Monday, December 22, 2014

drawing thought beyond transcendentalism



This long posting has seven sections.
1 | a short note on sociocentrism and psychocentrism: conceptual foci
2 | being drawn to Piet Strydom’s “The latent cognitive sociology in Habermas...
3 | December 20: beginning an essay letter to Piet Strydom
4 | Habermas and cognitive sociology
5 | An issue of ontological radicalization
6 | Note of Habermas’ sense of the community of inquiry (with mine)
7 | re: Strydom’s comments about my Dec. 19 portion of discussion here


1 | a short note on sociocentrism and psychocentrism: conceptual foci

If one considers theory in the human sciences (theory of the human sciences) as having dyadic tendencies, between [a] what I call sociocentrism (sociocentric thinking, socialism as conceptual gravity) and [b] psychocentrism (e.g., cognitive scientific thinking), then a critique of Habermas for being too sociocentric might be implicitly arguing for balance. I’m reminded of that when I consider Piet Strydom’s interest in cognitive sociology—link upcoming soon below. But he’s not seeking balance; he’s making claims about absent substance in Habermas’ work that inhibits formation of his cognitive sociology. So, he wants to appropriate Habermas—improve Habermas—for his own project. It’s an admirable academic project—except that it’s a project which is conceptually outdated, I think, but importantly so—like basing one’s thought on Hegel (Strydom doesn’t) is outdated, but may be importantly so because theorists still do that.

But the reality is that Habermas’ Project is not exclusive of psychocentrism. But his Project is focused on need for re-thinking all that is social. A conceptual balance may be designed in light of potential that is in his thinking that implicitly calls for his career to be complemented by others’ interdisciplinary work (others’ domains of theory, presently thinking of psychological complementation to sociological thinking).

Bypassing direct critique, constructive engagement may enrich the landscape of the work, without devaluing what is present. One’a work may easily fit within a highly, broadly, richly, deeply humanistic conception of the human sciences, without implying that given work inhibits this. (What may be inhibiting is a reader’s level of creativity.)

All academic work comes to closure incomplete, ends as tacit invitation to others. Ending is an invitation to carry on, like a Heideggerian sense The Open at the end of “The Task of Thinking” “after” (beyond, yet in light of) “philosophy.” But how that fit may go well—beyond Habermas, yet as Habermasian (making “us” tacit partners in working to advance thinking)—is for others to prospect (me here).


2 | being drawn to Piet Strydom’s “latent cognitive sociology...”

Strydom seems to be still writing from the 20 th century, rather than writing in the 21st. Yet, his transcendentalism is probably typical of Critical Theorists (not Habermas), especially for (as Strydom identifies himself) left Hegelians. So, common difficulties of getting beyond transcendentalism in social theory may be exemplified by constructive engagement with his essay (positive critique, so to speak).

I wrote to him about philosophical parts of his essay (Friday, December 19), writing to him rather spontaneously a few days after his essay became available as an “online first” article. The next day, he replied at some length. I replied back at much more length, and did this more carefully than I had at first. Altogether, I now have a long discussion that should be taken apart and re-built for a reader who is not closely engaged with Habermas’ thinking (nor has Strydom’s paper at hand; lots of exposition is missing below because it presumes that the PDF is at hand). But I don’t want to give time to reconstruction for a casual reader. So, excuse me for just putting online what I have, after a little more context here. I do refer to page numbers in Strydom’s PDF and in Habermas’ Between Facts and Norms (“BFN” in my letters to Strydom).

Appropriating Habermas in new ways is a different kind of project than defending his potential against critique. In my engagement with Strydom’s essay, I’m orthodox Habermasian, relative to Strydom, not trying to go new ways in being engaged with a dense social theorist, in terms of his discussion. That can undesirably connote that I advocate getting engaged with the work of contemporary heirs of German Idealism, as if that’s a stage that one’s thought must go through in order to carry on beyond that.

But writing in the 21st century involves appreciating that many readers just never had issues with Critical Theory. But some do, of course, many maybe (especially in Europe; Strydom is in Ireland). Dwelling with Strydom’s essay is a trek back into the 20th century, which happened for me only because I lived through Critical Theory (many years ago) and see an opportunity to think through some of that again, in terms of perspectives that I didn’t yet have when I was engaged with it all.

I am no longer engaged with Critical Theory. I think that the school of thought is a creature of the mid-20th century. But so, too, are lots of perspectives, and lots of persons have those perspectives. If you have “issues” with Critical Theory, you’ll be fascinated with Strydom’s effort to provide a Foundation for Critical Theory. Otherwise, his project is interesting as that of a social theorist striving to appropriate cognitivist thinking to sociocentric thinking. Because I grew up in the 20th century, I identify with what he’s trying to do. But I could not desire to confine myself to sociocentric thinking and—as it turns out—to a confusing sense of cognitivity.

I really don’t imagine that anyone will read the following, unless you’re really interested in doing social theory as basically-cognitivist theory. But I’m putting the letters online, for easy use by me of portions of this, elsewhere someday, if not now making good use of others’ reading time by my uploading of the following.

