Monday, February 28, 2005

Habermas’ weak naturalism is an ontological thesis

Habermas’ weak naturalism is an ontological thesis (i.e. it presupposes a certain conception of ‘what is the case’). However it is not ontological in the sense that it does not aim to describe immutable and universal essences of things.

The above requires two things:

1)It requires an explanation of how the “realm of causality” and the “space of reason” (freedom) are related, in a determinate way. Or in other words, its viability hinges on an explanation of the possibility of the emergence of spontaneity (freedom) and consequently ‘space of reason’ without recourse to supernaturalism of any kind. Thus it requires the rejection of both the Christian transcendent God (for example) and Kant’s two-world solution. This is the consequence of the commitment to naturalism understood in a broad sense as a thesis that rejects all kinds of supernaturalisms.

2) It needs to be shown how the ‘realm of causality’ and the ‘realm of reason’ despite being primordially related and situated on the same natural plain are mutually exclusive. This is another way of saying that we need to maintain Kant’s distinction between nature and reason however without espousing his ontological dualism. This is Habermas’ preservation of the ‘essence’ of idealistic insights about reason within an overall naturalism/materalism.


1a) The above (1), requires developing a concept of freedom that does not treat ‘limits’ as opposite of freedom but rather as the conditions of the possibility of freedom, this entails rejection of a merely negative conception of freedom as the absence of limitations. This is important because if we keep working with a concept of spontaneity defined as “unconditioned condition” there is no way we can avoid either reverting back to Kantian dualism (by positing the realm of pure intelligibility) or alternatively opting for what McDowell has called ‘bald naturalism’.

1b) Evidently the above (1a) presupposes detranscendentalisation of the Kantian subject.

1c) The above (1a) only shows the possibility of freedom (space of freedom) emerging from within ‘nature’ it does not show its actuality.

1d) A conception of freedom explained (1a) is an ontological/descriptive conception of freedom.

2a) The (2) requires adopting methodological dualism between the participant perspective and the observer’s perspective: “As soon as we act out of . . . “with an orientation to reaching mutual understanding,” we cannot at the same time act from the objectivating perspective of an observer.” (TJ: 97).

2b) From within the participant perspective by analysing the process of reaching understanding about something in the world with the alter, it can be shown that:

2c) There exists a causality quite unlike natural causality which may be termed as causality of reason (following Kant) and which does not partake in the causality of nature. The participants in communicative action are affected by this force without force and are immune from natural causality as long as they are with bound within the participant perspective.

2d) From within the participant perspective it can also be shown how transcendence from within and into this world is possible.

The above analysis requires further presupposition that:

3)“the biological endowment and the cultural way of life Homo sapiens have a “natural” origin and can in principle be explained in terms of evolutionary theory.” (TJ: 28).

3a)Thus it presupposes continuity between culture and nature without obliterating distinction between them (ibid.).

4) Habermas’ weak naturalism as described above is an ontological/descriptive conception and though is the precondition of Habermas’ justification of modernity it is not in itself a prescriptive conception. It is in principle compatible with views quite different in their prescriptive agendas.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Reconciliation and Consensus

Dieter Henrich in his critique of Habermas points among other things to the fact that one of the fundamental experiences of modernity has been awareness of conflicts. Modern philosophy according to Henrich in part emerges to meet the challenge of resolving these conflicts:

“Philosophy did not miss as mere illusion or confusion the discovery that the self understanding of human beings leads to conflicts between equally convincing self-descriptions. These self-descriptions apply to a being who – either by way of unavoidable presuppositions or through spontaneous self reflection – arrives at concepts which can be applied to himself.” (Dieter Henrich, "What is Metaphysics - What is Modernity? Twelve Theses against Jürgen Habermas" in Habermas: A Critical Reader, p. 297).

Modern philosophy endeavours to overcome and resolve these conflicts by arriving at “some more comprehensive dimension in which these conflicts finally be resolved, one which would make possible a self description which reconciled the primary self descriptions.” (p. 298).

Habermas, according to Henrich, rather than try to reconcile different inevitable self descriptions presupposes such reconciliation form the outset. Thus Henrich dubs Habermas’ strategy as one of ‘avoidance’. As a proof of it he points to Habermas’ conception of ‘lifeworld’:

“‘Lifeworld’ is a term which has this avoidance written into its profile. For it declares the essential point of departure for all speech acts to be a totality which is in principle harmonious.” (ibid.).

