Thursday, March 31, 2005

Transcendental Constraints and Transcendental Features

Mark Sacks in an important article which is referred to and briefly commented on by Habermas in his introduction to TJ, makes a distinction between Transcendental constraint (TC) and Transcendental feature (TF). Let us see first how Sacks define these terms:

TC indicates a dependence of empirical possibilities on a non-empirical structure, say, the structure of anything that can count as a mind. Such constraints will determine non-empirical limits of possible forms of experience. So here we have a direction of determination that runs from a certain transcendental structure, say of the mind, to the range of empirical forms of experience that can be actualised.”

“A merely TF on the other hand, is significantly weaker. Transcendental features indicate the limitation on what, at a time, can be envisaged as possible, and to which alternatives cannot be made intelligible as long as they retain their transcendental status. But these features are rendered transcendental only by the empirical variety of language games currently available; they are relative to the way we are currently minded, in Lear’s phrase.” (p. 178).

First let me state that Sacks uses the terms “empirical” ambiguously to describe both what is ‘experienced’ empirically and what in principle can be ‘experienced’ empirically. According to this distinction TF would be empirical only in the latter sense. This should weaken the sharp contrast Sacks makes to a certain extent though his general point remains intact. Sacks' point is that only TC can determine the form of possible experience, while TF can provide no such guarantee. However the above distinction considerably weaken Sacks' following points:

TF, expressing limits of what we can currently envisage, might serve as constraints on what serve as constraints on what projects we undertake, what we can recognize as a viable option, etc. But the contingency of those TF means that their force as constraints in no way privileged over that of ordinary empirical constraints. This is because it is a contingent matter whether they are sustained, rather than a shift in our practices sustaining alternatives to them, whether or not we can now make those alternatives intelligible.” (p. 179).

Now the fact is that TF are in a critical sense privileged over “ordinary empirical constraints.” While we can objectify ordinary empirical constraints in toto, TF, like lifeworld or language can only be objectified partially. It is impossible for us to objectify language or lifeworld in toto.

A further point is that Sacks' sharp contrast between the necessary character of TC and merely contingent character of TF is itself a residual of the transcendental model. Once we abandon a transcendental model of the Kantian sort the sharp contrast between the necessity of intelligible and the contingency of empirical should also give way to a less sharp distinction. This is another way of saying that the distinction between intelligible and empirical is not to be conceived as a dichotomy.
related post

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

two senses of the linguistic turn

Habermas differentiates between two senses of the linguistic turn: linguistic turn as a paradigm shift and “merely methodological understanding” of the turn. Here is an explanation of what he means by a methodological understanding of the linguistic turn:

“. . . there continues from Russel and Carnap onward an empiricist analysis of language with a merely methodological understanding of the linguistic turn, a strand that has gained worldwide acceptance through the work of Quine and Davidson. From the outset, Davidson assimilates an interlocutor's understanding of a linguistic expression to an observer’s interpretation of data and ends up with a nominalist conception of language that accords primacy to the passing idiolects of individual speakers over the social realm of linguistically embodied and intersubjectively shared meaning. With this move language loses the status of social fact, with Humboldt had attributed to it by subsuming it under the concept of subjective spirit.” (TJ: 69).

The above understanding of the language leads to a different conception of how we are related to (connected to) the world. For the likes of Quine and Davidson whose understanding of the linguistic turn is merely methodological our fundamental or basic relation with the world is “causal” (so they remain in the empiricist tradition of Hume even after the linguistic turn) while for those who take the turn in the meaning of paradigm shift our basic connection with the world is not “causal” but “semantic” (causality work in the context of "world disclosing semantics" and not the other way round).

In this context Habermas further differentiates between two distinct approaches to the linguistic turn understood as paradigm shift. Here he differentiates between those who have an overburdened understanding of linguistic world disclosure and hence of semantic connection with the world and those who give equal weight to innerworldly learning processes and do not reduce innerwordly to the world disclosure:

“. . . I am interested in a third current represented by philosophers as diverse as Putnam, Dummett and Apel. What these authors have in common that they take seriously the linguistic turn in the sense of a paradigm shift, without paying the price of the culturalist assimilation of being true to taking to be true. It is characteristics of these thinkers that they fight on two fronts: against the half-hearted linguistic analysis that merely tackles the old problems of Kant and Hume by new means, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, against semantic particularism that is hostile to the enlightenment and ignores the rational self understanding of language users as creatures for whom reasons are binding.” (p. 69).

the meaning of "weak" in Habermas

Habermas frequently uses the adjective "weak" to qualify his use of terms like transcendentalism etc. It is not often clear what Haberams exactly means by the qualification. Here is a clue from Habermas himself (from his discussion of Putnam in TJ):

"[The] indispensability argument is "weak" insofar as it argues not that a presupposition is unrevisable or necessary, but that it is - for the time being - unavoidable, that we cannot imagine it being otherwise." (pp. 219-220).

