Sunday, March 20, 2005

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).

7 comments:

Clark Goble said...

Does he offer much of a convincing argument for Nietzsche having psychologized transcendence? I'm afraid I have a hard time buying that.

Carl Sachs said...

Habermas is correct if one locates Nietzsche's "psychologization of transcendence" in his genealogy of the ascetic ideal and the longing for some reality other than the natural one. But one might push Habermas even further here. One of the problem with Nietzsche, I think, is that he did not distinguish between the transcendent and the transcendental. Consequently he takes his psychological inquiry into the desire for transcendence to apply to all versions of transcendental philosophy.

Distinguishing between the transcendent and the transcendental is a necessary step to preventing a naturalization of the transcendental from collapsing into a psychologization of transcendence.

Recently Joel Whiteboook has argued, in his work on Foucault's interpretation of Freud, that one needs a theory of sublimation in order to sustain the conceptual distance between conditions of genesis and conditions of validity--a distance that is only sometimes maintained in Nietzsche's work. I think that something like a notion of sublimation is also at work in Habermas' account, at least in KHI. I'm not sure about TJ yet.

Ali Rizvi said...

"One of the problem with Nietzsche, I think, is that he did not distinguish between the transcendent and the transcendental. Consequently he takes his psychological inquiry into the desire for transcendence to apply to all versions of transcendental philosophy.

Distinguishing between the transcendent and the transcendental is a necessary step to preventing a naturalization of the transcendental from collapsing into a psychologization of transcendence."

Very well said Carl! Perhaps one can excuse Nietzsche since his model for distinction between “transcendental” and “empirical” was Kant who tries to ground “transcendental” in the "transcendent" (i.e. in the intelligible realm).

In fact the confusion is persistent. Among contemporary philosophers Deleuze for example makes the same mistake of equating “transcendence” with “transcendent” and hence counterpoise “immanence” to “transcendence”. (see What is philosophy? / Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari ; translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell.)

Carl Sachs said...

I am still not sure what to say about "The French" (Deleuze and Guattari, Foucault, Derrida), aka "la pensee 68." Foucault's "the historical a priori" seems to be a historicized transcendental structure. Derrida is also, in some sense, a transcendental philosopher. Deleuze embraces what he calls "transcendental empiricism" in Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense. So it is really not clear to me whether they repeat Nietzsche's mistake or not. I do agree that Nietzsche followed Kant (or at least a strain in Kant) that conflates the noumenal and the transcendental.

On the other hand, this conflation did not suggest itself to me when I read the First Critique. To conflate these would mean that the conditions of possibility for empirical cognition of objects are taken to be the same as the things in themselves. That might be how Schopenhauer approaches Kant, and Nietzsche first became acquainted with Kant through a Schopenhauerian lens.

Andrew Montin said...

Hi - great blog, I hope it can generate more discussion.

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.

Ali Rizvi said...

Carl,

I should like to say something about what you say in your last point.

1) I think you are right about Foucault. There is in Foucault a distinction between "transcendental" and "empirical" which does not refer back to any idealist conception of two realms. The idea is developed most thoroughly in Paul Veyne's seminal interpretation of Foucault.

2) I did not mean to say that Kant conflated the idea of transcendental and noumenal. What I am saying is rather he grounded transcendental in noumenal. Moreover if you start with Kantian premises it is almost inevitable that you would arrive at some such position which Kant defend.

3) Retreat from Kant's position is not because we have realized that he conflates the conception of transcendental with noumenal but because the very idea of noumenal has become suspect and has lost its plausibility for us (in the wake of thronging detranscendentalisation which Habermas traces so fascinatingly in TJ).

3) To go beyond it is necessary to abandon Kant's premises and most importantly his conception of experience which despite his efforts to go beyond remains fundamentally Humean.

4) Habermas on the other hand begins his attempt to overcome the phenomenal noumenal divide by starting from a pragmatic conception of knowledge (as explained in the introduction to TJ).

Ali Rizvi said...

Dear Andrew,

Thank you for your kind words and thank you also for your very useful introduction to Derrida's views on the issue.

 
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