Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Habermas’ “...Detranscendentalized ‘Use of Reason’”

Habermas’ “From Kant’s ‘Ideas’ of Pure Reason to the ‘Idealizing’ Presuppositions of Communicative Action: Reflections on the Detranscendentalized ‘Use of Reason’” might be the only essay by Habermas that’s been published in English three times, thereby signaling its central importance for representing his philosophical position—which is no surprise: The essay relies on conceptual commitments which span his career; and cites essays by him that had seemed fundamental to the development of his thought. The essay is as difficult to work through as anything he’s done.

I would enjoy discussing this essay with anyone who has thought through it entirely. In particular, I’m interested in JH’s discussion of Davidson in a later section of the essay. You can contact me via the Facebook/Habermas Page or e-mail me

I’m put into a triangulation that might be characterized as JH’s Davidson vis-à-vis my Davidson (just in terms of Habermas’ reading of Davidson; I’m not a Davidson scholar). I find Habermas’s Davidson commensurable with Habermas’s sociocentrism (but Habermas does not see commensurability). I don’t see Habermas’s critical view of Davidson entailed by his representation of Davidson.

A close reader might not have noticed (via footnote) that the translator, Barbara Fultner, did her dissertation on Davidson and Habermas, with Habermas at Northwestern, 1995. His “Detranscendentalization” essay was written, presumably, in 1998.

A dimension which is missing from Habermas’s thinking, exemplified by his essay, is the ongoing evolution of cognitive science which “accompanied” Davidson’s work during the ’70s and ’80s. I don’t know how interested in all of that Davidson was. But I do know that it was all around: Bert Dreyfus’s Merleau-Pontian phenomenology was a chronic gadfly to Analytical philosophers in the department (and a harbinger of theories of embodied cognition). John Searle decided that philosophy of language is a subdomain of philosophy of mind. George Lakoff was originating cognitive linguistics (which would try to formalize notions of embodied cognition), which counterpointed popular trends in sociolinguistics (John Gumperz in Anthropology, which was counterpointed by the ascendence of biological anthropology).

It was easy to see that psychology was becoming nothing like a psychologism that worried European phenomenology, and nothing like a “philosophy of consciousness” that worried Habermas. It was easy to see (now in retrospect) that a new interdisciplinarity of the human sciences was emerging as cognitive science.

My sense of all of this included an attraction to the mystery of mental development. In light of cognitive science, the genesis of language capability was intimately a matter of cognitive development generally, which was finding evidence-based models beyond Piaget. Dreyfus’s notion of “The Background” was in fact the basis for Habermas’s notion of the lifeworld background in Theory of Communicative Action, I believe, since Habermas was finishing TCA in Berkeley and never mentioned a notion of The Background prior to that.

In fact, too, Kant could be read as anticipating cognitive science: The transcendental conditions of conceptuality are ontogenic. Patricia Kitcher has argued that Kant was a cognitive scientist in terms of the rhetoric of his time. Ruth Garrett Millikan has detailed how a concept is fundamentally a capability (derivatively a logical type).

An importance of all of this to me is that Davidson’s views can be defended relative to cognitive Background modeling. This seems to thoroughly undermine Habermas’s critique of Davidson while providing a basis for showing how Habermas’s sociocentric modeling and cognitive modeling may work in complement.

The short story is that language is not rooted in communicative action; it’s rooted in the intrinsic interests of intentionality, which involve the entirety of intelligent action. (Modes of perception complement each other in cognitive development.) Purposiveness is not reducible to instrumentality or strategic action (which is Habermas’s view, too). Satisfying desire, completing projects, and gaining fulfillment—a life with Purpose, making a good life—is why we may love to be alive. (Habermas’s critique of purposiveness in Weber is misplaced, I think; there’s complementarity where he sees incommensurability).

Furthermore, one doesn’t have to adopt a Language of Thought theory of mind in order to claim that language is not basically linguistic. This kind of thesis can be explicated in terms of cognitive neuroscience (I believe, not that I’ve done it).

This is good for sociocentric theory: Sociocentric theory doesn’t imply the philosophical foundations of mind that Habermas wants. But, to my mind, sociocentric theory still belongs in the evolution of interdisciplinary human sciences as vitally as ever.

Ghost of Derrida

If you’re familiar with the “Detranscendentalization” essay, you might recall that there are two kinds of “triangulation” examined (Gadamerian textuality as well as Davidson’s), though JH only associates the term with Davidson’s use of it. “Davidson” is a textual phenomenon. A Gadamerian principle of charity is in play with JH’s discussion of Davidson. What JH sketches in the section of his essay after his discussion of Davidson pertains to reading Davidson. So, what’s the “object” there? Whose Davidson is the real thing? The text is “objective,” isn’t it? So, how does it happen that (I claim) a different Davidson can be seen to “be present” with the same text that JH employs?

It’s not just that Gadamerian issues pertain to textual phenomenality. Reading the other pertains to living interaction. The principle of charity is an interpretive construction about the author-ity of others’ action. Conversely, self representation is a kind of writing of one self [sic] into interaction that is bounded by the situation, thus calling for mere partiality of oneself there.

Dwelling in detail with JH’s discussion of Davidson/Dummett becomes for me delightfully deconstructive, for there is indeed writing in speech. Even JH’s limited employment of Dummett undermines his reading of Davidson.

Surely, I’m wrong?