Saturday, August 4, 2018

Habermas as philosopher

The editor’s introduction to Habermas’ Philosophical Introductions: five approaches to communicative reason (English 2018 / German 2009) indicates how the collection isn’t merely Habermas introducing his career of philosophical work—his career of work as being philosophical. Rather, he is doing so philosophically. 

He is doing philosophical work there, not merely discursive narrative about work that is philosophical in intent. Each part of the book advances Habermas’s especially philosophical sense of his career—a career which has also been theoretical (writing as meta-social theorist) and practical (writing as public intellectual), yet also has been especially philosophical. 

I emphasize this because there are important differences between doing theory and doing philosophy—differences which are seldom appreciated, I feel. (For example, the journal Philosophy and Social Criticism is full of articles which confuse the difference.) 

One may prospect that the “and” of “theory and practice” is theoretical, but also may prospect that the difference is practical. But what’s the character of preferability in action between one and the other? When does the “but also” flip? How are the two complements? What’s the character of potential complementarity?

I think it’s useful to capsulate that by associating two notions from Habermas’s philosophical essays of the 1980s: “The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices” (PMT-I) shows through “discourses of appropriation” (the latter being the subject of “Remarks on Discourse Ethics,” J&A). It’s not obvious how these two kinds of conceptual endeavors—discursive congruence and discursive enabling—belong together.

Anyway, it’s quite easy to indicate that conceptual issues do not readily translate into evidentiary (truth-functional) and enabling (appropriative) projects. 

Conceptual inquiry may entail theoretical interests or/and practical interests (as the former may imply such interests in its motives and resourcing). But theoretical and practical interests necessarily imply (presume) conceptual backgrounding which is not reducible to either kind of project. One has merely to be an ordinary language analyst to show the necessity of presumption.

No wonder, then, that recent decades of work in non-philosophical fields (cognitive science, literary theory, anthropology, psychology) have been very involved with inquiry into conceptuality as such. No wonder that professional philosophy has been immensely ”worried” about conceptuality (and so-called ”non-conceptual content”), as with the so-called ”McDowell-Dreyfus” debate; or recent philosophical work on conceptuality (let alone the pioneering work of Ruth Garrett Millikan). How conceptual inquiry may find congruency across cognitive science, literary theory, anthropology, and psychology is a philosophical venture.

Such a venture can no longer tenably be about a single mind’s career being foundational (thus “failing” to do so lastingly, if at all). The future of philosophy is about partnerships of conceptual ventures. The philosopher convenes (“Philosopher as Stand-in and Interpreter,” MCCA, 1983/1990) and contributes to a ”Conversation of humanity” (Gadamer, T&M) .

For example, Habermas is not accountable for “failing” to satisfactorily address issues of gender (as a feminist student of Habermas is claiming in her forthcoming Habermas and Feminism, 2018). The feminist is accountable for creating a partnership with the man’s open sense of lifeworld. (Indeed, the openness of communicative life, the relationality that is integral to the telos of understanding, is gender neutral.) 

Likewise with literary philosophy or philosophy of mind. 

Habermas would agree, I think, that “communicative reason” is not the whole of reason. Reason is intrinsically creative. Individuation through socialization is, at the same time, socialization through individuation. As he said in a recent interview
Every...step in the process of the socialization of a person, as they grow up, is simultaneously a step towards individuation and becoming oneself...This 'creative' power of imagination expresses itself in every hypothesis, in every interpretation, in every story with which we affirm our identity. In every action there is also an element of creation…
I would argue that discovery and progress depend on the primacy of individuation over socialization.