The more careful discussion of December 20 is the orienting one here. Comments from Dec. 19 are inserted in some places, but may read like non sequiturs, so I’m inserting dates, back and forth. And not everything that was written to him is included here: some trivia, short tangents, views about the structure of his paper, bibliographical comments, lots of personal comments in solidarity with his project, personal comments from him, and response by me. Keep such absence in mind; my discussion wasn’t as impersonal as the following may seem at times. Deleted parts cause abrupt transitions. As I said, this needs work for a general reader. What he wrote back to me that is not directly about his essay is not included below. Section 3 here is very short because my letter to Piet was divided into the sections which are numbered here as §§ 4-7 (with Dec. 19 content from the earlier letter inserted).


3 | Saturday, December 20, starting an essay letter to Piet Strydom

Dear Piet,

Your e-mail response is very enjoyable! As I said first off, a few days ago, your project of a cognitive sociology is very interesting and admirable. I was enthused by the conceptual compressions. Generally, in my own learning curve, I want to understand new ways of thinking about interdisciplinary theory (I prefer ‘interdomainal’ to ‘interdisciplinary’), and Habermas is a keynote of that. I want to get better at appropriating aspects of Habermas’ work to interdomainal challenges.


4 | Habermas and cognitive sociology

Remarkably interesting is that you’re explicating your view of Habermas’ thinking via unusally-immanent reading of Habermas’s text.

You begin your discussion with intent of “decisively resolving some ambiguities, tensions and lapses in Habermas’ account.” Decisively resolving is a strong intent.

Your discussion provides a great opportunity for you to clarify what you want from a cognitive sociology, which you position relative to a normative paradigm, but evidently not relative to a paradigm of individuation (i.e., a psychological correlate)—which isn’t anyway especially relevant to Habermas’ treatise on democratic theory, but is especially relevant to a notion of immanent transcendence (which is always enacted by someone). Beyond interest in a social theory of democracy, a holistic theory of the lifeworld would involve all three worlds: personal, intersubjective (cultural), and social. But in BFN, Habermas is not of course doing theory of the lifeworld.

A 3-fold notion of The World is mentally not only objectivating (cognitive) and intersubjective (normative), but also personal (genuine). Your construal that Habermas exhibits “a failure to incorporate higher-level mechanisms of integration” seems to result from wanting one dimension to prevail: the cognitive dimension, which has plausibility because ‘cognitive’ is understood in a broadly conceptual way. Habermas’ theory of democracy is to fit into an overarching conceptual theory of The World, where transcendence (within “the” world which is public, social, objectifiable) happens relative to accommodation of whole-world meta-levels that you regard as transcendental structures (of the same kind, but at higher level). Of course, an appropriate sociology might very well be regarded as about everything—or maybe that’s an anthropology.

Anyway, what’s normative, cognitive, and lived (developmental growth) is certainly all relevant to a comprehensive social theory. So, I easily see that you’re rightly concerned about the lifeworld. What’s lived includes the developmental learning that is immanently transcendent (psychological), i.e., allowing for perspective-taking, problem solving, and developmental-stage movement in understanding of one’s world (including not only understanding cognitive meaning and interactive meaning, but also deeply/highly temporal personhood). The mental scale of this—the mentality of appreciating breadth and depth—is a holistic mentality, which is what so-called “subjectivity“ is: a holistic mentality.

So, heuristically speaking, there are “horizontal” and “vertical” kinds of differentiation in play: Horizontally, there’s a mental/conceptual differentiation between what’s personal (psychological), what’s normative (orienting interpersonal life), and what’s objectifiable. This horizontalness of comprehension is very nebulous in everyday life. But nebulous conceptuality can be parsed and abstracted; one can abstract differentiated contexts of understanding, comprehension, conceptuality. A “vertical” horizon of perspectival scale can be conceptualized. Yet, two kinds of “transcendent” are relevant here: (1) self-transcendence: The self-efficacy of gaining conceptual facility or perspectivity is enacted, performed. Yet, conceptual capability may be (2) world transcendent at any scale. The range of understanding may become quite high, “transcendent,” in a sense of higher/deeper than a given context, inasmuch as one is (1) able to work effectively with such perspectivity. For (2), we tend to use spatial tropes, but that pertains especially to what’s cognitive (and self cognition is treated like a part of the objective world), while the conceptual holism of mental life—conceptuality of self/world cohering—is subjective, intersubjective, and cognitive. (1) Capability for subjective perspectivity, intersubjective perspectivity, and cognitive perspectivity is different from (2) scale of what’s perspected, so to speak. The (1) domain of one’s capability for immanent transcendence is different from the (2) variable range of context-motivated consideration.

You write:
It is apparent, then, that the transcendental structure in question, which implicitly yet unmistakably emerges as being of a cognitive nature, is wide-ranging in the sense of embracing three major domains. (3)
Yet, the embrace of a personal domain, through self-reflective learning and self-presence, is different from the embrace of an objectivating/objective domain through epistemic practices and structures of understanding. The difference between the enabling ([re]structuring of capability thanks to given capability) and what’s considered (enabled structure) is occluded by a singular notion of transcendental structure (though life is lived as if there is self/world cohering—pragmatic cognitive cohering—a singular self-enhancive, sophisticating, and assessable worldness coheres—but is anyway always only partially cognitive).


