Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Going beyond universalism and particularism

Kant does not sufficiently differentiate the conception of cosmopolitan conditions from the concretistic notion of world republic. Kant ignores the fact that a world republic would require a concrete lifeworld in order to function properly. Such a lifeworld does not exist. Moreover, it seems to be a conceptual ‘impossibility’. Lifeworlds, no matter how much decentration they might have gone through, are inherently particularistic. A global lifeworld would never be thick enough to support and sustain the working of a universal state. Such a state would require the use of coercive force which is nevertheless deemed legitimate by the actors themselves. The production and reproduction of legitimacy requires a very thin conception of lifeworld which is based on shared values, shared history, shared memories, and shared language etc.

Habermas’ critique of the Kantian notion of world republic shows his appreciation of the role of particularities in sustaining human life and its organization. Although true to his universalism he claims that all human beings are brothers and sisters, nevertheless, he also knows that there can not be a universal lifeworld shared by everyone, a lifeworld thick enough to sustain a world republic.

Habermas considers a middle way between ethnocentric universalism of the current American administration and the concretistic universalism of Kant. Habermas instead proposes a post nationalistic constellation whereby the nation state does not lose its relevance but is nonetheless opens towards the other. The whole notion of the withering away of the nation state does not appeal to Habermas because he recognizes the supreme significance of particularities in organizing and sustaining human life and its organization.

As mentioned above, Habermas is also against closed particularities. The notions of closedness and openness are relative and are to be understood historically. With this proviso, openness is important for two reasons: First, it is the basis of autonomy, a key notion which underpins Modernity. Second, it is important because with the evolution of capitalism and advent of globalization, the state risks irrelevance if it does not open up to the other. However, this opening up or generalization must be based on respect for particularities, i.e. it should emerge from within.

Related posts:

Does Habermas break his own rule?

Particularity, generality and Rationality

Transforming Communication: Habermas and Brandom in Dialogue

"What we discovered as we worked through the material, however, was that certain key issues at stake in the debate refused to come more clearly into focus as we tried to work them out. On the one hand, we came to feel that there were some key miscommunications at play – places where Habermas in particular seemed to find claims in Brandom’s work that we ourselves couldn’t find. On the other hand, we also came increasingly to feel that Habermas comes by at least some of these miscommunications honestly: that certain elements in Brandom’s project refused to come into focus for us, even after a careful attempt to get to the bottom of his system. We came to understand a bit better why such an argument might break out, and to feel that the presence of the argument does point to key issues that we, along with Habermas, have not quite been able to resolve in Brandom’s project. We therefore present this piece still in a moment of intense uncertainty, with a great deal of work still to be done to achieve our own goal of understanding the implications and potentials for critical social theory of Brandom’s philosophical work."

full here

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Divided West (Polity, 2006)

"In his recent collection of interviews and articles*, Jürgen Habermas - doyen of European social theory for several decades now - reminds us of just how deep are the roots of this disengagement. The rise of the modern nation state coincided with the discrediting of religion as a means of restraining organized aggression, obliging Enlightenment thinkers to put forward what could only be a rational approach to preventing war. In 1795 Immanuel Kant's Perpetual Peace: a philosophical sketch duly provided the foundation of a debate which in Europe continues to this day, and which has been deepened, fuelled and enriched by the spectacle of extreme national self-assertion of the Nazi period, the experience of Soviet communism and the patient process of constitution-building in the post war world.

Habermas contrasts a number of lines of thought. Have we for example to accept, as Kant at first suggested, that supranational institutions must take the form of a global republic? Habermas thinks not: not a global electorate, but a global public committed to universal human rights may be enough hold international actors to account. How do we move towards such a situation? Certainly not through the "hegemonic unilateralism" of a dominant superpower seeking to extend its own legal system to encompass the world as a whole. Even a benign democratic hegemon could, as Habermas puts it, "never be sure whether it is really distinguishing its own national interests from the universalizable interests that all other nations could share"."

from here

Monday, December 17, 2007

McDowell on the distinction between 'transcendental' and 'transcendent'

The idea that transcendental philosophy would have to be done from a special standpoint is implicit in Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton University Press, 1979), p. 293, where Rorty writes of the "demand . . . for some transcendental standpoint outside our present set of representations from which we can inspect the relations between those representations and their object." Kant distinguishes "transcendental" and "transcendent" (see for example, A 296/B 352-53). In Rorty's phrase, 'transcendental' could be replaced by 'transcendent'. Not that that shows Rorty to be misusing 'transcendental'; he is suggesting that transcendental philosophy requires a transcendent standpoint. That is what I think we should dispute. When I wrote despairingly about Kant's "transcendental story" in Mind and World (pp. 41-43, 95-98), I was acquiescing, in a way I now regret, in a reading of parts of Kant's transcendental activity that fits Rorty's phrasing. (I would still disparage the philosophy such a reading finds in Kant.).

McDowell, Having the world in view, p. 446, n. 23.


