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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'll be interested in the defence.

I reckon, to use the language of Adorno & Horkheimer in Dialectic of Enlightenment, that Habermas accepts the domination of nature by instrumental reason as the price to be paid for modernity.

That is one of the biggest disappointments with Habermas. It is the very reason I turned away from him.
Gary Sauer-Thompson

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