Is Henrich justified in his criticism? I would like to make only a basic contention at this point:

Habermas’ basic insight (which he has learnt from Heidegger and Gadamer) is that even the possibility of conflict presupposes some sort of consensus or shared background without which it even does not make sense to talk of conflict. The very idea of conflict (and conflict resolution) presupposes a minimum consensus. Thus in my view it is not that Habermas avoids conflicts by asserting the primacy of consensus or shared horizon but rather make explicit the necessary context which is presupposed by any attempt at conflict resolution and reconciliation.

Monday, February 21, 2005

irreducibility of the distinction between ‘causal’ and ‘rational’

Naturalism Habermas rejects is a reductive naturalism. Naturalism is reductive when it ultimately reduces a ‘rational explanation’ to a 'causal explanation'.

This does not necessarily mean that reductive naturalism does not recognize the distinction between ‘causal’ and ‘rational’ explanations. However it believes that, in principle, ‘rational’ can be explained in terms of a ‘causal’ one. Hence a reductive naturalism gives priority to ‘causal’ in the natural order (natural in a broad sense as opposed to supernatural order).

Habermas on the other hand refuses to accept the priority accorded to causal explanation and hence asserts that even in principle ‘rational’ cannot be explained in terms of ‘causal’. He believes in the ultimate irreducibility of the distinction between ‘causal’ and ‘rational’. In this Habermas sides with great idealists, particularly Kant, who reject the claim that ‘reason’ can be explained in terms of ‘causal’.

However Habermas unlike Kant does not posit two worlds or two realms to establish this irreducibility of ‘rational’ to ‘causal’. By refusing to posit world of pure intelligence in order to prove the irreducibility of ‘rational’ Habermas remains within an overall naturalist position, where naturalist is understood in the broad sense.

According to this reading reductionist naturalism is the one which equates ‘natural’ with ‘causal’ and then aspires to explain everything else in terms of ‘causal’. Habermas on the other hand construes ‘natural’ in a broad sense and considers ‘causal’ only one facet of ‘natural’. Accordingly he can claim that ‘rational’ is natural but not ‘causal’. This I believe is the essence of Habermas’ so called ‘weak naturalism’.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Transcendental approach

“ . . . any transcendental approach, in the last analysis, precludes that there can be such thing as truthfulness to reality in the sense of postulated by philosophical realism. Correspondence theories of truth tend to hypostatise fact as entities in the world. It is the intention and inner logic of an epistemology reflecting upon the conditions of possible experience as such to uncover the objectivistic illusions of such a view” (Jürgen Habermas, A Postscript to Knowledge and Human Interests, Phil. Soc. Sci. 3(1973): 157-189, here, 180, emphasis retained).

comments to follow..

Saturday, February 19, 2005

categorical meaning and the meaning of truth claims

In his posscript to Knowledge and Human Interests [Jürgen Habermas, A Postscript to Knowledge and Human Interests, Phil. Soc. Sci. 3(1973): 157-189] Habermas makes a crucial distinction between the problem of object constitution and validity (Geltung). Here Habermas first time connects the problem of the verification of truth with the meaning of validity claims. According to Habermas, “the meaning of truth and untruth of a statement does not consist in the conditions guaranteeing the objectivity of our experience but in the possibility of argumentative corroboration of a truth claim which is falsifiable in principle” (ibid: 166). Habermas goes on to further differentiate between and contrast the categorical meaning of proposition and the meaning of discursive truth claims: “the categorical meaning of proposition is connected with the species of objects of experience of which the predicate is something. By contrast, the meaning of a discursive truth claim embodied in statement is connected with the existence of states of affairs (Sachverhalte) which we render in those statements” (ibid.). Thus “in every speech act, categorical meaning is contained in the prepositional content, whereas the truth claim is contained in the performative part. For the categorical meaning always reflects the way in which we experience something in the world-as a thing or event, as a person or as that person’s utterance. The truth claim on the other hand, reflects the intersubjective validity, on the basis of which something may be predicated of objects of experience, i.e. that a state of affairs is indeed a fact” (ibid: 166-167, emphasis in italics by Habermas, emphasis in bold added).

Habermas returns to this distinction between experience and judgment in his recent work (particularly in Truth and Justification) on which more later.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Apel and Habermas

I am reading at the moment, among other things, Eduardo Mendieta's book on Apel entitled Adventures of Transcendental Philosophy: Karl-Otto Apel's Semiotics and Discourse Ethics. While reading the book the following caught my attention:

"In Jürgen Habermas' own words, " under the living philosophers no one has more lastingly determined the direction of my thinking that Karl-Otto Apel." This is a comment to a dedication that "explains itself": "To Karl-Otto Apel on completing the sixth decade of of teaching - with thanks for three decades of instruction (Belebrung)." These words of dedication and acknowledgment that Habermas' Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action carried on its original German edition were unfortunately omitted from the English translation." (p. 103).

