Monday, August 29, 2005

A brief statement about my Ph.D. thesis

Update: Bringing forward due to new comments.

There are two interrelated aims of the thesis:

a)I want to understand the logic of Habermas’ claim that he wants to go beyond transcendenceless empiricism and high flying idealism. I argue that Habermas does this by combining two stances which are normally considered incompatible. Habermas combines transcendentalism (about reason) with (its) detranscendentalisation. The outcome is what he calls “transcendence from within and transcendence in this world.” Habermas on the one hand wants to preserve the Kantian insight that reason has transcending powers and that there is a sharp distinction between the ‘space of reason’ and the ‘space of law’ to use Sellars’ terminology. On the other hand Habermas rejects Kant’s two realm distinction in order to establish the sharp distinction between ‘causality of law’ and ‘causality of reason’ to use Kant’s own terminology this time. This is connected to Habermas’ acceptance of Hegel’s and Post Hegelian insight about the inevitable detranscendentalisation of the realm of pure intelligibility. This detranscendentalisation is the outcome of the loss of faith in non immanent versions of transcendence, the process which for Habermas (following Weber and Nietzsche) culminates in the decline of great world religions. Thus for Habermas if one is to defend the Kantian vision of the transcending powers of reason however without accepting the Kantian dichotomy between the realm of pure intelligibility and realm of phenomenon then one does not have any other option but to show how the transcending powers of reason emerge from “within” that is from within “this world.” This Habermas terms as “transcendence from within and in this world,” in his recent writings.

b)The second main aim of my thesis is to situate Habermas’ ‘weak’ naturalism in the context of his project of ‘transcendence from within.’ My purpose here is not to deal with ‘weak naturalism’ on its own terms but only to clarify its relation with the project of ‘transcendence form within.’ In this context my main argument is that ‘weak naturalism’ provides an ‘ontological’ underpinning to Habermas’ project of ‘transcendence from within.’ While the problematic of the ‘transcendence from within,’ is dealt on the social and linguistic levels where human beings are already in ‘possession’ of a propositionally differentiated language, the problematic of ‘weak naturalism’ is located at a more primitive level where we have to think about the emergence of ‘reason’ from within ‘nature.’ In Habermas’ own words the project of ‘weak’ naturalism aims at reconciling Kant with Darwin while we can say that the aim of the project of ‘transcendence from within’ is to reconcile Kant and Hegel. In this context the project of ‘weak naturalism’ performs two functions: i) It provides the ‘structural’ model for the argument at the level of ‘transcendence from within.’ ii) Most importantly as mentioned earlier ‘weak’ naturalism provides the ‘ontological’ basis for the argument at the level of ‘transcendence from within.’ If it can be hypothesized (as ‘weak’ naturalism does) that ‘reason’ and our form of life based on this is the continuation of a prior “evolutionary learning process” then it is more plausible to suppose that ‘transcending powers of reason’ can emerge from historically situated and embedded reason. In other words if Kant can be reconciled with Darwin then it is all the more plausible that he can be reconciled with Hegel.

c)Building on the above I go on to show how Habermas proposes to explain ‘transcendence form within,’ in detail. This explanation is divided into two parts: i) First I argue that Habermas needs to have a conception of freedom which transcends the conception of freedom that is prevalent since Kant and Hegel. In brief I argue that the conception of freedom presupposed by Kant and Hegel (ultimately) posits a dichotomy between freedom and limit. It is for this reason Kant had to locate ‘freedom’ beyond the world of limitations. Habermas’ weak naturalism as well as his project of ‘transcendence from within’ presupposes a very different conception of freedom. Such a conception of freedom overcomes dichotomy between freedom and limit and conceptualizes limits in more positive terms as conditions of possibility (à la Heidegger and Schelling). I argue that though Habermas has never argued for such a conception of freedom, such a conception of freedom in fact permeates his work. Consequently I go on to construct an outline of such a conception of freedom from Habermas’ work. ii) Second I show in positive terms how Habermas can argue for his notion of ‘transcendence from within.’ Here exploiting different aspects of Habermas’ philosophy of language and his theory of meaning I go on to show in detail how the possibility of ‘transcendence from within,’ can be said to have been explained in Habermas’ work in different senses and in different ways. I also show how Habermas can argue in detail for retaining the Kantian vision of unique characteristics of reason while refusing Kantian ontology of two realms. In other words I show how Habermas can argue for the Kantian notion of the unique ‘causality of reason’ without recourse to the two realm ontology, in other words without abandoning the belief that reason is historically situated and embedded.

