Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Going beyond universalism and particularism

Kant does not sufficiently differentiate the conception of cosmopolitan conditions from the concretistic notion of world republic. Kant ignores the fact that a world republic would require a concrete lifeworld in order to function properly. Such a lifeworld does not exist. Moreover, it seems to be a conceptual ‘impossibility’. Lifeworlds, no matter how much decentration they might have gone through, are inherently particularistic. A global lifeworld would never be thick enough to support and sustain the working of a universal state. Such a state would require the use of coercive force which is nevertheless deemed legitimate by the actors themselves. The production and reproduction of legitimacy requires a very thin conception of lifeworld which is based on shared values, shared history, shared memories, and shared language etc.

Habermas’ critique of the Kantian notion of world republic shows his appreciation of the role of particularities in sustaining human life and its organization. Although true to his universalism he claims that all human beings are brothers and sisters, nevertheless, he also knows that there can not be a universal lifeworld shared by everyone, a lifeworld thick enough to sustain a world republic.

Habermas considers a middle way between ethnocentric universalism of the current American administration and the concretistic universalism of Kant. Habermas instead proposes a post nationalistic constellation whereby the nation state does not lose its relevance but is nonetheless opens towards the other. The whole notion of the withering away of the nation state does not appeal to Habermas because he recognizes the supreme significance of particularities in organizing and sustaining human life and its organization.

As mentioned above, Habermas is also against closed particularities. The notions of closedness and openness are relative and are to be understood historically. With this proviso, openness is important for two reasons: First, it is the basis of autonomy, a key notion which underpins Modernity. Second, it is important because with the evolution of capitalism and advent of globalization, the state risks irrelevance if it does not open up to the other. However, this opening up or generalization must be based on respect for particularities, i.e. it should emerge from within.

Related posts:

Does Habermas break his own rule?

Particularity, generality and Rationality

Transforming Communication: Habermas and Brandom in Dialogue

"What we discovered as we worked through the material, however, was that certain key issues at stake in the debate refused to come more clearly into focus as we tried to work them out. On the one hand, we came to feel that there were some key miscommunications at play – places where Habermas in particular seemed to find claims in Brandom’s work that we ourselves couldn’t find. On the other hand, we also came increasingly to feel that Habermas comes by at least some of these miscommunications honestly: that certain elements in Brandom’s project refused to come into focus for us, even after a careful attempt to get to the bottom of his system. We came to understand a bit better why such an argument might break out, and to feel that the presence of the argument does point to key issues that we, along with Habermas, have not quite been able to resolve in Brandom’s project. We therefore present this piece still in a moment of intense uncertainty, with a great deal of work still to be done to achieve our own goal of understanding the implications and potentials for critical social theory of Brandom’s philosophical work."

full here

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Divided West (Polity, 2006)

"In his recent collection of interviews and articles*, Jürgen Habermas - doyen of European social theory for several decades now - reminds us of just how deep are the roots of this disengagement. The rise of the modern nation state coincided with the discrediting of religion as a means of restraining organized aggression, obliging Enlightenment thinkers to put forward what could only be a rational approach to preventing war. In 1795 Immanuel Kant's Perpetual Peace: a philosophical sketch duly provided the foundation of a debate which in Europe continues to this day, and which has been deepened, fuelled and enriched by the spectacle of extreme national self-assertion of the Nazi period, the experience of Soviet communism and the patient process of constitution-building in the post war world.

Habermas contrasts a number of lines of thought. Have we for example to accept, as Kant at first suggested, that supranational institutions must take the form of a global republic? Habermas thinks not: not a global electorate, but a global public committed to universal human rights may be enough hold international actors to account. How do we move towards such a situation? Certainly not through the "hegemonic unilateralism" of a dominant superpower seeking to extend its own legal system to encompass the world as a whole. Even a benign democratic hegemon could, as Habermas puts it, "never be sure whether it is really distinguishing its own national interests from the universalizable interests that all other nations could share"."

from here

Monday, December 17, 2007

McDowell on the distinction between 'transcendental' and 'transcendent'

The idea that transcendental philosophy would have to be done from a special standpoint is implicit in Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton University Press, 1979), p. 293, where Rorty writes of the "demand . . . for some transcendental standpoint outside our present set of representations from which we can inspect the relations between those representations and their object." Kant distinguishes "transcendental" and "transcendent" (see for example, A 296/B 352-53). In Rorty's phrase, 'transcendental' could be replaced by 'transcendent'. Not that that shows Rorty to be misusing 'transcendental'; he is suggesting that transcendental philosophy requires a transcendent standpoint. That is what I think we should dispute. When I wrote despairingly about Kant's "transcendental story" in Mind and World (pp. 41-43, 95-98), I was acquiescing, in a way I now regret, in a reading of parts of Kant's transcendental activity that fits Rorty's phrasing. (I would still disparage the philosophy such a reading finds in Kant.).

McDowell, Having the world in view, p. 446, n. 23.


One can agree with McDowell's claim that transcendental philosophy doesn’t necessarily require a transcendent standpoint and can still argue that in its Kantian version it does require a transcendent viewpoint. I think this is Habermas' position. Habermas terms the transcendental philosophy that doesn't require a transcendent viewpoint a weak transcendentalism. The crucial test here is whether the subject is conceived beyond change or amenable to change and hence within the ambit of history. If the subject is in principle within the ambit of history then transcendentalism doesn't imply a transcendent, if it is not, then it would imply a transcendent standpoint.

Habermas criticises the Kantian concept of “spontaneity of a subjectivity that is world-constituting yet itself without a world (weltlos).” The ranscendental subjectivity in the tradition of modern philosophy from Descartes to Kant and up to the phenomenological tradition places subject beyond the field of “constitution” in the sense that although subject “constitutes”, it is itself beyond any constitution [That what constitutes is pure spontaneity (beyond constitution) without being delimited by any limitations while it limits everything else (constitutes)]. Thus Habermas clearly recognises that Kantian transcendental idealism is “not compatible with the realist presupposition of a mind-independent world that places constraint not only on judgments of experience but also on the learning process of the judging subjects.” (TJ: 19, emphasis added). Despite various similarities in their position there is this crucial difference between Kant and Habermas: For Kant it is inconceivable that mind independent reality would constrain the learning process of “the judging subject.” The transcendental subject is outside the space and time where its activities can be constrained. Constraints only apply to an empirical subject. For Habermas on the other hand subjects capable of speech and action and of accomplishments and initiations are formed in interaction with mind independent reality and under its constraints. These constraints are for Habermas not mere hindrances but the conditions of the possibility of the formation of capable subjectivity.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Friedman on Cassirer

"[According to Friedman] Cassirer was making "an heroic attempt to bridge the ever widening gap between the scientifically oriented approach to philosophy championed by Carnap and the decisive attempt to move philosophy in a quite contrary direction represented by Heidegger" (xii). His work can, for that reason, serve to "provide us with new possibilities and renewed motivation for making a similarly heroic effort for ourselves" (xii). Friedman considers it, in fact, "hard to imagine making progress without increased appreciation for both the strengths and weaknesses" of Cassirer's wide-ranging and deeply synthetic style of philosophical thought (xii). He concludes his monograph accordingly with the words:

Those interested in finally beginning a reconciliation of the analytic and continental traditions ...can find no better starting point than the rich
treasure of ideas, ambitions, and analyses stored in his astonishingly
comprehensive body of philosophical work (159)
." (Sluga, H, The Journal of Philosophy, 2001, 607, reviewing, Friedman, A parting of the ways . . .]

Habermas in my opinion is even better situated than Cassirer to play this role.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Friday, December 07, 2007

Does Habermas break his own rule?

For the normative self-understanding of modernity, Christianity has functioned as more than just a precursor or a catalyst. Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of a continual critical reappropriation and reinterpretation. Up to this very day there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a post-national constellation, we must draw sustenance now, as in the past, from this substance. Everything else is idle postmodern talk. (Habermas, 2002: 149, quoted in Harrington, Habermas and the 'Post-Secular Society,' pp. 554-55.)

Harrington's comments on the above passage:

What is troubling in this passage is that after having first stated a rule about the irrelevance of moments of ‘cultural’ particularism to structures of ‘societal’ universality, Habermas appears to break his own rule. Having first stated that‘cultural’ moments such as religious history and tradition are not relevant in principle to the formation of universally valid societal structures, he also argues that it is the Judaeo-Christian civilization of the West, with its ethos of rational conduct of life and drive towards universal rationalization of all spheres of life, that has not only created de facto the modern world system but also creates the law for all legitimate global societal interaction in the present. (p. 555).