Does anybody know why the dedication was omitted from the English translation?

Addendum: An interesting story of Mendieta's book told by Mendieta himself, can be found here. Incidentally it already provides a plausible answer to the question I had raised in the post. However, further information comments etc. are still welcome. Also see the following reviews of Mendieta's Apel book:

Problems and Prospects in Critical Theory: Eduardo Mendieta’s study of Karl-Otto Apel

Monday, February 14, 2005

Normative pragmatism and Naturalism

Brandom makes following distinctions between various types of pragmatism:

Methodological pragmatism:

“Pragmatism of this sort seems semantics as answering to pragmatics in the sense that pragmatic theory supplies the explanatory target of semantic theory – and hence is the ultimate source of the criteria of adequacy according to which the success of that theoretical enterprise is to be assessed.” (Robert Brandom, "Pragmatics and pragmatisms" in Hilary Putnam: Pragmatism and Realism, pp. 40-58 here p. 42).

Semantic pragmatism:

“A related, but I believe distinguishable, sot of pragmatism takes as its point of departure the plausible view that it is the way practitioners use expressions that makes them mean what they do.”

Fundamental pragmatism:

“It is characteristic of pragmatists in the broad sense to see knowing how as having a certain kind of explanatory priority over knowing that. This is one influential form taken by an insistence on the explanatory primacy of the practical over theoretical. Explicit theoretical beliefs can be made intelligible only against a background of implicit practical abilities.” (ibid. p. 46).

Normative pragmatism:

“any pragmatics whose concept of practice is a serious candidate for playing three roles [methodological, semantic and fundamental] must employ normative vocabulary.” (ibid. p. 48).

[Brandom takes Kant to be the greatest exponent of this kind of pragmatism].

Normative pragmatism and Naturalism:

However Brandom adds that normative pragmatism is compatible with naturalism:

“It should not be assumed that commitment to a normative pragmatics is incompatible with pursuing both one’s pragmatic theory and one’s semantic theory in a naturalistic spirit. Normative pragmatics is incompatible with naturalism only in the context of some sort of dualistic understanding of the relation between normative and the natural. One might accept that the discursive practice to which methodological, semantic and fundamental pragmatism are addressed must be susceptible to specification in normative terms . . . without giving up hope for an ultimately naturalistic account of the applicability of such normative assessments. (Of course, a great deal will turn on what one means by ‘naturalistic’. . . .)” [ibid. pp. 49-50].

Elsewhere when Brandom opposes naturalism to normative accounts it is clear he is using naturalism in a narrow sense (this is shown by his contrasting non naturalistic normative account to supernaturalism).

“I don’t think there is a natural scientific story to be told about this sort of conceptual normativity. But that is not to say that it is supernatural. I think it is an essentially social phenomenon . . . .” An interview with Brandom.

Friday, February 11, 2005

In what sense Habermas is a pragmatist?

Habermas’ enterprise has often been described as Kantian pragmatism in recent days. The Kantian side of the equation is pretty clear however there is not much agreement on “in what sense Habermas is a pragmatist”. We had posted earlier some thoughts on this here and here.

In a recent excellent article on Habermas’s “Kantian pragmatism” Kenneth Baynes concludes his argument in the following way:

“Habermas, like Brandom, locates normativity in the attitudes we suppose actors to take up towards one another – there is no normativity apart from the statuses instituted via these attitudes. For Habermas, these attitudes are importantly and irreducibly second personal in that to adopt the deliberative stance is to treat them as “coparticipants” in the “space of reasons.” In adopting the deliberative stance, we view others as at least virtual participants in the exchange of reasons that must convince us as well. So construed, the deliberative stance, generally – can be seen as a “pragmatic” rendering of Kant’s claim that, insofar as we view ourselves as capable of acting for reasons at all, we must view ourselves as acting under the idea of freedom.”("The transcendental turn: Habermas' "Kantian pragmatism" in The Cambridge Companion to Critical Theory, pp. 194-218, here p. 215).

