Saturday, May 28, 2005

Apel and Habermas: a thought. . .

Note: Moving forward this post due to recent comments.

Habermas’ debate with Apel can be considered as a debate about how far detranscendentalisation should be taken and how much detranscendentalisation should be carried out. While Habermas is concerned with how this detranscendentalisation turn is carried out (it needs a balancing act according to some of his interpreters), this does not inhibit him to carry out the turn thoroughly.

For Habermas’ typical response to those who he deems to have carried out the turn before him (like Hegel and Heidegger) is that they have not carried out it thoroughly and wholeheartedly. There is no stage at which this thoroughgoing detranscendentalisation should stop.

One of the most fascinating thought Habermas has is that in order to preserve the transcending character of reason it is necessary (though obviously not sufficient) to carry out the detranscendentalisation more and not less robustly. Thus we can differentiate between robust and non robust conceptions of detranscendentalisation.

Apel has been a colleague and mentor of Habermas for a long time. In Habermas’ own words, “under the living philosophers non one has more lastingly determined the direction of my thinking than Karl-Otto Apel.” Habermas and Apel share the detranscendentalisation turn. However despite this a difference has emerged in recent days between them about what kind of justification or what notion of justification is compatible with the detranscendentalisation turn. Apel thinks that we can maintain a version of “ultimate grounding or justification,” despite the turn. Habermas on the other hand thinks that ultimate justification of grounding is incompatible with the turn. Habermas insists that only a modest conception of grounding and justification is compatible with the turn.

The debate between Apel and Habermas can be read as a debate about which of the two notions of detranscendentalisation (roust or non-robust) are to be espoused. Habermas claims that detranscendentalisation should be carried out thoroughly and nothing should be immune form it. Apel on the other hand thinks that there is a limit to detranscendentalisation (thus he adopts a less robust conception of it). According to Apel there are certain principles and certain hierarchy among principles that is immune from detranscendentalisation and hence they retain their old transcendental character.

Habermas considers this half hearted detranscendentalisation not only incoherent but also anti-modern in its spirit (as it is more clear in is debate with Henrich on the status of metaphysics).
related posts:
Apel's critique of Habermas

two sense of linguistic turn

Apel and Habermas

Kant and Darwin

Morality,law and deliberative democracy


Anonymous said...

And Rorty would argue that even Habermas isn't being robust enough. However I think Apel makes a powerful case. It is not simply that certain principles are immune from detranscendentalisation, but that the detranscendentalisation process (as argumentative discourse) cannot consistently be applied to itself - therein lies its limits. Without the transcendental-pragmatic presuppositions of agumentation, Apel argues, even the project of detranscendentalization would collapse.

- Andrew Montin

Ali Rizvi said...

Andrew thanks for the comments.

You put your finger on the central point of contention. The debate is certainly about the status of "transcendental-pragmatic presuppositions of argumentation." Where do these presuppositions come from? This is the question on answer to which Apel and Habermas differ. Apel says they are outcome of an incorrigible insight, for Habermas they are the outcome of learning process which are by definition contingent and hence fallible. The principle of fallibilism itself is the outcome of this worldly learning process. What can be learned can by definition be unlearned, though Habermas stresses that what is learnt based on insight can be unlearned only on the basis of insight. It cannot just be wished away.

Anonymous said...

Apel accepts the principle of fallibilism - his appeal to ultimate philosophical foundations is neither metaphysical nor dogmatic. The issue of where the presuppositions of argumentation come from can be resolved through reflection on what accepting the principle of fallibilism itself entails. In From a transcendental-semiotic point of view, Apel writes: "What, then, should we make of the presuppositions of certainty that the principle of fallibilism itself must presuppose in order to be understandable within the context of a language game?" (87) He is referring here to the presupposition of a discourse principle (which normatively establishes the freedom and co-responsibilities of discourse partners, such that only the better argument will guide the discussion of truth claims), and the assumptions about existence and rules which are implicit in it. A little further on he continues:

"This ultimate foundation [of the fallibility principle] reveals itself as necessary because argumentative discourse, precisely in its anti-dogmatic openness and its freedom from force, must be guaranteed as the normative condition for the very possibility of the critique and possible falsification of hypotheses. Hence the necessity for an ultimate philosophical foundation... follows from our interest in guaranteeing the greatest possible scope for the fallibilism postulate of modern science." (87f.)