d)Though the thesis is mainly a major interpretation of Habermas in the concluding section I briefly enumerate possible criticisms of such a project. This is done as a suggestion for further venues of and lines of research in the wake of my interpretation of Habermas.

e)It is worth mentioning at the end that although the thesis deals with the work of Habermas I use the work of major figures in continental and non continental philosophy and their work to understand and deepen my interpretation of Habermas. Theses figures include Heidegger, Apel, Brandom, McDowell, Quine (and Davidson), Rorty (and Sellars), and Schelling.

Tolerance Makes Great Demands. Jürgen Habermas Shows What Is Involved

"Jürgen Habermas, one of the most important contemporary philosophers and social theoreticians, is someone who intervenes in public discourse - but as an analyst not a moralist.

Far from merely publishing for other inhabitants of the celebrated ivory tower of scholarly research, his philosophizing is characterized by an attempt at systematic mediation of thinking and political action. He thereby adheres to the view that rationality is implemented in verbal understanding. That is also the background to his lecture on June the 29th, 2002, at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, devoted to the question "When Must We Be Tolerant? On Rivalry between Views of the World, Values, and Theories". His speech shows what contradictions we must endure in order to be tolerant, and also that tolerance can only be practiced on the basis of a democratic state founded on the rule of law.

Cognitive Rejection without Practical Consequences

We generally understand tolerance as meaning putting up with divergent convictions. The concept thus contains an element of rejection since we can in fact only demonstrate tolerance towards convictions that we have renounced for good subjective reasons. As soon as we are either indifferent about an alien view or even appreciate the "value" of this other conviction, we do not need to be tolerant. The rejection inherent in tolerance is thus radical. Tolerance is located where non-negotiable fundamental convictions meet and no agreement can be expected. What is expected of a tolerant person is not some unresolvable contradiction between competing convictions. That must be accepted. "At issue is the neutralizing bracketing of specific practical consequences arising out of unresolved interpersonal contradiction" (J. Habermas). In other words, the demand is that no action should be allowed to follow from the collision of competing views.

Potential for Conflict: The Good Takes Precedence over the Just

Anyone who is not "metaphysically restricted" has an easier time with the demand that contradictions between competing views of the world should simply be left open. That becomes problematic for someone who derives an ethos, i.e. personal moral convictions, from a religion. After all every religion lays claim to total structuring of a way of life, orienting itself on an infallible doctrine of salvation which lays down what is good and what bad. A religion thus prescribes how a good life must be led. What is good takes precedence over what is just. For someone who derives his or her personal ethos from religious truths laying claim to universal validity, the burden of tolerance is particularly difficult to bear. As soon as his own ideas about right living are determined by generally binding models of the good or of salvation, there arises a perspective where other ways of life seem not only different but also mistaken. The ethos of the other appears as a question of truth or untruth rather than an assessment of values. That explains the potential for conflict implicit in disputes between religions.

Peaceful Co-Existence: The Just Takes Precedence over the Good

Following that model, religious tolerance does not signify that the adherents of some belief should relativize let alone renounce their own claims to truth and certainty. Instead tolerance calls for limitation of the practical impact of one’s own claims to truth and certainty. The demand is that the way of life prescribed by one’s own religion can only be implemented on condition that the same rights are accorded to all others. What is just takes precedence over what is good, and that precedence manifests itself positively in inter-subjective and supra-confessional recognition of the rules of liberal co-existence - as provided for in democracy and human rights as normative foundations of the constitutional state. So for the individual believer that means he can only implement his own ethos within the boundaries set by civic norms of equality. He recognizes the other as a fellow citizen with equal rights, no matter what his or her religious convictions might be.

