Thursday, May 31, 2007

Habermas or Foucault or both?

Mark has posed a great question for all Habermasians and Foucauldians. It would be great to hear from as many Habermas and Foucault students as possible. I will try to formulate my own response in due course:

"Because you have went in the depths of Habermas and Foucault more than me, i was wondering what your thoughts are on if the work of the two are compatible in any way? This idea has played on my mind for a few years, where the communicative action of Habermas is linked to a foucauldian form of discourse analysis in an anatagonistic relationship? this would mean the communicative action of Habermas allows people to speak 'freely' and a foucauldian discourse analysis aims to undercover the discourses occurring/forming the power/knowledge nexus. Or is it the case that Habermas's project is not radical enough for Foucault, and the radical democracy or LacLau and Mouffe would be more 'acceptable' for a foucauldian style of politics?"

(cross posted at Foucauldian Reflections)

Habermas as a philosopher of the present

It will sound strange to many ears but Habermas like Foucault can be regarded as a philosopher of the present. Habermas’ aim is to:

• Understand the present reality in its diversity and in its multifacetedness.
• Analyse the reality (both factually and normatively) and try to understand what is wrong with our situation (and of course what is not wrong).


• The assessment must be based on principles (It cannot be arbitrary).
• However the principles are not eternal (they are things of this word). The principles must be tested by confronting them against the counter arguments and confronting them with the reality itself.

• By the above procedure the principles prove their worth and to the extent they prove their worth they are entitled to “objectivity” (and they attain cognitive status).
• The assessment must be both factual and normative.
• The factual and normative analysis should give us a map of the present possibilities in terms of (a) who are we? (b) what is right and what is intolerable in our situation (c) what are the possibilities, what are the alternatives that are factually possible and normatively desirable. (d) what can be done and what should be done.
• Our assessment of our present situation (both factually and normatively) must lead to a reconstitution of the present.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Habermas and Kantian Idealism: conjunctions and disjunctions


In the context of recent encounters on the question of free will and naturalism, Habermas has been described as compatibilist by some while incompatibilist by others. Abstracting from the debates on free will there is one issue on which Habermas is clearly an incompatibilist and that is the issue of the co-existence of what Sellars calls the “space of reasons” and the “space of law.” Habermas believes that the “space of reason” and “the space of law” are mutually exclusive. In this particular belief Habermas is a thorough going Kantian. However, if the story ended here it would not have been very interesting. What makes the story interesting is the way Habermas defends the Kantian incompatibilism about the “space of reason” and the “space of law.” Habermas aims to defend the Kantian incompatibilism about the two spaces without referring back to what Habermas takes to be the otherworldly realm of intelligible in Kant. In this paper I aim to show how Habermas defends the Kantian incompatibilism about the two spaces in wholly this-worldly terms without referring back to the Kantian realm of intelligible. Concentrating on Habermas’ concept of “communicative action” I construct a Habermasian argument for showing how the space of reasons emerges within this- worldly practices of communication without referring to any otherworldly entities. I understand the conditions of the creation of a space of reasons in terms of the conditions of the possibility of communicative action. I discuss in relative detail these conditions and relate them to the possibility of creating and sustaining the space of reasons without falling back on any otherworldly realms. In the concluding section I argue that although Habermas is successful in showing a way to maintain incompatibilism about the two spaces, his account is in danger of being engulfed by linguistic idealism of which he accuses Heidegger. It is in response to this danger, I argue, that Habermas has recently turned towards what he, following Putnam, sometimes calls “internal realism.” One of the functions of the proposed internal realism and weak naturalism is to ward off the suspicion of the aforementioned idealism. Although I would not be able to discuss this recent turn in this paper, I briefly describe how this turn gels with Habermas’ account of the incompatibilism of the two spaces offered in this paper. I also briefly describe the challenges faced by any such account.
(I am in the process of writing the above paper, any comments welcome)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Jürgen Habermas: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Much awaited entry on Habermas has been published!

"Jürgen Habermas currently ranks as one of the most influential philosophers in the world. Bridging continental and Anglo-American traditions of thought, he has engaged in debates with thinkers as diverse as Gadamer and Putnam, Foucault and Rawls, Derrida and Brandom. His extensive written work addresses topics stretching from social-political theory to aesthetics, epistemology and language to philosophy of religion, and his ideas have significantly influenced not only philosophy but also political-legal thought, sociology, communication studies, argumentation theory and rhetoric, developmental psychology and theology. Moreover, he has figured prominently in Germany as a public intellectual, commenting on controversial issues of the day in German newspapers such as Die Zeit.

However, if one looks back over his corpus of work, one can discern two broad lines of enduring interest, one having to do with the political domain, the other with issues of rationality, communication, and knowledge. (In what follows, unnamed citations refer to works by Habermas; quotations are from the English editions, where available.)"


Read entry in full here

Thanks to Gary E Davis for the pointer.

What Europe needs now

On the eve of EU's 50th anniversary, German philosopher Jürgen Habermas sets out what he believes are the most pressing items on the European agenda

Read What Europe needs now

The press is a public resource

An new Habermas essay on the crisis of the quality newspapers is available online in an English translation.

See "The press is a public resource"

The article originally appeared in German in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on May 16, 2007 under the title: "Keine Demokratie kann sich das leisten".

Courtesy: Thomas Gregersen

Monday, May 07, 2007

Habermas and compatibilism

Habermas criticises the version of compatibilism that is based on the idea of a “non-aggression pact between neuroscience and common sense.”* This seems to me a brilliant and accurate formulation. If by compatibilism we imply an uneasy co existence of two ultimately incompatible paradigms or visions then this is not what Habermas is aiming at. Habermas aims rather at “a genuine reconciliation of Kant and Darwin.” Kant here stands for “freedom” while Darwin stands for “limits.” Habermas in other words is not just content to show the “compatibility” of freedom and “limits,” he is rather aiming at something more positive, a genuine reconciliation of what is thought of as the realm of freedom and what is normally thought of as the realm of non freedom or even un-freedom.

The difference between the two approaches is roughly this: the compatibilist approach sees the relation between the realm of freedom and that of non freedom as that of negativity; the reconciliation approach on the other hand sees the relation in positive terms. As I have argued previously this involves abandoning a notion of freedom that sees freedom as essentially transgression of the “limits.” The second approach on the other hand sees the "limits" as the conditions of the possibility of freedom and not merely a transgression of the "limits."

Joel Anderson says that Habermas’ critique of compatibilism is not that the cost of accepting its truth is too high. Similarly Habermas’ critique is not that the truth of determinism is inconceivable. Habermas’ basic claims are rather a Kantian one: We can understand the “first person perspective” only performatively and that “not everything can be treated as object.” Moreover, the first person perspective or subjectivity is the necessary conditions “for engaging in the sort of activity that supports our sense of having free agency.”

This shows that Habermas’ main concern is rather different from the traditional concern of compatibilism. Habermas is not really concerned about the existence or non existence of freedom or with the question whether freedom can co exist with non freedom or even unfreedom. These are only secondary concerns for Habermas. Habermas’ main concern is how the Kantian notion of subjectivity can be genuinely reconciled and defended within an overall naturalistic (in the sense of weak naturalism)

* Joel Anderson, "Free will, neuroscience, and the participant perspective." All quotations in this post are from this paper.
Locations of visitors to this page