Read more

Sunday, March 27, 2005

continuities and discontinuities

Carl Sachs wrote here:

"Ali, you wrote that the "factual' can produce what is not only sharply distinct from it but also in some sense antithesis of it." What bothers me about this way of framing the issue is this: is the opposition between sapience ("Reason") and sentience ("Nature") constitutive of the distinction? Or is rather that we moderns have inherited a certain tradition, given inflection and expression by Plato, Descartes, and Kant, that construes this distinction as an opposition? If the latter (as I suspect) then the very notion of an opposition between Nature and Reason might itself be part of the philosophy of the subject that we need to overcome."

First let me say that maintaining the right balance between ‘continuity’ and discontinuity’ is a tricky matter. As Brandom puts it nicely:

“Theories that assimilate conceptually structured activity to the nonconceptual activity out of which it arises (in evolutionary, historical, and individual-developmental terms) are in danger of failing to make enough of the difference. Theories that adopt the converse strategy, addressing themselves at the outset to what is distinctive of or exceptional about the conceptual, court the danger of not doing justice to generic similarities.” (Articulating Reasons, p. 3).

Carl, perhaps you are right to object to my use of the term anti-thesis here. I think I am happy to drop it. Thank you for that. My intention however was to emphasise on the one hand the clear distinction that Habermas makes between facticity and validity, a distinction which for him is the corner stone of modernity. Thus he claims that in mythic societies we cannot find a concept of validity which is not confused with the “admixture of empirical efficacy.” (see TCA I, chapter 1 under the discussion of mythical views.). On the other hand Habermas also stresses the need for a thoroughgoing detranscendentalisation that does away with all kinds of attempts to ground distinctions like facticity and validity in metaphysical or ontological dualisms. From this the conclusion I draw is that the only way to combine the above two stances is to argue that the distinction between facticity and validity emerges from ‘within’, i.e. from the factual, taken in broad terms. As Habermas puts it:

“Transcendental reason has come down from its supersensible pedestal and has sedimented itself in the pores of the practices and forms of life of actual linguistic communities. As a result of this cultural embodiment of reason, the transcendental distinction become less clear. However, they do not disappear entirely. The distinction between the realm of reason and the realm of appearances returns in detranscendentalized forms.” (TJ: 218).

Clearly the conclusion I draw above is drawn by Habermas himself in the above quote and at several other places. My only contribution (if there is any) is to put the whole issue into sharp focus (which it has not yet received in my opinion).

"transcendent / transcendental" and Derrida

A couple of posts back Andrew Montin made the following comments about the transcendent/transcendental distinction in Derrida. I thought the comments were illuminating even though lacking any specialised knowledge of Derrida I cannot add much to them. I thought others with more Derrida knowledge might benefit from them and might have something to add (hope Andrew does not mind us putting them here).

"I just wanted to say something about the transcendent / transcendental issue in Derrida.

In "Introduction to Husserl's Origin of Geometry" (English trans.), Derrida on p.146, n.177 writes after quoting Husserl:

"If the Idea is thought here to have a transcendental sense and, as we shall see in a moment, is "beyond" only compared with the constituted moment of transcendental subjectivity, we can observe that Husserl profoundly recuperates the original scholastic sense of the transcendental (unum, verum, bonum, etc., as the transcategorial of Aristotelian logic) over and above its Kantian meaning, but also in a development of the Kantian enterprise."

So it seems that Derrida attributes the "confusion" between the transcendent and transcendental, or more precisely between the Scholastic and Kantian senses, to Husserl. At any rate, Derrida doesn't consider them mutually exclusive. The issue crops up again in "The Supplement of Copula" (Margins, p. 195):

"Here we are taking the word 'transcendental' in its most rigorous accepted sense, in its most avowed 'technicalness,' precisely as it was fixed in the course of the development of the Aristotelian problematic of the categories, including whatever remains beyond the categories. Transcendental means transcategorical. Literally, 'that which transcends every genre.' (Despite the contextual differences, this definition of the word undoubtedly invented by the Chancellor Philip, 1128, also suits the Kantian and Husserlian concepts of the transcendental.)"

