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!

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