Thursday, June 29, 2006

Habermas' concept of 'transcendence from within": An interpretation

A revised version of my thesis abstract is posted below. I am looking for prospective examiners at this stage. Any suggestions welcome (leave as comment or email me, thanks).


The dissertation is structured as an interpretation of Habermas’ concept of transcendence from within. The interpretation is focused on Habermas’ claim that his enterprise aims to go beyond transcendenceless empiricism and high flying idealism. Habermas has used the term transcendence from within increasingly in his recent writings. However there is no systematic analysis of the concept to be found in either primary or secondary literature. The present dissertation is meant to fill this gap.

The focus on the theme of transcendence from within can help us understand Habermas’ project as that of going beyond the dichotomy (but not the distinction) between detranscendentalisation and transcendentalism rather than treating it as a patchwork of the two themes.

The topic of transcendence from within has enormous significance for Habermas’ project as well as for general philosophical and cultural trends of our times. The theme of weak naturalism has surfaced with a new vigour in Habermas’ writings. He has consistently argued for a detranscendentalised reason that does not forget its ultimate roots in nature at large. However he has also intensified his crusade against strong naturalism which he sees as a threat to the Kantian tradition of autonomous thought, freedom and responsibility. In the context of his discussion of religion he has talked about going beyond two fundamentalisms, religious fundamentalism that does not take detranscendentalisation seriously, and scientism (which Habermas sees as the basis of strong naturalism) that is bent on sacrificing all traces of the transcending powers of reason. A systematic reconstruction of the concept of transcendence from within can provide the basis for understanding how Habermas aims to combine naturalism and detranscendentalisation with a firm belief in the transcending powers of reason and the possibility of free and autonomous thought.

The approach taken is to reconstruct Habermas’ conception of transcendence from within in detail. At the start a thesis is introduced that Habermas aims to preserve the overall continuity between human beings and their environment by adopting pragmatism and detranscendentalisation. However he also aims to preserve essential distinctions between human beings and their environment while upholding overall continuities between the two. Detranscendentalisation (far from being seen as the opposite of transcendentalism) is thus seen as the way to preserve the transcending powers of reason and preserve the distinctions essential to a transcendental idealism (such as the distinction between causality of nature and causality of law, unconditionality of rational claims etc.) without, however, espousing a two world metaphysics inherent in such an approach.

Although the dissertation is focused on a detailed reconstruction of Habermas’ conception of transcendence from within, in brief concluding comments I raise some doubts about Habermas’ approach in terms of its huge baggage of assumptions as well as in terms of its weakness in the face of its abandonment of the traditional conception of truth.

Monday, June 26, 2006

A brief review of Zwischen Naturalismus und Religion. Philosophische Aufsätze (“Between Naturalism and Religion. Philosophical Essays”)

"Criticism of religion is nothing new. Since the Enlightenment call to “think for yourself,” religion has been criticised for being dogmatic, superstitious, unscientific and illusionary. And this has had real benefits.

A religion, like any comprehensive system of beliefs, needs rational critique if it is to avoid falling into ideological dogmatism. Rational critics have helped many religious believers to see that to have faith does not mean to be without doubt. A healthy faith does not think that it already has all the answers; it lives with the hope that its basic beliefs are true. Fundamentally, faith is an adventure of love guided by reason.

A recent book from the German philosopher of communication Jürgen Habermas, entitled Zwischen Naturalismus und Religion. Philosophische Aufsätze (“Between Naturalism and Religion. Philosophical Essays”) is interesting in this regard as it argues that the major intellectual challenge of our age is the need to move beyond the dogmatisms of both naturalism and religious fundamentalism.

The book starts with a fascinating account of Habermas’s own history of growing up in Nazi Germany during World War II. Surgery on his palate left him with serious communication difficulties and resulted in early experiences of being misunderstood by other children and rejected. These experiences also left him with a strong sense of the sociality of our human nature, of the fact that we are dependent upon one another in a very profound way. He notes that his theory of social communication is influenced by this as well as by the sense that something had gone tragically wrong with German democracy. As a result, the aim of his life’s work has been to develop an understanding of democracy that can protect itself from the dogmatisms of ideologies that unjustly exclude others and prevent real dialogue.

