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.