dimension and the cognitive dimension of language their due; indeed, she consistently refers to her central argument that we should no longer defend the reification of language as world-disclosure. Instead, she argues for the use of current theories of "direct reference" to bring the designative ("referential") function of language back into play Accordingly, Lafont finds in Habermas's later thought a dialectic "between an intersubjectivity to be produced through communication, and an intersubjectivity always already produced, thanks to the `lifeworld' shared by speakers" (126). From this perspective, she maintains, we can acknowledge that our relationship with the world is symbolically mediated."

" . . . Lafont also usefully takes us through many years of Habermas's writings and shows how his reliance on a "lifeworld," a holistic concept of shared presuppositions, does not appear to agree with some of his other more universalist claims. In other words, Lafont's agenda is to show how a hermeneutic component to Habermas's philosophy cannot account for how we understand the meaning of what someone says. For example, Lafont claims, Habermas presumes that we share implied background knowledge that we cannot reduce to propositions; but because we cannot formalize this holistic knowledge, then counter to Habermas's intent, we cannot isolate "the acceptability conditions of speech acts from the background knowledge that determines these conditions and thus makes possible the understanding of speech acts" (223)."

"Lafont uses the issue of learning as a limit case to test her strategy: can a philosophy of language explain how we learn through language? To accomplish this task, she analyzes the referential and cognitive use of language to show how language contains within itself the possibility of revising itself (so we can change, learn, and correct previous knowledge). After much abstraction intended to show how referential uses contain possibilities of revisibility, Lafont moves to specific examples in her lively and clear examination of K. Donnellan's distinction between "attributive" and "referential" uses of definite descriptions. An "attributive" description is essential for doing something; it is irreplaceable. A "referential" description is but on, e of many ways to accomplish the same job. For Lafont, Donnellan's distinction helps us understand that the classic theory of reference only applies to the "attributive" use. In the act of redescribing something, hearers can agree to the existence of the referent, but disagree about the specific way the speaker describes that referent; a theory of indirect reference cannot, Lafont asserts, account for this possibility In order to learn, we must have the possibility for cognitive disagreement; we must learn the referential use of language."

full here.

Habermas, Adorno and Heiedegger on "Truth"

The criticism by Habermas et al levelled against Heidegger’s conception of Truth is based on two premises:

1) Heidegger conflates meaning with reference [This is basically derived from Lafont (see her The Linguistic Turn in Hermeneutic Philosophy but has been accepted by Habermas and of course also by Brunkhorst].

2) Heidegger levels out the dialectical relation between the truth as disclosure and innerworldly learning processes. Habermas and others agree with Heidegger that it is indeed the case that we cannot know without the prior disclosing function of language but they go on to claim that this disclosing function should not be understood statically and in one way. Our innerworldly learning experiences in turn modify the “disclosure” which was first the condition of any such process. Thus Habermas and others object to what they understand to be Heidegger's conception of truth as historical destiny (Seinsgeschick).

The above points are well demonstrated in the following (rather extended quotes from Brunkhorst):

“If we want to solve the categorical problem of modern egocentrism we have to draw a clear distinction between reference to things and the descriptions of them. Reference does not – as Heidegger claims- depend completely on description. Whether things are as they are is not determined by our descriptions of them. Heidegger and other linguistic idealists are right when they argue that there is no access to a real world of objects and objective relations other than through our descriptions that always and already are part of the whole network of a historical language. But the linguistic idealists are wrong when they extend this thesis to ‘reference’, and argue that things are way they are because of our descriptions. “

“In so far as Heidegger goes back to a historical apriori which can never be an object of immanent critique, his own thinking neglects and represses the non-identical of everyday experiences in life, art and science as well. Not being fallibilist, Heidegger’s History of Being becomes itself a paradigm of what Adorno calls ‘identity thinking’.” (Adorno and Critical Theory, p. 98)

“Heidegger, who was prey to an extreme intensionalism (the thesis that meaning determines reference, that language determines truth, etc.), did not succeed in solving the problem of reference in the final analysis and relapsed into the higher-level egocentrism of poetry and thought . . . . It is not until we open ourselves, to put it slightly metaphysically but vividly, to what Hugo Dingler (or even Charles S. Peirce) calls the ‘resistance of the real’ and thereby give the entities that have not been identified in advance by Being space to breathe, that we have the innerworldly experiences which compel us at some point to renounce the egocentric projection of an imaginary world. And precisely that is the experience which we have always made in the factual development process of modern science, art and culture. The egocentrism of the modern age, the metaphysics of a subject certain of itself, has long since crashed on the rocks of modern art and science . . . . The ‘clearing’ of the modern understanding of self no longer reveals a higher, a priori truth, but merely knowledge which, in Quine’s sense, is more central than everything else and therefore is more rarely brought into question, but, like all knowledge, is open to question. Falliblism has become a deep-seated understanding of self, an ‘essential feature’ of the clearing of Being and the ground plan of Western culture and its normal sciences.” (Adorno and Critical Theory, pp. 98-99)

