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).