The use of ‘pragmatic’ in above can be described as vague at best. However Robert Brandom has recently made a distinction between two senses of pragmatism which in my opinion can be very useful in understanding Habermas’ pragmatism. Brandom writes:

“Pragmatism can be thought of narrowly: as a philosophical school of thought centered on evaluating beliefs by their tendency to promote success at the satisfaction of wants, whose paradigmatic practioners were the classical American triumvirate of Charles Peirce, William James and John Dewey. But pragmatism can also be thought of more broadly: as a movement centered on the primacy of the practical, initiated already by Kant, whose twentieth-century avatars includes not only Peirce, James and Dewey, but also the early Heidegger, the later Wittgenstein and such figures as Quine, Sellars, Davidson and Rorty. I think the broader version of pragmatism is much more important and interesting than the narrower one.”("Pragmatics and pragmatisms" in Hilary Putnam: Pragmatism and Realism, pp. 40-58 here p. 41, emphasis added).

I think if pragmatism is defined as a movement that gives primacy to the practical then certainly Habermas is pragmatism. I believe this is the main sense in which Habermas is pragmatist.

Brandom goes on to further explicate the meaning of practical in the following way:

“It is characteristic of pragmatism in the broad sense to see knowing how as having a certain kind of explanatory priority of knowing that. This is one influential form taken by an insistence on the explanatory primacy of the practical over the theoretical. Explicit theoretical beliefs can be made intelligible only against a background of implicit practical abilities. Pragmatism in this sense – call it ‘fundamental pragmatism’ – is opposed to the kind of Platonistic intellectualism that seeks to explain practical abilities in terms of some sort of grasp of principles; some sort of knowing that behind each bit of know how.” (ibid; p. 46).

The above squares nicely with Habermas’ prioritization of know how on know that in developing his formal pragmatics.

Moreover Brandom considers the above to be the heart of Heidegger’s Being and Time:

“Opposing intellectualism by seeing the capacity to know or believe that something is the case as parasitic on more primitive kinds of know how – capacities to do something that is not yet saying, thinking or believing anything – is the basic thesis of the first part of Heidegger’s Being and Time.” (ibid.).

This is in tune with what we said earlier (here) about relation between Heidegger and Habermas and the primacy of action in both. This also explains Habermas’ insistence that Heidegger "Heidegger also praticipated in the anti-Pltantonic thrust of pragmatism".

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

A critique of Joel Whitebooks' critique of Habermas

Joel Whitebook argues in his seminal piece “The problem of Nature in Habermas” [ Joel Whitebook, “The Problem of Nature in Habermas” Telos (SUM 79); 41-69.] that “Habermas’ transcendentalism necessarily precludes any reconciliation with nature.” (ibid; p. 41). He asserts that Habermas’ transcendental justification of critical theory comes at the expense of the ideal of early critical theorists (particularly Marcuse) [Whitebook does not consider Adorno or Horkheimer as propagating such vision however Dews and Dallmayr do think so] of reconciliation with nature. In this context Whitebook calls for “a non-regressive reconciliation with nature.” (ibid, p. 42). Such 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.; mythical, forms of thought.” (ibid.).

However in my view Habermas is precisely aiming at ‘a non-regressive reconciliation with nature.’ Whitebook thinks otherwise. He thinks that Habermas’ transcendentalism bars any such solution (even if Habermas’ have tried in this direction). His acceptance of transcendentalism involves him in the paradox “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; p. 48). However this criticism is based on a misconception that Habermas is working with a conception of freedom that is essentially Kantian and Hegelian a conception of freedom that pits limits against freedom (and the capacity for reflection). However, Habermas goes beyond a conception of freedom that pits limits against freedom and thus does not have to be involved in a paradox in which Kant and Hegel would have involved if they had tried to “situate” the constituted and constituting on the same plane.

Whitebook’s above formulation is based on an implicit assumption that “reflection” cannot emerge from what is “empirical”. However this is based on a purely Kantian assumption according to which reflection cannot emerge form an empirical reality and that is the reason why Kant had to look for spontaneity in the realm of pure intelligibility: “. . . the dimension of historical facts, the “constitution” of which is to be explained, is the very dimension in which the transcendental subject of this constitution is itself “constituted” empirically. That this, from the standpoint of a transcendental critique of knowledge, is a paradoxical statement, is certainly not a decisive counter-argument: it merely shows the limits of transcendental philosophy.” Albrecht Wellmer, “Communications and Emancipation: Reflections on the linguistic turn in critical theory” in John O'Neill ed. On critical theory (Lanham : University Press of America, c1989), 231-263, here 249, emphasis retained). What Wellmer says about historical sciences is also true about knowledge in general.

