Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Two models of "disenchantment" and two models of "re-enchantment"

Those who deny that Habermas’ project is aimed at reconciliation between nature and reason do so on the basis of Habermas’ acceptance of the Weberian conception of “disenchantment of the world” and (of nature) as an irreversible insight of Modernity which cannot be rejected without abandoning Modernity. Consequently Habermas rejects any attempts at “re-enchanting the world or nature” which for the proponents of reconciliation is essential if there is to be reconciliation between nature and reason.

What I would claim is that such critics confuse two different conception of “disenchantment of the world” and consequently between two different notions of “re-enchantment of the world” and hence two different conception of reconciliation between nature and reason. While Habermas adheres to the conception of “disenchantment of the world” in the Weberian sense and deems any “re-enchantment of the world” in the corresponding sense as regressive he does not accept “disenchantment of the world” in what I will term as an Adornian sense of the term. On the contrary he is committed to overcoming “disenchantment of the world” and consequently to “re-enchantment of the world” in this sense. Hence I would claim that Habermas aims at reconciliation between nature and reason in this second sense.

Wellmer describes the Weberian sense of “disenchantment of the world” and its corresponding conception of rationalization very well:

“. . . for [Weber] the emergence of modern science and modern law as well as the emergence of secularized systems of instrumental or strategic action and the destruction of “objective” meaning systems (like religious world-views) is internally related to what he has called the “disenchantment of the world.” Not only is this disenchantment of the world, historically and conceptually, necessary precondition for rationalization processes of that type which for Weber are specific to modern European history, it rather also signifies for Weber a cognitive achievement of a substantive kind, through which the boundaries of what may be called “rational” are defined in a new way.” (Albrecht Wellmer, “ Reason, Utopia, and Enlightenment,” in Habermas and modernity, 35-66, here 42, italics by Wellmer.)

“That the world, objectively speaking, is devoid of meaning and of values, can only be claimed by somebody for whom the process of disenchantment is a process of disillusionment, i.e; a process of enlightenment. This process of enlightenment is a process of rationalization in a peculiar sense: for first it amounts . . . to a differentiation of categories of knowledge and spheres of validity from each other – which in traditional societies are not yet clearly separated from each other, and secondly, on the basis of this process of differentiation, it brings to awareness the sphere of symbolically mediated human praxis as the only possible source of meaning and validity, and therefore is the only possible frame of reference for intersubjective validity claims. Without external guarantees for meaning or validity, every belief becomes a potential claim for which no intersubjective redemption is possible except through arguments.” (Albrecht Wellmer, “ Reason, Utopia, and Enlightenment,” 42-43, italics by Wellmer).

As stated above Habermas would reject any notion of “re-enchantment of the world” and hence reconciliation with nature that consists in reversing above mentioned “disenchantment of the world” and its corresponding rationalization. Furthermore Habermas’ resistance to the above seems to me to be itself a part of his commitment to the concept of reconciliation between reason and nature in so far as reason is brought back from “transcendent realm” (whether conceived in terms of the transcendent God of religious world views or in terms of metaphysical conception of objective reason) to this worldly argumentative practices.

What I call the Adornian conception of “disenchantment of the world” is described well by J. M. Bernstein:

“The transcendental separation of nature from the space of reason, the nature from the normative, is the disenchantment of nature.” (J.M. Bernstein, “Re-Enchanting Nature,” 217, italics added).

Here disenchantment is construed as separation between nature and reason. Habermas is committed to overcoming this separation and hence committed to overcoming disenchantment in this sense.

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2 comments:

Carl Sachs said...

This strikes me as very, very interesting, but I can anticipate some problems. Firstly, it seems to most critical theorists (including Jay Bernstein) that Adorno's concept of dis-enchantment just is the Weberian one. McDowell, who is never far from Bernstein's Adorno and is clearly present in the article cited, also makes explicit how close he is to Weber. So if you're right, then both Adorno and McDowell are mistaken in how they evaluate their proximity to Weber.

However: I do think you're on to something, if one thinks of the Weberian thesis in Habermasian terms as the differentiation of value spheres, and in particular, the progressive differentiation of the objective and the intersubjective. One might accept that and still embrace the McDowellian thesis that objects exercise rational, and not merely causal, constraints on the exercise of our conceptual capacities.

I would recommend McDowell's contribution to Rorty and His Critics (ed. Brandom), "Towards Rehabilitating Objectivity." It's relevant because here McDowell argues, against Rorty, that we can accept disenchantment and still hold onto objectivity, where objectivity requires more than merely causal interactions.

I've just recently started working on a paper on the idea of a rational animal, working off of Davidson, McDowell, and MacIntyre. But the debate has implications for what we've been discussing with respect to Adorno and Habermas.

Ali Rizvi said...

Carl,

1)I am not really concerned whether my interpretation of Adorno or McDowell is right or not for the purpose of this thesis. Though it is important for me that I get Habermas right. So I am really “using” McDowell/Brandom/Bernstein and others for the purpose of reading Habermas. Though ideally I should like not to make any false attribution to the authors I am using.

2)The “disenchantment of the world” in the Weberian sense means that “the world” does not provide us with “meaning” and “values” any more. In this sense the world we inherit after Modernity, is disenchanted and to try to re-enchant this world would amount to regression from our Modernity (which is not desirable as far as Habermas is concerned, even not possible factually in certain sense.). Now if reconciliation is understood as re-enchantment in this sense, then I think Habermas would definitely reject any such reconciliation.

3)Now there is another sense of disenchantment which consists in the creation of a gulf between nature and reason. This sense of disenchantment is the product of the Cartesian thinking (and Kant despite his efforts to bridge this gap perpetuates this gulf in his own unique way). This gulf is created because nature and reason are ontologically situated in two different realms and are conceptualised as things of “two different worlds.” Haberams in my view is committed to overcoming disenchantment of nature in this sense. He wants to say that reason and nature have the same origins, so to speak, and there is no dichotomy between nature and reason though they are different. Through bridging the gap between nature and reason through developing his notion of “this worldly” and embedded rationality Habermas goes a long way toward bridging the gap between reason and nature though without collapsing them into each other (this is the strategy of “bald naturalism). In this sense Habemras is working with a version of "reconciliation with nature."

4)I agree with your assessment that Adorno and Bernstein (I am not sure about McDowell mostly because I have not read him well enough to form an independent opinion) tend to think that (3 & 4) are the same. But in my opinion this is an obvious conceptual confusion (unless it is shown that 4 and 3 entail each, which seems to me hard to prove).

5)Having said that I still believe that the dominant conception in Adorno is (3) and not the Weberian conception of disenchantment.

6)I definitely agree with you when you say: “However: I do think you're on to something, if one thinks of the Weberian thesis in Habermasian terms as the differentiation of value spheres, and in particular, the progressive differentiation of the objective and the intersubjective. One might accept that and still embrace the McDowellian thesis that objects exercise rational, and not merely causal, constraints on the exercise of our conceptual capacities.”. I would say most certainly and I think Habermas (through his recent conception of "a surprising reality" with which we have ‘non-conceptual’ contact) already provides the basis for this reading.

7)Thanks for reference to the McDowell piece. I should get it and read it right away.

8)The topic of your proposed paper seems interesting. Would love to read it when it is done.

 
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