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.

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