Monday, April 04, 2005

fundamental pragmatism’

I had quoted Brandom definition of what he calls ‘fundamental pragmatism” earlier. Brandom defines fundamental pragmatism as follows:

“It is characteristic of pragmatism in the broad sense to see knowing how as having a certain kind of explanatory priority of knowing that. This is one influential form taken by an insistence on the explanatory primacy of the practical over the theoretical. Explicit theoretical beliefs can be made intelligible only against a background of implicit practical abilities. Pragmatism in this sense – call it ‘fundamental pragmatism’ – is opposed to the kind of Platonistic intellectualism that seeks to explain practical abilities in terms of some sort of grasp of principles; some sort of knowing that behind each bit of know how.” (Hilary Putnam: Pragmatism and Realism,p. 46).

As we had discussed earlier this squares nicely with Habermas’s distinction between know how and know that in his construction of formal pragmatics and in his theory of communicative action. In his recent writings Habermas reasserts the distinction in the context of his pragmatic conception of knowledge.

“[The] intuitive and habitual know-how – the practical understanding of generative rules or mastery of a practice – enjoys primacy over explicit knowledge of rules. Implicit knowledge of such “skills” supports the totality of the web of basic practices and activities of a community that articulate its form of life. Because of the implicit and, in a certain sense, holistic nature of this know-how, Husserl already described the intersubjectively shared lifeworld as an unthematically concomitant “background.”” (TJ: 11).

There are few things to be noted in this regard:

i)Habermas argues for the primacy of implicit knowledge over explicit knowledge and thus for the primacy of practical over theoretical. However it should be noted that this primacy is to be viewed within the theoretical knowledge in a broad sense and has nothing to do with the Kantian distinction between theoretical and practical (moral) knowledge. In fact that former distinction encompasses the latter distinction. I think Habermas is not always very clear about this.

ii)The above is in no way incompatible with Habermas’ prioritization of conceptual (discursive) over non-discursive (this would ally Habermas with Brandom as against Adorno and McDowell for example). The distinction between implicit knowledge and explicit knowledge is geared towards understanding the conceptual and is not meant as a contrast between mediated and non mediated knowledge.

[I would elaborate on (ii) in a separate post.]

Following Brandom we can say that as a ‘fundamental pragmatist’ Habermas partakes in the post Kantian anti Platonism and anti intellectualism. However if we stop here we would miss what is unique about Habermas and his strategy. The pragmatic move at detranscendentalisation is certainly meant as deflation of high flying Platonism but in Habermas it also is a move to salvage what is salvageable in Platonism through this very move. If we miss this point, in my opinion, we would have missed what is unique to Habermas’ contribution in this regard. Habermas’ insight is that the “Platonic” distinction between ‘knowing’ and ‘believing’, the transcendental distinction between ‘reality’ and ‘appearance’, the tension between ‘facticity’ and ‘validity’, and the distinction between intelligible realm and phenomenal realm can be maintained within lifeworld itself (TJ: 218, OPC: 359, BFN: 34-35).

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