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.


Matt Scofield said...

Excuse if this seems silly, as I know it is outside the scope of your thesis, but I've been studying alot of Kierkegaard and also a frenchman Jacques Maritain, both Christian. So I'm wondering in Habermas' concept of freedom if there is contemplation of the idea/reality of a soul. If his hypothesis is "that 'reason' and our form of life based on this is the continuation of a prior 'evolutionary learning process'" then it seems he doesn't mention, or rules out, the soul. If there are any links or previous posts I should check out email me and let me know if you would.

And just in case you are concerned about the opinion of a rather smart layman, I'd like to say that you explained your thesis quite well here. Your reasoning is clear and I could understand the resulting structure of your work.

Ali Rizvi said...

Matt I agree with your comments that Habermas would not rule out the idea and reality of soul. However it depends on what conception of soul you have. A soul that is understood in “this worldly” terms as having evolved "naturally" is at least compatible with Habermas' conception. I take this to be the maxim of Habermas' following comments:

" ...blanket assumption of an evolutionary continuity that permeates the culture, as it were, refrains form making any philosophical assumptions about the relationship between mind and body (in the sense of eliminative or reductive materialism, for example); on the contrary, it keeps us from reifying a difference between methodological approaches that are themselves ontologically neutral.” (TJ: 28).

BTW Habermas has been increasingly writing on the notion of religion. I will post few links which you might like shortly.

thanks again.

Gary E. Davis said...


Habermas does not display any "transcendentalism (about reason)" that is mysterious; it's a cognitive matter of reflectivity---capability for "field independence"---which is an ontogenic achievement, relative to capacities we have inherited from our evolution.

In a) and c) of your statement above, you're thinking in terms of a paradigm of German Idealism that Habermas left behind (as a matter of his self-understanding) long ago---a paradigm, however, that one still faces in the academic culture (thus Habermas' critical engagement with its trace-rhetoric).

Habermas' understanding of reflectivity ("transcendence from within this world") is a matter of cognitive development of postconventional processes of thinking. Your "conditions of possibility" above are, for Habermas, matters of cognitively-based competences, not something associable for him with Heidegger or Schelling.

You face the common graduate student problem of distinguishing what "permeates" your reading and what belongs to the other, i.e., for Habermas' self-understanding, when you claim that something "permeates his work" which "Habermas has never argued." It's more plausible that you are working to overcome transcendentalist longings rather than that Habermas is trying to "retain...the Kantian vision" that he has overtly distanced himself from so overtly, as I indicated at the top of my discussion of "Habermas and Naturalism," cited in my posting earlier today about your issue of "ontological conception" relative to Habermas' work. "Habermas" is perhaps the straw man in your own process of self-reflectivity, which associates to his early model of emancipatory reflection in terms of psychoanalytic dynamics.

re b) above: To "situate Habermas' 'weak' naturalism" properly, one should need to focus on the cognitive background of learning theory, not the idiom of his response to traditional conceptualizations. Such a focus accords with Habermas's overt claims, in the "Introduction" to Truth and Justification, about what he has in mind when he refers to weak naturalism: evolutionary conditions for the possibility of learning.

But don't misunderstand: I'm enthusiastic about your project. I wouldn't give time to the long posting today (indicated above) or this note if I was not enthusiastic about your project. I just want to see it go in a direction that may advance Habermasian researches, rather than be regressive.

Ali Rizvi said...


1) In my thesis I am using 'transcendentalism' in quite specific sense and I explain it in the first chapter. In fact what I understand by 'transcendentalism' is not at all different from what you call a cognitive matter of reflectivity.

2) There is a sense in which Habermas transcends German idealism and there is a sense in which he does not transcend it, in fact he continues it. He preserves insight of German idealism that 'space of reasons' is irreducible to 'space of law. 'However he does not establish this distinction by positing two realm ontology, in the manner of Kant. In this sense he definitely transcends German idealism. Thus he wants to establish this distinction from 'within,' and this is one more way in which I understand Habermas' term 'transcendence from within.'

I agree with your suggestion re b.


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