Brief comments on Harrington:

I think Harrington gets it slightly wrong here, because he doesn't differentiate between the sociological project of Habermas and his philosophical project. Philosophically speaking, the justification for the ideas of freedom, equality, and justice must be provided based on reasons which are not particularistic. However, from the sociological point of view, from the point of the socialisation, a reference back to the particular background is important. The philosophical project presupposes a prior socialisation and individuation which naturally can only occur within the context of particularistic background. What's universal for Habermas is the philosophical project and the socialisation background can and should vary from time to time and place to place. Habermas brings this out clearly in his critique of current American project of the democratisation of Iraq. The basis of the critique is that a generality (in this case constitutional democracy) must emerge from within a particularity (in this case Iraq), i.e. from within Iraqi culture, from within its own history:

“When thousands of Shiites in Nasiriya demonstrate against both Saddam and the American occupation, they express the fact that non-Western cultures must appropriate the universalistic content of human rights with their own resources and in their own interpretations, one that establishes a convincing connection to local experiences and interests.” (TDW: 35)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christopher Zurn: Long draft of Encyclopaedia Article on Habermas

This essay seeks to give an overview of the development, central themes and methods, and main claims of Jürgen Habermas’s thought over the course of his career. Given its incredibly wide thematic range, its pervasive influence in both public and academ... (more)

via Facts, Ideas and Logic

Friday, November 30, 2007

Rationality, Dialogue, and Critical Inquiry

Rationality, Dialogue, and
Critical Inquiry: Toward a Viable
Postfoundationalist Stance

Abstract: Given the long-standing and deeply rooted intertwinement between reason and philosophy,there is a pressing need to reappraise our operative conceptions of rationality and critical inquiry in the wake of the transition from foundationalism to postfoundationalism. For while opening up exciting new vistas, this transition poses perplexing problems regarding how we might go about justifying our knowledge claims without the possibility of recourse to incontrovertible foundations, indubitable starting points, or algorithmic procedures. The challenge is all the more acute given that the turn to language and intersubjectivity that characterises this transition has fostered the proliferation of a diversity of competing and allegedly self-validating worldviews, that render the encounter with difference an indispensable feature of the contemporary epistemological landscape while reinforcing the threat of relativism and groundlessness. Through engaging with the work of Jurgen Habermas, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Michel Foucault, three theorists widely recognized as major contributors to the contemporary debate, the present paper responds to these problems by seeking to delineate the constitutive features of a dialogically-oriented conception of rationality and critical inquiry capable of meeting postfoundationalist needs. In the process, it reinforces the advantages of the reading these theorists as complementary rather than as oppositional, as has typically been the case.

Keywords: Rationality; Foundationalism; Postfoundationalism; Habermas; Gadamer; Foucault

Read the paper in full here

Friday, November 23, 2007

Dialogue and Transformation

Richard Rorty writes:

“My hunch is that our sense of where to connect up Indian and Western texts will change dramatically when and if people who have read quite a few of both begin to write books which are not clearly identifiable as belonging to any particular genre, and are not clearly identifiable either Western or Eastern.” (Cultural otherness, p. 68).

My question is, is Rorty right in thinking that a dialogue with or exposure to the other would lead to transformation of both sides participating in the dialogue? I think it’s one of the possibilities and a remote one. More likely outcome in my opinion would rather be that the dominant partner in the dialogue would take from her lesser partner what is of use to her and modify her position here and there thus enriching herself. The lesser partner in the dialogue would end up (even if unconsciously) incorporating itself in the context of the dominant partner thus diluting its own otherness (which might be good or bad depending on how one sees things in their entirety). This has been the historical trend anyway.

[cross posted at Foucauldians]

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Habermas' most important book?

Here is the result of the poll I have been running on the above topic:

Knowledge and Human Interest 2 (5%)

Theory of Communicative Action 17 (48%)

Between Norms and Facts 10 (28%)

The Discourse of Modernity 1 (2%)

Truth and Justification 5 (14%)

Total votes: 35

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Favourite Frankfurt School thinker?

Mark over struggles with philosophy is running a poll on "Favourite Frankfurt School thinker."

Personally, I don't think there is even any competition between Habermas and others on the list. Habermas beats them by a big margin both in his philosophical and sociological erudition as well as in his influence.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Rawls and Habermas on religion in the public sphere

Melissa Yates
Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

In recent essays, Jürgen Habermas endorses an account of political liberalism much like John Rawls'. Like Rawls, he argues that laws and public policies should be justified only in neutral terms, i.e. in terms of reasons that people holding conflicting world-views could accept. Habermas also, much like Rawls, distinguishes reasonable religious citizens, whose views should be included in public discourse, from unreasonable citizens in his expectation that religious citizens self-modernize. But in sharing these Rawlsian features, Habermas is vulnerable to some of the same objections posed to Rawls. In this article I assess Habermas' ability to overcome two objections frequently posed to Rawls: (1) that religious citizens are unfairly expected to split their identities in public discourse, and (2) that the burdens of citizenship are asymmetrically distributed. I conclude that while he may be able to overcome the second, the first remains a problem for him.

Key Words: Jürgen Habermas • pluralism • political liberalism • public sphere • John Rawls • religious citizens

from here

Monday, November 05, 2007

Habermas and the `Post-Secular Society'

Austin Harrington
The article appraises Habermas's recent writings on theology and social theory and their relevance to a new sociology of religion in the `post-secular society'. Beginning with Kant's Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, Habermas revisits his earlier thesis of the `linguistification of the sacred', arguing for a `rescuing translation' of the traditional contents of religious language through pursuit of a via media between an overconfident project of modernizing secularization, on the one hand, and a fundamentalism of religious orthodoxies, on the other. Several questions, however, must be raised about this current project. How far can Habermas engage adequately with religious ideas of the absolute while still retaining certain broadly functionalist theoretical premises? Is the notion of an ongoing secularization process in the `post-secular society' a contradiction in terms? What appropriate `limits and boundaries' are to be accepted between the domains of knowledge and faith, and how strictly can they be drawn? How coherent is the notion of `methodological atheism', and how consistently can Habermas pursue the project of a `religious genealogy of reason'?

Key Words: functionalism • Habermas • Kant's philosophy of religion • modernization • secularization • theology • universalism and particularism

from here

Richard Rorty, Philosopher and Language-Shaper

Jürgen Habermas held a memorial lecture for Richard Rorty at Stanford University on November 2, 2007 - “And to Define America, Her Athletic Democracy...' Richard Rorty, Philosopher and Language-Shaper”.

The lecture can be found here

The information was kindly provided by Thomas Gregersen, of HabermasForum

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Blurring the distinction between 'methodological" and "ontological"

Habermas often makes a point that we should not try to read off ontological distinction of methodological distinction between the participant and the observer perspective. Habermas has often said that this confusion is the fountain spring of an idealist metaphysics. Robert Brandom attributes a similar position to Brandom in the following:

“Sellars . . . does not . . . subscribe to the Platonic principle that fundamental differences in kinds of being can be read off of structural differences in the ways we know them.” Overcoming a Dualism of Cocnepts and Causes, in TBGTM, 264.

Also see Methodological distinctions and ontological presuppositions

The enchantment of the world

Rüdiger Safranski's book on Romanticism is a genuinely exciting account of German intellectual history. By Ulrich Greiner

An excerpt:

So why isn't Romanticism a closed chapter? Safranski writes: "With their discomfort with normality, the Romantics anticipate the discomfort with the 'demystification of the world through reason' that Max Weber would raise critically a century later. "The victory march of technical-industrial thinking and its crass materialism was unstoppable. Germans did not follow Max Weber's wise advice: to learn to live with demystification. In part they didn't want to, in part they couldn't and that remains true to date. Because modernity, which relies on reason and at best ends in reason, kept picking up its pace. Which is why Romanticism keeps returning as an place of desire – unfortunately, often in its darkest form. All the more important to recall its light, brilliant beginning, those beautiful young men and their intelligent women. What they were and wrote constitutes the undeniable peak of German intellectual history.

details here

Related post: Two models of "disenchantment" and two models of "re-enchantment"

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Conceptual confusions

"Blumenberg introduced a useful distinction between the transposition of ideas from a religious to a secular context, the ‘reoccupation’ of religious positions by functionally equivalent secular thought, and a merely ‘linguistic secularisation’, where people go on using religious-sounding rhetoric simply because another, more appropriate vocabulary has yet to evolve."

Malcolm Bull in the recent issue of LRB reviewing John Gray's recent book.