“. . . Adorno goes along with Heidegger in rejecting the instrumental theory of language from Plato to Kant and replacing it with the notion of ‘historical constellations’. But his ‘historical constellations’ are no longer historical a prioris like Heidegger’s world-disclosing poetry. They do not determine the realm of contingent, empirical, and material entities, which Adorno also calls the ‘non-identical’. The world-disclosing power of great-poetry (like that of Jesus, Hölderlin, Newton or Marx) is not power enough to overcome the dialectical tension between language as a whole and particular material entities. And it is precisely this tension that opens world-disclosing poetry and the ‘historical constellation’ determined by this poetry for innerworldly experiences of falsification, immanent critique and learning processes. Here Adorno and post-empiricist philosophers are at one in criticising Heidegger’s metaphysics of Seinsgeschick (‘historical destiny’).” (Adorno and Critical Theory, p. 99)

Now I do not want to say I concur with what Habermas or following him Brunkhorst in their reading of Heidegger, but I certainly agree with Habermas and Brunkhorst in claiming a dialectical relationship between “world disclosing function” of language and “innerworldly learning process.” However I want to point out that Habermas and following him Brunkhorst might be underestimating the hold that “world disclosing function” have on us and might be overestimating the efficacy of innerworldly learning process in modifying our presuppositions, on which such process depend for their existence. The point is to say that “our presuppositions” do change, but they change over long periods of time and whenever they change they do not necessarily change according to pre-determined rational plan (The point of brilliant ‘histories’ of Foucault, for example, is precisely to show this). In other words, in my opinion, Habermas underestimates ‘our finitude’ (something he himself, otherwise, emphasises in his work). In so doing he happens to be a child of our long past Modernity, indeed the last great “Enlightenment thinker”!

For the best critique (that I know of) of Habermas’ critique of Heidegger (and Foucault) presented here see Rudi Visker “Habermas on Heidegger and Foucault: Meaning and Validity in the "Philosophical Discourse of Modernity" Radical-Philosophy Sum 92; 61: 15-22.

See also a related post by Gary over philosophical conversations

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Kantian pragmatism of Habermas

Talking of Kantian pragmatism in the previous post reminds me of a new book on Critical Theory in the Cambridge companion series (The Cambridge Companion to Critical Theory). It seems to be a fine product like the earlier (The Cambridge Companion to Habermas). The present volume contains at least two essays specifically on Habermas ("The transcendental turn: Habermas' "Kantian pragmatism" by Kenneth Baynes and "Critical Theory and Poststructuralism: Habermas and Foucault" by Beatrice Hanssen).

I look forward to reading the book pretty soon, especially Kenneth Baynes essay which looks good and related to what I am doing currently. Just at the start I read this puzzling statement which characterizes Knowledge and Human Interests (1968) as a work "which is perhaps . . . most philosophically distant from Kant" (p. 194). It is amazing how people can so contradictory opinion about the same piece, as lot of people would think Knowledge and Human Interest as Habermas' most Kantian work in which he still clings to the so called quasi transcendentalism.

Although as far as Habermas is already operating with his weak naturalism in Knowledge and Human Interest (Habermas clearly states this in Truth and Justification p. 6) it still can be said that his transcendentalism in Knowledge and Human Interest in already very un Kantian.

Kant, Hegel and Habermas

Gary in his comments on one of the recent posts wrote the following:

"I guess everybody is against the absolute character of Hegel's Geist. Does anybody defend it apart from those who reckon they have a theory of everything?

However, I'm not convinced that the Habermas/Hegel relationship is as simple as you say.

A suggestion.

It strikes me that Habermas replaces Hegel's dialectical character of desiring subjects engaged in a struggle for recognition (as an account of intersubjectivity) with a more Kantian account of communicative action as intersubjectity.

It has always stuck me that Habermas has explicitly sought to escape 'the spell' of Hegelian thought and dialectics that so "infatuated" Adorno, and to shift to thinking of communicative rationality in terms of an ideal communicative community.

His turn to language and comunicative action as a way to break away from the subject-object model of philosophy is a turn to pragmatism analytic philosophy and social science.

I'm not criticizing this as I think the turn to Mead is very useful).I'm just drawing attention to the way he moved away from his German roots and developments in continental philosophy --eg Merleau Ponty--that was also breaking away from the subject-object model of philosophy."

I do agree with lot of what Gary says but I think Habermas' Kantianism is the one, which is routed through Hegel and need to be understood as such. In recent days it has been termed as "Kantian pragmatism" however it should not be understood as a simple return to Kant. I will come back to this in coming days, for the moment I would limit myself to quoting Wellmer, just in order to show the complexity of the analysis involved. The aim of Habermas synthesis, he writes, is:

". . . to avoid the pitfalls of empiricism as well as of transcendental and absolute idealism, while relating the respective truth of these different and mutually incompatible epistemological positions. Roughly speaking, this materialist theory of knowledge will therefore have to assimilate Kant's critique of empiricism and Hegel's critique of transcendentalism as well as the empiricist critique of absolute idealism. Reformulated in this way, Marx's programmatic demand for a naturalism which "is distinguished from both idealism and materialism, and at the same time constitutes their unifying truth" now appears as the fantastic demand for a materialist version of the Phenomenology of Mind." (On critical theory / edited by John O'Neill, p. 259).

