Habermas and Quine
(Rough outline of a presentation)
1) Similarities between Quine and Habermas: Naturalism, Respect for Science and Scientific Method, Abandonment of first Philosophy.
2) Normally the discourse about differences is focused on the problem of naturalism (and as a corollary on Quine’s alleged scientism and reductionism. Habermas has himself discussed Quine at length in his recent writings (TJ) in order to differentiate between his own ‘weak’ naturalism and Quine’s strong naturalism. So the focus on the problem of naturalism is only ‘natural’.
3) My strategy in the following is slightly different. I do not contest the above strategy but find it useful to focus on the theme of empiricism rather than that of naturalism. In my view it is the empiricism of Quine and not naturalism per se that is the key for understanding Habermas’ objection against Quine and in turn differentiating Habermas’ naturalism from Quinean naturalism as well as for understanding Habermas’ argument and strategy concerning the possibility of ‘transcendence from within.’
4) The key to empiricism (which Habermas pejoratively calls transcendenceless empiricism) is that it solely relies on Observation (or an externalist perspective) as the model for knowledge and understanding ourselves and the world around us. It seeks to understand the objective world, lifeworld, language and ourselves on the sole model of Observation.
5) Since the model for scientific enquiry is Observation it follows from the above that according to this notion of knowledge science and particularly physics (the most successful of all sciences) would be considered the model for all knowledge and understanding.
6) Reducing all knowledge to observation results in an impoverished understanding of the world and our relation to it.
7) The reason for the above is that for Habermas our intuitive knowledge (implicit knowledge) on which all explicit knowledge is based (Habermas is pragmatist in this sense) is accessible only in the performative mode of a subject capable of speech and action (from an internalist perspective) and recedes itself as soon as we adopt the perspective of an observer (internal perspective of participants and external perspective of an observer). In this way we deprive ourselves of the intuitive (implicit) knowledge on which all explicit knowledge is ultimately based.
8) Language and lifeworld and our relation with world as a whole cannot be understood on the model of observation. It requires adopting an attitude of participants in lifeworld practices.
9) The above leads Quine being unable to make distinction between world and innerworldly that is important for adequate understanding of our relation with the world. The distinction is a Kantian distinction and Habermas has preserved it in two ways. First, as distinction between three formal worlds (and what occurs within these worlds) and lifeworld, posited as conditions of the possibility of communicative action. Distinction is alternatively preserved as adopting Heidegger’s distinction between linguistic world disclosure and innerworldly.
10) Quine cannot maintain the distinction between worldly and innerworldly because it requires and depends on adopting an internal perspective of participants in communicative action.
11) Quine has conception of lifeworld and his holism can be seen to maintain the distinction between world and innerworldly and Quine also emphasises the social nature of language (language as social art). This is true but Quine ‘neutralises’ all this by trying to understand all these phenomena in terms of observation or from a ruthlessly externalist perspective.
12) Centrality of Observation sentences in Quine.
13) Cogency of this interpretation: The same critique applies to Davidson. Davidson does not share Quine’s strong naturalism and scientism but he shares Quine’s reduction of all knowledge/understanding to the model of Observation (and external perspective). Habermas’ objection to Davidson is the same as his objection to Quine.
Habermas and Heidegger
1) Similarities between Heidegger and Habermas huge. Habermas’ conception of language, lifeworld and his distinction between implicit and explicit knowledge and his basing the latter on the former is all based on Heidegger.
2) Habermas’ critique of Heidegger is normally based on the fact that Heidegger thinks that meaning determine the reference (Lafont and others). This critique is based on the assumption that Heidegger bestows too much power to the linguistic disclosure so much so that innerworldly is overwhelmed.
3) Heidegger as against Quine does not give observation and external perspective its due. As a corollary he does not give the empirical knowledge its due.
4) Empirical knowledge has power to revise the linguistic knowledge and worldviews.
5) Habermas’ distinction between direct and indirect revision through empirical knowledge. Innerworldly empirical knowledge is directly affected by experiences. Linguistic knowledge is affected (itself an empirical question) by experiences only indirectly through affecting the coherence of linguistic knowledge.
6) Test of the innerworldly knowledge experience, test of linguistic knowledge as well as worldviews is their coherence. However empirical knowledge also can lead (indirectly) to the revision of linguistic knowledge.
7) Empirical Knowledge as the triggerer of the revision linguistic knowledge and knowledge of worldviews.
8) Main objection against Heidegger is that he ignores the two way relation (even if it is an asymmetrical relation) between linguistic knowledge and empirical knowledge.
Relevant Quotes (with occasional comments)
1) ”...naturalism: abandonment of the goal of a first philosophy . . .
The naturalistic philosopher begins his reasoning within the inherited world theory as a going concern. He tentatively believes all of it, but believes also that some unidentified portions are wrong. He tries to improve, clarify, and understand the system from within. He is the busy sailor adrift on Neurath's boat.” (Theories and Things p. 72).