I think the above distinctions should be very important in understanding the whole debate about Religion and Philosophy in Habermas and generally. Malcolm Bull's devastating critique of John Gray is worth reading in full.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Methodological distinctions and ontological presuppositions

Habermas claims that the methodological distinction between external and internal perspectives is ontologically neutral. A question arises however: in what sense is the methodological distinction to be considered ontologically neutral? The distinction is not ontologically neutral in that it does not have any ontological implications. The distinction is only ontologically neutral in the sense that it is compatible with more than one ontological position. Thus both idealism and naturalism are in principle compatible with the methodological dualism presupposed by a transcendentalist approach. Deriving an ontological position from a methodological distinction involves committing two types of fallacies, viz. an idealistic fallacy and a naturalistic fallacy:

“Only the idealistic fallacy of inferring an ontological difference between mind and body (or Being and beings) from a methodological distinction misleads us into locating the transcendental conditions of objective experience in a transmundane realm of intelligible – or of the history of Being. Conversely the naturalistic fallacy is but the other side of the same coin; it simply assimilates transcendental conditions to empirical conditions, without considering aporias of self-referentiality, and projects them onto a scientifically objectified realm.”

In order to provide ontological support to the above mentioned methodical distinction one needs to take an additional step. Habermas’ weak naturalist hypothesis is meant to provide this additional step. Thus ‘weak’ naturalism is an ontological position that can maintain the methodological distinction between internal and external perspectives without committing either to idealism (which according to Habermas has been discredited) or strong naturalism which Habermas wants to avoid.

Also read Epistemic dualism vs. Ontological monism

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Interpreting Habermas

Pitior writes:

why does views on habermas have to be presented correctly?

Habermas synthesized a viewpoint, it only stands to reason that it will evolve as we learn more.

My response:

I agree with your point. As I said in response to Carl Sachs that Habermas' synthesis "interests me because it has philosophical repercussions which are quite general."

The final lines of introduction to my dissertation on Habermas read as follows:

"The second qualification is about the method of this study. The study is primarily an interpretation and reconstruction of Habermas’ notion of transcendence from within and is not primarily its evaluation or critique. It is true that every interpretation involves evaluation and to that extent I do not pretend that I do not make any value judgements by reading Habermas the way I read him. However, I do claim that the study is not an evaluation of Habermas’ notion of transcendence from within in any explicit and sustained manner. Furthermore, an interpretation of Habermas’ notion of transcendence from within also involves a great amount of reconstruction as Habermas does not discuss the notion explicitly in his work in any systematic way. Thus the boundary is often blurred between what Habermas says and what I claim him to be saying at the implicit level. The problem of true attributation arises here and I am not sure how to resolve it. However, fortunately we do not have to worry about it here since our purpose is to discuss Habermas’ notion of transcendence from within and not whether everything attributed to him in this study is attributable to him or not. After all, Habermas himself has taught us to differentiate between ‘representation’ and ‘thought’ and that thought is not the property of individual or collective consciousness. The study then is about the thought of Habermas and is not a ‘representation’ of what is going on in his mind."

Thus, it's quite clear that I am not much bothered about what is in Habermas' "head" so to speak. However, I do hope that within these qualifications, I still do understand Habermas' position in general and don't make basic mistakes in describing his position. Most of all I do hope that at least I know what Habermas means by the "internal perspective"!!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Habermas, Kant and Darwin

“Weak naturalism neither incorporates nor subordinates the “internal perspective” of the lifeworld to the “external perspective” of the objective world. Rather, it keeps these theoretical perspectives separate, connecting them at the metatheoretical level by assuming a continuity between nature and culture.” (TJ: 28)

The unbridgeable gap between the “internal perspective” and the “external perspective” corresponds to the distinction between reason and nature. On the methodological level, Habermas maintains this dualism (more appropriately, this sharp distinction) as his homage to the Kantian insight about the irreducibility of “reason” and “nature,” reason and the space of law. However on the metatheoretical level, Habermas postulates an ontological continuity between nature and reason, hence implying that the methodological distinction has emerged historically from the evolution of learning processes which trace their origin back to/in nature. This is Habermas’ homage to Darwin.

Note: This post should be read in the context of the previous posts (here and here)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Darwin, Kant and idealism in Habermas

Carl Sachs in his comments to my previous post writes:

As a final thought: I don't see why Darwin is necessary here. That is, I don't see why bringing Darwin(ism) into the picture allows one to get out of idealism. Surely one could be both a Darwinian and a transcendental idealist -- one would simply say that Darwinism is merely empirically real, and the truth (or falsity) of transcendental idealism is untouched.

Carl’s comments above seem to me to be based on a misunderstanding of Habermas’ position (which is most probably due to my own poor formulation of Habermas’ position). Anyway Carl’s comments provide me an opportunity to try to understand Habermas’ position in a better way.

To start with, Habermas is not aiming to overcome idealism. For Habermas, idealism has been decisively refuted. It has become untenable. It has lost its persuasive force etc. Similarly, Habermas is not aiming to prove Darwinism or naturalism in general. He takes the belief in naturalism to be the cumulative effects of learning process of the last two hundred years (not only in philosophy but in sciences but also at the level of culture in general).

So what’s Habermas aiming at? I think, Habermas' aim is to reconcile ‘transcendentalism” and Darwinism. Transcendentalism is a position that involves many things but particularly a commitment to the notion of embedded rationality and the view that every understanding must spring from within our own lifeworld even if it will eventually have resources also to go beyond it. Habermas treats this sort of ‘transcendentalism’ as an irrefutable fact which he thinks we have (or should have) learnt form Kant, Hegel, Heidegger and others. Such a transcendentalism has its own problems. One of them is that it leads to (or may lead to) an anthropocentric version of rationality, which Habermas wants to avoid. Such a transcendentalism also conflicts with Habermhas’ equally strong commitment to naturalism which requires giving ontological priority to “nature” (considered broadly). Hence the whole business of reconciling Kant and Darwin. Kant here is a stand-in for the sort of transcendentalism explained above while Darwin is a stand-in for ‘naturalism.’

Now I don’t claim that such a project or vision is without its problems. However, as far as I understand him, this is the view espoused by Habermas and it interests me because it has philosophical repercussions which are quite general.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Habermas and Post-Metaphysical approach.

The fundamental insight of a postmetaphysical approach is that we start from “within.” There is no way to circumvent our own way of life or form of life. We start from within our own position or situation. We are always already within our language and our own life form so there is no way to understand nature or reality from “without.” We can only understand them from within. The postmetaphysical approach starts with rejecting objectivism of the kind which purports to grasp objects from “nowhere” or “without.” In this sense “objectivism” is equal to metaphysics. This postmetaphysical stance is not just a methodological position but a certain conception of our situation in the world which is essentially based on a certain reading of the history of Western Philosophy. This postmetaphysical approach essentially rests on Kant’s transcendentalism which differentiates between “transcendental” and “empirical” and proclaims that the conditions of the possibility of experience cannot be given in experience. The upshot of such a transcendental approach is the rejection of the kind of metaphysical objectivism referred to above. Thus, Habermas’ commitment to a postmetaphysical approach implies his commitment to an essentially Kantian transcendentalism. However, Habermas takes his commitment to transcendentalism in a methodological sense since he wants to avoid Kantian idealism while adopting the postmetaphysical stance flowing from it. In this sense Habermas starts from the vantage point of Kantian transcendentalism sans his idealism in order to reconcile Kant and Darwin.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Habermas and Coffee

“The German philosopher Jurgen Habermas has argued that coffee shops were both an important site and a constitutent element of what he calls the emergence of the “public sphere.” [20] Habermas claimed that the eighteenth century saw the beginning of a public discourse about politics, society, and the proper role of both citizens and government, all topics which had been the more-or-less exclusive domain of elites in the past. Just as it had provided a social setting for discussion in the Islamic World, coffee shops in Europe were some of the most fertile locales for the discussion of new political and social ideas.


Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit: Untersuchungen zu einer Kategorie der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft, Neuwied: Hermann Luchterhand, 1962.

Habermas: “Transformation of the Public Sphere” 1962
from here

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Habermas, America and Iraq

[rough notes]

1) Habermas believes that there is universal core to the Western civilisation. This universal core is not based in the particular experiences the Western societies went through but in the linguistic character of our being in the world.

2) As beings bound by the use of language we are all equally heirs to the potential inherent in the language use. This potential is described by Habermas in terms of his theory of communicative action.

3)Thus, language use according to Habermas is the primary mode of action coordination and socialisation. Since we are all linguistic beings, history of different human societies must reflect this shared potential of language use and must be able to realise this potential to a certain extent.