In a passage in "Of Grammatology" Derrida restricts his notion of the transcendental (as he does above, but given what he says about Husserl and Kant, how restrictive is this restriction?) to the Scholastic sense when dealing with the transcendental signified:

"[T]he 'transcendental' signified ('transcendental' in a certain sense, as in the Middle Ages the transcendental - ens,unum, verum, bonum - was said to be the 'primum cognitum')..." (p. 20)

If in Derrida this doesn't lead to a "naturalization of the transcendental" or a "collapsing into a psychologization of transcendence" it is because he originally found justification for this convergence in the phenomenological tradition."

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Nietzsche, Habermas and factual validity distinction . . .

Following comments by Carl Sachs were in my opinion too important to be buried in the comments section. I hope Carl does not mind me putting them here. I will comment on some of the issues raised in here later, but let me say that on the whole I am in basic agreement with Carl:

"I've been thinking about Habermas' critique of Nietzsche, in KHI. Habermas also wrote an essay on Nietzsche's epistemology in 1968, but I haven't looked at it yet.

I'd like to use Sellars' distinction, which has become important to Brandom, between sentience and sapience. Let "sentience" refer to reliable differential responses to stimuli. Let "sapience" refer to conceptually structured relations of material inference. (One of the many reasons I like this contrast is that it forces into the open that by "Nature" we do not mean inert matter (hyle, res extensa) but animal embodiment. And one of Nietzsche's great achievements, I think, was to put the question of our own animal embodiment back on the agenda.

In these terms, Habermas' critique is this: Nietzsche reduces sapience to sentience. That is, Nietzsche refuses to acknowledge the distinction between "the game of asking for and giving reasons" (Sellars) and patterns of activity and reactivity that characterize all living things. This is what is at stake when Habermas argues, in KHI, that Nietzsche psychologizes transcendence. For Nietzsche does not only psychologize transcendence, but does so in terms of a psychological theory that makes no distinction of kinds between humans and other animals. It's "will to power" all the way down.

Following that revolution in our self-understanding that is called "Darwin," Habermas acknowledges that the distinction between sapience and sentience must be a "natural" distinction. (Does this mean that we should expect cognitive science to tell us how it happened?) But Habermas wants to resist the "strong naturalism" of Quine that would level out the sapeience/sentience distinction.

On Habermas' reading, is Nietzsche a "strong naturalist" in the same camp as Quine? Reading KHI alongside TJ produces that impression. Is that fair to Nietzsche?

Ali, you wrote that the "factual' can produce what is not only sharply distinct from it but also in some sense antithesis of it." What bothers me about this way of framing the issue is this: is the opposition between sapience ("Reason") and sentience ("Nature") constitutive of the distinction? Or is rather that we moderns have inherited a certain tradition, given inflection and expression by Plato, Descartes, and Kant, that construes this distinction as an opposition? If the latter (as I suspect) then the very notion of an opposition between Nature and Reason might itself be part of the philosophy of the subject that we need to overcome.

Overcoming opposition in the name of difference? There might be a way, here, to re-frame the one-sided debate between Habermas and Nietzsche. But in order to do so one would need to show, it seems to me, that Nietzsche's acocunt of "spiritualization" is an account of the emergence of sapience from sentience. And I don't know if the notion of spiritualization is really worked out well enough, in Nietzsche, to do the work that a defender of Nietzsche would need it to do."

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Running two themes together

There are two themes that run parallel in Habermas.

On the one hand:

1) There is what I call “transcendental theme” in the context of which Habemras forcefully argue for:

a) A sharp distinction between facticty and validity.
b) A sharp distinction between nature and human (social and cultural) world.
c) What following Allison we can term as absolute spontaneity of reason.
d) Spontaneity of human subjectivity and agency.
e) Typically Kantian notions of Reflection, thought and critique.

On the other hand:

2)there is a parallel “detranscendentalization theme” in Habermas as well where he equally forcefully argues for:

a) detranscendentalization of reason.
b) Embeddedness of human agency.
c) Our status as “Being in the world”
d) Critique of transcendental subjectivity and consciousness.
e) Critique of all types of metaphysics that locates reason beyond this world.

Habermas commentators tend to emphasize one theme at the expense of the other depending on their own preferences. However what needs to be done is to understand how we can systematically synthesise these two themes in one coherent “theory” without down plying one theme at the expense of the other.

If we want to do justice two both themes in Habermas then in my opinion the only way out is to emphasise and highlight the theme of “transcendence from within”. This is the only way to go in my opinion.

