Thursday, July 19, 2007

Epistemic dualism vs. Ontological monism

Habermas would in principle not contest the claim that even without humans “the universe would still consist of electrons etc.” However, Habermas’ route to this conclusion is different from our normal realist's (whom Habermas dubs rather peculiarly as a metaphysical realist). Habermas believes in what he calls epistemic dualism and ontological monism and his big question is how to reconcile this apparently exclusive positions. Habermas wants to avoid ontological dualism however he believes that epistemic dualism is a fact of our philosophical learning which cannot be wished away. From the perspective of our lifeworld and our subjective constitution we are compelled to use the categories that are “subjective” in order to understand the universe. This “produces” what we call objective universe. Objective universe would not have been possible without our subjective (or intersubjective) input. However, this is true only from the epistemic side of the story. Habermas also believes that the categories which we use to understand the universe attain an “objective” status if they prove their worth by cohering to our existing knowledge and resisting the onslaught of new experiences (if they don’t crumble in the face of new experiences they prove their worth). Obviously Habermas needs a strong notion of “experience” where by experience somehow contains an excess that overflows the bounds of our categories. Here, Habermas brings in his pragmatic conception of knowledge and his weak naturalism to support this notion of experience as excess and provide it both epistemological and ontological ground. What makes Habermas’ position intriguing and difficult to defend is that he wants to grab the best of the both worlds viz. epistemic dualism and ontological monism, idealism and realism.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Does Habermas "naturalize" Kant??

Note: The following notes are a sequel to the abstract I posted earlier.

Habermas definitely wants to “naturalize” Kant but he understands “naturalism” in a broader way than most of Analytic philosophers (I am thinking of Kitcher’s “naturalization” of Kant here which is criticized by Allison among others). Habermas is closer to McDowell (and I assume that McDowell is an analytic philosopher). Habermas’ trick here is to distinguish between “nature” as understood by objectivistic sciences and nature in a broader sense to which (for example) Kantian categories don’t apply. Habermas claims that physics (for example) doesn’t exhaust nature. Our objectification always leaves out “something” of the “object.” This is another way of saying that our categories through which we understand nature in objectivistic sciences are not exhaustive. Kant had tried to do the same thing with the help of his notion of “things in themselves” however he was defeated in his purpose due to contradictions in which this concept involved him given his overall position. Habermas also makes an assumption which seems metaphysical but he claims that it is just a hypothesis which is to be ultimately tested empirically (in a boarder sense of the term). His hypothesis is that human subjectivity emerges out of nature in the broader sense and then through interaction between subjective nature and nature itself, nature in the narrower sense of the word emerges. Objectification is the result of interaction between subjective nature and nature in itself. Habermas thinks that his “nature in itself” can avoid the fate of Kant’s “things in themselves” in two ways: first his is an empirical thesis in the sense that its viability ultimately depends on how best it can explain the overall phenomenon and how it coheres with the empirical findings in the field of objective sciences. His hunch is that if the hypothesis is false it will not be able to cohere with our empirical knowledge in the long run; second Habermas thinks that Kant’s contradictions were results of his adherence to the representational view of knowledge. On the other hand Habermas thinks that if we adopt a pragmatic conception of knowledge we can avoid Kantian contradictions.

My concern in this paper is Habermas’ defence of the Kantian view that ‘causes’ and ‘reasons’ are different in kind and that they cannot be reduced to each other. They are incompatible in the sense that we cannot understand “reason’ on the model of causality or broadly speaking on the model of natural laws. Habermas wants to maintain this distinction without referring back to Kant’s metaphysics especially his notion of transcendental subjectivity. He aims to explain this within his theory of communicative action. Now my contribution in this regard is twofold. First to simply highlight the fact (Habermas’ position here) as there does not seem to be an appreciation of this in the literature (Habermas’ explanation itself is very cursory in this regard. He almost assumes that everybody knows what he is saying). Second I want to highlight the logic of Habermas’ explanation (or more accurately to make it explicit), which Habermas himself (or the secondary literature) doesn’t do. However, a problem emerges from the explanation which I give, i.e. the problem of idealism. It is a problem for Habermas because he wants to avoid it, because it was the very reason of his own explanation (i.e. to avoid it). So, if Habermas avoids idealism on the level of transcendental subjectivity but reproduce it at the level of language itself then it would be a problem for him. It’s also a problem for him because he has been accusing, Heidegger, among others, of such a linguistic idealism for long time. So I go on to give an explanation of how this idealism is avoided by Habermas. This leads me to explain Habermas’ effort to relate his theory of communicative action and his linguistic model to the notion of realism. Habermas cannot accept what he calls metaphysical realism (by which he means a realism which does not take into consideration Kant’s essential contribution especially his idea that categories of knowledge are human contribution to knowledge). By internal realism he means a position which can reconcile Kant’s ideas about human contribution to the fact that ultimately our knowledge must be “answerable” to experience and the world. Here, Habermas’ weak naturalism combined with his pragmatism is supposed to do the trick. This part of Habermas’ theory is least developed and I have tried to explain it in the thesis and there are obviously many things that need to be answered on Habermas’ behalf. However, this part is not my main concern in the paper. I only need to be seen aware of the problem and to describe Habermas’ proposal to avoid it.

This brings me back to the question of ‘naturalizing’ Kant. Yes, Habermas naturalizes Kant but this is done on two levels. At the level of “reason’ and “causes” he maintains the position that they are incompatible. However, they are not “contradictory” because at the second level Habermas relates both through his weak naturalism. If human subjectivity emerges form nature in itself, and if the interaction between the both gives rise to objective nature, objective nature and subjective nature cannot be ultimately contradictory. They are “product” of the same nature.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dialogism . . .

"Bakhtin’s central concept of dialogism does not mean bending a courteous ear to others, as some of his more liberal commentators seem to imagine. It means that every word or utterance is refracted through a host of other, perhaps antagonistic idioms, through which alone its meaning can be grasped. It thus bears an affinity with the post-structuralist concept of textuality. There can be no unmediated truth. We come to ourselves, as many modern thinkers have claimed, through a medium which is profoundly strange to us. Language for Bakhtin is a cockpit of warring forces, as each utterance finds itself occupied from within by alien significations. Every sign glances sideways at other signs, bears the traces of them within its body, and faces simultaneously towards speaker, object, context and addressee. Like human subjects, words are constituted by their relations to otherness, and language is always porous, hybrid and open-ended. There was never a first word, and there could never be a last one. The inherent unfinishedness and unpredictability of language – the fact that I can never deduce from any two of your words what the third one is going to be – is a token of human freedom, and thus in a broad sense political. Signs are never self-identical, and always mean more than they say (a surplus that includes what they don’t say). The enemy is what Bakhtin dubs ‘monologism’, meaning the kind of meta-language which seeks to subdue this irrepressible heterogeneity. At times in his work, it is a polite word for Stalinism. Language is torn between ‘centrifugal’ and ‘centripetal’ forces – the former decentring, the latter centralising. National languages aspire to be monological but are in fact thoroughly ‘heteroglossic’, spawning a multiplicity of dialects and speech styles.

In all these ways, Bakhtin’s work marks a momentous shift from language to discourse. Whereas Saussure and his disciples reduced language to a formal, contextless system, Bakhtin is seized by everything in language that cannot be formalised: context, intonation, implication, the materiality of the word, the non-said, the taken-for-granted, ideological evaluations and the social relations between speakers. If communication is what makes us human, linguistics can never be entirely distinguished from ethics."

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