Saturday, January 15, 2005

transcendentalism and reconciliation with nature

Joel Whitebook in his seminal piece “The problem of Nature in Habermas” (Joel Whitebook, “The Problem of Nature in Habermas” Telos (SUM 79); 41-69.) asserts that “Habermas’ transcendentalism necessarily precludes any reconciliation with nature.” (p. 41) He asserts that Habermas’ transcendental justification of critical theory comes at the expense of the ideal of reconciliation with nature. In this context Whitebook calls for “a non-regressive reconciliation with nature.” (p. 42). A reconciliation with nature would be non-regressive, claims Whitebook, to the extent that it would be able to treat nature in non-instrumental terms while avoiding slide back to what he terms as “pre-rational, e.g; mythical, forms of thought.” (ibid.).

Habermas' acceptance of transcendentalism, asserts Whitebook, involves him in following paradox:

“To the extent that [the] transcendental structures “have their basis in the natural history of the species,” they possess a certain facticity and can be examined through empirical anthropology. If, however, these transcendental structures are only the product of evolution, then a naturalistic interpretation of reason – with its inescapable scepticism – would be unavoidable. Reason would simply be an “organ of adaptation for men just as claws and teeth are for animals,” and no claims for its autonomy could be made. Habermas argues that, although reason has its genesis in natural evolution, at some point in that process, reason transcends the conditions of its genesis and achieves a degree of autonomy.” (p. 48, emphasis in the original).

“[The] dilemma has its origin in the fact that the knowing subject, which constitutes nature as an object of knowledge, is itself a product of nature. In other words, the difficulty arises from the fact that the constituted constitute the constituter. An anthropology of knowledge, if it is to avoid a vicious circle, cannot simply be an empirical theory, but must contain a “reflective” moment as well.” (ibid.)

“Leaving aside attempt to synthesize materialism and transcendentalism arises concerning pre-human nature. Does the “materialist” claim that pre-human nature produces subjective, as McCarthy asks, not throw Habermas back into pre-critical ontology that violates this transcendental posture? The question cannot, account for the transition from pre-human to human nature. In both cases, he wants to say more than can legitimately be said from within the confines of his position.” (ibid; p. 49).

I would like to challange Whitebook's view in the future posts.

Adorno and Critical theory (1)

Brunkhorst contrasts modernity of Judaeo Christian tradition (of whose flag bearer are Adorno,Horkheimer and Habermas!!) with an alleged un-modernity of Greek tradition of whose flag barer is Heidegger.

This is an Habermasian move but Brunkhorst fills in details in a lively manner, which is at times insightful and moving.

“[Adorno and Horkheimer] repudiate a privileged and theoretical model of knowing in favour of the project of practically transforming the world, a materialist this-worldly negativism and fallibilism, all these are central themes which they share with Habermas and the pragmatists from Dewey to Putnam. And they are also themes which distance them from Greek thought and its contemplative metaphysics, along with the correspondence theory of truth, all of them ideas which must be ascribed to the other tradition of European self-understanding, that deriving form the biblical thought of the Jewish and Christian monotheism.”

“In redemptive religions, the privileged access to moral insight is destroyed and exposed as the ideology of the propertied male classes. In order to experience injustice, it is not necessary to have the wisdom of well-to-do, worldly-wise old men experienced in matters of power who, worldly-wise old men experienced in matters of power . . . . Only theodicy of suffering pushes through to the true, the moral, and egalitarian concept of justice; injustice which has been experienced becomes the foundation of a moral insight accessible to everyone. Insight into experienced injustice is the privilege of the underprivileged. Behind the veil of ecstasy, the redemptive religions articulate the reflective force of this insight.” (Adorno and Critical Theory, pp. 107-108).

Though any such view is faced with a paradox: If “Insight into experienced injustice is the privilege of the underprivileged” then how such undeniably privileged people as Habermas and Brunkhorst have access to this?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Marx-Habermas and Naturalism-Idealism

I thought following interpretation of Marx by Albrecht Wellmer is very close to the interpretation I am trying to develop of Habermas (after taking the difference between Marx’s and Habermas’ position into account). Albrecht Wellmer is one of the “most interesting students of Adorno” (the words are more of less of Andrew Bowie) working today.

Marx calls his philosophy of labour “naturalism” or “humanism” and he opposes it to both idealism and the older forms of materialism (i.e.; in particular the “physicalist” materialism of the eighteenth century). “We see here,” Marx states, “how consistent naturalism or humanism is distinguished from both idealism and materialism, and at the same time constitutes their unifying truth. We also see that only naturalism is able to comprehend the process of world history (Karl Marx's early writings, ed. T. B. Bottomore p. 206)."Habermas on Peirce". ” In the first of this theses on Feuerbach Marx summarizes concisely what he means by his dialectical overcoming of both idealism and materialism: “The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as human sensuous activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence it happened that the active side, in the contradistinction to materialism, was developed by idealism – but only abstractly, since of course, idealism does not know real, sensuous activity as such.(Marx's and Engls' Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, ed. L. S. Feuer, p. 283On critical theory / edited by John O'Neill, p. 231]

Habermas like above criticises what he calls strong naturalism of Quine and others (including what he disparagingly calls “empiricist" tradition as a whole) for neglecting the active side of the subject (subject of course re-conceptualised in accordance with the requirements of linguistic turn and emphasis on intersubjectivity) and for that he still turns to “idealism” and try to incorporate that into his overall naturalistic framework. Similarly he criticises “strong” idealism for neglecting the material, naturalistic side. Habermas’ aim, like Marx, is to synthesise the active side of “idealism” and the “passive” side of materialism in an overall naturalistic framework. This is the aim of Habermas’ weak naturalism.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Habermas on Peirce (3)

Mormon Metaphysics has had a post entitled "Habermas on Peirce". It refers to discussion on Peirce here and is worth looking at.

