Tuesday, March 15, 2005

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.

3 comments:

Carl Sachs said...

Ali,

Firstly, allow me to say that I've been following your thoughts (here and on "Foucaultian Reflections") for a few weeks, and I'm grateful for your having indicated the richness of some of Habermas' latest work (esp. Truth and Justification and the recent essays on religion).

Habermas' version of "weak naturalism" has clear affinities with some recent Anglophone thinkers (Putnam, McDowell, and Brandom), and Habwermas clearly acknowledges these connections. Habermas also expresses, more clearly than they do, that what he is doing is distinguishing the transcedental/empirical distinction from the noumenal/phenomenal distinction. In Habermas' hands, the transcendental/empirical distinction becomes a distinction that is wholly natural. (Sami Pihlstrom has also developed this theme in his recent Naturalizing the Transcendental, though he does not cite Habermas.)

On the other hand, I have recently begun to think that "weak naturalism" really needs a phenomenological complement, and I don't yet know if there is such a complement in Habermas. Both Kant and Heidegger (and I've been struck by how Heidegger Truth and Justification is!) have some account of how we can become conscious of that which is transcendental (ontological) as distinct from that which is empirical (ontic). There are specific sorts of "experiences" which reveal the constitutive structures of experiences. Heidegger locates these in the work of art. Despite my reservations about Heidegger, I think that the distinction between the transcendental and the empirical cannot be only a formal distinction, but also an experiential one. I've recently turned to Adorno in hopes of being able to articulate something of the phenomenology of "transcendental experience." It might be possible to provide an account of "revelation" in terms of transcendental experience. If so, that would show some connection between Habermas' recent epistemology and his recent work in (for lack of a better word) theology.

Do you think that "weak naturalism" requires a phenomenological complement, and if so, do you think that Habermas provides it?

Ali Rizvi said...

Carl,

Thanks for your very profound and stimulating comments and your kind words.

I believe some sort of experience (I would have called it communicative experience) is needed to complement Habermas' weak naturalism in order for him to explain the possibility of transcendence from within. In fact I had started trying to explain the possibility of such an experience in Habermas (where somehow Kant's "realm of pure intelligence" opens up within communicative action itself) without ever suspecting any relation to his weak naturalism. It is only lately that I have realised this and that sort of changed the nature of my whole project, however luckily without affecting much of the work I had done on the topic since now I realise that the possibility of 'transcendence from within' is situated in the context of Habermas' weak naturalism.

My muddled attempts to explain the phenomenon can be found here:

http://mc2.vicnet.net.au/home/ltppc/shared_files/transcendencefromwithin.pdf

and here

http://members.optusnet.com.au/~alimrizvi/Validityuncondituniver.doc

[I have not revised these papers for a year or so and later versions exist in both cases; however they will indicate the general thrust of the argument I hope]

You can call it phenomenological experience in the Heideggerian sense if you like, and I know of one piece which actually does try to explain what I call communicative experience in terms of the phenomenological tradition ["A moment of unconditional validity? Schutz and the Habermas/Rorty debate" Michael D. Barber, Human Studies 27: 51-67, 2004].

I have been reading a lot of Quine, Putnam, Brandom and McDowell since I have realised the importance of the problem of naturalism. McDowell is particularly important for understanding Habermas' argument about naturalism but Haberams differs from those in the Anglo Saxon tradition including McDowell in that he posits the problem of naturalism on a different plain than they do. While Anglo Saxon philosophers are still positing the problem at the level of knowledge and perceptual experience Habermas posits it at the level of communicative action and argumentation. That is the reason why, while for Habermas', as a good Heideggerian, 'mind'/'body' problem is no problem at all, thus he says that his weak naturalism is neutral as to the ‘nature’ of mind, for Anglo Saxon philosophers it is still a central problem, and it is through the prism of this problem that they approach the problem of naturalism.

I also noticed Sami Pihlstrom’ connection you mention. In fact that is what I am try to argue as to what Habermas’ position is, although I have still delve into Sami’s book in order to see how he actually argues for his position.

cheers
Ali

Ali Rizvi said...

"While Anglo Saxon philosophers are still positing the problem at the level of knowledge and perceptual experience Habermas posits it at the level of communicative action and argumentation. That is the reason why, while for Habermas', as a good Heideggerian, 'mind'/'body' problem is no problem at all, thus he says that his weak naturalism is neutral as to the ‘nature’ of mind, for Anglo Saxon philosophers it is still a central problem, and it is through the prism of this problem that they approach the problem of naturalism."

On rereading the above I am not convinced I described the difference correctly. I should have rather said that their (i.e. Habemras' as against Anglo-Saxon philosophers) conception of "experience" is totally different which lead Habermas to posit the problem differently than them.

 
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