Pluralist Societies

The expanded concept of tolerance does not remain restricted to the sphere of religion but can be generally extended to tolerance of others who think differently in any way. Within today’s pluralist societies where the traditions of various linguistic and cultural communities come together, tolerance is always necessary "where ways of life challenge judgements in terms of both existential relevance and claims to truth and rightness" (J. Habermas)"

from here

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Confusion between internal and immanent criticism

Dr Gordon Finlayson, the author of Habermas, A very short introduction has an interesting project he is working on about the nature of immanent criticism. The project is entitled "What is immanent criticism/critique? Why should social criticism be immanent?" In his book he has the following comments concerning Habermas and immanent criticism:

". . . like Horkheimer and Adorno before him, Habermas employs the method of immanent criticism. One can also call it internal, as opposed to external criticism. The critical theorists think this approach derives from Hegel and Marx. In some respects it is closer to the Socratic mode of argumentation, which assumes the position of the interlocutor, for the sake of argument, without actually endorsing it, in order to point out its incoherence and untruth. Whatever its origins, the critical theorists aim to criticize an object - a conception of society or a work of philosophy - on its own terms, and not on the basis of values or standards that transcend it, in order to bring its untruth to light." (Haberams, AVS, p. 9, emphasis retained).

I believe Finlayson here confuses immanent criticism with internal criticism and considers them synonyms. In fact they are not synonyms. Immanent criticism can include both internal and external criticism and is opposed not to external criticism but to transcendent criticism. Habermas' approach is not an internal criticism it is rather an immanent criticism and does not exclude external criticism. This is crucial difference between Habermas' approach and Gadamer's approach (for example). Immanent criticism in Habermasian context means that the basis of critique must be inthe actual rational practices and is not to be derived from any other source which is located beyond these practices. However for Habermas these immanent practices provide us resources to go beyond them from "within" without appealing to any transcendent. Thus immanent criticism is very closed linked to Habermas' project of ‘transcendence from within.’

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Call for Papers: Philosophical Writings

Call for Papers

Philosophical Writings, the journal for advanced postgraduates and new
academics, is currently accepting essays for the next issue.
are invited on any area of Philosophy so long as they are treated in an

Founded in 1996, Philosophical Writings is an international journal
published tri-annually in the University of Durham's Philosophy

Submission guidelines are available on our webpage

Submissions should be sent to:

The Editors
Philosophical Writings
Department of Philosophy
50 Old Elvet

Tel: 0191 334 6550
Fax: 0191 334 6551

ISSN 1361-9365

Philosophical Writings
Department of Philosophy
University of Durham
50 Old Elvet
Durham DH1 3HN

Tel: 0191 374 7641
Fax: 0191 374 7635

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Freedom and Nature

Relational Creativity and the Symmetry of Freedom and Nature
Philip Michael Rose


"One of the more important and persistent of problems in speculative philosophy is reconciling the relation between freedom and nature. This is often referred to as the problem of freedom and determinism, but this way of formulating the problem assumes, uncritically, that nature is and must necessarily be a purely deterministic framework. As I hope to show, the so-called problem of freedom and determinism lies precisely in this deterministic assumption. By reorienting the question in terms of the relation between freedom and nature, rather than freedom and determinism, we can better see how the problem of their tension or ‘contradiction’ only arises if nature itself is defined and characterized in a very limited, purely deterministic way. Once we step outside the deterministic assumption and entertain alternative views of nature, the problem of freedom and determinism does not arise."

full here

Related Resources:
Habermas' Ontological conception of Freedom: Some preliminary Reflections(doc)

Habermas and validity claims

Habermas and validity claims

Jari I. Niemi
Purdue University, W. Lafayette, Indiana, USA


At the heart of Jürgen Habermas’s explication of communicative rationality is the contention that all speech acts oriented to understanding raise three different kinds of validity claims simultaneously: claims to truth, truthfulness, and normative rightness. This paper argues that Habermas presents exactly three distinct, logically independent arguments for his simultaneity thesis: an argument from structure; an argument from criticizability/rejectability; and an argument from understanding/reaching understanding. It is further maintained that the simultaneity thesis receives cogent support only from the Argument from understanding/reaching understanding, and only if the notion of ‘understanding’ is expanded to that of ‘agreement’."

from here

Related Resources:

The first issue of Cosmos and History

Cosmos and History has just published their first issue. Go here to read the issu.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Observation and Understanding/Normativity and Explanation

"There is an influential view of the human mind according to which the way we understand people is radically different from the way we understand the rest of nature. One popular metaphor frequently used to articulate this view is that of a 'logical space of reasons', inhabited by thinking subjects who are both subject to, and able to reflectively appreciate, normative constraints that classify thoughts and actions as reasonable or unreasonable in various ways. On this view, personal understanding is essentially normative in a way that empirical understanding of the rest of nature is not. It is therefore impossible to conceive of a fully naturalised science of the human mind insofar as the human mind is understood as the mind of a fully developed person. It is a view of this kind that Alan Millar defends in this book. Millar's argument draws upon a wide range of recent work in philosophy of mind, epistemology and moral philosophy. It is one of the virtues of the book that it brings together a number of related questions from different areas of philosophy that the academic division of labour increasingly forces professional philosophers to address in artificial (and often unhappy) isolation.

