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.

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