One can agree with McDowell's claim that transcendental philosophy doesn’t necessarily require a transcendent standpoint and can still argue that in its Kantian version it does require a transcendent viewpoint. I think this is Habermas' position. Habermas terms the transcendental philosophy that doesn't require a transcendent viewpoint a weak transcendentalism. The crucial test here is whether the subject is conceived beyond change or amenable to change and hence within the ambit of history. If the subject is in principle within the ambit of history then transcendentalism doesn't imply a transcendent, if it is not, then it would imply a transcendent standpoint.

Habermas criticises the Kantian concept of “spontaneity of a subjectivity that is world-constituting yet itself without a world (weltlos).” The ranscendental subjectivity in the tradition of modern philosophy from Descartes to Kant and up to the phenomenological tradition places subject beyond the field of “constitution” in the sense that although subject “constitutes”, it is itself beyond any constitution [That what constitutes is pure spontaneity (beyond constitution) without being delimited by any limitations while it limits everything else (constitutes)]. Thus Habermas clearly recognises that Kantian transcendental idealism is “not compatible with the realist presupposition of a mind-independent world that places constraint not only on judgments of experience but also on the learning process of the judging subjects.” (TJ: 19, emphasis added). Despite various similarities in their position there is this crucial difference between Kant and Habermas: For Kant it is inconceivable that mind independent reality would constrain the learning process of “the judging subject.” The transcendental subject is outside the space and time where its activities can be constrained. Constraints only apply to an empirical subject. For Habermas on the other hand subjects capable of speech and action and of accomplishments and initiations are formed in interaction with mind independent reality and under its constraints. These constraints are for Habermas not mere hindrances but the conditions of the possibility of the formation of capable subjectivity.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Friedman on Cassirer

"[According to Friedman] Cassirer was making "an heroic attempt to bridge the ever widening gap between the scientifically oriented approach to philosophy championed by Carnap and the decisive attempt to move philosophy in a quite contrary direction represented by Heidegger" (xii). His work can, for that reason, serve to "provide us with new possibilities and renewed motivation for making a similarly heroic effort for ourselves" (xii). Friedman considers it, in fact, "hard to imagine making progress without increased appreciation for both the strengths and weaknesses" of Cassirer's wide-ranging and deeply synthetic style of philosophical thought (xii). He concludes his monograph accordingly with the words:

Those interested in finally beginning a reconciliation of the analytic and continental traditions ...can find no better starting point than the rich
treasure of ideas, ambitions, and analyses stored in his astonishingly
comprehensive body of philosophical work (159)
." (Sluga, H, The Journal of Philosophy, 2001, 607, reviewing, Friedman, A parting of the ways . . .]

Habermas in my opinion is even better situated than Cassirer to play this role.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Friday, December 07, 2007

Does Habermas break his own rule?

For the normative self-understanding of modernity, Christianity has functioned as more than just a precursor or a catalyst. Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of a continual critical reappropriation and reinterpretation. Up to this very day there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a post-national constellation, we must draw sustenance now, as in the past, from this substance. Everything else is idle postmodern talk. (Habermas, 2002: 149, quoted in Harrington, Habermas and the 'Post-Secular Society,' pp. 554-55.)

Harrington's comments on the above passage:

What is troubling in this passage is that after having first stated a rule about the irrelevance of moments of ‘cultural’ particularism to structures of ‘societal’ universality, Habermas appears to break his own rule. Having first stated that‘cultural’ moments such as religious history and tradition are not relevant in principle to the formation of universally valid societal structures, he also argues that it is the Judaeo-Christian civilization of the West, with its ethos of rational conduct of life and drive towards universal rationalization of all spheres of life, that has not only created de facto the modern world system but also creates the law for all legitimate global societal interaction in the present. (p. 555).

Brief comments on Harrington:

I think Harrington gets it slightly wrong here, because he doesn't differentiate between the sociological project of Habermas and his philosophical project. Philosophically speaking, the justification for the ideas of freedom, equality, and justice must be provided based on reasons which are not particularistic. However, from the sociological point of view, from the point of the socialisation, a reference back to the particular background is important. The philosophical project presupposes a prior socialisation and individuation which naturally can only occur within the context of particularistic background. What's universal for Habermas is the philosophical project and the socialisation background can and should vary from time to time and place to place. Habermas brings this out clearly in his critique of current American project of the democratisation of Iraq. The basis of the critique is that a generality (in this case constitutional democracy) must emerge from within a particularity (in this case Iraq), i.e. from within Iraqi culture, from within its own history:

“When thousands of Shiites in Nasiriya demonstrate against both Saddam and the American occupation, they express the fact that non-Western cultures must appropriate the universalistic content of human rights with their own resources and in their own interpretations, one that establishes a convincing connection to local experiences and interests.” (TDW: 35)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christopher Zurn: Long draft of Encyclopaedia Article on Habermas

This essay seeks to give an overview of the development, central themes and methods, and main claims of Jürgen Habermas’s thought over the course of his career. Given its incredibly wide thematic range, its pervasive influence in both public and academ... (more)

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