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


Gary Davis said...


It's not wholly the case that "the [methodological] distinction is....only ontologically neutral in the sense that it is compatible with more than one ontological position" because you have to posit ontological positions in order to have compatibility (a logical point). Ontological neutrality doesn't posit ontological pluralism nor assert ontological ambivalence. The methodological distinction is a pragmatic and conceptual distinction that is implicitly declining participation in ontologically-relevant stances.

Ali Rizvi said...


I agree that “ontological neutrality doesn't posit ontological pluralism nor assert ontological ambivalence", at least, not necessarily. Though, it’s logically and factually possible. As far as Habermas position is concerned, it's clear that he doesn't posit ontological pluralism (he is a monist in this regard) and nor does he assert ontological ambivalence.

Habermas' stance is methodological in the specific sense that he doesn't derive his ontological position from his methodological stance. His ontological stance or position is an empirical hypothesis added to this.

gary e. davis said...


I would gladly pursue this further with you via our shared venue of the Yahoo! Habermas list, especially in terms of section 7 of "The Language Game of Responsibie Agency...."

Habermas' [JH> "assumption of ontological monism" cannot be [AR> "an empirical hypothesis," given the participant condition, let alone a hypothesis "added" to a methodological distinction that is based in cognitive conditions of action. Rather, it is, I would argue, a conceptual feature of conceptually-open inquiry (an essentially pragmatic stance). His "assumption" is a "stand-in" (as he characterizes philosophy itself, in Moral Consciousness...) for [JH> "the puzzle of how a mind that has...perspectival structure is situated in nature" ("Language Game...," 39). How situated we are, whereby (as Searle says) the mind is what the brain does!

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