Friday, December 19: “transcendental structures”

When you quote Habermas’ phrase (p. 3) “...decentered complex of pervasive, transcendentally enabling structural conditions...” then refer to this as a “transcendental structure,” you slip from an enactive (“enabling”) point. The enabling conditions are not a transcendental structure. They are capabilities for “field independence” (“Moral Development and Ego Identity,” Communication and the Evolution of Society, near the end of the essay; I don’t have it at hand). It’s a point about achieved capability to self-represent or de-center one’s frame in a process of re-framing that is part of perspective-taking in mental development (then stage transition in mental development). You’re treating a capability as a structure, as if a performative competence just is the [reconstructed] representation.

If you would substitute for your “transcendental structure” instead the phrase “de-centering capability,” you’d be closer to what Habermas has in mind. A “weak transcendental necessity” is about what “makes an orientation...possible.” Ability to cover “the entire spectrum of validity claims” is ability for inter-domain flexibility—a capability for decenteredness not only relative to whatever claim, but decenteredness across domains of questioning, inquiry, and warranting. So, it is the de-centering capability that is “of a cognitive nature” (inasmuch as the point is cognitive; the de-centering capability is also of an intersubjective nature and self-reflective nature). This mental nature is constitutive, not structural (nor merely a “meta-level relation of relations,” just as a grammar is no mere meta-level about [grammatical] speech acts).

Competences have a “quasi-transcendental” constitutivity, relative to what is self-represented, a context-transcendeing competence which he details in “What is universal pragmatics?”....[where] he indicates that mental parsing constitutes the different domains of the world which language expresses through its three basic aspects of speech acts. (Actually, Habermas uses ‘cognitive’ ambiguously, as to whether the point is about mental action generally [cognitive in a general psychological sense] or about epistemic action. This is because, for his commonly-epistemic interests, the difference doesn’t matter. But when he uses ‘cognitive’ in contexts that are about worldness, clearly a general mental sense should be presumed.)

It’s not the case for Habermas that a “transcendental structure...is constitutive of the social world,” at least because one’s dynamic, developmental parsing of the world includes a socialness that is objective (along with symbolic cultural meaning and valued personal meaning). A conception of the living world is a structur-ing, a capability for construction of meaning and differences. If anything is transcendental, it’s the entire parsing of worldness into a 3-fold mental capability (learning to distinguish what is subjective from what is interactive, what is literal/objective from what is wished/symbolic). But this parsing—originating in early childhood—is not regarded by Habermas as simply a transcendental structure, as if otherwise the entirety of cognitive development was regarded not as an active, learning-motivated individuation but as an assimilation, with externalist, regulative efficacy.


Dec. 20:

Habermas’s three domains are not all cognitive in nature, in keeping with the reality of the lifeworld, which is engaged and receptive, as well as representational. The objectivating domain is cognitive in nature. Everything relating to truth-functionality or metricable assessability is cognitive in nature. All representation is partially cognitive in nature. Norms may be represented, so their consideration is made cognitive. What one represents about oneself becomes cognitive between “us.” But the nature of intersubjectivity is holistically mental; normativity is action-orienting phenomenality (showing telic gravity, one might say, motivating direction in meaning). And the nature of self presence is mental: intentional and attentional; genuineness is authentic confidence, “warmth” and reliability of presence. The world is, at best, warmly interactive in justifiable ways for enactive minds that also represent. The conceptuality of one’s world is not wholly cognitive, except to methodic inquiry and for “suspended” presumptions of meaningfulness.

Perhaps you are primarily interested in what’s methodically reconstructible, more than phenomenologically present for experience (even as you appreciate the difference, yet as what can be brought into methodic examination).

For theory, everything becomes cognitive. It’s all about the lived world that is also cogntive. It’s cognitive in terms of all representations, and it’s cognitive in representing what’s normally presumed. Presumptions may be re-framed through perspectival representation, thus made cognitive. This would be thanks to capability for gaining field independence or context independence that allows for revision, re-thinking, and also—but not largely!—opposition to a view or “...‘critically turn[ing] against its own results and thus transcend[ing] itself’...” (4). (But it’s good to avoid becoming “virulent” [ibid.] about this. Critique that enables is a constructive engagement, not turning against the other, contrary to common academic senses German Idealist dialectic.)

You note (ftn. 7) that:
The concept of the cognitive employed in this article...follows the broadening of the concept in the wake of the cognitive revolution to include also the normative-evaluative and the aesthetic-emotive domains.
I’m familiar with cognitive science. To include, in short, ethical and aesthetic meaning in cognitive theory is just to say that all modes of life can be represented in cognitive theory. That’s not to say that ethical or aesthetic meaning is primarily cognitive. As J. L. Austin famously idiomized, we “do things with words.” Minds do things with their time. Pragmatics is about the centrality of value-realizing activity, as intelligent life enacts itself, fruitfully balancing valued purposes and appreciating realities, making a good life.