4)[Communicative action is the basic type of social interaction in which actors coordinate their respective action plans according to commonly supposed world interpretations and mutual expectations. In acting communicatively, individuals more or less naively accept as valid the various claims raised with their utterance or actions and mutually suppose that each of them is prepared to provide reasons for the claims should their validity be questioned. In a slightly more specific (and controversial) sense, and one more closely tied to modern structures of rationality Habermas also claims that individuals who act communicatively self reflectively aim at reaching a shared understanding (or Verstaendingung) about something in the world by relating their interpretations to various idealizing, yet unavoidable, supposition of discourse, including claims to validity. Given the close connection between validity, reason and action, communicative action must initially be approached interpretatively, that is, from the internal perspective of the participants or virtual participants who are able to give and assess reasons.]

5) Habermas has a quasi Marxist account of why different human societies have failed to realise this potential. A revised version of false consciousness in details of which I do not want to go here. [Marx established in what sense the category of labour is a universal concept applicable to all societies. He shows that only to the extent that the capitalist mode of production has become established are the objective conditions fulfilled that allow him, Marx, access to an understanding of the universal character of this category ‘labour’. With regard to . . . a theory of communication, one must use the same method to clarify how the development of late capitalism has objectively fulfilled conditions that allow us to recognize universals in the structures of linguistic communication, providing criteria for a critique which can no longer be based on the philosophy of history (Habermas, 1986: 99).]

6) According to Habermas democratic procedures and human rights represent this universal potential of our linguistic being and is the shared heritage of all human societies.

7) Thus, Habermas clearly demarcates the universal core of the Western civilisation, which is based on our linguistic being in the world and hence is truly universal, from the particular historical experience through which the Western societies have institutionalised these universal insights.

8) Habermas urges the West to “export” the first but he thinks the West should not try to impose its own historically specific experiences through which it has institutionalised those universal insights, and the particular forms that this institutionalisation has taken.

9) This is the basis of Habermas’ objection to American strategy in Iraq. America according to Habermas, is trying to impose its own historically specific institutions on Iraqis and others. That must be avoided.

10) The fall of Saddam Hussein's monument is a sign that Iraqis too yearn for freedom, democracy and human rights. On the other hand the fierce resistance to Americans in Iraq is resistance to what Habermas calls liberal nationalism, which tries to impose the particularity on the other. Thus, the resistance is not directed against the universal as such. It is directed against a particularity which is at most only one representative of the universal.

11) Thus, the falling of the monument represents the urge for freedom, for the universality that is the core of Western civilisation while the resistance to the invading army and occupation represent loath against the imposition of a particularistic interpretation of the universal. The resistance is a protest against unequal treatment, against the egocentric perception of America.

12) What Habermas wants America to do is to go through decentration, to recognise the other, and the right of the other to try to realise the universal according to his or her own specific experience. Thus Habermas please for egalitarian universalism.

13) The particular policy implication of this plea is Habermas’ rejection of the American unilateralism, since it represents American liberal nationalism and not egalitarian universalism. Habermas counterposes to this the policy of upholding of the international law and making the UN the basis of all policy initiatives.

14) Habermas does not seriously consider for a second the inherently unequal character of the UN itself (although he does mention it in passing). And for good reasons of its own. For the primacy of international law and the UN is actually a plea for the unity of the Western forces and her allies. This becomes clear when we consider Habermas’ support of an equally unauthorised invasion of Kosovo. Habermas enumerates three points that differentiate the present case (that of Iraq) from the Kosovo invasion. However, the third and the last point is crucial: “undisputed democratic and rule of law character of all members of the acting military coalition. Today normative dissent has divided the West itself”. The collective action of the West in itself is a sort of guarantee against particularism.

15) This should not surprise us since Habermas does not consider for a moment the possibility that the people of Iraq or any other part of the world may genuinely resist not only the particularities mentioned above but the universal itself. This is strange considering Habermas own reference to the possibility of what he calls “less friendly use of democracy”. John Gray a leading European critic of neo liberal policy argues that the outcome of the imposition of democracy in the Middle East would not be a liberal order but a theocratic rule.

16) I totally disagree with Habermas diagnosis. Firstly, among the Western countries, America is least susceptible to the temptations to impose its own particular values on others. Compare with France for example.

17)Secondly and most importantly he indugles in strange misinterpretation of events by imputing policy changes to individuals [Pauls Wolfwits is dubbed as a revolutionary!] and to neo conservatism [ignoring the Clintonian basis of current policy as recently argued by Philip Bobbit in his Shield of Achilles].

18) However, the most glaring omission of Habermas analysis is the relation of democracy to the capitalist imperatives. This is strange for a thinker who has been sufficiently sensitive to the necessity of addressing the system imperatives through out his career.

19)The role of America in today’s system is not due to any unilateralism but because of its role as the sole defender of the capitalist order and the changed nature of capital accumulation. Today interventions are needed not to export values or any other reasons but to keep the lines of supplies safe for the global capitalist order. And this is not just the interest of America, it is the interest of the whole capitalist world. The people who have claimed oil to be the sole cause of invasion are as wrong as Habermas. Habermas ignores the system imperatives; the others ignore the the distinction between the particularites of the accumulation and its generalities.

20) Europe knows that it is totally dependent on America for the growth of its economy. However, at the same time America is totally dependent on foreign investment to sustain its growth and finance its debt. America today needs constant intervention throughout the world to sustain this life line.

21) Habermas and others have a point but that must be understood on a totally different level. The problem is not that America is trying to impose its own values. The problem is that the sole defender of the capitalist order is a nation state. Thus it cannot fulfil its obligation consistently. When Habermas and others argue for a new role for the UN they are actually calling for a truly universal state (with the reservations which are beyond the scope of this presentation, see TDW for detail).

Friday, October 12, 2007

Habermas and Philosophy of education

"Although Jurgen Habermas is not typically viewed as an educational philosopher, his ideas have been recognized as having significance for adult and postsecondary education. Stephen Brookfield (2005) offers a particularly enlightening reading of Habermas. My philosophy of education is grounded in this particular understanding of Habermas, which I'll describe below."

full here

Jürgen Habermas Interview

The Kantian Project of Cosmopolitan Law-Jürgen Habermas

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Dialogical Rationality

Dialogical Rationality (A working outline).

1) Define dialogical rationality or dialogical mode of understanding.

2) The purpose of dialogue:
2.1 Understanding the “Other.”
2.2 Testing our arguments (reasons). [Habermas]
2.3 Expanding our horizon (Gadamer).

3. Can we understand the “other” through dialogue?

4. What do we mean by understanding the other?

4.1 Understanding alien mode of thoughts?

4.2 Understanding the other in her otherness?

4.3 Understanding those parts of the ‘Thought” of the other that make her the other.

5. To understand the other is to take her seriously, i.e. to be ready to transform oneself if required.

6. Why is ‘dialogue’ unable to open up the other in her otherness (disclosure)?

6.1 Dialogue versus silence.

7. Why dialogue is ineffective in reaching understanding with the other?

7.1 Understanding work on the basis of background consensus. Even misunderstanding (as Gadamer emphasises) arises only in the background of deep understanding.

7.1 When the background consensus is thin or lacking, we are not really likely to talk to each other, we rather talk across each other.

7.2 When we talk to ‘other’ in view of her otherness, there is not enough background consensuses to form the basis of any meaningful understanding of her.

7.3 The issue can be understood by understanding the way the embedded rationality works.

7.4 “Silence” – the domain of other is located in the space of silence, and why?

8 A counterexample: Habermas’ argument and why is it a weak argument in this context.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The limits of dialogical rationality


Dialogical rationality or dialogical modes of understanding are normally considered to be the preferred modes of understanding the “other,” be that other a culture or another mode of thinking. However, I will argue that the dialogical model of understanding is most efficient in the cases where we have considerable amount of background consensus, i.e., where we are not dealing with the other what’s “our” own. I will argue that the dialogical model is least efficient when it comes to understanding the other. I shall bring home this point by concentrating on the works of Habermas and Foucault (with occasional references to Gadamer). I shall not be arguing that dialogical mode of understanding is totally irrelevant for understanding the other. However, what I will argue is that it give little or no access when it comes to the crunch issues (the issues that with the “otherness” of the other.)

Critique: Internal or external?

The concept of “critique” is one of the defining concepts of the post Kantian Philosophy. Today, however, we need to problematise the concept of “critique” by pointing towards the fact that most critical theorists seem to deny the possibility of (or efficacy) of external critique and insist that a critique of Modernity (for example) must be internal. I argue that giving up on the concept of external critique is to give up the concept of critique itself. In order to argue my position I shall first develop the much needed typology of the concept of critique differentiating different meanings of the term critique and paying particular attention to developing a clear cut distinction between immanent critique and internal critique.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Philosophical foundations of Habermas’ critique of American foreign policy


Many critics have noted the sharp tone of Habermas’ critique of the Bush administration’s policies and actions in the wake of September 11 and the invasion of Iraq. Few have, however, noticed how far Habermas’ critique is anchored in his specific philosophical and theoretical outlook. The occasional and journalistic character of Habermas’ political interventions is likely to hide this theoretical basis of his critique. In this paper I shall argue that Habermas’ critique of the Bush administrations’ foreign policy emanates from and is founded upon his conception of Modernity specifically his views about the relationship between “particularity” and “generality.” The purpose of this essay is to make explicit how Habermas’ critique can be read as a critique of “particularism,” which Habermas sees operating behind American (and British) foreign policy, which in his view compromises the key achievements of Modernity (specially in its Kantian version).