- Andrew Montin

Ali Rizvi said...

This is all good. Habermas accepts that. What he says in turn is that principle of fallibilism itself is in principle falsifiable. It cannot in principle be excluded from the argumentation game. Here is his argument for this:

“The presumption of fallibilism simply relates to the fact that we cannot exclude the possibility of falsification even in the case of convincingly grounded theories which are accepted as valid. Otherwise we have not understood what ‘being grounded’ or justified means. We differentiate in philosophy and science between hypothesis and valid theories, between hypothetical assumptions and valid theoretical sentences. It is not, however, the principle of fallibilism which discriminates between the two types of expressions, but solely our decision whether we consider – for time being – a discussion to be finished or not . . . . The fact that our reasons are truly good reasons and suffice to satisfy ourselves about the truth by no means alters the fact that what we – finally – hold to be true can in principle turn out to be error.” (A reply, p. 232).

This is another way of saying that our modernity is not an analytic truth it consists of factual claims which are always contestable in principle even if at the moment we do not see any convincing counter reasons.

Anonymous said...

But if the principle of fallibilism is itself potentially falsifiable (i.e. by applying the principle to itself), how can you also say that it cannot be excluded from the process of argumentation in principle? There seems to be a contradiction here, if we understand "in principle" to mean something which is not a contingent matter of fact. Then again, I suppose that a Habermasian would have to reject any such understanding; in which case you are simply saying that as long as we hold the principle of fallibilism to be true we cannot exclude it from the language game of argumentation; but that one day it may be so excluded because we will decide that it is in fact false. Now to the extent that the principle of fallibilism follows from the discourse principle and its presuppositions, Apel would counter along the lines that both principles are structurally (a priori) bound up with argumentation, and there cannot be a language game of argumentation which effectively excludes these principles.

Apel responds to the suggestion of applying the fallibilism principle to itself as follows:

"It is true that the presuppositions of the discourse principle - without which the fallibilism principle is incoherent - is itself always in need of explication, and that all such explications are revisable. But what does this mean? Can it mean that we no longer know a priori that the existence of truth and falsehood, and the possibility of investigating it discursively, must be implied by arguments if the fallibilism principle is itself to be meaningful? Clearly this possibility is excluded even when we subject the presuppositions of the fallibilism principle themselves again and again, ad infinitum, to the fallibilism principle, in order to do justice to the fact that the presuppositions of the fallibilism principle must themselves always be open to explication. The fallibilism principle is coherent at all conceivable levels of application only if its presuppositions are coherent in their a priori certainty." (FTSPV, 88)

These principles, which constitute a priori knowledge, cannot be falsified in the way empirical theories can; at most the self-application of the fallibility principle means only that it can always be revised further. For any argumentative attempt to falsify the a priori principles of argumentation (as opposed to correcting them) ends up trying to falsify the very presuppositions which it relies on to succeed.

- Andrew Montin

Ali Rizvi said...

By saying “in principle” we exclude arbitrariness and insist that the contestation is based on ‘reasons.’ But reasons are both contingent and necessary. They are contingent as far as they are always raised here and now yet they are necessary as claims as they shoot all contexts as claims. Habermas terms this as the janus faced nature of reasons or validity claims. There is no strict dichotomy between necessity and contingency in the Postmetaphysical thinking.

Similarly there is no strict dichotomy between empirical and rational or empirical and non empirical. Thus we do not have access to any a priori concepts in the Kantian sense. The transcendental conditions of argumentations are themselves the outcome of the contingent learning processes. That we can not imagine their alternative right now does not mean that it would remain the same in the future. That would be to arbitrarily block the learning process. Thus the difference between transcendental and empirical is only relative. This does not mean that the distinction between contingency and necessity or empirical and transcendental is abolished, it only means the concepts and their relations is conceived in an entirely different way. To keep using these terms in old ways displays a certain nostalgia that needs to be exorcised from the philosophical thinking.