If we want to say on the one hand that there is a sharp distinction between ‘facticity’ and ‘validity’ while on the other hand we also want to emphasise that ultimate ‘detranscendentalsied’ character of the ‘validity’, the only way out possible is to show how a sharp distinction between facticity and validity can emerge from within, i.e. to show how ‘factual' can produce what is not only sharply distinct from it but also in some sense antithesis of it.

Read more

Sunday, March 20, 2005

scientific conceptions of nature and reconciliation between "nature" and "reason"

Let us begin by a thesis that:

Concept of “nature” as provided by natural sciences is the hindrance in the way of any reconciliation between “nature” and “reason”.

Now there are, many possible ways out, but first a “caution”:

“The reconciliation is to be done without blurring distinction between “reason” and “nature”. In another words there is a distinction which should not be blurred but there is no legetimation for turning that distinction into a dichotomy.

Now here is one possible way out (on this occasion only from the perspective of “nature’ though similar should be done from the side of “reason”):

1) Reconceptualise the concept of “nature” as dealt within natural science.

1a) But the above is ambiguous: It can either mean re-conceptualizing the concept of “nature” as it is used in sciences. It would be argued that unless we arrive at a new conception of science which is qualitatively different form current physicalist reductionist conception of science we cannot effect any reconciliation between nature and reason. Marcuse and his disciples argued for such a position. Habermas is vehemently opposed to such ideas. He sees in them germs of anti modernism.

1b) or it can mean re-conceptualizing the concept of nature as a whole in such a way that the concept of nature as found in sciences would be part of an overall conception of nature (an abstraction albeit a legitimate one) and would not be regarded as equal to nature as such. Then we would have an ample room for experimenting with our idea of reconciliation between nature and reason without abandoning current notions of what science is apart from denying reductionist philosophies based on an appeal to sciences.

2) Obviously Habermas would favour (1b).

The distinction between "transcendental" and "empirical" in KHI

Note: Moving to the front due to recent comments

Even in KHI Habermas is working with a notion of "transcendental" which is also "natural":

The “knowledge-constitutive interests mediate the natural history of the human species with the logic of its self-formative process” (KHI: 196). Thus they are the conditions of the possibility of experience in the sense that they constitute the object domain of possible experience (and hence they are transcendental) but they are also the product of the process of natural evolution of human species which is ultimately “contingent” (KHI: 34). Hence the term “quasi transcendental” for these interests (TP: 8).

Habermas credits Nietzsche for doing the same; however he censures him for psychologising those interests. The following summarises Habermas’ verdict on Nietzsche regarding Knowledge and interest: “Nietzsche . . . saw the connection of knowledge and interest, but psychologised it, thus making it the basis of a metacritical dissolution of knowledge as such. Nietzsche carried to its end the self abolition of epistemology inaugurated by Hegel and continued by Marx, arriving at the self denial of reflection” (KHI: 290).

By psychologising "transcendental interests" Nietzsche collapses the distinction between "transcendental" and "empirical". In TJ the same charge would be levelled against Quine and Davidson (albeit in different terms and different tone).

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

detranscendentalisation . . .

Habermas’ use of the term detranscendentalisation is coupled with his critique of the transcendental subjectivity. The whole notion of detranscendentalisation presupposes the Kantian grounding of the distinction between “transcendental” and “empirical” in the two realm distinction (the realm of pure intelligibility and the phenomenal realm). It is only if this Kantian notion is presupposed that the notion of ‘detranscendentalisation’ makes any sense. Habermas says this in his discussion on Quine quite explicitly:

“The heirs of Hume are less affected than the heirs of Kant by the two problems to which the detranscendentalising move gives rise. The unsettling questions regarding the objectivity of knowledge and the difference between the world and what is innerworldly do not even arise unless we start with the assumptions of the transcendental approach in the first place.”

Habermas takes the term “detranscendentalisation” quite literally:

“Detranscendentalisation alters the very concept of the transcendental. Transcendental consciousness loses the connotation of an “otherworldly” dimension rooted in the realm of intelligible. It has come down to Earth in the form of everyday communicative practice, which is no longer sublime. Thus, the profane lifeworld has usurped the transmundane place of the noumenal. Although pragmatism retains the transcendental framing of the issue, it defuses the tension between the transcendental and empirical. To be sure, communicative language still commits participants to strong idealizations. By orienting themselves to unconditional validity claims and presupposing each other’s accountability, interlocutors aim beyond contingent and merely local contexts. But these counterfactual presuppositions are rooted in the facticity of everyday practices.”