So, it is the conceptuality expressed in your article that follows a broadening, but the meaning of ‘cognitive’ in cognitive science is holistically mental. Cognitive science may be too often cognitivist in the narrow, epistemic sense; but its prevailing ethos is the study of mentality altogether and as such, which corresponds readily to the phenomenological holism of embodied life. Indeed leading notions of the mental in cognitive science have been in terms of “embodied mind” (and holistically mental models). Consequently, it’s quite appropriate to not be reductionist about ethical and aesthetic life in being expansive about what can be conceptually entertained.

You hold Habermas accountable, “in his hesitant and not clearly presented attempt” (5), for not measuring up to your “cognitive order of modernity,” a model which is delightful to entertain, as a conceptual landscape. Earlier, I said more than once that your cognitive sociology is very interesting (but using the label of your project doesn’t mean that I find a constrained sense of ‘cognitive’ appropriate to your landscape). Also, I’m quite highly and deeply involved, if I may say so, in “the more complex matter of the telos of a rational society” that seems to be the telos of your project. But Habermas seems misrepresented in “the kind of cognitive sociology envisaged here” (6).

Despite appearances, I’m interested here in standing with Habermas, not assessing your model of conceptual order—except, implicitly, anticipating that there’s more room for Habermas’ work, as an interdomainal matter of human theory (or theory of human sciences or anthropological thinking), than perhaps you have so far found place for.

So...You seem to collapse the difference between oriented action and deliberation about action, then indicate that Habermas confuses the difference: Contrary to your representations, Habermas’ “...idealizations...that assume the form of ‘counterfactual presuppositions’...” pertains to dealing with contested validity presumptions. They’re not “structuring [persons’] orientations and actions in a general way” (6). Otherwise, action-orienting values and purposes (which are efficacious “on the run”) would never result in getting anything done!

A source of this misunderstanding could arise from Habermas’ presumption of rapport with his reader, such that many points about validity claims that are about implicit implicature in the “as if” character of interaction are treated explicitly in inquiry about all of this. A theory about what’s normally implicit can seem to be about the constitutive role of what’s not constitutive, but which becomes pivotal in miscarried understanding or coordinations.

It’s not generally counterfactual to presume that when the traffic light turns red, others will stop. But the presumption is also not constitutive of my trust; my trust entails the presumption, and the implicit entailment is implied by my explicit action. If that presumption turns out to be counterfactually “supported” (i.e., miscarried or violated) we suffer the results (or avoid an accident because we simultaneously have a non-counterfactual presumption that there are idiots everywhere, and one drives defensively—“trust but verify”).

But a civil disagreement about what’s the case allows for in-fact-counterfactual idealizations to figure into dispute resolution or deliberation. They take on an action-theoretic meaning. It’s not the case that the formulation “...‘action-theoretic meaning’ is obviously misplaced...” (ftn. 10). That pertains to contexts of dispute and deliberation, not “action-orienting meaning.” “The illocutionary binding forces” (7) are usually effective shared understandings. Only when coordination miscarries do these presumed bonds become apparent as merely presumed, thus subject to being regarded as validity claims against “our” bumpy, too-presumptuous reality: “I thought you were going to close the door?” “Well, why did you assume that?” “Well, that’s what you usually do.” “In your dreams. I’m not your valet.”

Seriously, though, idealizations in the abstracted status of validity claims are not the effective bonds that effect [sic] “...’the [trustworthy, norm-formative, and realistic] construction and preservation of social orders’...” (ibid.). “In other words,” it’s not that “validity claims activate the action-orienting meaning...”; rather, validities do. But presumed validities that are brought into question as possibly-mere claims “activate...the idealizations...which means that the validity claims are the relevant” operators, immanent to the question, not “transcendental operators.” The so-called transcendental operators are capabilities for framing, re-framing, differentiating, imagining alternatives, etc. Piaget was quite right: Operators are everywhere; they’re the modes of individuated intelligence that he spent his life clinically describing. “What transpire here are essentially intertwined...processes” (7), some of which are epistemic (“cognitive”), some of which are prospective, some of which are empathic, figuring into meaning which can be abstracted into sets of “properties in the form of cognitive structures of different levels and scales...,” but thematizing processes is model-theoretic, not phenomenological, not genuinely “true to” uncontested action.


Dec. 19: dealing with miscarried presumptions

“Our” inevitable presumptiveness of interaction can, in principle, step back from itself and appreciate the difference between (a) what one presumed (or hoped) and (b) better appreciation of what is the case; e.g., appreciating the limited capability of the other to pursue a validity claim that “we” both presumed was not in need of question, therefore calling for a step away from dispute to help the other build competence or increase knowledge. When the idealized common ground turns out to be a less-than-hoped actualization of ideal conditions of interaction—of Habermas’ “ideal speaking situation”—that’s good to discover (and a specific theory of idealized conditions provides a qualitative metric for assessing how idealization is defeating itself; I refined this many years ago, but it’s not yet a digital file). This ideal speaking situation turns up again in a late-life essay by Habermas which he has seen fit to reproduce in three books: “From Kant’s ‘Ideas’ of Pure Reason...,” Truth and Justification and two other books. Some readers believe that he gave up that model, but he didn’t. (I have a short posting on that essay.)

