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).

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