Habermas goes on to say that:

“Deflating our original understanding of the transcendental has significant consequences. If transcendental rules are no longer something rational outside the world, they mutate into expressions of cultural forms of life and have a beginning in time. As a consequence, we may no longer without qualification claim “universality” and “necessity,” that is, objectivity for empirical cognition the possibility of which has been established transcendentally. And the transcendental conditions under which we have epistemic access to the world themselves must be conceived as something in the world.”

Six theses on Habermas, Naturalism and anti-Naturalism

Note: Moving to the front (from March 7) due to recent comments

1) In the course of the 19th century within the history of Philosophy we witness a challenge emerging to the naturalism prevailing since the early modern times. In the Kantian philosophy we find an assertion of the Platonic and rationalist belief in the “otherworldly” character of the key modern concepts like reason, freedom and reflection. For sure, Kant gave crucial concessions to the naturalism in general. He accepted its overall detranscendentalising thrust. However he insisted on preserving something crucial from this overall detranscendentalising project. The concepts of freedom and reason cannot be sustained within a thoroughgoing detranscendentalising trust of the modern philosophy. One needs to make room for a transcendental/intelligible realm where ‘reason’ and ‘freedom’ can be located. This resulted in two crucial premises on which Kantian idealism is based.

1a) Reason is not a thing of ‘this world.’ It cannot be reduced to or emerge from within it. There is a crucial distinction between empirical/natural and rational realm. It is manifested in Kant’s distinction between freedom and nature in a binary way. In sum, for Kant empirical and rational orders are exclusive.

1b) Reason requires a subject, a subject with a possibility of freedom. A subject is not only part of the ‘natural’ order but also a member of the rational order. It is through this ‘dual’ character of the subject that the natural order and rational orders are interrelated.

3) Habermas’ unique synthesis is Not unlike Kant, who at the time, had tried to combine the opposing tendencies of empiricism and rationalism, Habermas also aims to combine naturalism/empiricism and idealism/anti-naturalism.

4) On the one hand Habermas fully agrees with naturalism/empiricism in general on the issue of the ‘desublimation’ and ‘detranscendentalisation’ of the reason, freedom and our understanding of the world in general. He critiques idealism and anti-naturalism on this account throughout his writings. In this regard Habermas’ critiques the notion of the transcendental subject among other notions.

5) On the other hand Habermas also holds fast to the key idealist assumption that ‘reason’ cannot be reduced to the ‘empirical’ and it is important to maintain the transcending powers of reason. He also insists that reason and freedom are closely related and he insists on that in order to preserve the transcending power of reason. We need to hold to the notion of subject capable of accomplishments a subject that is not merely a ‘cultural dope.’ Thus Habermas aims to preserve the conception of a subject capable of accomplishments even when he accepts the critique of subject aimed at the Kantian tradition.

6) Habermas maintains that the naturalist project of desublimation and detranscendentalisation of reason can be combined with the Kantian project of preserving the transcending powers of reason. Habermas’ crucial, central and unique insight is that the Kantian distinction between empirical and transcendental can be preserved without ascribing to the Kantian distinction between empirical and intelligible world/order. This would result, claims Habermas, in a new synthesis where we would be able to combine the best of empiricism and idealism, naturalism, and anti-naturalism without however ascribing to their shortcomings. Habermas calls this position a weak naturalism in his most recent writings.

Henrich on Habermas: some observations

Note: Moving to the front (from Feb 24) due to recent comments

“. . . the capacity for language can only develop along with the spontaneous emergence of a self relation. This emergence in turn requires explanation. And this world require us to speak of an implicit self-relation, which already appears or function at the most elementary level of language acquisition. For it is clear that the capacity to use the grammatical first-person singular (the pronoun ‘I’) is acquired only at late stage in the process of language acquisition. If the existence of a self-relation were dependent on, and determined by, the acquisition of this capacity, then the thesis of the priority of interaction would be unproblematic; it would be a trivial and obvious truth.” (Dieter Henrich, "What is Metaphysics - What is Modernity? Twelve Theses against Jürgen Habermas" in Habermas: A Critical Reader, p. 311).

Consdier however the following:

•Habermas does not deny the biological/physiological/neurological bases of human spontaneity (freedom). Evidently language use and capacity for it presupposes certain degree of freedom and capacity for it. However such capacity is intermeshed, from the start with and ultimately undifferentiated from the capacity to use language. [As Habermas notes: "By no means does (linguistic analysis of the development of consciousness) exclude prelinguistic roots of cognitive development for early childhood: even with primitive rule consciousness, a rudimentary relation-to-self must already develop itself. Such ontogenetic assumptions do not, however, prejudice the description of the functioning of metacognitive abilites at the developmental stage of the mastered mother tongue, where achievements of intelligence are already linguistically organized." (Postmetaphysical Thinking, p. 27 n 18).].