Habermas on Peirce (2)

My earlier poston Peirce and Habermas was based exclusively on Habermas' interpretation of Peirce as found in Knowledge & Human Interest. So in order not to give any wrong impression I would add here a paragraph from Swindal which fruitfully summarises Habermas' later views on Peirce.

"It is important to note, however, that Habermas later modifies his early interpretation of Peirce. In "Peirce and Communication" (in Postmetaphysical Thinking) he presents a more sanguine view of the categories of representation present in Peirce' s logic of language. Habermas now acknowledge the intersubjectvity implied in Peirce' s claim that every sign has both a "quasi-utterer" and a "quasi-interpreter" (Postmetaphysical Thinking, pp. 88-89). He admits that Perice expanded the realm of sign usage into the realm of linguistic forms of expression by showing that the indexical and iconic functions refer to "analogous" actuality and object-relations independent from mere propositional representation. For Habermas these two functions open up Peirce's theory of meaning to the realms of the aesthetic and social. But Habermas continues to criticize Peirce for ignoring the broader "world-disclosing" function of signs.*

Habermas continues to level the criticism, however, that Peirce attempted to anchor the chain of signifiers in reality and, like the later Husserl in Experience and Judgment, "decended[ed] from the method of a logical genesis of judgments of perception into the realm of pre-predicative experience"(Texte und Kontexte
, p. 98
). Such semantic realism insufficiently accounts for the distinction between first-and second- person discourse, a claim that Habermas develops more fully after Knowledge and Human Interests. Habermas argues that learning processes must be grounded, not in a metaphysical concept of nature, a position which the later Peirce adopted but in actual argumentation with others about practical conflict. Habermas claims that we cannot break out of the sphere of language and argumentation: "we can only establish the relation to reality, which is not equivalent to 'existence,' by projecting a 'transcendence form within'"(Postmetaphysical Thinking, p. 103).**

For Habermas this view of inner transcendence both respects the 'objectivity' of the intersubjectivity of understanding that has become reflexive and avoids the ontologization of reality. He argues that if the learning processes of human species are limited to mirror only w hat is already contained in nature, they lose the convincing power of the better argument, and he espouses instead a kind of "intersubjective realism": agreement always occurs between ego an about something in the world. Both the topic of the agreement and the other with whom agreement is reached give the intersubjective dialogue an objectivity. Habermas claims that the later Peirce abandoned the very moment of "secondness" that limits and distinguishes the self from the other(Postmetaphysical Thinking, p. 110-111). Peirce thus could not account for the fact that an actor maintains the facticity of his difference and uniqueness (Eigensinn) even in the process of successful communication with the other." [Reflection Revisited: Jurgen Habermas's Discursive Theory of Truth, pp. 96-97]

* Habermas makes a similar point against Quine in his Truth and Justification p. 23.
** Incidentally this would be Habermas' answer to those who accuse him of returning to pre-critical ontology by presupposing a "weak naturalism".

Context transcendence and universality

Validity claims are not only universal but also unconditional. In fact Habermas seems at times to suggest that the unconditionality of validity claims follows from their universality. Habermas also occasionally uses the term necessity for validity claims, but the most frequently used term is unconditionality. I shall note the following:

1) Context transcendence does not imply universality. The idea of validity claims shooting each and every context is an empty and meaningless concept. Context transcendence does not mean contextlessness. Only if this were the case would one have been right to think that context transcendence implies universality, in the sense of shooting every context, and hence unconditionality.

2) Thus the concept of universality might be formulated without implying unconditionality. Even validity claims that are claims as to the universality of truth, norms etc., must be raised in a context and can be understood only in a context. And even if we accept claims about the connection between the validity of claims and universal agreement, this idealisation must remain attached to a particular context.

Thus, validity claims can be unconditional neither in the sense that they ‘shoot’ all the contexts, nor in the sense that they can be raised without being situated in a particular context. Habermas has never made the latter contention, but he does seem to have made the former. However, if what I have said above is plausible, then it seems that Habermas’ conceptions of unconditionality and universality are untenable.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Habermas on Peirce (1)

Habermas’ conception of knowledge (positively) as constituted by cognitive interest is followed by his rejection of the mirror or copy theory of knowledge (negatively). Habermas rejects the mirror theory of truth because it is based on the naïve idea “that knowledge describes reality” (Knowledge & Human Interest, p. 69 (henceforthe referred to as KHI). The correspondence theory of truth is based on the same ‘objectivist illusion’ that is the basis of the representational theory of knowledge.

In KHI Habermas considered at least three promising theories but criticised all of them for ultimately succumbing to the objectivist illusion. I will briefly consider Habermas’ reasons for first praising these theories and then rejecting them as ultimately inadequate.