A decentering capability for field independence (a matter of individuation) is very different from idealized interaction in the world (with others privately or in public) where one would like to presume that all conditions of an ideal speaking situation can be confidently taken for granted between “us”. The idealizing conditions of interaction are presuming cognitive capability that may be lacking. But in any case, the two are fundamentally different: (a) constitutive and de-centering capability is fundamentally different from (b) idealized interaction. This difference is integral to Habermas’ conception of linguisticality. (He would say “linguistic cognition,” but for him holistically mental parsing of the world makes linguistic parsing possible. Linguistic parsing expresses prior mental parsing. Many readers of Habermas might disagree with me, but he’s not a linguistic relativist—no matter what Cristina Lafont thinks of the matter. Besides, if Habermas takes Searle as seriously as you emphasize—rightly—then he knows that an upshot of cognitive science is that philosophy of language is a subarea of philosophy of mind.) Jumping ahead in your discussion: You seem to want to occlude that difference in Habermas’ thinking—individuation distinct from idealizing interaction—then “remediate” his thought by giving to “Habermas” a cognitivity that he already had.

Habermas has no “normative paradigm.” He has a meta-normative view of normativity, in terms of procedural validation of proffered regulatives (and he has a theory of democracy that he would like to see gain normative prevalence, but a substantive paradigm is not what Habermas’s formal pragmatics or theory of communication action is about.


Dec. 20:

Meaningful action largely avoids stopping to dispute and deliberate about what’s [not] happening, because the day happens smoothly. Thus, it should be unsurprising that Habermas highlights a twofold of intersubjective identity (“mutual understanding”—relationship) and separate identities that are in a smooth process of coordination that works, i.e., “an interaction-based...communication [is] not a higher-level type” (8), the latter of which results from abstracted deliberation.

“To be fair,” Habermas’ chapter 1 discussion is synoptic. A jump in scale from situations of coordinated interaction to broad-scale public assessments of discursive views is what the large scale of BFN is about. Your ftn. 16 seems to relate to common academic practice of deferring issues that are too complex for the given context, doing so in terms of the topic (“a general characterization”) that would be appropriated better with an actual audience focused specifically on that audience’s specific “slant” on the topic, when “we” all have time for that.

Again, Habermas is easily confusing by presuming more rapport with the reader than may be easy to maintain. On p. 18 of BFN, his references to validity claims are largely about implicit implicature of uncontroversial interaction, not the made-explicit validity claim that happens when we stop to consider what’s going on.

Anyway, it doesn’t follow from indication of complex themes in mico-context (“detranscendentalizing”) that he doesn’t appreciate them in maco context (methodic generalization). After all, BFN altogether is about the movement in inquiry from micro to macro—but for a theory of democracy, not a discourse ethic (clarified in 1981 and 1988 “Remarks”—a path of work that got “thrown” by the Fall of the Berlin Wall). I bet he would agree with your points, but would disagree about your sense of what he appreciates. “The ideal transcendent audience” belongs to the future. We anticipate it, but know that norms and truths remain always likely to be revised. All deliberations are time-limited, so the validation always remains incomplete. But that doesn’t imply that “the logic of justification remains incomplete.” Robert’s Rules of Order may be sufficient for legislation that will always, in a democracy, be revisable (by employing the rules of order yet again).

This practicality is what makes presuppositions pragmatic, relative to a lifeworld that is far more than “the cognitive order of society” (ibid.). It is the capable “order” of personal engagement and interaction, the meaningful order of engaged lives (cultural) and the epistemic (cognitive) order of the world. You might agree, but you would also have to agree that your notion of cognitivity is really prospecting a holistic conceptuality that includes what is properly cognitive (or susceptible to epistemic standards; ethics and aesthetics are irreducible to epistemology).

You write (p.8 bottom-9 top) that a level of universality “...‘determines the constitution of social reality’...” but importantly, Habermas’ sentence doesn’t end there: It’s about formal relativity of methodic agreement to its immanent validity basis. A logic of discourse depends on universalistic forms of understanding, but the context that you quote is not about a “transcendental” point. What is obvious is that, without (a) capability for understanding, (b) reliability between “us” and (c) reliable knowledge, then (d) “there simply is no world...” But calling this “there…is” a “transcendental structure” begs the issue, since you want to put so much discursive weight on your sense of meta-levels, etc., which depends on your notion of enabling. Where Habermas is concerned to articulate the formal conditions of a “detranscendentalization” (BFN 19 top), you want to re-transcendentalize (9 top). But on the contrary, for Habermas (I believe), what makes “...‘the demanding counterfactual presuppositions’...” demanding is that they are to work “as adopted by the communicating actors themselves” (19 top) secularly, as it were: as proceduralized faciliation of abductions that require very difficult capability (so, no wonder people often rely on Experts and argue from their authority—if not invoking scripture or The Law, factically speaking). So, it’s false that “This level is equivalent to the ‘transcendental heaven’...” The “ideal moment of unconditionality” is that which results from enough capability with enough knowledge and enough time to shape durable outcomes that remain in principle open to revision. But there is not and will never be enough capability, knowledge, and time. We want durability, but “future shock” isn’t on our side. We do the best we can with the resourcefulness we have in limited time. (Habermas criticizes the European Bank for overbearingness toward intransigent south Europeans, as if crisis management has time for referenda. Who’s going to prevent deflation in Europe?)