German team beaten!

Though significantly Habermas was missing!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A political constitution for the pluralist world society?

Jürgen Habermas

"The chances of the project of a “cosmopolitan order” being successful are not worse now than they were in 1945 or in 1989-90. This does not mean that the chances are good; but we should not lose sight of the scale of things. The Kantian project first became part of the political agenda with the League of Nations, in other words after more than 200 years; and the idea of a cosmopolitan order first received a lasting embodiment with the foundation of the United Nations. Since the early 1990s, the UN has gained in political significance, and has emerged as a not inconsiderable
factor in world political conflicts. Even the superpower saw itself compelled to enter into confrontation with the world organization when the latter refused to provide legitimacy for a unilateral intervention. The United Nations survived the
subsequent attempt to marginalize it and is now about to manage the urgently needed reform of its main body and limbs."

Full text here

H/T Habermas Forum

Europa: Vision und Votum

Von Jürgen Habermas

"Als vor 50 Jahren die Gründung der Europäischen Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft feierlich beschlossen wurde, stand die innenpolitische Frage der atomaren Ausrüstung der Bundeswehr weit mehr im Zentrum nicht nur meiner Aufmerksamkeit. Wie viele andere habe auch ich damals nicht begriffen, dass diese Zollunion bereits mit verfassungsähnlichen Institutionen ausgestattet wurde und damit die Perspektive auf eine Europäische Gemeinschaft, also eine politische Vereinigung der Länder Westeuropas, eröffnete."

Full text here

Related texts: Depicting Europe by Perry Anderson

"These transports may seem peculiarly Anglo-Saxon, but there is no shortage of more prosaic equivalents on the Continent. For Germany’s leading philosopher, Jürgen Habermas, Europe has found ‘exemplary solutions’ for two great issues of the age: ‘governance beyond the nation-state’ and systems of welfare that ‘serve as a model’ to the world. So why not triumph in a third? ‘If Europe has solved two problems of this magnitude, shouldn’t it issue a further challenge: to defend and promote a cosmopolitan order on the basis of international law’ – or, as his compatriot the sociologist Ulrich Beck puts it, ‘Europeanisation means creating a new politics. It means entering as a player into the meta-power game, into the struggle to form the rules of a new global order. The catchphrase for the future might be: Move over America – Europe is back!’ In France, Marcel Gauchet, theorist of democracy and an editor of Le Débat, the country’s central journal of ideas, explains, more demurely, that ‘we may be allowed to think that the formula the Europeans have pioneered is destined eventually to serve as a model for the nations of the world. That lies in its genetic programme.’"

Full text here

Monday, September 24, 2007

Spontaneity of experience

"My concern here is with the way Hegel’s conception of experience and logic attempts to overcome Kant’s antithetical formulation of the concept-intuition distinction which separates thought from any possible content. The Phenomenology tries to overcome this dualism by establishing the conceptual character of experience. Indeed the very notion of experience is stripped of its passivity and is imbued with spontaneity." (Satisfying the Demands of Reason: Hegel’s Conceptualization of Experience, by Simon Lumsden Topoi 22: 41–53, 2003, herep. 42).

This resembles Habermas’ stress on the surprising character of experience. But the difference is that for Habermas ‘conceptual’ interpretation of experience robes it of its surprising character, see Habermas’ critique of Brandom and McDowell on this. The reason for this seems to be the fact that for Habermas the origin of spontaneity doesn’t lie in concepts. Spontaneity belongs to understanding only by virtue of Reason and he castigates both Hegel and Heidegger for blurring the Kantian distinction between Reason and understanding.

Kant’s conditions of cognitions are not under the constraints of the world precisely because they are the conditions of the possibility of our cognition. Habermas accepts Kantian position but rejects the idea that conditions of the possibility are beyond the reach of the world. Habermas here makes a crucial and subtle move. According to Habermas Kant’s argument is only valid so far as our relation with “objects” is that of cognition. However, that doesn’t imply that “objects” as far as they are not the “objects” of our cognition and are not conceptualised by us, can’t “affect” our conceptual apparatus. The surprising character of experience is tamed only to the extent that we “domesticate” it through conceptualising it and only as long as we keep doing that. However, the domestication of experience is never exhaustive and can never be exhaustive given our finitude (Habermas’ referral to Putnam’s rejection of “God’s eye view” is relevant here).

It should be noted that the word “experience” is ambiguous. By experience we can either mean the states a subject goes through when he or she encounters the world or the content of any such experience. The former is an example of passivity while the later that of spontaneity. What is passive, here, is really the subject and not the "experience" which is overwhelming for the subject. It’s only when the subject routes some of what he is faced with through his mental categories that he is able to "pacify" the experience.

The Third Annual SEP-FEP Joint Conference: A short report

I just got back from the U.K. I was there to attend the thrid annual SEP-FEP conference. The conference was held from 8-11 September. The conference was jointly organized by the Society for European Philosophy U.K and the Forum for European Philosophy based at LSE. The conference was held at Bramber House Conference Centre at the University of Sussex. The University of Sussex is located at Falmer, on the outskirts of Brighton, England. The conference went very well. There were excellent papers as well as food and other conference facilies were quite good.

The conference was focused on contemporary European Philosophy. The specific themes of the conference for this year included: Politics and Critique, Phenomenology, Aesthetics, German Idealism, and Ethics. The conference was comprised of four plenary sessions, 9 themed panels, and over 20 open parallel sessions, not all of which were themed. The total numbers of papers presented were 92. The four keynote speakers were: Frederick Neuhouser, Barnard College, University of Columbia; Cristina Lafont, Northwestern University; Alexander Garcia Düttmann, Goldsmiths; and Rüdiger Bittner, University of Bielefeld. Neuhouser presented his paper on “The Critical Function of Genealogy in Rousseau's Second Discourse,” Lafont on “Religion and Democratic Deliberation in the Public Sphere,” Düttmann on “A Matter of Life and Death: Spinoza or Derrida?,” and Bittner on “A horse in the basement. Nietzschean Reflections on Political Theory.” Other speakers of note included Gordon Finlayson (organized a themed panel on “Normativity and Critical Theory”), David Owen presented a paper on the theme of Critique and Genealogy, and Herman Siemens presented on Nietzsche.

My paper also went well (presentation here). The conference was also unique in the sense that at least 11 papers were presented on Habermas. Normally I feel that Habermas is equally ignored in conferences on European and Analytic philosophy. People doing European philosophy don’t consider him enough “continental” and people doing analytic philosophy don’t consider him enough of analytic. One of the reason for this change in focus might be that one of the conference organisers was himself a prominent Habermasian.

The conference was interesting and fruitful. It was attended by some top scholars in contemporary European Philosophy from the U.K, Europe, the U.S, Australia and from the rest of the world. The conference also provided an opportunity to understand the current emphases of research within the wider field of contemporary European Philosophy.

Back from the conference I stayed one night in London and had dinner with one of my friends from London at one of the Pakistani Restaurants in South Hall, London (a predominantly south Asian area of London). The dinner was excellent. One thing which strikes you in England (especially in cities) is the prominence of South Asians.

I went back to England after eight years. Nothing has changed much (at least that was my first impression) except that congestion at Heathrow airport has increased beyond description. The plane reached Heathrow 15 minutes before the curfew time ends so we had to hover over London for 15 minutes, then after landing we had to wait for almost an hour to find the slot for disembarkment. Once in the immigration area I had to wait an hour in queue to get to the immigration officer for visa (the actual visa process took less than a minute!).

Bridging the gap . . .

In the Kantian tradition, Reason is autonomous. It doesn’t succumb to any external authority (physical or social). But causes are external to reasons. So how can we reconcile this with undeniable connection between reasons and the world? If reason succumbs to the causal order, reason has succumbed to something that is not of its own making (that is external to it). However, if no rational connection between the claims of reasons and the causal order is established we end up not only with a threatening gap between reason and the world but also with a sort of idealism because in this case reason is no longer answerable to the world. I think something like the above is at the heart of Habermas' and McDowell’s project of bridging the gap between reasons and the world. If we can come up with a plausible link between the world and reasons that is non causal than we can reconcile reason and the world.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Dualism of "reasons" and "causes"

1. The discussion on the relation between Kant and Habermas is generally focused on their practical (moral and political) philosophy.