Habermas observes that “Peirce” did not “succumb to the objectivist attitude of early positivism” (KHI: 91). The insight which helped Peirce save himself from the menace of positivism was “his understanding that the task of methodology is not to clarify the logical structure of scientific theories but the logic of the procedure with whose aid we obtain scientific theories” (ibid.). Concentration on the process of inquiry rather than its product enabled Peirce to arrive at his crucial insight that:

We term information scientific if and only if an uncompelled and permanent consensus can be obtained with regard to its validity. This consensus does not have to be definitive, but has to have definitive agreement as its goal. The genuine achievement of modern science does not consist primarily in producing true, that is correct and cogent statements about what we call reality. Rather, it distinguishes itself from traditional categories of knowledge by a method of arriving at an uncompelled and permanent consensus of this sort about our views .(ibid; emphasis added).

Rather than succumbing to the positivistic myth of science as the true mirror of reality, Peirce tried to turn the table on positivism by redefining the achievement of modern sciences not as the true mirror of reality but as emanating from the notion of inquiry whose telos was “uncompelled consensus”. Thus Peirce to that extent shifts the focus of truth (reconceptualises it) from ‘mirror’ of reality to consensus among free inquirers thus shifting away from correspondence theory of truth, which is the basis of the objectivist illusion.

However, according to Habermas, Peirce does not go far enough to be able to overcome the correspondence theory of truth completely. He ultimately succumbs to the same objectivist illusion, which has been the hallmark of positivism. Peirce succumbs to the objectivist illusion despite his advancements because of his contradictory notion that the uncompelled consensus among inquirer aims at technical control, which is ultimately based on the instrumental notion of action. It is contradictory because;

The symbolic representation of matters of fact knowable from the transcendental perspective of possible technical control serves exclusively for the transformation of expression in process of reasoning. Deduction, induction, and abduction establish relations between statements that are in principle monologic. It is possible to think in syllogism, but not to conduct a dialogue in them. I can use syllogistic reasoning to yield arguments for a discussion, but I cannot argue syllogistically with another. Insofar as the employment of symbols is constitutive for the behavioural system of instrumental action, the use of language involved is monologic. But the communication of investigators requires the use of language that is not confined to limits of technical control over objectified natural process. It arises from symbolic interaction between societal subjects who reciprocally know and recognise each other as unmistakeable individuals. This communicative action is a system of reference that cannot be reduced to the framework of instrumental action (KHI: 137, italics in the original).

By reducing the telos of intersubjective inquiry to instrumental action, which according to Habermas is based on the notion of solitary subject, Peirce reaffirmed ontology with it’s accompanying objectivistic illusion and with it’s correspondence theory of truth (KHI: 131-132)* . It was essentially the notion of correspondence theory of truth that compelled Peirce to prioritise solitary subject constituted through the ‘transcendental perspective of technical control” (KHI: 137) which closely resembles the traditional line of a solitary subject engaged in the monologic pursuit for the ‘objective’ truth, over the ‘transcendental subject’ formed through the “communication of investigators” (ibid.). The dialogic model of communication was ultimately sublated since it did not suit the linear model of a solitary subject aiming at object, inherited in the correspondence theory of truth.

* It has not been my aim here to attempt an exhaustive survey of Habermas’ assessment of Peirce. I have been only aiming at selectively surveying the central points that are related to our problematic here. For a fuller treatment cf. Swindal ((Reflection Revisited: Jurgen Habermas's Discursive Theory of Truth ). For criticism of Habermas’ reading of Peirce see Rockmore, 2002 in (Habermas and Pragmatism.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Habermas on Peirce

"What separates Peirce from both early and modern positivism is his understanding that the task of methodology is not to clarify the logical structure of scienftic theories but the logic of the procedure with whose aid we obtain scientific theories. We term information scientific if and only if an uncompelled and permanent consensus can be obtained with regard to its validity. This consensus does not have to be definitive, but has to have definitive agreement as its goal."

Knowledge & Human Interest, p. 91

"Had Peirce taken seriously the communication of investigators as a transcendental subject forming itself under empirical conditions, then pragmatism would have been compelled to a self-reflection that overstepped its own boundaries. In continuing his analysis, Peirce would have had to come upon the fact that the ground of intersubjectivity in which investigators are always already situated when they attempt to bring about consensus is not the ground of purposive-rational action, which is in principle solitary."

". . . the communication of investigators requires the use of language that is not confined to the limits of technical control over objectified natural processes. It arises from symbolic interaction between societal subjects who reciprocally know and recognize each other as unmistakable individuals. The communicative action is a system of reference that cannot be reduced to the framework of instrumental action."

Knowledge & Human Interest, p. 137

Habermas praises Peirce for focusing on scientific procedures as against the logical structure of theories but criticises him for misconceiving those procedures by interpreting on the model of purposive rational action rather than on the model of communicative action.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Peirce, Heidegger and Habermas

Clark Globe's comments on a previous post are worth considering so I am putting them here with some brief comments of my own:

"It's interesting that he considers Peirce his biggest influence in epistemology since Peirce didn't really discuss knowledge as such terribly often. He discussed belief and fixing ones beliefs, but epistemology as generally conceived of never appears to have been a focus for him. I think there are reasons for this.

Of course his analysis of truth as what the community of investigators agree upon "in the long run" is very important. Although it is, I think, an idealization never actually reached.

It's also interesting he discusses Heidegger's anthropology and epistemology. I wonder what he means there. I confess I'm woefully ignorant of Habermas, although I enjoyed his critique of Heidegger, Derrida and company even if I think he misread them terribly. But sometimes misreadings can be very interesting on their own."