Apel cannot establish his point without reverting to some version of God’s eye view and I think this is what he has to do in the end. For Apel excludes what he calls “strict reflexion,” from the process of argumentation. Here we have something like an old Cartesian and Fichtean ‘intellectual intuition’ which is superior to and is the condition of communicative argumentation: the “certainty of the ‘ego cogito, ergo sum’ is a transcendental-pragmatic conditions of the language game of possibility of argumentation in our sense.” (The problem of Philosophical foundations, p. 280). This is in fact a retreat from the whole concept of detranscendentalisation and communicative rationality. Apel can still be right but he cannot claim to be working with a detranscendentalised philosophy.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Apel would accept the interpretation you give of his argument in the final paragraph of your last comment. Indeed, he appears to explicitly reject such an interpretation when he writes in the same essay:

"[T]he irrefutable certainty of the 'ego cogito, ergo sum' does not rest upon the primacy of 'inner experience', the 'introspection' of an in principle solitary consciousness, as is assumed in the Cartesian theory of 'evidence'... rather, it rests upon the primacy of an experience of the situation which is simultaneously communicative and reflexive... Confirmation of personal existence in the performatively understood 'ego cogito, ergo sum' is only possible as an understanding with oneself about oneself, and that is to say, as part of a virtually pulblic discussion..." (Problem of Phil. Foundations, 279)

Apel's "transcendental pragmatic version of the Cartesian insight", far from relying on the "intellectual intuition" of a solitary ego, assumes a language game in which "the existence of a real lifeworld and the existence of a communication community are presupposed," together with the intuitive evidence of an ego thinking itself existing. (280) It is therefore completely consistent with the Wittgenstein's refutation of private languages. Apel's argument for the certainty of the 'cogito' is not a retreat from the idea of communicative rationality: he argues that any claim to be "doubting my existence" entails a speech act in which the propositional component contradicts the performative component. (278) Elsewhere, Apel summarisies his transformation of the Cartesian insight this way:

"When Descartes or Husserl insisted on the apodictic evidence of the ego cogito they were not wrong, but they completely overlooked the fact that - even as empirically solitary thinkers - they were already arguing, that is using public language and participating in argumentative discourse. Hence, the uncicumventable fact for a philosopher is not the ego cogito, taken in the sense of a methodical or transcendental solipsism, but the I argue within the context of our argumentative discourse and hence my being a member of an argumentation community." (FTSPV, 52)

I'm not sure why you write that "Apel excludes what he calls “strict reflexion,” from the process of argumentation." Apel often describes his version of post-metaphysical, ultimate philosophical foundations as "reflexive" or "reflective", and as applying to arguments (even those arguments which would criticise such foundations) "by means of strict reflection." (FTSPV, 90) For example: "This means we can always assure ourselves through strict reflection... of the fact that we are arguing and hence are committed to the rational form of argumentative discourse..." (93) But perhaps I've misunderstood the point you were making here.

Apel doesn't believe detranscendentalisation can be total. His starting point is a Peircean "semiotic transformation" of transcendental philosophy. This involves a "fallibilistic relativization" of Kant's knowledge-constitutive apriorism. (97f.) But for the reasons I alluded to in my previous post, Apel doesn't believe this means doing without the transcendental foundations of argumentative discourse. He accepts the contingency of the "learning processes" by which we culturally come to reflect on the conditions of argumentative discourse; but there is nothing inconsistent in arguing that these conditions are not themselves contingent.

On the other hand, Apel argues that Habermas is in danger of inconsistency by trying to do without such transcendental-pragmatic conditions. For example, in relation to the latter's attempt to define philosophy as a "stand-in" for the empirical theories with strong universalistic claims, Apel writes:

"[I]t makes no sense and is precisely what cannot be of help to the special [critical-reconstructive] sciences if, like Habermas, one suggests that the necessary presuppositions of argumentation... are to be empirically tested by the questioning of competent speakers, analogous to the method of linguistics. For in order even to understand what 'empirical testing' is supposed to mean, one must at least presuppose the validity of those presuppositions of argumentation. And it is this transcendental-pragmatic proof of the function of presuppositions - and not an empirical confirmation - that is capable of distinguishing the universally valid pronouncements of philosophy from the hypothetical universals of empirical science: for example, Chomsky's universals pertaining to the inborn language-learning capacity of human beings." (176)

- Andrew Montin

Ali Rizvi said...