Turning his sights on naturalism, which he understands to be the belief that natural physico-chemical processes can explain everything, Habermas explores the example of some contemporary German neuro-scientists who have tried to explain human freedom as an illusion created by purely natural mechanisms. Despite a vast amount of philosophical critique of this reductionistic position since the nineteenth-century, they still present the human mind and freewill as being totally determined by physiological and biochemical processes.

Taking a Kantian line, Habermas understands freedom as the autonomous use of the will and not simply something determined by biology. An act is free, for Habermas, when the actor uses his or her will to bring about a purposeful action. When this is not the case, as in the situation of being externally determined, then we are not acting freely.

Habermas is not against naturalism per se; rather, he is against the tendency to make this naturalistic dogma into an unquestionable scientific worldview.

On the other side of this cultural tug-of-war, he considers the growth of religious fundamentalism and its political significance. While arguing against the exclusivist dogmatism of fundamentalist religious engagements in political life, he considers enlightened religions to offer important resources for the well-being of democracy. In fact, he notes that religions have often been trend-setters for human rights and for the emergence of modern democracy itself.

Contrary to a position which he held in his earlier days, he suggests that the secularist ideology of naturalism needs to be overcome if enlightened religions are to take their rightful place in the democratic debates of the modern world. This secularist worldview has, he argues, often unjustly eliminated religious voices from public debate and relegated them to the sidelines of irrationality and dogmatism. Yet, Habermas himself is somewhat unclear about this secularist position, since in parts of the book he continues to characterise religious conceptions of the good life as being essentially non-discursive and hence needing to be translated into a publicly accessible language for political use. Despite his attempt to find a way beyond naturalism and fundamentalism he still seems to find it difficult to avoid the Kantian reduction of religion to simply a motivating force for morality. Notwithstanding some excellent analysis of the dilemmas posed by the spread of scientific naturalism and religious fundamentalism, when it comes to religion, Habermas himself still seems to share some of the secularist ideology that he wants to criticise.

Nonetheless, this book is a reminder that if pluralistic societies are to move beyond the dogmatisms of both scientific naturalism and religious fundamentalism, all positions presented in democratic debate must be exposed to rational critique. Only through such critique can the dangers of ideological blindness be minimised and the resources offered by alternative positions be made available to our democracies. In the end it is reasoned argument which overcomes dogmatism, a position Habermas himself has defended with great skill and conviction all his life."

from here

Thanks to Gary for the link.

for further reviews of the book see here

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Derrida-Habermas Reader

"Jacques Derrida and Jürgen Habermas have long represented opposite camps in contemporary thought. Derrida, who pioneered the intellectual style of inquiry known as deconstruction, ushered in the postmodern age with his dramatic critique of reason; Habermas, on the other hand, has consistently argued in defense of reason, modernity, and the legacy of the Enlightenment. Their many differences led to a long-standing, if scattered, dialogue, evidence of which has been available in only bits and pieces. But now, for the first time, The Derrida-Habermas Reader brings these pieces together, along with a collection of essays documenting the intellectual relationship between two of the twentieth century’s preeminent thinkers.

Taken together, Derrida and Habermas’s writings—combined here with contributions by other prominent philosophers and social theorists—tell the story of the two thinkers’ provocative engagement with each other’s ideas. Beyond exploring the conflict between Derrida’s deconstruction and Habermas’s communicative rationality, they show how the Derrida-Habermas encounter changed over the years, becoming more theoretically productive without ever collapsing into mutual rejection or simple compromise.

Lasse Thomassen has divided the essays—including works on philosophy and literature, ethics, politics, and international law—into four parts that cover the full range of thought in which Derrida and Habermas engaged. The last of these sections fittingly includes the thinkers’ jointly signed work on European solidarity and the Iraq War, highlighting the hopes they held in common despite their differences. The wide breadth of this book, along with Thomassen’s lucid introductions to each section, makes The Derrida-Habermas Reader an ideal starting point for anyone interested in one of the most dynamic intellectual debates of our time.