•What Habermas is saying is that human spontaneity (freedom) cannot be explained in terms of biological/physiological/neurological capacity alone. A fuller explanation must involve understanding of the processes individuation through socialization (which obviously involves language use).

• In a sense for Habermas, in a quite contrast with Henrich, the proposition that there is a biological/physiological/neurological basis of human freedom is “unproblematic,” in fact it is “trivial and obvious truth.” What needs explanation is how this capacity grows into a full fledged capability in the face of a thorough going socialization which every individual under goes during his lifetime.

•In order to explain the existence of spontaneity in the fullest sense one needs to understand it in the context of our being in the world and our being with the others.

The above is borne out by what Habermas says here:

“I see the . . . far – reaching contribution of Mead in his having taken up themes that can be found in Humboldt and Kierkegaard: individuation is pictured not as the self.-realization of an independently acting subject carried out in isolation and freedom but as a linguistically mediated process of socialization and the simultaneous constitution of a life history that is conscious of itself. The identity of socialized individuals forms itself simultaneously in the medium of coming to an understanding with others in language and in the medium of coming to a life-historical and intersubjective understanding with oneself. Individuality forms itself in relations of intersubjective acknowledgement and of intersubjectively mediated self-understanding.” (Postmetaphysical Thinking, pp. 152-153).

Sunday, March 13, 2005

H-H-H tradition and Habermas

Cristina Lafont describes the two founding insights of the German tradition of language which she following Charles Taylor calls Hamann-Herder-Humboldt tradition, in the following way:

“1. The view of language presupposed by the philosophy of consciousness is subjected to a critique. On this view, the role of language is relegated to that of a tool mediating the subject-object relation; consequently, language becomes a medium for the mere expression of prelinguistic thoughts. The critique of this standpoint arises by regarding language as constitutive of thought, and by recognizing accordingly the double status of language as both empirical and transcendental. In virtue of this status, language claims to the constitutive role traditionally attributed to consciousness, to a transcendental subject.

2. Furthermore, this transformation amounts to a detranscendentalization of reason. Reason comes to be unavoidably situated in the midst of a plurality of natural languages, which cannot guarantee the unity of reason in the same way as could the extraworldly strandpoint of a transcendental subject.” (The linguistic turn in Hermeneutic tradition, p. 3).

Habermas basically accepts both insights of the tradition however emphasises the need of ‘transcendence form within’ in the wake of the above by stressing an equal importance of innerworldly learning processes which have capability of altering (in part) the language which is the condition of the possibility of these innerworldy process. This is not possible without a thoroughgoing ‘naturalism’ of Habermas which bars him from accepting a static view of language as the condition of world disclosure.

continuity between language and the world

Joachim Renn’s following comments (in his extremely insightful review of TJ which I have discovered only a month or so ago) on how to ground Habermas’ methodological distinction between understanding and observation in his ontology of weak naturalism seems to me quite fascinating:

Habermas stresses – again in accord with Putnam – primarily the normative status of rationality to avoid naturalistic interpretations of the relation between the biological history of humanity and the history of a reconstructive (internal) perspective with an (external) observational point of view, i.e. the continuity between nature and culture, on a ‘meta-theoretical’ level (TJ: pp. 38-9). The strategic value of this argument lies both in avoiding the reduction of inner-worldly learning to the evolutionary adaptation of the human species to its environment, and in maintaining the connection between rational justification (as an emergent level in comparison to a natural history of adaptation) and the problems in the real world.” (One world is Enough, p. 490).

Thus, the unique Habermasian synthesis depends on the realisation of continuities (and discontinuities) between language and action on the one and language and the world on the other hand.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Reconciliation with Nature: Habermas and Adorno

I have been arguing that Habermas’ weak naturalism can be interrelated as an attempt at reconciliation with nature. Here is a counter claim and my response.