“All species competences of subjects capable of speech and action are accessible to a rational reconstruction if, namely, we recur to the practical knowledge to which we intuitively lay claim in tried-and-true productive accomplishments. In this respect philosophical work is continuous with scientific work. Besides posing questions directed towards what is universal, philosophy has no advantage over the sciences, and it certainly does not possess the infallibility of a privileged access to truth.” (PMT; 14, emphasis added).
2) “Strong naturalism, whose paradigmatic representative has been W. V. O. Quine allies itself with a scientific understanding of our cognitive abilities. All cognition is ultimately to be reducible to empirical process. The transcendental architectonic drops out, as does the difference between the conditions of how the world is constituted (or of world disclosure), which calls for conceptual analysis, on the one hand, and states of affairs and events in the world, which can be explained causally, on the other. If we repudiate the transcendental difference between the world and innerworldly . . . the methodological dualism of an interpretive reconstruction of our lifeworld, on the one hand, and the explanation of processes in the objective world, on the other, dissipates, so does the paradoxical task of somehow reconciling the “internal perspective” of transcendentally conceived practices of the lifeworld with the “external perspective” of their causal genesis.” (TJ: 23).
3) “The naturalism of . . . theory of language, from Morris to Quine, is not derived from the procedure of linguistic analysis but from the presuppositions of an empiricist ontology. This route is by no means prescribed by the conversion of the philosophy of consciousness into linguistic analysis . . . .” (PMT; 21)
With empiricism comes the “objectivistic self understanding of the human being,” and this leads straight to scientism:
“. . . abstract attempts to establish an objectivistic self understanding of the human being with one blow, as it were, thrive upon the scientistic background assumption that the natural sciences (with modern physics as their core) do in general furnish the model and the ultimate authority for all knowledge that is still acceptable.” (PMT; 21, emphasis added.)
4) “The point of [Quine’s] theoretical strategy is to pave the way for a strictly naturalistic understanding of one’s own linguistic behaviour from within the participant perspective. Yet the very alienating scientization of intuitive knowledge that accounts for the success of this strategy simultaneously gives rise to the Achilles’ heel of strong naturalism. Subjects who are capable of speech and action and engaged in communicative practices cannot but orient their thinking and doing by norms and be affected by reasons. They cannot recognize themselves in Quinean objectifying descriptions. Strong naturalism runs aground on the cognitive dissonance between the self-understanding of competent speakers, which is easy to corroborate, and a counterintuitive, ruthlessly revisionist self-description. The latter, by denying speaker intuitions, robs philosophy of language of its only reliable evidential base.” (TJ; 24).
The self understanding of the actors belongs to their lifeworld. It is based on the intuitive (implicit) knowledge that cannot be captured by the help of observation. Hence by levelling the distinction between observation and understanding Quine levels the distinction between objective world and lifeworld. Thus naturalism of the Quinean sort robs itself not only of the fountain of certain knowledge but also the fountain of continuous problematisation:
“Subjects capable of speech and action find themselves in lifeworld contexts; they communicate about and intervene in the objective world. If we shift from the perspective of a participant in the practices of our lifeworld to the point of view of an observer focusing on something in the objective world, the very normativity that is characteristic of all mental activity escapes us. The special kind of intentionality of referring, or assuming an attitude, to objects and facts remain present to us only as long as we maintain a certain distance from the objective world from within the intersubjective horizon of shared practices. Other beings lack this kind of distance. By switching to the observer’s perspective, the semantic dimension is closed off to us and we no longer have access to the intuitive knowledge of rational beings who have been socialized in grammatical language and normative forms of life. The inescapability of the lifeworld manifests itself in the self-referential character of ordinary language, which we cannot get around by appeal to a hierarchy of metalanguages or by strict objectification.” (TJ: 218-219.)
4) The above might seem at odd with Quine’s holism. If Quine is a holist then he should have some distinction between object as it is and object as it appears to us within our current field of vision given our background knowledge, socialisation etc. However Quine’s holism is no such holism as it keeps intact the empiricist architectonic in the last analysis:
“It is no shock to the preconception of old Vienna to say that epistemology has become semantics. For epistemology remains cantered as always on evidence, and meaning remains cantered as always on verification; and evidence is verification.” (Epistemology Naturalized,” 89)
It is no shock that epistemology has become semantics because semantics itself is based on the notion of causal relation with the world. No wonder Quine considers observation sentences as the heart of language and semantics. It is also no wonder that he clearly states that his notion of the indeterminacy of translation has “little bearing on observation sentences.” (Epistemology Naturalized,” 89).
Now observation sentences are understood by Quine in the typical empiricist manner even if he exorcises inwardness and subjectivism of the old classical empiricism. He defines observation sentences as following:
“. . . an observation sentence is one which all speakers of the language give the same verdict when given the same concurrent situation. To put the point negatively, an observation sentence is one that is not sensitive to differences in past experience within the speech community.
This formation accords perfectly with the traditional role of the observation sentence as the court of appeal of scientific theories. For by our definition the observation sentences are the sentences on which all members of the community will agree under uniform stimulation.”(“Epistemology Naturalized,” 86-87).
