Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Introduction to my dissertation

Note: This is a draft of introduction to my thesis. I have (for the time being) removed all foot notes and emphases.

Habermas’ work from the start has two seemingly contradictory aspects to it. On the one hand he emphasises the natural origin of human beings, their knowledge and reason and adopts a position that though avoiding all kinds of reductionism can be termed as materialist, realist and naturalist. On the other hand Habermas also aims to preserve the distinction between human beings and their surroundings by emphasising the transcending powers of reason and thought.

Habermas’ first mature philosophical work Knowledge and Human Interests starts with a Hegelian note endorsing the essence of Hegel’s critique of Kant. In its claim that knowledge is based on and founded on human interests, the interests that connect human beings to nature and the material world, it is a thoroughly anti Kantian and Marxist-Hegelian work. Habermas’ later weak naturalism is already present in KHI. Habermas’ Frankfurt inaugural lecture on which KHI is based contains a scathing critique of the notion of pure theory divorced from practice. The lecture shows the deep influence of Heidegger. Habermas’ critique of pure theory emanates from the deep anti intellectualism whose roots go back not only to Heidegger’s Being and Time but also to the Marxist and Frankfurt schools’ distrust for pure theory.

In Habermas’ later writings the above results in Habermas’ adoption of a full blown pragmatism and a conception of knowledge that recognises the epistemic value of practice and action.

Hegelian themes are also all pervasive in Habermas’ later work. Habermas’ theory of communicative action is based on the insight that our explicit contact with our fellow beings and the world around us is based on a prior and implicit contact with them. The theory of communicative action gives centrality to the embedded and social character of the process of reaching understanding. The subjects of communicative action are thoroughly socialised and embedded subjects. The theory of communicative action also emphasises the importance of the process as against the product of that process in correctly analysing rational activity.

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