Axel Honneth claims that:

“[Adorno’s] critique of instrumental rationality ultimately presupposes that only a condition of profound liberation in society can qualify as a medium for a reified common sense, i.e; as an Eindenken der Natur. Only on aesthetic cooperation with nature would allow the domination-free interpretation of inner nature. Thus, the key to Adorno’s philosophy of history is the theme of “reconciliation with nature.” Habermas, however, distrusts the idea of reconciliation. He suspects that an aesthetic communication with nature extends the model of social interaction to natural contexts, and thus overtaxes it. If the idea of reconciliation relies for its viability only on an earlier, originally theological, and theoretically no longer tenable notion, then, of course, Adorno’s criteria for a truly rational society, as introduced into his philosophy of history, also becomes impractical.” (Axel Honneth, “Communication and reconciliation Habermas’ critique of Adorno,” Telos (Spring, 1979), 45-61, here 50, emphasis retained.).

The roots of Habermas’ distrust with the idea of reconciliation as Honneth claims can be found in the way the conception of ‘reconciliation with nature’ is defined and not with the concept a such. After claiming that Adorno’s central project is reconciliation with nature and that Habermas distrusts the very notion of reconciliation, Honneth defines reconciliation as “an aesthetic communication with nature”. Obviously Habermas is not going to like this notion of reconciliation because it is not only goes back to a mythic conception of nature as some sort of proto subjectivity, it also confuses between a 'distinction' and 'dichotomy'.

Habermas’ conception of reconciliation is an ontological conception (not a moral conception) and does not require ‘communication’ with nature. It only requires us to show the ‘co-belonging’ of human beings and nature and to construe the ‘origins’ of human beings and their reason and their way of life as natural in a fairly broad sense without, however, blurring the distinction between humans and objective nature. Habermas’ thrusts for reconciliation comes form the context of attempts to overcome cartesianism which creates dichotomy between thought and being. Kant’s attempt at reconceptualsing the relation between thought and being does not only create its own dichotomies but also rests on a conception of transcendental subjectivity which is incompatible with the detranscendentalising tendencies of modern life forms. This provides the immediate context of Habermas’ attempts at reconciliation with nature.

Habermas’ share this project with post Kantians (including Romantics) such as Schelling and Hegel but sides with Hegel. Andrew Bowie in his excellent review of McDowell’ book Mind and World writes:

“Being familiar with our own spontaneity must, as Fichte insisted, be prior to any sense in which we can talk of the world in such terms, otherwise it is impossible to explain how one would experience the resistance of the object world in intuition as resistance in the first place. At the same time, though, as Novalis will suggest, the spontaneity must also – precisely because we are part of the world – be an aspect of the world: a world of nature which does not involve more than causal relations could ever give rise to the spontaneity of the space of reasons. The alternative to this insistence on the irreducibility of spontaneity is to make the Hegelian claim that subjectivity and objectivity ground each other, so that I gain my awareness of my spontaneity solely from cognitive engagement with the world.” (Andrew Bowie, “ John McDowell’s “Mind and World” and early Romantic Epistemology,” Revue Internationale de Philosophie 50(197), 515-554, here 535.)

Habermas would accept Novalis’ contention that “a world of nature which does not involve more than causal relations could never give rise to spontaneity of the space of reason.”. He will side with Hegel against Fichte in insisting that spontaneity’s ground is nature. Habermas would reject any attempt to locate proto subjectivity in nature in the manner of Romantics and Schelling although he would agree with Schelling that in order to explain spontaneity nature must be construed as more than “sum of “conditioned conditions””(ibid.). However, Habermas explains this fact in non metaphysical terms by adopting a relational and functional approach rather than succumbing to objective idealism (or objective materialism).

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Rawls, Habermas and Bobbio in an Age of War

There is an important article on Habermas and Rawls here and some interesting discussion here

If I get some spare time I would throw few comments, however that is it for now.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Habermas' critique of empiricism and idealism in KHI

The purpose of this post is to briefly review Habermas’ simultaneous critique of both empiricism and idealism in his early work KHI. I shall do this by first indicating elements of his critique of both empiricism and idealism and then point towards elements that relate to Habermas' concern in this works of going beyond empiricism idealism divides.

1.1 KHI has been rightly regarded as a critique of positivism. Habermas here makes his famous pronouncement that to allow positivism is to deny the possibility of reflection. In a sense KHI can be positively read as Habermas’ extended plea for the reinstatement of 'reflection' in mainstream philosophy and social sciences.

Furthermore, Habermas’ conception of 'reflection' in KHI implies certain vintage point, certain distance vis a vis the object of the critique (and the possibility of any such distance).

1.2 On the other hand, and at the same time, KHI is also an attempt at 'naturalising' (in a broad sense) transcendental philosophy. Habermas’ chapters on Hegel and Marx are meant to "situate" Kant (or the transcendental empirical distinction in other words)within "this world". In this context Habermas famously mentions Hegel’s dictum against Kant that doing epistemology in the Kantian sense is to claim to know before knowing (KHI: 7).