1.1.1 Within theoretical philosophy the focus has been on global themes such as Habermas’ alleged (often claimed to be residual) transcendentalism.

1.1.2 It’s important that we explore the relation between the two thinkers on the level of theoretical philosophy but the focus should be on specific themes.

1.1.3 In this paper I explore a specific issue, viz Habermas’ and Kant’s combined claim that “causes” are distinct from and irreducible to “reasons” or vice versa. In the contemporary idiom what both Habermas and Kant are claiming is that the “space of reasons” is irreducible to (and incompatible to) the “space of law.”

1.1.4 However, I should emphasize here that Habermas incompatiblism is of a peculiar type. The incompatiblism we are talking about here is only valid from within lifeworld. Habermas aims to eventually reconcile the space of reasons and the space of law by locating them in the context of natural history. This is the aim of Habermas’ weak naturalism.

2. Habermas then is committed to the thesis that the two spaces (mentioned above) are incompatible. However, he wants to avoid what he considers to be the otherworldiness of Kant’s position. According to Habermas in order to defend the incompatability of “reasons” and “causes” Kant had to posit “a transmundane realm of intelligible” (a world beyond and unaffected by senses).

2.1 Of course there are other well known differences between Kant and Habermas, for example, Habermas’ rejection of Kant’s subjectivism (Habermas relocates rationality in the public space of objective mind), however I shall (assume but) not discuss this pivotal difference in this essay.

3. Habermas defends the distinction between causes and reasons in several contexts: Specifically:

3.1 In his discussion of Austin’s notion of the “force” of illocutionary speech acts and his distinction between ‘meaning’ and ‘force’ of speech acts.

3.2 In his discussion of the pivotal distinction between communicative action and strategic action. The point of the distinction is to establish that the effects produced within strategic actions are causal while they are non causal in the case of communicative action.

3.3 Habermas claims that “For reasons to be sound and for them to be merely considered sound are not the same things, whether we are dealing with reasons for asserting facts, for recommending norms and values, or for expressing desires and feelings. That is why the interpreter cannot simply look at and understand such reasons without at least implicitly passing judgment on them as reasons.” (MCCA: 30).

4. Habermas doesn’t only claim that “causes” and “reasons” are irreducible to each other. He also claims that:

4.1 Reasons have their own unique causality.
4.2 This causality is effective in actuality (this is Habermas’ sociological thesis).

5. Natural causes are deterministic.

5.1 Habermas works with an “interventionist conception of cause.” Habermas refers to Kant, Pierce and von Wright. The concept in fact goes back to Galileo. The interventionist conception of cause can be described thus: “Generally: If we wish to explore whether A is a cause of B, we will need to establish whether deliberate and purposive variations in A result in changes in B. If changes in A produce changes in B, the causal relation is established.” ('s_Interventionist_Notion_of_Cause_JHI.doc).

5.2 Habermas claims that “law like generalities, allowing for counterfactual conditional statements, are conceptually dependent on the idea of instrumental action.”

5.3 A is a cause of B, entails that B can be objectified under the aspect of potential technical control.

5.4 A is a cause of B, refers to an underlying law like regularities and the relation between A and B can be expressed in a counterfactual statement: if A hadn’t occurred, B wouldn’t have occurred.” (Cf. Lewis, Causation).

5.5 A is a cause of B is conceptually linked to the idea of instrumental action. A is a cause of B means B can be objectively intervened in (through grasping the causal connection) and hence brought under control.

5.6 Causal explanations exclude any reference to causally effective propositional attitudes. Causal explanations don’t refer to the position a person might take within the space of reasons.

6. The causality we attribute to reasons is different from the causality explained in 5.

6.1 Proof: Indeterminacy of rational argumentation – there are no knock down arguments.

7. Submitting to reasons: is submitting to rules that are not up to the agent.

7.1 However, they don’t compel in the way natural causality does. The former is enabling in the sense that it makes possible for us to be free, i.e. to say ‘no,’ to the reasons, while the latter is disabling in the sense that it’s totally deterministic.

[[“The mediation by reasons is the only form of determination that is compatible with free will.”]].

7.2 Here Habermas’ distinction between subjective mind and objective mind is relevant.

7.3 Distinction between Relative and Absolute spontaneity: According to Allison, “spontaneity” is relative when subjects are spontaneous relative to the input of senses but are not outside the bound of causality. Absolute spontaneity on the other hand implies that subjects are not only free in relation to the input of senses but are outside the nexus of causality altogether.

8. A space of reasons is created with communicative action.

8.1 The space of reasons is culturally circumscribed – communicative action takes place within the context of lifeworld.

8.2 With the space of reasons only the force of good reasons prevail. Actors within the space of reasons have the ability to move without any resistance (ability to put any position into question.

8.3 “Force” depends on the resonance reasons create within the subjective mind.

8.4 The space of reasons provides the milieu in which yes/no positions are taken vis a vis validity claims.

8.5 Validity claims are ciriticisable. Reasons are in a semantic relation with other reasons. Amenable to critique from other reasons.

8.6 The position we take regarding them is not brought about causally.

9. The space of reasons presupposes a conception of personhood (different from subjectivity).

9.1 Based on the distinction between “doing” and “occurrence.”

9.2 “Doing” – Action - based on reasons – conflict between reasons – Right or wrong reasons and there is always a possibility of contradiction.

9.3 “Occurrence” – spatiotemporally determined events – explained monologically, i.e. deterministically (events don’t contradict each other).

10. The space of reasons is created within communicative action – How is it created?

10.1 It’s one of the conditions of the possibility of communicative action that participants suspend the objectivistic attitude and opt for the performative attitude, i.e they treat each other as persons and not as objects.

10.2 Since causality is conceptually dependent on the possibility of objectification with the suspension of the objectivistic attitude, natural causality is also suspended.

11. Strategic versus communicative action:

11.1 Speech acts are used in both communicative action and strategic action with the difference that only in the former they are used non instrumentally or unreservedly.

11.2 In communicative action “the illocutionary forces of speech acts assume an action coordinating role” while in strategic action the illocutionary force of speech acts is not the primary medium of action coordination. Speech acts are subordinated to the intentions and plans of actors and are used only instrumentally or strategically.

11.3 In communicative action, as against strategic actions, intentions of actors are taken over by language itself.

11.4 In strategic action, speech acts are employed but in a manner that contravenes the basic structure of communicative action. The crucial point that distinguishes between communicative and strategic actions (which are both linguistically mediated interactions) is the fact that in communicative as against strategic actions, speech acts are used without reservation.

11.5 As Habermas makes it clear, both communicative action and strategic action have “a teleological structure.” This means actors in both communicative actions and strategic actions have ‘intentions’ and ‘ends’.

11.6 However in communicative action structures of communication are superimposed on the intentions of the actors and their aims as against strategic actions where intentions of actors are the determining factor. The teleological structure of action is interrupted in communicative action.

11.7 Thus in a sense it is right to say that in communicative action language suspends the teleological structure of action (even if only momentarily) and actors in fact dwell in language and its unique causality which is quite distinct from the causality of action.

11.8 The unique causality of reason emerges from within only when actors are ‘delivered’ to language itself. Language interrupts natural causality and makes possible the emergence of the causality of reason as long as we remain delivered to the language itself.

[[“In [communicative action] the consensus achieving force of reaching understanding (Verstandigung) – that is, the binding and bonding energies of language itself – becomes effective for the coordination of actions. In [strategic action] by contrast, the coordinating effect remains dependent on the influence – functioning via non linguistic activities – exerted by the actors on the action situation and on each other.” (OPC: 221).

Seen from the perspective of the participants, the two mechanisms – that of reaching understanding, which motivates convictions, and that of exertion of influence, which induce behavior – must be mutually exclusive. Speech acts cannot be carried out with the simultaneous intentions of reaching an agreement with an addressee with regard to something and of exercising a causal influence on him.” (OPC: 221-222).]]

11.9 Thus in communicative action, with its stringent conditions we enter into the space of reasons and remain within it as long as we keep adopting the participants’ perspective and abide by the stringent conditions of communicative action. Strategic action on the other hand is the abode of causal law and works according to the law of causality. Furthermore if communicative action and strategic action are mutually exclusive then the space of reasons and the space of law are also proven to be mutually exclusive.