1) Now I am not a Peirce scholar to be able to give any considered opinion on whether Peirce is an epistemologist or not. However it is clear that Habermas does consider him as having epistemological insights that are worth as much as of Heidegger's "ontologically" oriented "epistemology" if not more. In Knowledge and Human interest as well as in the recent Truth and Justification it is Peirce the epistemologist that is invoked by Habermas, although it is worth mentioning that Habermas does not consider himself to be doing epistemology in the traditional Kantian or empiricist sense. Habermasian epistemology is more of an ontologised epistemology in the manner of early Heidegger ( see The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures pp. 143).

In his very interesting review of Habermas and pragmatism Christopher F. Zurn writes the following:

"In this “Postscript,” Aboulafia receives Habermas’s pithiest response to the question “What are the greatest strengths of pragmatism?”: “The combination of fallibilism with anti-skepticism, and a naturalist approach to the human mind and its culture that refuses to yield to any kind of scientism” (p. 228). Of course, we can read this claim not only as a relatively dispassionate assessment of the history of philosophical movements, but also as a self-attribution of what Habermas himself hopes to have achieved in his work by drawing on specific pragmatist insights and philosophical strategies.

Stylizing somewhat, we might even speculate that Habermas aims for a measure of anti-skeptical fallibilism in his methodological and epistemological projects by drawing on C. S. Peirce’s attempt to save the cognitive content of the Kantian ideas of reason without recourse, however, to a metaphysical appeal to the noumenal realm. Perhaps he hopes to have achieved an anti-scientistic—let us say, anti-reductivist—but nevertheless naturalistic theory of human culture and subjectivity by drawing on G. H. Mead’s account of human ontogenesis and phylogenesis in terms of universal structures developed through intersubjective symbolic interaction. The strategy that Habermas shares with Peirce is two-fold: on the one hand, an empirical, hence fallibilistic, appeal to the unavoidable presuppositions built into the everyday use of language, and, on the other hand, an idealizing, hence anti-skeptical, appeal to the meaning of epistemic presuppositions in terms of an asymptotic progress towards truth and objectivity as achieved by an unlimited community of problem-solving interlocutors. The strategy that Habermas shares with Mead is also two-fold: on the one-hand, an appeal to the best contemporary naturalistic accounts of individual and socio-cultural development in terms of the irreducibly intersubjective structures of language use, without, on the other hand, supposing that one could simply ignore the normativity of such developmental structures through a positivistic reduction of the problems of the social sciences and philosophy to the results of the so-called ’hard’ sciences and thereby sidestep the difficult hermeneutic issues raised by the linguistic milieu of the structures."
from here

I think I agree with what Christopher F. Zurn says here almost completely.

2) Habermas in his recent writings have tried to go beyond the Peircean notion of truth as agreement among investigators "in the long run". Now he claims that agreement even in the ideal conditions cannot be equated with Truth (see On the Pragmatics of Communication, chapter 8). In this context he now differentiates between justification and Truth. Furthermore Habermas would agree that the "idealization is never actually reached." (see TJ, chapter 2).

3)I think what he means by Heidegger's epistemology is his transcendental ontology and his ontological hermeneutics(The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures pp. 143-144). What he means by Heidegger's anthropology is his analysis of Dasein as Being in the world and his linking of "analytic of Dasein . . . with a motif of existential philosophy." (The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures pp. 145).

4) Finally I agree with you that "sometimes misreadings can be very interesting on their own.". I think it is an important insight.

Action and Knowledge

For Habermas knowledge is internally connected to action. Habermas builds up this insight from different sources including American pragmatism and Heidegger.

About Peirce he writes:

“Peirce’s style of analysis was more up to date and hence more appropriate for a defense of the internal relations between forms of knowledge and types of action, as opposed to the limited view of logical empiricists and their focus on semantic dimension. in Jürgen Habermas, in Jürgen Habermas, Postscript to Habermas and Pragmatism, p. 227, empahsis retained

In the context of Dewey Habermas observes the following:

“Dewey directs attention to the everyday praxis in which people must “cope with” reality and “get along with it.” With this move the category of “action” (Handeln) attains an unprecedented philosophical status. Above all else, Dewey directs his attention, informed by the history of philosophy, to the seam between knowing and acting in orer to assign to philosophy a new role. Eschewing the way in which classical theory withdraws from the world, he propogates the turn toward being engaged in the world.” (Jürgen Habermas, On John Dewey's The Quest for Certainty Habermas and Pragmatism, p. 230).

