Sunday, February 27, 2011

anticipating a discursive consilience

Eduardo Mendieta’s Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews article Friday on David Ingram’s Habermas: Introduction and Analysis notes in passing that
Since 2008, Habermas has been working on a large manuscript on “Faith and Reason” in which he is rethinking Western sociological theory in light of the failure of religion to wither away....In this manuscript Habermas is also revising his theory of the origins of language, taking up the work of paleontologists, anthropologists, and cognitive and brain development theorists. In addition, he is revisiting his phenomenological theory of the life-world and the emergence of world-views from the secularization of religious doctrines.
A philosopher after my own heart.

An apparent hallmark of the flourishing “jasmine revolution” is its secularity. The nonviolent populism that’s prevailing (or trying to) expresses senses of democratic capability. Looking to this milestone for evidence about whether the power of religion is growing or waning, one might easily feel the power of religion as such is waning.

So, seeing in my local bookstore last night the new little paperback The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere didn’t especially enthuse me.

But I was very enthused by also finding last night Creating Capabilities: the human development model, by Martha Nussbaum.At last, she is giving the presentational focus to her/Sen’s capabilities approach to human development that has been axial for so much of her/Sen’s work. I feel that her book is very important.

Given that David Ingram is an especially good reader of Habermas
(I attest, based on my own reading) and given that he advocated an overtly Nussbaumian capabilities approach to human rights before Habermas’ essay on human dignity appeared, then note of Nussbaum gains special importance.

In “Of sweatshops...,” Ingram writes:
As Martha Nussbaum notes in her critique of Habermas, if human rights can be justified apart from their instrumental value for subjective legal freedom and democratic autonomy, this is because they intuitively capture what we—in conversation with one another—have taken to be needs and capabilities that are so integral to our understanding of human flourishing that we insist upon securing their protection and development through legal means. Put simply, Habermas has it exactly backwards. There is no reason to expect that human beings would ever reach universal consensus on human rights unless we assumed, as a regulative idea, that they already shared general interests reflective of their human mode of existence; and there is no reason to expect that they would ever reach this consensus impartially unless the discursive procedure on which it was based was itself a rational reconstruction of substantive intuitions concerning essential human functioning. In that case, the UN’s increasing reliance on a revisable and cross-culturally negotiated list of capabilities in assessing progress in the achievement of human rights demonstrates a healthy respect for moral realism that first-generation critical theorists also shared, albeit not uncritically, and that Habermas would be good to acknowledge as well.
To my mind, the neo-Aristotelians are not intimating a generalization of intuitionism. Research in well-being is very internationalized and is aimed at informing public policy. One can appreciate that the distance between “substantive intuitions” and public policy is richly mediated by a community of research that provides much to complement rational reconstruction.

I won’t read too much into Mendieta’s little characterization of Habermas’ current project, but I hope that JH isn’t culminating his life with a treatise on the evolution of religion (which Robert Bellah is doing—4 volumes?).

I believe that a paradigm shift is needed in the venue encompassed by Habermas’ work. I don’t yet know how to characterize it. Maybe it could be characterized as a new discursive consilience, including what Edward Slingerhand ventures (which I cite as source of my phrase, not an endorsement of his conceptualization. That PDF discussion is the draft "Introduction" to an Oxford UP anthology, Creating Consilience, appearing later this year).

I hope that JH is thinking about the nature of his own philosophical project, which only he can do, with more regard for fidelity to his thinking than another discourse of appropriation for a wider audience. I wish for him the most difficult work he can do, somewhat regardless of audience, which others can mediate later.

I wish Professor Habermas many more fruitful years. But only he can say what is the best way to carry forward what he’s done as a philosopher (not basically as a social theorist or political theorist). I want to see work from him (translated into English, sorry to need) that captures the heart of what he would have others seek to continue, had he another 20 years or so to work (maybe he does! Gadamer did). Habermas can provide substantive intuition of his own that only he can provide, thanks to his years. He might do great intellectual service by venturing very prospectively as only he can do relative to his conceptuality.

The prevailing reality is that one can’t know what the community of discourse will be like 10 years from now, as the evolution of inquiry is accelerating. For example, evolutionary psychology is gaining empirical sophistication and integration with developmental psychology, and this has important philosophical merit; cf. The Evolution of Personality and Individual Differences, 2010. Who anticipated a decade ago that science would be already identifying the genetic features of temperament that motivate persistence to learn or disposition to be open minded? The genetics of intelligence may be relatively near at hand. Thinking about the “future of human nature” is already beyond what was anticipated in JH’s 2001 essay.

Anyway, it seems that Time is favoring the neo-Aristotelians over the neo-Kantians.