Introduction: Between Deconstruction and Rational Reconstruction
Part I - Philosophy and Literature
1. Leveling the Genre Distinction between Philosophy and Literature
Jürgen Habermas
2. Is There a Philosophical Language?
Jacques Derrida
3. Habermas, Derrida and the Functions of Philosophy
Richard Rorty
Part II - Ethics and Politics
4. An Allegory of Modernity/Postmodernity: Habermas and Derrida
Richard J. Bernstein
5. Frankfurt Impromptu - Remarks on Derrida and Habermas
Simon Critchley
6. Performative Powerlessness - A Response to Simon Critchley
Jacques Derrida
7. How to Respond to the Ethical Question
Jürgen Habermas
8. Democracy and Difference: Reflections on the Metapolitics of Lyotard and Derrida
Seyla Benhabib
Part III - Identity/Difference: Rights, Tolerance and Political Space
9. Dead Rights, Live Futures: On Habermas's Attempt to Reconcile Constitutionalism and Democracy
Bonnie Honig
10. 'A Bizarre, Even Opaque Practice': Habermas on Constitutionalism and Democracy
Lasse Thomassen
11. Religious Tolerance - The Pacemaker for Cultural Rights
Jürgen Habermas
12. Hostipitality
Jacques Derrida
13. Between Deliberation and Deconstruction: The Condition of Post-National Democracy
Martin Morris
Part IV - Beyond the Nation-State: Europe, Cosmopolitanism and International Law
14. For a Justice to Come: An Interview with Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida and Lieven De Canter
15. February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe
Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida
16. Between Hope and Terror: Habermas and Derrida Plead for the Im/Possible
Martin Beack Matustík
17. Honesty of Thought
Jacques Derrida
18. A Last Farewell: Derrida's Enlightening Impact
Jürgen Habermas
Copyright Acknowledgements
Notes on the Contributors

from here

Habermas' speech to ICA

Here is the text of the speech

”Political communication in media society – Does democracy still enjoy an epistemic dimension? The impact of normative theory on empirical research”.

Here is the text of the presentation

via HF

Thanks to Thomas Gregersen of HF for alerting me to the link.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Habermas' speech to the International Communication Association

"Philosopher Jürgen Habermas has delivered a speech in Dresden to the International Communication Association (ICA), and continued his until now only fragmentary reflections (more here) on the Internet, writes Dietmar Jazbinsek. "According to Habermas, online communication can only make a relevant contribution to political discourse if it deals with reporting in the established media. A positive example is the website (which reports critically on the Bild Zeitung - ed). The bildblog editors recently sent a bill for 2,088 euros to the online edition of the tabloid, for their unsolicited correction work. The theorist of communicative action really got a kick out of that gag."

from here

Habermas als Dogmatiker

Peter Engelmann deutet den Historikerstreit als letzten Versuch der westdeutschen Linken, den Antifaschismus als identitätsstiftende Ideologie zu retten

via HF

Gordon Finlayson's Habermas Page


Reid and Epistemic Naturalism

"Central to the contemporary dispute over 'naturalizing epistemology' is the question of the continuity of epistemology with science, i.e., how far purely descriptive, psychological matters can or should inform the traditional evaluative epistemological enterprise. Thus all parties tend to agree that the distinction between psychology and epistemology corresponds to a firm fact/value distinction. This is something Reid denies with respect to the first principles of common sense: while insisting on the continuity of epistemology with the rest of science, he does not wish to derive an 'ought' from an 'is', nor to reduce the epistemological to the psychological. His view is that the first principles are constitutive principles, hence that they are simultaneously descriptive and prescriptive, and thus that with regard to them there is in this sense simply no fact/value gap to be bridged."

free download from here

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Colloquium on the Philosophy of Culture

The Ashworth Program for Social Theory, The University of Melbourne The School of English, Communications and Performance Studies, Monash University &
Thesis Eleven Centre for Critical Theory, La Trobe University

