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.


Carl Sachs said...

There's a problem lying in wait for Habermas, a problem that he may be especially vulnerable to in light of his Kantian inheritance.

Kant famously argues, as noted correctly above, that the concepts of traditional metaphysical speculation cannot be determined in any possible cognition (i.e. experience). Thus, such concepts -- the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the freedom of the will -- are necessarily unknowable.

But, for all that, they are also no less necessary, in two senses. Firstly, metaphysical concepts are constructed through reason's own desire for the unconditioned. It's clear to me that some "weak" notion of the unconditioned can play a role in Habermas, because he does think that participants in discourse are necessarily committed to universal validity as a regulative idea. But I don't know how Habermas is entitled to retain this Kantian thought that reason transcends understanding.

That reason transcends understanding is central to Kant's response to empiricists and skeptics. And it creates the room he needs in order to show why metaphysics, although impossible as knowledge, is nevertheless necessary to reason in some other sense. It seems that "postmetaphysical philosophy" would want to deny this, but I'm not sure how he can get away with it.

Secondly, of course, metaphysical concepts are necessary as "postulates of pure practical reason" in order to resolve the antinomy of practical reason, and thereby giving sensuous, finite, and yet also rational beings a motive (as well as a justification) for acting from duty.

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.

Granted, I haven't yet read Truth and Justification, so think of these as questions to be addressed rather than challenges to what he actually says.

Ali Rizvi said...

Carl thanks for the comments. I will deal with some of them in my next two posts.


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