Habermas mentions on several occasions the importance of Heidegger’s analysis specially in Being and Time for his work. He specifically mentions that “Our early familiarity with, and leaning towards, philosophical anthropology and the analytic of Dasein in Being and Time (Heidegger’s analysis of “being in the world” in particular had prepared us for a pragmatist epistemology.” (Postscript p. 227). It is significant here that Habermas’ mentions the concept of “being in the world” as preapring way for the reception of a pragmatist epistemology. In the similar vein Habermas asserts that “Heidegger, too, drew tacitly upon the insights of pragmatism in Being and Time, in the analyses of “equipment,” the “ready-to-hand,” and “context of involvement.” With the concept of “being-in-the-world,” Heidegger also praticipated in the anti-Pltantonic thrust of pragmatism.” (ibid.). In his lecture on Heidegger in PdoM Habermas equates the concept of Being in the world with his own conception of lifeworld:

“There belongs to situated, bodily historical existence a comprehension, however diffuse, of a world, from the horizon of which the meaning of the entities later capable of being objectified by the sciences is always already interpreted. We encounter this preontological understanding of Being when, in the transcendnetal attitude, we inquire back behind the categorical makeup of entities disclosed by transcendnetal philosophy as it follows the guiding thread of the sciences. The anlaysis of the prior world-understanding grasps those structures of the lifeworld or of “being-in-the-world” that Heidegger calls existentials.” (The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures pp. 144)

The conception of being in the world or lifeworld is central for Habermas because it provides the basis for overcoming a limited conception of knowledge which counterpose knowledge and action on the one hand and knowledge and being on the other hand. The central epistemological lesson of Heidegger conception of being in the world and Habermas’ conception of lifeworld is this: Our ways of acting and being, our ways of knowing and acting are intertwined. The further distinction between knowledge and action, ways of being and ways of knowing would not have been possible without this prior intertwinement.

For Habermas ‘(t)he lifeworld, then, has a twofold meaning: on the one hand, the horizon-forming contexts of culture, society and personality within which communicative action takes place, and, on the other hand, the resources of possibilities from which participants in communicative action can transmit and renew cultural knowledge, establish solidarity and build social identity.’ (from here)

The lifeworld is the relam where action and knowledge, being and knowing are intertwined.

Action in the context of lifeworld refers not to instrumental action but to a holistic cocnept of action which is later developed in the form of communicative action. Here action is used as a primordial concept where knowldege is intertwined with acting in the limited sense. The influence here of Heidegger’s analysis of 'ready to hand' and his conception of 'involvement' and his pragmatic analysis of 'equipments' is all too obvious.

It is in this context that Habermas speaks of the epistemological significance of pragmatism:

“ In the Quest for Certainty, Dewey criticizes the empiricist “spectator model of knowldege, ” acording to which elementary sensations provide a firm basis for experiences. In fact, experiences are gained only in interaction with a reality against which behavioral expactions may run aground. For this reason reality is disclosed not through the receptivity of the senses, but rather in a constructive manner in the context of projecting and performing actions that succeed or fail. Objects are not “conceived” of the controlled outcome of the diliberately performed actions. Therein lies the significance of scientific experiments.” ((Jürgen Habermas, On John Dewey's The Quest for Certainty Habermas and Pragmatism, p. 231).

Habermas opposes here the spectator model of knowldege that is based on the passivity of sense experience to the one which is based on action and performance. The analysis of action and performance opens up a more complex view of knowldege which is at odd with the traditional empricist analysis of knowldege where observer is conceived as a passive receptor of data from an external world. In his more recent writings Habermas elaborates this further:

“ For pragmatists, cognition is a process of intelligent, problem solving behavior that makes learning processes possible, corrects errors, and defuses objections. Only if it served form the context of experiences connected to actions and of discursive justifications does the representational function of language suggest the misleading picture of thought representing objects or state of affairs. The mirror of nature – the one-to-one representation of reality – is the wrong model of knowledge because the two-place relation between picture and pictured and the static relation between a proposition and a state of affairs obscures the dynamics of knowledge accumulation through problem solving and justification” (TJ, p. 26).

This holistic conception of knowledge combines the Heideggerian analysis of being in the world, ready to hand, equipment etc. with what Habermas considers insights from pragmatists about what he calls innerworldly learning processes.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Habermas and Pragmatism

A good Review of Habermas and Pragmatism

The quality of essays collected in the volume is uneven but Habermas' short postscript (which includes answer to six questions put forth by the editor Mitchell Aboulafia) is worth looking at as is the translation of a short piece by Habermas entitled "On John Dewey's The quest for Certainty". Habermas' answers and the short piece on Dewey not only sheds important light on Habermas's relation to pragmatism but also clearly demonstrate the unique combination of naturalist and anti naturalist themes in Habermas.

Habermas on pragmatism

[Q:] What are the greatest strengths of pragmatism?

[Habermas:] The combination of fallibilism with anti-skepticism, and a naturalist approach to the human mind and its culture that refuses to yield to any kind of scientism.

[Q: ] What are its greatest weaknesses?

[Habermas:] The message that only differences that make difference should count is often mistaken for advice to blur even relevant distinctions. And just as often, the anti-Platonic distrust in an ideological misuse of abstract ideas is misunderstood as the denial of the transcending force and unconditional meaning of claims to truth. There is an empiricist undercurrent in Dewey’s and an emotivist current in James’s thought. Both threaten the Kantian heritage that is saved, in pragmatist translation, by Peirce – and, by the way, by Brandom. My friend Dick Rorty is most Kantian in the seriousness of his ambition to turn those weaknesses into philosophical strengths. Jürgen Habermas, Postscript to Habermas and Pragmatism, p. 228

Kant and Darwin

“ . . . I am enough of a materialist to take as my starting point that Kant is right only to the extent that his statement are compatible with Darwin. I have never had any doubts about the primacy of natural history over the history of human species.” On the Pragmatics of Communication, p. 428