:: A Colloquium on the Philosophy of Culture ::

11 am - 4 pm
Tuesday 11 July
Theatre E, Old Arts
University of Melbourne

:: Speakers and Themes ::

'Radical and Historical Evil'
Professor Agnes Heller
Hannah Arendt Chair of Philosophy
New School for Social Research, New York

'Western Culture's Foundation In Being, Not Morals'
Professor John Carroll
School of Social Sciences
La Trobe University

'Hegel's Social Theory of Agency: The "Inner-Outer" Problem'Professor Robert Pippin
Raymond W and Martha Hilpert Gruner Distinguished Service Professor
Committee on Social Thought and Department of Philosophy
University of Chicago

For further information, contact:

Dr. John Rundell, Ashworth Program in Social Theory, University of
Melbourne, email: johnfr[at]unimelb[dot]edu[dot]au

Associate Professor Peter Murphy, School of English, Communications and
Performance Studies, Monash University, email:



This paper is to a large extent an exercise in philosophical geography. It traces the way in which a resilient naturalist orientation has derived support, specifically in the analytic tradition, from a central structuring tenet of transcendental idealism. It attempts to bring out the philosophical reasons that drive this Kantian alliance. Attention then turns to the identification of two salient problems that confront this alliance in its most acceptable form. To the extent that a resilient naturalism is desirable, these problems need to be addressed.

While the philosophical issue is brought into focus by attending specifically to developments in the analytic tradition, this is primarily a convenience. The preference for a resilient naturalism and the avoidance of metaphysical excess is not by any means confined to that tradition.

Author: Sacks, Mark

Source: Ratio, Volume 19, Number 1, March 2006, pp. 92-106

from here

free copy of the article here

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Conference Report: Recollecting the Future (The Future of Critical Theory)

by Paul Ashton here

Habermas: A Reasonable Utopian?

Habermas: A Reasonable Utopian?
Author: Johnson, Pauline


Already by the mid-1980s, Habermas supposed that our utopian energies had been used up. Today, when a neo-liberal 'realism' seems to be a virtually dominant ideology, the climate appears, if anything, yet more hostile to radical hopes. Even while he recognises the obstacles and is clear that we might never succeed in breaking through the 'Gordian knot', Habermas is not prepared to surrender to a proclaimed 'end of politics'. This paper traces some of the ways in which his recent works theorise and attempt to balance twin legacies of a critical theory tradition. Habermas wants to mediate the radicalness of vision required by a critical theory with the perceived reasonableness of its standpoint that is also necessary if theory is to engage concrete actors. Many of his critics suppose that Habermas has not achieved the right balance and that his interest in the self-reforming potentials of liberal democracies weights reasonableness too highly. The following paper sets out to defend Habermas from some of these charges. However, ultimately it finds that his theory has identified the needs for autonomy that it seeks to critically connect up with too narrowly. This means that, to some extent, Habermas' critical theory continues to 'miss its mark'.

Source: Critical Horizons, Volume 6, Number 1, 2005, pp. 101-118(18)

Ideology and Capitalism

A free issue of Constellations is available here

Includes articles by Maeve Cooke, Robin Celikates and Axel Honneth among others.

Religion in the Public Sphere

Religion in the Public Sphere Jürgen Habermas

Habermas' EJP ANNUAL LECTURE published in the current issue of the Journal is available for free download from here

Reconciling communicative action with recognition

Reconciling communicative action with recognition
thickening the ‘inter’ of intersubjectivity

Eva Erman
Department of Political Science, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

There is an underlying idea of symmetry involved in most notions of rationality. From a dialogical philosophical standpoint, however, the symmetry implied by social contract theories and so-called Golden Rule thinking is anchored to a Cartesian subject–object world and is therefore not equipped to address recognition – at least not if recognition is to be understood as something happening between subjects. For this purpose, the dialogical symmetry implied by Habermas' communicative action does a much better job. Still, it is insufficient to embrace those kinds of recognition that are dependent on asymmetry and concrete difference. This article explores how communicative action could meet the demand of recognition by investigating a complementary source of validity in communicative rationality, apart from Habermas' validity claims, in which ‘inter’ is better characterized as mutuality than as symmetry. By recognizing both sources of validity, communicative action can open the door more fully to all aspects of recognition without giving up its universal pragmatic core.