Apel maintains that “the certainty of the “ego cogito, ergo sum” is a transcendental pragmatic condition of the possibility of the language of argumentation in our sense.” (The Problem of Philosophical Foundations, p. 278).

In this sense Apel clearly recognises that Cartesian insight is solitary and that’s why he thinks it must be re-examined in the actual discourse of a communicative community: “For it is of prime importance that the Cartesian insight (solitary as it actually is) must be capable of being re-examined and , in this case, also being capable of being confirmed by a communicative community that is in principle indefinite.” (ibid. p. 280).

The question is if ‘ego cogito, ergo sum’ is the condition of the possibility of language of argumentation how it can be re-examined and reconfirmed in that very game? Does not it amount to the same thing Apel is accusing Habermas of? Similarly if the insight is “a priori certain” what does its re-examination actually mean? That which is “capable of consensus a priori” why it would need a posteriori consensus? (Peter Dews makes these points in his, A Question of Grounding).

Here is how Apel establishes the certainty of ‘cogito ergo sum.”

“. . . that my doubting or thinking guarantees my existence rests upon the fact that when I perform the act of doubting my existence – an act that is explicitly expressed in the sentence “ I doubt herewith, now, that I exist” – I refute the sense of the very existence for myself and, virtually for every dialogue partner. In other words, the propositional component contradicts the performative component of the speech act expressed by the self referential sentence. The irrefutable certainly of the “cogito, ergo sum” thus rests not on an axiomatically objectifiable deductive relation between sentences, but rather on a transcendental-pragmatic reflexive insight mediated by the actual self-reflexivity of the act of thinking of a speaking.” (ibid. p. 278).

Now this is the paradigm case of the self-certainty as the basis of indubitable insight that is rejected by Habermas and others who follow him. What is rejected in Cartesian method is the incorrigibility of this self-certainty. It does not make any difference whether the solitary thinking is presuming language or communication community or not what is decisive is what is the court of appeal, the self certainty of the solitary thinker or the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ of the actual or virtual communication partners? This is the decisive difference between Cartesian thinking and the communicative thinking.

As far as the question of empirical testing is concerned we need to understand the
ambiguous use of the term empirical in Habermas’ discourse. Habermas says that linguistic disclosure has to ‘prove’ itself in the innerworldly practices in order to establish itself. It also has to prove itself against the recalcitrant reality. Now linguistic world disclosure is the condition of the possibility of any empirical testing and it can be objected that Habermas is being circular here by suggesting that linguistic disclosure is empirically refutable. One should differentiate here between refuting an empirical statement and refuting linguistically disclosed and linguistically given meaning as refuting an empirical statement is much more simple and straightforward than the refutation of empirically given meaning which is more complex and indirect. However in a sense both are empirically refutable as both an empirical statement as well as linguistically disclosed meaning have to prove themselves within innerworldly practices. Thus Habermas maintains a distinction of degree between straightforward empirical statements and statements which are not empirical in any straightforward sense however without saying that the former are a priori and hence are not empirically refutable. In this sense he is near to Quine than to Apel. One of the consequences of a thoroughgoing detranscendentalisation is that we have to learn to live with circular arguments. There is no way out of circularity within a thoroughgoing detranscendentalised worldview.

What we need to do after detranscendentalisation is to revise the concepts like empirical, contingent and necessity. Only necessity that is left after detranscendentalisation is the necessity which comes with rational claims as claims, there is no other ‘necessity’ left. If Apel claims otherwise he should show the source of this necessity. Similarly after detranscendentalisation everything is empirical in a sense which is not to that everything is revisable in equal measure.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Dews reference. I don't have his text on me at the moment but I'll look it up.