Moreover Habermas in his post KHI writings ascribes “constitution” not to an “individual” or “specie” subject but to language and lifeworld, which are anonymous to the extent that there is no ‘subject’ of lifeworld and language as a whole. This second move absolves Habermas’ of the charge that might still be levelled against Marx for example who though detranscendentalises the subject, nevertheless attributes to it powers which are incompatible with human finitude as we have come to know since then.

Combined with the above two theses Habermas’ is able to circumvent the dilemma or paradox to which Whitebook refers. It was a dilemma for Kant for example to conceive subject as both constituted and constituting precisely because for him limits are the contrary of freedom so a free (constituting) subject cannot be located at the same plane as that of constituted subject (empirical subject). Hence Kant had to locate his constituting subject in the world of pure intelligibility and hence create a two-world (two - realm) dualism, reconciliation of which and demonstrating connection between which consumed rest of Kant’s energies. However there is no such need for Habermas to locate a free subject in the world of pure intelligibility precisely because he does not see freedom and limits in dualistic terms Kant saw. Thus for Habermas it is not a paradox in itself if empirical is construed as transcendental or transcendental as empirical.

Thus empirical subject are constituted in the context of lifeworld and language, and as far as lifeworld and language form the background of the subjects thus constituted and are not available to them as manipulable and observable entities, they act as “transcendental(s)”. However lifeworld and language are empirical (natural) in the following senses: a) they are located in “this world” and not in the realm of intelligibility which is above the world of phenomenon. b) Subjects formed within language and lifeworld are in turn capable of affecting lifeworld and language to certain extent (this is what Habermas means when he refers to the interpretive accomplishments of subjects formed within language and lifeworld). c) Thus lifeworld and language provide both resources and constraints.

Hence, language and lifeworld are simultaneously empirical/natural and transcendental(s). As far as language and lifeworld act from behind the back of actors they provide the condition of the possibility of not only their actions but also the conditions of the possibility of their agency and remain beyond their intervention. However this agency in turn can affect both language and lifeworld to a certain extent in the sense that both lifeworld and language can be partially objectivsed and thus affected by the agency formed within them. Thus Habermas’ “transcendentalism” is not engulfed by the dilemmas typical of Kantian transcendentalism.

Whitebook’s objection is in part based on confusing two senses of empirical: empirical in a broad sense and empirical in a narrow sense. Empirical in a narrow sense is equated by Habermas with objective knowledge and in this sense empirical can not contain “reflective” moment. However in a broad sense empirical cannot be equated with objective knowledge. Language and lifeworld are empirical to the extent that they can be partially objectivsed however they are not empirical in the narrow sense because their objectivisation is always partial and never complete. Thus it is not a paradox for empirical in this broad sense to contain a ‘reflective’ moment.

Whitebook then goes on to assert that in order to avoid the above paradox Habermas posits the conception of nature in itself thus differentiating objectivised nature and subjective nature from nature in itself . This, however, does not overcome the dilemma mentioned above (“The Problem of Nature in Habermas,” 48-49.). However this positing of nature in itself is in turn open to further objections and dilemmas of its own. Whitebook formulates these further objections deriving on McCarthy’s well known grilling of Habermas’ conception of nature in itself. As Whitebook puts it:

“. . . a serious difficulty 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).

Now this objection even if has some relevance in the context of Habermas’ early work (for example his account in KHI) has no relevance whatsoever in the context of Habermas’ later mature work including TCA and TJ. The reason is succulently put forth by James Swindal:

“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 argumetnation 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 ‘transcendnece from within’”.
“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.”(Reflection Revisited: Jürgen Habermas’s Discursive Theory of Truth, p. 97 emphasis in the original).

Thus Habermas’ positing of reality from within is not ontological in the traditional sense and is compatible with the Kantian claim that we do not have access to pre-mediated reality.

continued from here

Habermas' critique of traditonal ontology in KHI

In this inaugural lecture at Frankfurt University which was later published as the appendix of his KHI (“Knowledge and Human Interest: A General Perspective” KHI pp. 301-317). Habermas starts with stating what he terms as the fundamental assumption of the ‘traditional ontology’. The assumption is that “the only knowledge that can truly orient action is knowledge that frees itself from mere human interests and is based on ideas” (KHI p. 301). The traditional ontology according to this conception is supposed to be based on the assumption that knowledge consists of pure ideas (that depict reality as it is) without intervention from (or of) subject. This assumption, Habermas elaborates, is based on fundamental distinction and demarcation between “Being and time” (ibid.). Thus the concept of knowledge devoid of interest, as pure theory and contemplation and the notion of static universe (in essence) lies at the heart of Habermas’ understanding of what he calls ‘traditional’ ontology .