Dec. 19: representing lifeworldliness in general (abstracted from actual lives)

Of course he “does not break down the background knowledge of the lifeworld in detail” in Theory of Communicative Action, because such detail could only be in terms of specific lives, not pertinent to a widely-applicable concept of the lifeworld across particular lives. Of course Habermas would not, in a synopsis of his view, “take any further steps toward specifying the particular nature of [particular] insights” because those are matters of specific interactions, not the pragmatic structure of disputation and justification.

If you intend your point about what “cannot be of any other kind than of a cognitive nature” (4) as a counterpoint to Habermas merely admitting that “feelings or emotions could take on the role of reasons,” I would direct you to his postscript to Knowledge and Human Interests, 1971, where he makes exactly that kind of point in reply to Merleau-Pontians criticizing him for not admitting non-cognitive content into reasons (in terms of him allegedly not appreciating phenomenological meaning that is not yet linguistified, so to speak), to wit: Only inasmuch as phenomena can be brought into articulation can they be relevant for communicative interaction. One may articulate a feeling as a painting, but you can’t expect others to receive your display of the painting as a warrant for a non-aesthetic validity claim unless you can articulate its relevance to a disputed (de-implicited) “validity” from our earlier, ongoing basis of confidence in action (that “we” presumed) of our interaction. You would agree. But, then, you’re not making a point Habermas didn’t make in the 1960s. (Showing a painting might serve as factual evidence for the genuineness one implies about one’s commitment to one’s art, where someone disputes whether or not you’re committed to your art. But if there is dispute about the value of the art, then only articulations about the value of art can be relevant.)

He’s not “assum[ing] a normatively tapered set of...conditions” in a view about mutual understanding. Rather, he’s attending to aspects of mutual understanding, not the entire lifeworld that is personal and cultural, as well as social. What’s relevant to mutual understanding is relative to the interaction. The entire lifeworld is not the subject of interaction—except, perhaps, between philosophers entertaining notions of the lifeworld as such. But then it’s notions that can be abstracted from lives for the sake of a shared interest in general features of the lifeworld which can be mutual. (My life in Berkeley is not wholly relevant to any interaction between us about “the” lifeworld [as such], as you wouldn’t draw on a rich life in Cork to directly infer anything about the richness of my particular life.) So, he’s not “captive to the normative point of view”; he’s interested—for the sake of a social theory of democracy—in the normative point of view as such and as derivative procedurally in a fundamentally-justifiable way. Reason for democracy evinces from the nature of our communicative life. Once again, you’re holding him too accountable for a brief synopsis that is tailored for a philosophy of democracy and law.

Page 9: It is “rather strange[], it should be said” that you circumscribe a remark about “background knowledge” as being about “the performative perspective of the participant.” You go on to comment about “the lifeworld [as] diffuse background,” but Habermas’ point was pointed: He’s indicating a distinction between “describ[ing] background knowledge” and institutional objectification of one’s living in-the-worldness (to use a Heideggerism). You collapse the difference between [a] the entire diffuse lifeworld (which is constituted by a long development of capabilities, identity-forming meanings, know-how and know-that) and [b] the part of that (epistemic) which goes to Habermas’s point: “The lifeworld...comes into view” for institutions, which is different from how it is lived: “a complex of interpentrating cultural traditions,” etc. He is interested in this complex inasmuch as it’s relevant for communicative interaction, distinct from institutional objectification, not wholly relative to a person’s life. He is not pretending to do Theory Of The Lifeworld in chapter 1 of BFN, rather doing so years earlier in Theory of Communcative Action.


5 | An issue of ontological radicalization
Dec. 19: “ontological radicalization”

Page 10: It is not the business of social theory, psychological theory, nor philosophy to “pursue[ ] ontological radicalization...to its final conclusion.” Such pursuit was the dream of classical metaphysics, not Habermas (whose Postmetaphysical Thinking was published before BFN). Firstly, formal pragmatics is ontologically neutral; it’s not metaphysics. His pragmatics is compatible with differing ontological views. That’s why its “formal”ity claims to provide for a conception of discourse, which happens to idealize philosophical dispute (as shown in his dispute with Otto-Apel in “Discourse Ethics”). Secondly, “radicalization” requires explication in terms of particular lives. This was why, early on, he found psychoanalysis to be a good model for what’s at stake in self-reflection (though he left that clinical model in preference to educational modeling, mid-’70s).

