Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Teleological aspects are part of any action

part of Habermas studies

Teleological action is a basic kind of action in Habermas's theory. This is commonly not appreciated because his critique of instrumentalism has been so important to his work. Yet, all action has purposive aspects, and communicative action commonly serves large scale purposes. In On the Pragmatics of Communication (OPC), he writes (in a footnote):

Communicative action is always embedded in the teleological action contexts of the individuals respectively participating in it. (213)
Instrumentality in interaction is not usually objectivating, manipulative, unfair, deceptive, etc. Informing, clarifying, explaining, directing, etc. are normal aspects of communicative action. Action oriented to success is commonly part of daily life, as part of any project, organizational design, or collaboration.

Over the decades, JH’s critical emphasis on what's ingenuine or deceptive has been misread (partly his fault—see below), occluding his implicit presumption that purposiveness belongs to everything.

In OPC, Habermas notes:

...My critics have on occasion overlooked the fact that both [communicative and strategical] models of action attribute to actors a capacity for setting goals and for goal-directed action, as well as an interest in executing their own plans of action (203).
In a footnote to this assertion, he says, in part:
....The fundamental teleological structure of all action, including social interactions, was...lost from earlier publications (212). ...I do not fail to recognize that...even strategic interactions require demanding feats of understanding and interpretation (205-6).
In a long footnote, JH emphasizes the importance of levels of action in analysis (which also repeats my beginning quotation of him):
....the hierarchization of levels of action must be taken into account whenever both types of action are entwined. Communicative action is always embedded in the teleological action contexts of the individuals respectively participating in it....the strategic deployment of communicative means can be subordinated to the goal of consensus formation.... (213)

I’ve seen for years that readers of Habermas confuse the difference between (1) instrumentalization of rationality [instrumentalism] and (2) the instrumental dimension of rationality [levels of action in activity]. People have argued as if instrumentality as such implied instrumentalism. Worse yet, people (Spoon Collective, YahooGroup) wrote as if there’s not supposed to be instrumentality in rationality. But that’s silly. Yet, readers of Habermas have written as if, implicitly, the instrumental dimension was not relevant. More than one “serious” reader of Habermas thought that the mere presence of strategic action in Habermas’s theory meant that Habermas had a problem with the difference.