The second aspect of the Greek conception of theory, Habermas claims, pertains to the idea that theory is to guide the ‘conduct of life’: “Through the soul’s likening itself to the ordered motion of the cosmos, theory enters the conduct of life. In ethos theory moulds life to its form and is reflected in the conduct of those who subject themselves to its discipline” (p. 302, emphasis retained) . Through the conception of ethos theory is connected to practice or conduct of life. Similar observations recur in Habermas’ following remarks regarding Husserl’s idea of theory and crisis: “Like almost all philosophers before him, Husserl, without second thought took as the norm of his critique an idea of knowledge that preserves the platonic connection of pure theory with the conduct of life” (ibid., emphasis added).

Thus a particular conception of knowledge as pure theory and belief in the efficacy of pure theory to guide the conduct of life forms the basis of Habermas’ understanding of ontology. This is confirmed by Habermas’ further comments on relation between positivism and ontology on the one hand and on neo Kantianism on the other hand, although Habermas concedes that in positivism, and neo Kantianism original intention of classical theory to connect theory with practice is ultimately lost (ibid: 303-304).

Habermas sees “a real connection between the positivistic self understanding of the sciences and traditional ontology” (ibid: 302). The connection is stated in the following manner: “Both are committed to a theoretical attitude that frees those who take it from dogmatic association with the natural interests of life and their irritating influence; and both share the cosmological intention of describing the universe theoretically in its lawlike order, just as it is” (ibid: 303). According to this conception ontology is based on a particular conception of knowledge that dissociates knowledge from ‘natural interests’ and consequently sees knowledge as pure theory. Similarly ontology is based on conception of universe as a static (immutable) order that can be stated and understood in terms of ‘law’ and the assumption that knowledge can describe universe ‘as it is’, or ‘in itself’ independent of knower (ibid: 304).

Habermas mentions three aspects of this ‘unconditional commitment’ of modern sciences which ultimately boil down to the same thing or at least different aspects of the same thing: “psychologically an unconditional commitment to theory and epistemologically the severance of knowledge from interest . . . in logic . . . the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive statements, which makes grammatically obligatory the filtering out of merely emotive from cognitive contents” (ibid.). All three aspects have a commonality: purging knowledge of any shades of interest. The ‘theory’ does this by purging practice, epistemology through purging interest and logic through positing emotive as outside the realm of knowledge.

To summarise: According to Habermas’ conception following assumptions are involved in a particular notion of ontology he is rejecting:

a) The notion of pure knowledge devoid of interests, emotions etc. Knowledge, which depicts reality as it is and does not involve anything else, thus a conception of knowledge as pure depiction, the notion of knowledge independent of the knowing subject. Hence the rejection of knowledge as constitutive of reality.

b) The notion of universe or world as ordered cosmos behaving according to immutable laws. Thus the rejection of dynamic universe. Hence the rejection of the concept of world as constituted.

c) The notion of universe having structures, which are independent of the knowing subject. Hence the rejection of the notion of being in itself or facts independent of knower.

The above three aspects are in fact highly interrelated and can be discussed separately only with some abstraction.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Transcendnetal consciousness and Nature

“. . . Habermas’ attempt to quarantine the need for a ground in nature to the prehistory of transcendental consciousness is overwritten by three related factors. Firstly, there is the need to supplement our knowledge of nature with a reflection that is not necessarily subject to the technical interest of prediction and control. Secondly, in order to explain the immanent facticity of nature there is admission that nature is disclosed within language. And thirdly, there is the argument derived from Frank that it is the irreducibility of world-disclosure that institutes and maintains the movement towards intersubjective consensus within language. The combined force of these factors is to suggest that not only can an adequate understanding of nature not be confined to any single language practice, but also that nature is an irreducible, immanent, and productive presence within language. If this is the case, then the indefinite deferral of the need to address the issue of ultimate foundations, [which is supposedly required to enable a post-metaphysical quasi-transcendental philosophy such as Habermas’ to focus on issues that can be agreed upon], cannot be justified as these foundations in the form of nature permeate language in a way that disrupts the supposed internality of language. And if the internality of language cannot be maintained, then the question of ultimate foundations cannot be legitimately quarantined from rational discourse.”
"Habermas, Schelling and Nature" in Critical Theory After Habermas
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