In particular, his notion of weak naturalism has been developed beyond its sketches in Truth and Justification to his explorations of cognitive neuroscience in 2007 (free download). There, Habermas does not insist on an “essentialist” (your ftn. 26) sense of weak naturalism. He never did, as subscriber to “postmetaphysical thinking” for decades.


Dec. 20:

So, what is “the ontological radicalization”? Going into that paragraph (p. 10 middle): “[H]is three formal-pragmatic world-concepts” come closest to the “cognitive dimension,” which is about the “structuration” of “a distinction between knowledge and norm.” This structuration “rests on transcendentally enabling structural conditions at a deeper or higher level” than “the semantic dimension of culture.” “[T]he transcendental structure...in sociological terms amounts to the cognitive order of society.” This structure “is the meta-dimension of counterfactual presuppositions.” The “final conclusion” of what “he has not pursued” is “something equivalent to the concept of the cognitive order of society.” So, it’s a concept that amounts to the cognitive order of society. It’s a conceptuality that’s regarded as pervasively cognitive.

When you refer to “distinct immanent and transcendent dimensions,” you seem to be thinking implicitly of a difference between (a) immanent transcendence and (b) “the meta-dimension” pertaining to a semantic dimension that is “over and above” all of culture (as if Transcendent Structure mirrors one’s capability for immanent comprehension—a Hegelian notion?); or you’re collapsing the difference into a singular transcendentally-enabling that encompasses both (anticipating an Absolute Concept?).

For Habermas, the immanent transcendence (i.e., “transcendence from within”) is developmental learning pertaining to an individuation. Apparently, you want to advance a meta-dimensionality that integrates with developmental learning, fleshed out as the way that a conceptual sociology is to be elaborated. This elaboration would be the ontological radicalization that Habermas has not pursued to its final conclusion, “something equivalent to the concept of the cognitive order of society.” If you’re not assimilating cultural traditions into this conceptual order, you’re at least proffering that the conceptual order of society is higher and deeper, enabling all other orders?

The degree to which public, social order becomes encultured is an individual matter, becoming not only encultured but for a personality that may become highly individualized. This is a matter of the broadly temporal individuality that we might abstract into differences between personality (of an identity, yet in personality-theoretic terms) and culture (of an identity, yet in cultural-theoretic terms). Yet, it’s about a singular identity, for the life; and it’s about how individuation also develops in terms of cultural spheres. Of course, how one is “social” (public, objectifiable) in all of this doesn’t translate to individuation or/and culturation, because the objective world is more than an individual comprehension of culture. Yet, cultural individuation does not translate to the objectifiability of social, public life. The spheres do not translate into each other.

The objectifiability of cultural personhood is limited to what’s relevant for social interaction, and it’s vital for democratic life that social integration be stable, sustainable, and enabling of cultural life (e.g., education system, intelligent media). The subjectivations of personhood are not reducible to objectivations (cognition) about it. The meaningfulness of interaction is not reducible to objectivations about it.

And “the” social as such is a traditional notion that doesn’t well distinguish personal, cultural, and objective differences. Differentiation of one’s singularly-lived worldliness into world concepts is about differentiating subjectivations in general (but ultimately intimate and idiosyncratic for one’s life), interpersonal engagements in general (a public notion about private life), and social life as such (always representable in standardly public or standardizable terms of what people, present to each other—at least in principle—can share and need to coordinate or agree on), yet lived singularly in, at best—to my mind—a flexible capability for flexible comprehension or conceptuality of multi-domainal life.

The three formal-pragmatic world concepts are abstractions from living identities which are psychological (beyond cognitive), interpersonal (unique and cultural, beyond “social”), and social, too, ideally as showing mature autonomy that’s living well.


6 | Note of Habermas’ sense of the community of inquiry (with mine)

I’m especially interested in at least two kinds of trends. One, the flourishing of cognitive science. The other, interdisciplinary thinking about the human sciences. The human sciences are not primordially sociological. Sociology is not the master science.

The larger issue, to my mind, is how to conceptualize interdisciplinary theory. This is exactly to the point of Habermas’ sense of philosophy as facilitator of interdisciplinary inquiry (Moral Consciousness..., ch. 1 and other work).

I’m elaborately involved in trying to understand good ways to think about creating consilience across the sciences and humanities. (That particular book seems to be a disappointment, but it’s a promising idea.)

Now, I want to recycle a favorite quote... [I copied into the letter an old posting, “cultivating humanity”]


7 | re: Strydom’s comments about my earlier discussion

Allow me a dialogal format. I’m at home with this due to years of academic discussion list work, where honing in on one’s choice of words can be important. Here, I’m not doing that, but I enjoy the format.

You write that:

PS: The expression ‘ontological radicalisation’ comes from Habermas himself, employed to characterise the turn Searle took in language philosophy with his speech act theory – a radicalisation Habermas himself in turn proposed to ‘radicalise’ still further by way of the introduction of the formal-pragmatic world concepts.

