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!
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