In my reading of Apel, the Cogito argument does not play a fundamental role in his general theory. It is of interest to him because he wants to reconstruct the "philosophy of consciousness" or "mentalist" paradigm of first philosophy from the perspective of the lingustic-pragmatic turn. It is not the certainty of "ego cogito, ergo sum" in the Cartesian sense which constitutes a transcendental-pragmatic precondition, but only insofar as it is an example of a "transcendental-pragmatic reflexive insight". Here is the context of your opening quote:

"What is the basis for the certainty of the 'cogito, ergo sum'? It cannot rest upon the fact that... a syllogistic inference is made from thinking to the existence of that which thinks, as Hintikka showed in 1963... [I]n the use of a syllogistic inference from thinking to the existence of that which thinks, the existence of the thinking being must be tacitly presupposed in order to reject the thinking of a fictitious person (say, Hamlet) as irrelevant. In other words, the certainty of the 'cogito, ergo sum' cannot be logically demonstrated in any direct way.... That the same person who thinks also exists is, from the viewpoint of formal logic, a claim that, in the sense of the Stegmüllerian dilemma, can be neither denied without self-contradiction nor demonstrated without petitio principii; for it cannot be made in the case of a fictitious person such as Hamlet, but only in the case of an existing thinker. For just that reason, however, [my emphasis] the certainty of the 'ego cogito, ergo sum' is a transcendental pragmatic condition of the possibility of the language game of argumentation in our sense." (Problem of Phil. Foundations, 277f.)

With his preceeding discussion, Apel makes it clear that the Cogito is interesting precisely because it cannot be established by syllogistic inference. Thus the certainty of the Cogito, to the extent it can be established by an argument from performative contradiction (as demonstrated in the passage which follows and which you quote), is of a particular kind: it is formally identical to other examples of transcendental-pragmatic conditions. But it does not have a privileged or unique status in this regard. Nothing that I know of in Apel's texts would recommend such an interpretation - on the contrary. Apel does not invoke the Cogito, not even implicitly, when he seeks to justify transcendental-pragmatic arguments. (E.g. see his discussion of the principle of fallibilism above.)

You seem to subtly shift the terms of Apel's discussion from "a transcendental pragmatic condition" to the transcendental pragmatic condition when you write: "The question is if ‘ego cogito, ergo sum’ is the condition of the possibility of language of argumentation how it can be re-examined and reconfirmed in that very game?" (My emphasis.) If we instead ask: how can the Cogito as an example of a transcendental pragmatic condition be confirmed through argument? then we already have his answer - on the basis of a "transcendental-pragmatic reflexive insight mediated by the actual self-reflexivity of the act of thinking or a speaking.” Moreover Apel insists - and I've cited him to this effect in my previous post - that the Cogito can only be confirmed through argumentation. There is no intuition prior to argumentation which establishes its certainty.

Apel employs the performative contradiction of the Cogito's negation to establish its certainty, which you claim is "the paradigm case of the self-certainty as the basis of indubitable insight that is rejected by Habermas and others who follow him." But I don't see how Apel's procedure here is incompatible with anything Habermas says. Apel is explicitly not appealing to a Cartesian notion of induitable evidence, or even the notion of apperception employed by a transcendental philosophy of consciousness, but to the resources made available by communicative rationality itself. Even Habermas employs the argument of performative contradiction to refute his opponents. You write that "the decisive difference between Cartesian thinking and the communicative thinking" is that between "the solitary thinker or the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ of the actual or virtual communication partners." Apel too makes this point when he writes:

"Hence, the uncircumventable fact for a philosopher is not the ego cogito, taken in the sense of a methodical or transcendental solipsism, but the I argue within the context of our argumentative discourse and hence my being a member of an argumentation community." (FTSPV, 52; quoted above)

Nothing you've said leads me to think that Apel is being inconsistent on this score.

Your comments on Habermas's notion of the "empirical" is very helpful and I'll need some time to reflect on Apel's position before responding.

- Andrew Montin

Locations of visitors to this page