Key Words: communicative action • communicative rationality • discourse ethics • Jürgen Habermas • Axel Honneth • recognition • universal pragmatics

from here

Notes on the contrast between Habermas and Rawls

For a number of reasons, McCarthy argues that in Political Liberalism

...Rawls in effect cedes a certain primacy to the observer's perspective: the concern with stability in light of the fact of reasonable pluralism limits the scope of what may count as good reasons in matters of public justification. His understanding of the principle of moral motivation - a principle that could serve as the motto of Habermas's discourse ethics - supports this reading. The desire to be able to justify our actions to others on grounds that they could not reasonably reject is said to entail the restrictions on public reason we examined in Section II. "Since many doctrines are seen to be reasonable, those who insist, when fundamental political questions are at stake, on what they take as true but others do not, seem to others simply to insist on their own beliefs.... They impose their beliefs because, they say, their beliefs are true, and not because they are their beliefs. But this is a claim all equally could make; it is also a claim that cannot be made by anyone to citizens generally. So when we make such claims, others, who are themselves reasonable, must count us unreasonable" (p. 61), or even "sectarian" (p. 129) Rawls is specifically concerned here with the use of political power to repress comprehensive views. But the same general structure of argument underlies his restrictions on public reason: since many doctrines "are seen to be" reasonable, participants who "insist" in the public form on what they "take as true" but others do not are being "unreasonable." The political participant's desire to act on publicly justifiable grounds is refracted through the political observer's recognition of the fact of reasonable pluralism and emerges as a desire to avoid ideological controversy on fundamental matters, that is, to avoid being "unreasonable." In political discourse, this concept of the reasonable then displaces that of moral truth (or of validity in Habermas's sense): "Within a political conception of justice, we cannot define truth as given by the beliefs that would stand up even in an idealized consensus, however far extended.... Once we accept the fact that reasonable pluralism is a permanent condition of public culture under free institutions, the idea of the reasonable is more suitable as part of the basis of public justification" (p. 129).

full here

"Critical Theory in Crisis?"

Call for Papers

Macquarie University's Centre for Research on Social Inclusion and
Department of Philosophy will be hosting the second annual conference
for postgraduates devoted to Critical Theory and organized around the
theme of "Critical Theory in Crisis?" The conference will be held from
the 30th November to the 1st of December 2006. We are inviting papers
from Australian or international postgraduate students in any discipline
and asking them to reflect on the state of Critical Theory in relation
to its past, present and future.

Possible topics for discussion include:

1. The "criticalness" of Critical Theory.
2. The legacy of the Frankfurt School (from Horkheimer and Adorno to
Habermas and Honneth):
Generational interconnections, contemporary resonances.
3. Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity: what place does the 'subject'
have in critical theory?
4. Developments in French critical theory -- Adumbrations of a
French-German dialogue
5. Philosophy and Critical Theory
6. The politics and/or ethics of Critical Theory
7. The roots of Critical Theory: Marxism, Romanticism, Literature.
8. Dialogues with fields outside of Critical Theory that may be seen
to provoke, supplement or directly challenge it.

The conference keynote addresses will be by:

A/Prof. Hans-Georg Moeller (Brock University)
Dr. John Rundell (Melbourne University)
A/Prof. Nicholas Smith (Macquarie University)

Submission details:

* Title and 250-300 word abstract for papers of 20 minutes reading time.

* Submissions should also include the following information:
Speaker's Name, Email address, University Affiliation.

* Deadline for submissions is the 30th September 2006.

* Email addresses for submissions and enquiries:

Either Andrew[dot]Montin[at]scmp[dot]mq[dot]edu[dot]au
or Michaela[dot]Baker[at]scmp[dot]mq[dot]edu[dot]au
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