The metaphor of a logical space of reasons can be traced back to Wilfrid Sellars's seminal 1956 paper 'Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind', but has more recently come to be associated with the work of Robert Brandom and John McDowell. Elsewhere, the claim that certain aspects of personal understanding are essentially normative has been defended by Donald Davidson in the context of his argument that the attribution of propositional attitudes like belief and desire is constrained by the assumption that people are rational believers of the true and lovers of the good. Millar situates his book in this 'long and honourable' tradition of philosophical argument, in particular in the strand of that tradition distinguished by the anti-scientism and explanatory modesty associated with Brandom and McDowell's work. Its main distinctive virtue as such is the patient and meticulous attention shown by Millar in his exploration of the details and complexities of this well-trodden territory."

Keep reading

Monday, August 15, 2005

Habermas' seminar on "Naturalism"

It is exciting to know that in the Fall semester at Northwestern University, Habermas in his graduate seminar is taking the issue of naturalism further. It is also interesting to know that he is taking up McDowell's work in his seminar (perhaps for the first time).

Here is the description of the seminar:


Progress in biogenetics, neurology and robotics has
sparked a wider reaching discussion on what it means
to conceive of human beings as an integral part of
nature. In this context the kind of naturalism for
which science counts as “the measure of all things”
deserves second thoughts. Whereas Winfrid Sellars
wrote still in the wake of the Unified Science
movement, Quine is the main source for a scientism
that informed the orthodox view in Anglo-Saxon
philosophy. With reference to this background I
propose a discussion of the deviating views of Putnam,
Rorty, Davidson, Mc Dowell and others. With regard to
recent voices in psychology and neurology in favour of
a naturalist self-objectivation of persons, I am
moreover interested in the long standing problem of
Freedom and Determinism: Is our intuitive
understanding of agency and of the practice of
reason-giving up for revision?"

from here

Thanks to Gary E. Davis for the pointer.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Australasian Postgraduate Philosophy Conference

Wednesday 28 September - Friday 30 September 2005
at the University of Melbourne Graduate Centre

Co-hosted by La Trobe University and the University of Melbourne

Papers on all areas of philosophy and related disciplines are invited from both postgraduate and Honours students. There is no central theme, although we anticipate at least one stream will be dedicated to applied philosophy. Papers should be about 20-25 minutes long, with about the same time for discussion.

Expressions of interest requested by 30 July.
Abstracts required by 30 August.
Registration is free, but please advise by 23 September if you would like to attend.

Postgraduates from related disciplines, e.g. linguistics, mathematics, and the history and philosophy of science are also very welcome indeed; ideas under construction are encouraged.

Keynote speakers include John Armstrong, Justin Oakely and Robert Farrell

Some travel subsidies will be available for interstate travellers and we also hope to offer some billetted accommodation and are still seeking offers from Victorians.

Submit expressions of interest, abstracts, requests for billets and any other queries to Conference Organisers: Cameron Fraser or Clare McCausland

Generously supported by the Philosophy Departments at La Trobe University and the University of Melbourne, and by the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics.

Timetables and abstracts will be published here soon

full here

Monday, August 08, 2005

Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

An interesting initiative!

"Cosmos and History is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of natural and social philosophy. It serves those who see philosophy’s vocation in questioning and challenging prevailing assumptions about ourselves and our place in the world, developing new ways of thinking about physical existence, life, humanity and society, so helping to create the future insofar as thought affects the issue. Philosophy so conceived is not identified with the work of professional philosophers, and the journal welcomes contributions from philosophically oriented thinkers from all disciplines.

Call for Papers

Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy
Inaugural Issue: Deadline 15th May 2005
Second Issue: Deadline 1st September 2005.

more here
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