12. The distinction between perlocutionary effects and illocutionary aims is another way of distinguishing between communicative action and strategic action. Habermas’ notion of unique illocutionary force comes in to its own only in the context of communicative action. Crucial here is the distinction between illocutionary success and perlocutionary effects. The differentiation is built upon the difference between the aims of the two acts. Habermas differentiates between the immediate aim of illocutionary acts and their far reaching aims. The immediate aim of an illocutionary act is “that the hearer understands [the speaker’s] utterance” while the far reaching aim is that the “hearer accepts [the speaker’s] utterance as valid.” Habermas calls all those effects that go beyond the illocutionary aims perlocutionary effects in the first instance. Habermas then differentiates between two types of perlocutionary effects: “between effects that, in the course of obligations relevant for the sequel of interaction, result from the semantic content of what is said, and those effects that occur contingently independently of grammatically regulated contexts.” By this distinction Habermas differentiates between “strategically and non strategically motivated perlocutionary effects.” We are here only concerned with strategically motivated perlocutionary effects.

12.1 Perlocutionary effects are produced when “illocutionary acts . . . take roles in contexts of strategic action.” Perlocutionary effects “ensue whenever a speaker acts with an orientation toward success and, in doing so, simultaneously connects speech acts with intentions and instrumentalises them for purposes that are only contingently related to the meaning of what is said.”
[[“Perlocutionary effects, like the successful results of teleological actions generally, may be described as states in the world brought about through intervention in the world. By contrast, illocutionary successes are achieved at the level of interpersonal relations on which participants in communication come to an understanding with one another about something in the world. In this sense, they are not innerworldly (nichts innerweltliches) but extramundane (extramundan). At most, successful illocutionary acts occur within the lifeworld to which the participants in communication belong and that forms the background for their processes of reaching understanding. They cannot be intended under the description of causally produced effects.” (OPC: 127). ]]

12.1.1 The illocutionary success (in contrast to the perlocutionary effects) cannot be located within innerworldly because of the distinction between illocutionary aims and perlocutionary aims. Habermas refers to three crucial distinctions between illocutionary and perlocutionary aims in this context:

i) The illocutionary aims cannot be defined independently of the linguistic means of reaching understanding.
ii) The speaker cannot intend illocutionary aims to be something to be effected causally. The “yes” and “no” of the speaker within communicative action are rationally (rather than) causally motivated. Within communicative action the actors have the freedom to say “no.” This freedom is precisely the freedom from causality.

iii)The actors within communicative action confront each other in the performative attitude, they don’t (and cannot) treat each other as “objects” as long as they are within communicative action.

12.1.2 Perlocutionary aims on the other hand may be brought about without recourse to language and hence are not constrained by the structure of language use. As Habermas writes: “”Perlocutionary” is, of course, the name we give to the effects of speech acts that, if need be, can also be brought about causally by non-linguistic actions.” Since illocutionary successes are the functions of the structural conditions of the possibility of communicative action they cannot become the objects of manipulation for the actors within communicative action. Since these conditions constrain actors from behind their back they cannot make them into objects as long as they remain within communicative action. In this sense, these successes are extramundane for actors within communicative action. Since these cannot be intended by actors as objects the law of causality does not apply to them, as the law of causality only applies to the object of our cognition or intention (or representation in general). Thus illocutionary success transcends the terms of causality which applies only to those events that occur within the world. Illocutionary success is located not in the world (innerworldly) but at the extramundane level. The level of extramundane is not an otherworldly realm because it does not refer back to any extramundane realm. Rather it emerges from within communicative action. However, it is a realm that is located beyond innerworldly. In this sense through communicative action and in pursuing illocutionary aims, participants attain transcendence from innerworldly and they attain this transcendence from within, without positing any realm of intelligibility beyond this world. Illocutionary force and illocutionary success cannot be understood on the model of causality of nature because through transcending the innerworldly, participants also transcend causality of nature and as long as they remain within communicative action and are bound by its conditions, they are immune to the causality of nature.

12.1.3 Thus illocutionary force and illocutionary success can only be described on the model of the causality of reason described by Kant. The participants in communication do influence each other (exert force on each other) but this influence (or force) cannot be understood on the causal model and hence must be understood as a rational influence and a rational force. This is precisely what Kant describes as the causality of reason: “Someone . . . [who] is acting communicatively . . . cannot, at the same level of interaction, produce perlocutionary effects at all.”

13 Since the analysis of communicative action is carried out in this worldly terms Habermas seems to have made good on his claim that the distinction between “causes” and “reasons” can maintain in this worldly terms without referring back to Kant’s realm of intelligible.

14. However, Habermas needs to prove the actuality of freedom, and not just it as the condition of the possibility of communicative action. Kant had to posit the otherworldly realms for precisely this reason. It is here that Habermas’ weak naturalism comes in. But that’s the story for another day!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Two types of compulsions . . .

"To the extent to which persons let their actions be guided by reasons, they
submit themselves to the logical-semantic and broadly ‘grammatical’ commitments of
intersubjectively shared systems of rules that are not up to them. At the same time, these rules do not ‘compel’ in the same way that laws of nature do." (Language Game of Responsible agency, p. 17, italics in the original).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Inconsistency of ultimate description of "the universe'

Habermas in a recent essay quote the following great passage from Martin Seel.

"It is precisely the idea of a transcendent, final, ultimate description of ‘the universe’ that is inconsistent. It is the fiction, on the basis of which—and only on the basis of which—our sense of freedom becomes, as viewed from the outside, a fiction. As soon as one sees that the capacity for participating in justificatory practices is essential for all knowledge—and for every intelligible conception of knowledge—this construction collapses."[Teilnahme und Beobachtung: Zu den Grundlagen der Freiheit. Neue Rundschau 116 (4): 141–53, here, 151]

In the footnote to this passage Habermas writes the following:

"In his well-known book The view from nowhere (1986), Thomas Nagel starts out from the similar problem of ‘how to combine the perspective of a particular person inside the world with an objective view of that same world, the person and his viewpoint included’; and he develops, within the domain of ethics, a similar critique of what he calls ‘excess objectivity’:‘If we push the claims of objective detachment to their logical conclusion, and survey the world from a standpoint completely detached from all interests, we discover that there is nothing-no values left of any kind: things can be said to matter at all only to individuals within the world’ (Nagel 1986, 146). Since Nagel sticks to the mentalist opposition of first- and third-person perspectives, I won’t go into his otherwise quite compelling critique of objectivism." (Language game of responsible agency, p. 46).

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Epistemic dualism vs. Ontological monism

Habermas would in principle not contest the claim that even without humans “the universe would still consist of electrons etc.” However, Habermas’ route to this conclusion is different from our normal realist's (whom Habermas dubs rather peculiarly as a metaphysical realist). Habermas believes in what he calls epistemic dualism and ontological monism and his big question is how to reconcile this apparently exclusive positions. Habermas wants to avoid ontological dualism however he believes that epistemic dualism is a fact of our philosophical learning which cannot be wished away. From the perspective of our lifeworld and our subjective constitution we are compelled to use the categories that are “subjective” in order to understand the universe. This “produces” what we call objective universe. Objective universe would not have been possible without our subjective (or intersubjective) input. However, this is true only from the epistemic side of the story. Habermas also believes that the categories which we use to understand the universe attain an “objective” status if they prove their worth by cohering to our existing knowledge and resisting the onslaught of new experiences (if they don’t crumble in the face of new experiences they prove their worth). Obviously Habermas needs a strong notion of “experience” where by experience somehow contains an excess that overflows the bounds of our categories. Here, Habermas brings in his pragmatic conception of knowledge and his weak naturalism to support this notion of experience as excess and provide it both epistemological and ontological ground. What makes Habermas’ position intriguing and difficult to defend is that he wants to grab the best of the both worlds viz. epistemic dualism and ontological monism, idealism and realism.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Does Habermas "naturalize" Kant??

Note: The following notes are a sequel to the abstract I posted earlier.

Habermas definitely wants to “naturalize” Kant but he understands “naturalism” in a broader way than most of Analytic philosophers (I am thinking of Kitcher’s “naturalization” of Kant here which is criticized by Allison among others). Habermas is closer to McDowell (and I assume that McDowell is an analytic philosopher). Habermas’ trick here is to distinguish between “nature” as understood by objectivistic sciences and nature in a broader sense to which (for example) Kantian categories don’t apply. Habermas claims that physics (for example) doesn’t exhaust nature. Our objectification always leaves out “something” of the “object.” This is another way of saying that our categories through which we understand nature in objectivistic sciences are not exhaustive. Kant had tried to do the same thing with the help of his notion of “things in themselves” however he was defeated in his purpose due to contradictions in which this concept involved him given his overall position. Habermas also makes an assumption which seems metaphysical but he claims that it is just a hypothesis which is to be ultimately tested empirically (in a boarder sense of the term). His hypothesis is that human subjectivity emerges out of nature in the broader sense and then through interaction between subjective nature and nature itself, nature in the narrower sense of the word emerges. Objectification is the result of interaction between subjective nature and nature in itself. Habermas thinks that his “nature in itself” can avoid the fate of Kant’s “things in themselves” in two ways: first his is an empirical thesis in the sense that its viability ultimately depends on how best it can explain the overall phenomenon and how it coheres with the empirical findings in the field of objective sciences. His hunch is that if the hypothesis is false it will not be able to cohere with our empirical knowledge in the long run; second Habermas thinks that Kant’s contradictions were results of his adherence to the representational view of knowledge. On the other hand Habermas thinks that if we adopt a pragmatic conception of knowledge we can avoid Kantian contradictions.

