Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Is Habermas a compatibilist?

Here is the answer in Habermas’ own words.

“ . . . I am also a ‘compatibilit’ of sorts. The human mind, with its complimentary, interlocking epistemic perspective, is part of the universe of nature. Where I depart from the compatibilist mainstream, however, is in rejecting scientistic thesis that this universe is adequately characterized as the object domain of the established nomological sciences (on the model of contemporary physics).”

The text is a footnote to Habermas’ recent piece on free will.


Carl Sachs said...

That sounds remarkably similar to McDowell's thesis: sapience -- participation in the logical space of -- is natural but nevertheless sui generis with respect to the logical space of natural science ("the realm of law").

That Habermas and McDowell are closely aligned is of course not news. And if one considers Putnam and Brandom, one can see Habermas as an odd Germanic representative of what is basically a naturalized Kantianism, or (what amounts to the same thing) pragmatism.

The Frankfurters were also in a sense "naturalized Kantians," but for them -- that is, for Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse -- the naturalism was framed in terms of Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud. For Habermas, the naturalism is framed in terms of Mead and Piaget. That makes for a subtle but not insignificant difference, although one that I'm still trying to articulate properly.

The analytic neopragmatists, on the other hand, have their views informed much more closely by contemporary natural science. One can hardly read a paper by Rorty or Putnam without coming across mention of quarks or electrons!

Ali Rizvi said...


I couldn’t agree more! It's refreshing to note that in his introduction to the special issue of Philosophical Explorations on Habermas, Joel Anderson notes the parallels between McDowell and Habermas, a fact which is seldom acknowledged in the literature.

I also agree with your claim that "[f]or Habermas, the naturalism is framed in terms of Mead and Piaget." However, I think Habermas is also indebted to Marx. I think the basic idea and how he frames it comes from Marx, while the story he tells about the emergence of "mind" from nature is more indebted to Mead (and to a lesser degree to Piaget).

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