GD: Habermas writes in part of On the Pragmatics of Communication (extracted by Maeve Cooke from TCA) that Searle’s “theory of speech acts...remains tied to the narrow ontological presuppositions of truth-conditional semantics” (109-110). I don’t recall that, in “What is Universal Pragmatics?,” Habermas wants to “radicalize” that, and I don’t recall that he regards his sense there of “quasi-transcendental” as an “ontological” matter. For what it’s worth, OPC (which includes that essay) doesn’t have ‘ontological’ in its Index.

PS: The extension and filling out of these by way of a specification of the cognitive order of society, which is my concern, is what cognitive sociologically takes it to its logical conclusion.

GD: So that conclusion might be unduly cognitivist, I’ve sought to argue.

PS: ...proceduralism is too anaemic by itself to allow for the degree of substance required for social scientific analysis.

GD: But proceduralism is not the basis for his theory of communicative action (which grounds the proceduralism in our “form of life), a communicativity which he seeks to elaborately embed in a comprehension of the lifeworld-in-theory.

You’re probably aware that qualitative analysis is a standard part of social science research, and it relies on lifeworld narratives, etc., which can be fruitfully analyzed criteriologically. If one wants to get quantitative about lifeworld-based research—not that I know what I’m talking about now, but I’ve seen interesting results—large data sets can be processed by analysis of variance methods to derive emergent categories and concepts of understanding (statistically derived categorial ”wisdom of the crowd,” I guess). Anyway, there’s nothing about Habermas’ hermeneutically-sensitive approach to social life that inhibits analytical substance or appropriate metricing.

PS: As regards weak naturalism and essentialism: The 2007 article takes the notion of ‘weak naturalism’ no further than when it was classically introduced in 1999 and later restated in a number of places in 2005.

GD: But in 2007, he takes the notion further into what we might want from it: prospecting an integration of reconstructive and phenomenological (participant-based) inquiry. As far as I know, the notion of “ontological monism” there is original to that work, in which an integration of phenomenological and reconstructive analysis is detailed far beyond earlier work. And there’s no essentialism about the proffered integration. But I would enjoy pursuing this further. His end section to that essay becomes very expansive.

PS: ...furthermore, Habermas is clear – as he has been in many other places previously – about the fact that, beyond rational explanation, in the social sciences it is necessary to go a step further in order to offer a causal explanation in terms of actually operating constraining conditions, institutional arrangements, structures, and so forth. Explanatory critique in Critical Theory hinges precisely on this.

GD: Yes, reconstructive inquiry—as he detailed early on, in Moral Consciousnes..., provides for this. But distinctions between explanation and critique are important. Special “explanatory critique” has an emancipatory purpose, pertaining to educational and therapeutic processes. Such purpose aims for individualized explanation, and enabling mirroring (not negative opposition). Habermas’ approach to Critical Theory in the 1970s and early 19680s hinges on this enabling potential of critique. But he was leaving Critical Theory behind, in his own thinking (not in his engagements with others’ work) by the mid-‘80s. After 1989, there was no East German audience to emancipate. The left Hegelian ethos was dead. Then came the hurried effort to contribute to the reconstruction of Germany: BFN. (Remember: It was almost 1990 when The Wall fell; BFN was out by 1992. It would have been conceived and written within a little over a year.) Clearly to me, BFN is vol. 3 of Theory of Communicative Action.

PS: As every sociologist who appreciates Habermas knows, including those quite close to Habermas himself who have been trying to mobilize his ideas for social scientific purposes, there is no explicit cognitive sociology in him that is readily available for the detailed analysis of an ever more complex social reality.

GD: That’s because his anthropological approach to human sciences is based in a theory of action that is only partially cognitive. It’s dramaturgical and moral, as well as epistemic. For the long run, he seeks to mobilize (and have others mobilize) an inter-disciplinary theory of society that is clearly more than sociological.

PS: ... every competence beyond a dormant capacity finds complementary support in environmental affordances, in this case embodied social and especially cultural cognitive structures, which require theoretical explication for social scientific methodological and research strategic purposes.

GD: I agree!

PS: The transcendental structure of the social world, note well, takes in all of these dimensions: cultural, social and competence.

GD: Rather—I’d say—the dynamic dimensions of the world are psychological, cultural, and social, such that good ability to fruitfully understand oneself (thus represent oneself effectively) and live well with others fruitfully (or constructively, fulfillingly, etc.) is actively, dynamically much more than what’s omni-structural; and a single-dimensional sense of competence is “untrue” to so-called mature autonomy (which shows high flexibility of mind). Plural dimensionality of self enacts, and plural dimensionality of the world opportunes, an individuation (which is at best—for creative, fruitful lives—not primarily a socialization).

PS: By the way, I have always regarded Habermas as my partner;...

GD: I think that’s very obvious. Yet, I do think that his work has much potential for interdisciplinary theory of human sciences, and I see cognitive sociology as anticipating an anthropological Project, but being more psychologically oriented than, apparently, cognitive sociology designs to be.

With best wishes and, again, happy holidays!

Gary