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.’


Gordon said...

Though these conceptual pairs immanent/transcendent, internal/external have a slightly different everyday sense, for example the latter is geographic/geometrical in a way in which the former is not, I do not think this throws any light on those features by virtue of which a criticism is normally deemed to be one or the other. Most people in the literature run the two distinctions together: for example Honneth, Habermas, Geuss and Walzer, to name but four. It is therefore true that one can legitimately think of these as equivalents, certainly for the purposes of the opening chapter of a short introduction. If you think immanent and external criticims are being confused, you must have a strict distinction in mind between two different concepts. I'm interested to know what, in your view, makes an internal social criticism different from an immanent social criticism, and an external social criticism different from a transcendent one? I agree with you that Habermas (and indeed Adorno though in a very different way) thinks he can have both transcendence and immanence. But in Habermas's case this is at the price of a very strong empirical and reconstructive claim about the nature of communication and discourse. Most of Habermas's more contextualist critics would probably dispute the specific rational-reconstructions on the basis of which he claims that he can have 'transcendence from within'.

Ali Rizvi said...

I believe it is important in the case of Habermas to differentiate between internal criticism and immanent criticism. It is important because the two terms are related to two different (though related) projects. The issue of internal criticism is directed against those who claim that a world view can only be criticized according to its own criteria. The project of immanent criticism on the other hand is directed against those who want to preserve transcendental base for Modernity. In this context Habermas calls for detranscendentalisation. Criticism is immanent to the extent that the principles of criticism are not grounded in any transcendental reality. They are justified immanently without appeal to any transcendental grounds. Habermas agrees with postmodernists that the principles of criticism or critique are immanent. However he rejects their claim that immanent criticism is restricted to internal criticism. For Habermas on the other hand immanent principles of criticism can be the basis of both internal and external critique. This is because for Habermas like Gadamer fusion of horizon is possible (as you describe very well in your book). Fusion of horizon is possible because “transcendence from within’ is possible. It means two positions which necessarily start from two seemingly exclusive immanent starting points can arrive at position which transcends their own starting immanent points and converge on a new position. Thus immanent criticism does not exclude the possibility of external criticism. It only excludes the possibility of judging human practices on some transcendent criteria. In other words immanent criticism does not exclude transcendence from within it only excludes transcending this world.

Le me give some examples to clear the point. An internal criticism can in principle be both immanent and transcendent. For example, a catholic community can develop critique of its own communal practices on the basis of its own internal catholic principles. However it can still believe that the principles on the basis of which internal criticism is carried out are themselves not immanent principles. They are transcendent principles as they are based on ontology and Metaphysics which have transcendent base.

A modernist can develop criticism of Catholicism on the basis of modernist principles and that would be external criticism of Catholicism as it is not based on Catholic principles. On the other hand modernist does not claim (at least a modernist of Habermas’ persuasion) that the modernist principles themselves are grounded in any transcendent reality. They on the contrary are considered from derived from this worldly practices and are thus immanent principles. Thus modernist critique in this instance is external critique but it is not a transcendent critique.

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