Giving centrality to observation sentences in this way leads to several results some of which are relevant to our discussion here:
• Observation remains the corner stone of both epistemology and semantics as does the causal relation between the observers and world.
• Even though Quine retains an element of collateral information in defining observation sentences this collateral information does not provide any disclosing ground for the object being observed and hence for any distinction between worldly and innerworldly. There is no notion of preunderstanding which affects the object being perceived in any drastic way.
• Finally the background information itself is understood on the basis of the same observation model which provides the basis for understanding observation sentences.
The above understanding of observation sentences results in levelling the distinction between observation and understanding, observer’s perspective and participants’ perspective, and results in the lost of the normative conception of rationality:
“ . . . the naturalist continuation of the empiricist tradition comes at a price. It requires an objectivist assimilation of our normative practices to observable events in the world . . . this approach gives rise to the problem of translating the intuitive knowledge of subjects capable of speech and action into an idiom that is continuous with the theoretical idiom of the monological empirical sciences.” [rf.]
5) Commenting on Davidson’s model of language Habermas asserts that, “Davidson objectifies the phenomena that has to be explained, namely what it means to understand linguistic expression.” Habermas goes on to add that:
“By relieving the philosopher of language of his role as a reader or hearer trying to understand what an author or speaker says, he makes significant methodological decision that alters the role of the philosopher of language. Instead, he assigns the interpreter the role of a theoretician proceeding empirically. Such an interpreter observes the behaviour of a foreign culture and – unlike Wittgenstein’s ethnographer – looks for a monological explanation of the as yet unintelligible linguistic behaviour of the natives. Thus the communicative behaviour of subjects capable of speech and action is entirely objectified; it becomes observable with no internal link to the subject. Corresponding to this vigorous assimilation of intelligible symbolic expressions to the category of observable natural phenomenon, is the assimilation of understanding meaning [Sinnverstehen] to explanations for which an empirical theory is required.” (TJ: 112-113, italics added.).
“It is important to note that the methodological principle of charity requires an interpreter to attribute “rationality” as a behavioural disposition to a foreign speaker from an observer’s perspective. This attribution must not be confused with the performative presupposition of rationality undertaken by interlocutors. In the one case, the concept of rationality is employed descriptively, and in the other normatively. In both cases we are dealing with a fallible presupposition.”( TJ: 114, italics in the original.)
Habermas recognises Davidson’s efforts to go beyond “monistic point of view of a scientistic naturalism.”( TJ; 116). He also recognises that Davidson “emphasises the social core of the normativity of mind.” (TJ; 119). However, according to Habermas, Davdson’s ‘heroic’ efforts to defend the normativity of mind and demarcate nature from reason come to naught. Thus Habermas claims that Rorty “is able to raise strong objection against” Davidson’s strategy because of “Davidson’s own strategy of deactivating the rational potential inherent in linguistic communication.” (TJ; 116, Quine and Davidson dodge the question of where intentionality come from? TJ: 116, The world is only causally connected to language TJ: 117).
Haberams and Heidegger
“Philosophical hermeneutics fails to appreciate the cognitive function of language in its own right and the specific significance of the propositional structure of declarative sentences. As a result, Heidegger rules out any interaction between linguistic knowledge [Sprachwissen] and empirical knowledge [Weltwissen]. He does not even consider the possibility that what words in a language mean, on the one hand, and the results of learning process within the world, on the other, can mutually affect one another, because he gives unlimited primacy to the semantics of linguistic worldviews over the pragmatics of communication. In contrast to Humboldt, he transfers the locus of control from the achievements of the participants in discourse to the higher-order events of linguistic world disclosure. Speakers are prisoners in the house of their language, and it is language that speaks through their mouths.”(TJ: 66).
“For Heidegger, the fact that a predicate fits an object, as well as the truth of the corresponding predicative sentence, is a derivative phenomenon that depends on an “enabling of truth” in the sense of prior world-disclosure as a linguistic “happening of truth.” With this later notion however, the the universalist meaning of truth is relinquished. An ontological “truth” that changes with the mode of world disclosure no longer appears in the singular of “the one and indivisible truth.” Rather, the “undisclosedness” of particular types of objects is determined by a transcendental “event” of linguistic world disclosure, which in itself is neither true nor false, but rather just “happens.”” (TJ: 67).
“This primacy of the “hermeneutic as” over the “predicative as” marks the crucial difference from a truth-conditional semantics. The latter also, to be sure, holds that the meaning of linguistic expressions determines the truth conditions of the semantics they form. But this is not tantamount to claiming that it is irrevocably predetermined on the semantic level which properties might in the long run be ascribed to which categories of objects. As long as we separate the predication of properties from the reference of objects, and as long as we are able to recognize objects as the same under different descriptions, there is the possibility of learning – of increasing our knowledge of the world in such a way that it may lead to revision of our linguistic knowledge.” (TJ: 66).