“In epistemology – and the theory of truth – Peirce had the strongest influence, from my Frankfurt inaugural lecture on Knowledge and Human Interest (1965) onwards up to Wahrheit and Rechtfertigung(1999). Since Apel and I had remained in contact, it was his interpretation that at first guided my reception. Our early familiarity with, and leaning towards, philosophical anthropology and the analytic of Dasein in Being and Time (Heidegger’s analysis of “being in the world” in particular) had prepared us for a pragmatist epistemology. Peirce’s style of analysis was more up to date and hence more appropriate for a defense of the internal relations between forms of knowledge and types of action, as opposed to the limited view of logical empiricists and their focus on semantic dimension. For Peirce, reason and understanding were from the start embodied in the research activities of a community of investigators. We perceived Peirce’s pragmatist approach as a promise to save Kantian insights in a detranscendentalized yet analytical vein. The promise also pertained, for me more than Apel, to a reconciliation between Kant and Darwin, between a transcendental and an evolutionary perspective. My studies of Shcelling’s philosophy of nature, and the reception of Marx, had made me more open towards a “soft,” non-scientistic naturalism.” in Jürgen Habermas, Postscript to Habermas and Pragmatism, p. 227

Athens or Jerusalem?*

"Materialist insights and moral motives separate Rorty and Adorno from Heidegger and all postmodern polytheists. For them, unlike for Heidegger, Christianity and the history of rationalization of the world religions is much more than a mere footnote to Plato. The protestant heritage of American pragmatism - no different from a Weberian Marxism enlightened by the sociology of religion, not to mention the Judaeo-Christian roots of Marx himself- suggests a different reading of occidental rationalism than that of the rise and fall of Greek metaphysics as understood by the history of philosophy. It is the history of the individualizing and egalitarian forces of monotheism and Judaeo-Christian morality.

Right up to Kant's non-stop polemic against passivity, the rationalism, rejected by myth, of the prophetic redemptive religions discredits the 'leave things as they are' attitude. Looking on is replaced by the henceforth constitutive portion of human contribution: work, praxis, solidarity, subjectivity. Pagan fate, Heidegger's Greco-Germanic Geschicklichkeit ('destiny') is replaced by the utopian universalism of the idea of a justice for all - a universalism denounced by Lyotard as 'meta-law'. This idea, unlike the more aristocratic philosophy of Heidegger and others, seizes the masses."

Adorno and Critical Theory pp. 99-100

Brunkhorst's critique of Heidegger here is quite similar to that of Habermas. Habermas makes similar points in his Postmetaphysical Thinking Philosophical Essays and in his piece 'Israel or Athens: Where does Anamnestic Reason Belong?' included in an edited collection entitled Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity. Habermas writes:

" . . . I do not believe that we, Europeans, can seriously understand concepts like morality and ethical life, person individuality, or freedom and emancipation, without appropriating the substance of the Judeo-Christian understanding of history in terms of salvation. And these concepts are, perhaps, nearer to our hearts than the conceptual resources of Platonic thought, centring on order and revolving around the cathartic intuition of ideas."

Postmetaphysical Thinking Philosophical Essays p. 15

I only want to suggest two points relating to this critique of Heidegger:

1) This critique ignores the protestant roots of Heidegger's own thinking not to mention the Judaeo Christian basis of much of modern Germanic civilisation.

2) This sort of critique also ignores the violence which Judaeo Christian centric modernity commits against the tradition itself by wilfully confusing the factual and normative content of the tradition and in the process inverting the very substance of the tradition.

* see related post by Gary Sauer-Thompson here

Adorno and Critical theory

Here are couple of excerpts from a review of Brunkhorst's book.

Reivewed by Matt F. Connell, Contemporary Political theory (2002)1, 242-244.

“During his exile in America Adorno produced with Horkheimer the text for which they are most famous: Dialectic of Enlightenment. In a critical move familiar from Habermas, Brunkhorst endorses their dark critique of totalizing enlightenment, but is keen to emphasize that it is open to correction, seeking to avoid what he sees as the pessimistic side of Adorno’s negative theological critique, witch runs the risk of going ‘along with Heidegger and a broad stream of conservative cultural criticism. Critical theory falls back upon a negative philosophy of the history of decay.’ (p. 75)”

“For me, Brunkhorst’s most extensive and valuable contribution is his attention to the complex of disputes on Adorno’s legacy in modern critical philosophy, a complex which forms the philosophical background to many of the issues of cultural theory. Different lines of theoretical relationship to Heidegger is crucial here, and Brunkhorst’s book is dominated by an effort to clarify Adorno’s complex theoretical relationship to Heideggerian thought, with Brunkhorst being careful to make clear the commonalities as well as the differences. Brunkhorst develops his analysis of Adorno and Heidegger into an interesting series of juxtapositions with post-modern, analytical and pragmatic schools of thought, carefully unpicking (sic) a range of affiliations which place aspects of Adorno close to pragmatism (especially Dewey) and postmodernism (especially Rorty), whilst being well aware of the areas of distance which are emphasized more strongly by other receptions of Adorno.”

full here (requires subscription)

I think the reviewer is right in his claim that the heart of the book is Brunkhorst's elucidation of similarities and differences between Heidegger and Adorno (it goes without saying that the account is from the perspective of critical theory and not that of Heidegger or Heideggerians).
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