My concern in this paper is Habermas’ defence of the Kantian view that ‘causes’ and ‘reasons’ are different in kind and that they cannot be reduced to each other. They are incompatible in the sense that we cannot understand “reason’ on the model of causality or broadly speaking on the model of natural laws. Habermas wants to maintain this distinction without referring back to Kant’s metaphysics especially his notion of transcendental subjectivity. He aims to explain this within his theory of communicative action. Now my contribution in this regard is twofold. First to simply highlight the fact (Habermas’ position here) as there does not seem to be an appreciation of this in the literature (Habermas’ explanation itself is very cursory in this regard. He almost assumes that everybody knows what he is saying). Second I want to highlight the logic of Habermas’ explanation (or more accurately to make it explicit), which Habermas himself (or the secondary literature) doesn’t do. However, a problem emerges from the explanation which I give, i.e. the problem of idealism. It is a problem for Habermas because he wants to avoid it, because it was the very reason of his own explanation (i.e. to avoid it). So, if Habermas avoids idealism on the level of transcendental subjectivity but reproduce it at the level of language itself then it would be a problem for him. It’s also a problem for him because he has been accusing, Heidegger, among others, of such a linguistic idealism for long time. So I go on to give an explanation of how this idealism is avoided by Habermas. This leads me to explain Habermas’ effort to relate his theory of communicative action and his linguistic model to the notion of realism. Habermas cannot accept what he calls metaphysical realism (by which he means a realism which does not take into consideration Kant’s essential contribution especially his idea that categories of knowledge are human contribution to knowledge). By internal realism he means a position which can reconcile Kant’s ideas about human contribution to the fact that ultimately our knowledge must be “answerable” to experience and the world. Here, Habermas’ weak naturalism combined with his pragmatism is supposed to do the trick. This part of Habermas’ theory is least developed and I have tried to explain it in the thesis and there are obviously many things that need to be answered on Habermas’ behalf. However, this part is not my main concern in the paper. I only need to be seen aware of the problem and to describe Habermas’ proposal to avoid it.

This brings me back to the question of ‘naturalizing’ Kant. Yes, Habermas naturalizes Kant but this is done on two levels. At the level of “reason’ and “causes” he maintains the position that they are incompatible. However, they are not “contradictory” because at the second level Habermas relates both through his weak naturalism. If human subjectivity emerges form nature in itself, and if the interaction between the both gives rise to objective nature, objective nature and subjective nature cannot be ultimately contradictory. They are “product” of the same nature.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dialogism . . .

"Bakhtin’s central concept of dialogism does not mean bending a courteous ear to others, as some of his more liberal commentators seem to imagine. It means that every word or utterance is refracted through a host of other, perhaps antagonistic idioms, through which alone its meaning can be grasped. It thus bears an affinity with the post-structuralist concept of textuality. There can be no unmediated truth. We come to ourselves, as many modern thinkers have claimed, through a medium which is profoundly strange to us. Language for Bakhtin is a cockpit of warring forces, as each utterance finds itself occupied from within by alien significations. Every sign glances sideways at other signs, bears the traces of them within its body, and faces simultaneously towards speaker, object, context and addressee. Like human subjects, words are constituted by their relations to otherness, and language is always porous, hybrid and open-ended. There was never a first word, and there could never be a last one. The inherent unfinishedness and unpredictability of language – the fact that I can never deduce from any two of your words what the third one is going to be – is a token of human freedom, and thus in a broad sense political. Signs are never self-identical, and always mean more than they say (a surplus that includes what they don’t say). The enemy is what Bakhtin dubs ‘monologism’, meaning the kind of meta-language which seeks to subdue this irrepressible heterogeneity. At times in his work, it is a polite word for Stalinism. Language is torn between ‘centrifugal’ and ‘centripetal’ forces – the former decentring, the latter centralising. National languages aspire to be monological but are in fact thoroughly ‘heteroglossic’, spawning a multiplicity of dialects and speech styles.

In all these ways, Bakhtin’s work marks a momentous shift from language to discourse. Whereas Saussure and his disciples reduced language to a formal, contextless system, Bakhtin is seized by everything in language that cannot be formalised: context, intonation, implication, the materiality of the word, the non-said, the taken-for-granted, ideological evaluations and the social relations between speakers. If communication is what makes us human, linguistics can never be entirely distinguished from ethics."

full here

Friday, June 29, 2007

Indian "public sphere"

Habermas get mentioned in the context of a debate on the possibility of a public sphere in India. Relevant excerpt:

"Ninan’s study takes forward Robin Jeffrey’s book, India’s Newspaper Revolution. Written in the ’90s, it encompassed the challenges before the language media, including Hindi, Urdu, and southern language newspapers, and their responses to it. But in both books, there are gaps in comprehending the public sphere in the Indian situation. The application of Habermas’s concept of public sphere in India’s diversified and unevenly developed society has limitations. India’s agrarian society, having passed through colonial rule, is fundamentally different from a liberal, developed society in the West. The basic class character of the Hindi press’s ownership has been mercantile-capitalistic. The changeover from mercantile capitalism to industrial capitalism, and switching over to digital printing technology, do not necessarily cause a shift in the social and professional behaviour of Hindi press barons and mufassil proprietors.Also, the century-old caste character of the Hindi press is fairly intact. Still a caste Hindu-dominated press, proprietors, editors, bureau chiefs and chief reporters invariably come from Vaishya, Brahmin, Kayasth and other upper caste backgrounds. This affects the democratic functioning of the Hindi press."

Kasbah Express, Mofussil Times

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Rorty's last words on Habermas!

"When I was told that another figure much discussed in Tehran was Habermas, I concluded that the best explanation for interest in my work was that I share Habermas’s vision of a social democratic utopia. In this utopia, many of the functions presently served by membership in a religious community would be taken over by what Habermas calls “constitutional patriotism.” Some form of patriotism — of solidarity with fellow-citizens, and of shared hopes for the country’s future — is necessary if one is to take politics seriously. In a theocratic country, a leftist political opposition must be prepared to counter the clergy’s claim that the nation’s identity is defined by its religious tradition. So the left needs a specifically secularist form of moral fervor, one which centers around citizens’ respect for one another rather than on the nation’s relation to God.

My own views on these matters derive from Habermas and John Dewey. In the early decades of the twentieth century Dewey helped bring a culture into being in which it became possible for Americans to replace Christian religiosity with fervent attachment to democratic institutions (and equally fervent hope for the improvement of those institutions). In recent decades, Habermas has been commending that culture to the Europeans. In opposition to religious leaders such as Benedict XVI and the ayatollahs, Habermas argues that the alternative to religious faith is not “relativism” or “rootlessness” but the new forms of solidarity made possible by the Enlightenment.

The pope recently said: “A culture has developed in Europe that is the most radical contradiction not only of Christianity but of all the religious and moral traditions of humanity.” Dewey and Habermas would reply that the culture that arose out of the Enlightenment has kept everything in Christianity that was worth keeping. The West has cobbled together, in the course of the last two hundred years, a specifically secularist moral tradition — one that regards the free consensus of the citizens of a democratic society, rather then the Divine Will, as the source of moral imperatives. This shift in outlook is, I think, the most important advance that the West has yet made. I should like to think that the students with whom I spoke in Tehran, impressed by Habermas’s writings and inspired by the courage of thinkers such as Ganji and Ramin Jahanbegloo, may someday make Iran the nucleus of an Islamic Enlightenment."

from here

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Philosopher, poet and friend

Jürgen Habermas writes an obiturary for American philosopher Richard Rorty

I received the news in an email almost exactly a year ago. As so often in recent years, Rorty voiced his resignation at the "war president" Bush, whose policies deeply aggrieved him, the patriot who had always sought to "achieve" his country. After three or four paragraphs of sarcastic analysis came the unexpected sentence: " Alas, I have come down with the same disease that killed Derrida." As if to attenuate the reader's shock, he added in jest that his daughter felt this kind of cancer must come from "reading too much Heidegger."

full here
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