1.3 Naturally the dual aim of Habermas to try to establish on the one hand the notion of reflection and self reflection that allows for the possibility of distance between not only subject and object but also subject towards itself and other subjects, on the other hand, he wants this to be done in a way that is compatible with the overall naturalism of his position. This evidently requires something Habermas later called “transcendence from within.” Though the name does not exist yet, the vision is already present in KHI.

1.4 A crucial move is to try to relate interest and knowledge, reason and interest. If reason and interest are not exclusive then it might be that the relation of reason to nature can be established. On the other hand Habermas also points towards the fact that there are interests, which are transcendental and not just particularistic. Habermas’ strategy is to try to establish the transcendental character of certain interests is aimed two ways: on the one hand interests relate reason to nature, on the other hand there are certain transcendental interest that cannot be equated with particular interests, hence paving the way for establishing a distinction between empirical and transcendental within an overall naturalism.

1.5 In other words if knowledge can been shown to be related to interests and if knowledge can be considered as something which emerges out of interests and if the power of critical reflection can be shown to be one of the ‘natural’ interests, then it would go long way in overcoming the dichotomy between nature and reason, interest and knowledge.

Though Habermas’ project in KHI fails it does not result in his abandonment of the overall aim of overcoming the dichotomy between nature and reason. In other words in Habermas’ failure in KHI does not deter him in his effort to go beyond empiricism and idealism.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Rousseau and Habermas

Henrich in his critique of Habermas regards him as a Philosopher of harmony who does not face the discordant character of modern forms of life and through his conception of lifeworld avoids the question of how to overcome these inevitable discords that characterise modern life. “Lifeworld” according to Henrich is a term “which has this avoidance written into its profile.” (Dieter Henrich, "What is Metaphysics - What is Modernity? Twelve Theses against Jürgen Habermas" in Habermas: A Critical Reader, p. 298).

Habermas in his reply however characterises lifeworld as a “naturelike wellspring for problematizations of (the) familiar background to the world as a whole. . . .” (Postmetaphysical Thinking, p.16 ). Thus lifeworld has dual character, on the one hand it is a taken for granted background without which no argumentation, agreement or dissention is possible (ibid; p. 38), on the other hand it is also a wellspring for unceasing problematization (this would vary from lifeworld to lifeworld of course).

Henrich, however, takes only one side of lifeworld and accuses Habermas’ of avoiding the problem of incessant and inherent discords by presupposing false complacencies. In this regard Henrich urge us to recall the “way in which the metaphysical projects of modernity are constructed”:

“It is clear that all the subsequent theories which derived from Kant’s thought aimed to serve the spontaneously emerging thinking, and resolve the conflicts, of a form of life oriented by reason, and that they acknowledged the task of justification . . . . What made them so impressive, and gave them their superiority, was not an abstract notion of the Absolute as a supersynthesis. It was rather the way in which they were able to disclose the dynamics of conscious life and to render it more transparent to itself – a life which has to begin amidst conflicts which are irresolvable at the first level. Although they took their inspiration from Kant, they also incorporated impulses deriving from Rousseau, the theorist of conflict par excellence.” (pp. 300-301).

Here Henrich seems to be counterpoising Habermas the thinker of harmony and avoidance of conflicts to Rousseau the "theorist of conflict par excellence". It is interesting to note that while some of the vast literature on Rousseau in the English language has emphasised the ‘theorist of conflict’ side of Rousseau most literature rather characterises Rousseau as a thinker not of conflict but a thinker who suppresses plurality and dissent and tries to impose monolithic concepts to forge harmony.

Many people have compared this homogenising Rousseau with Habermas whose conception of consensus as the aim of mutual understanding has been interpreted as aimed at a similar sort of homogenisation.

Patchen Markell in his excellent article “Contesting Consensus: Rereading Habermas on the public sphere,” Constellations Volume 3, No 3, 1997: 377-400, goes a long way to dispel this stereotype of Habermas as the thinker of consensus (as against conflict and dissent). Markell in this respect stresses the importance of focusing on the process of communication and not just on the end product (agreement). He also emphasises the importance of ‘unpredictability’ and ‘openness’ in Habermas’ account of communicative action. Markell also stresses the reflexive and fallible character of communicative action in Habermas. The whole essay is worth reading. I will try to comment on portions of the essay in future posts.
Locations of visitors to this page