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January 19, 2008

Habermas and the question of "Being"

Appropriations posting

I really want to stop making notes about my old interest in the relationship between Habermasian philosophy and Heideggerian thinking. But I’m the one who recently brought it up again, via the Yahoo! Habermas group, so I feel a responsibility to reply to replies to me. So, I replied to Matt, rather dismissively, I realize.

The following was deleted from that posting to the Habermas list:



Heidegger’s notion of Being for Habermas is associated with “world disclosure,” correlate to Heidegger’s interest in world-disclosing itself (so-called “worlding”), which, I think, is analogous, in temporal frame, to the extended ontogeny of capability that may be retrieved in a psychoanalysis. But I don’t believe that Heidegger equated the notion of Being with worlding. Unconcealing and worlding are existential aspects of the epochal question of Being, which is analogous to the power of “God” in politics, though Heidegger’s interest was to work back “behind” theological thinking, in order to somehow, someday work beyond that—beyond ontotheological metaphysicalism, which was a politics, as well as an existential constitution. The meaning of “Being” belongs to an era, not merely to existences-as-lived “proximally and for the most part.”

The meaning of Being includes a sense of the historical legacy of “Time” that makes capitalization proper. The meaning of Being involves a scale of attention associable with the discernible cultural evolution of conceptualization capability in the West: “Being” is Time is Being. Habermas seems to have basically an existential sense of Heidegger’s sense of “Time-Being,” though his own work can be manifoldly applied to understanding a cultural evolution of conceptualization capability.

Anyway, the meaning of Being includes the kind of historicality of legacy that might cause someone to say that, for example, the contemporary Catholic polis is Platonic in a sense of the legacy of constitutive cosmic-political thinking that goes back to the real Plato and his influence on Plotinian Oneness in the creation of theologicality from the Judaic notion of YHWH.

One exemplary implicature of “Being” in existential worldness is a unifying sense of cosmos, polis, and existence in feeling Onenesss. Plotinus's sense of The One, which had such power in the neo-Platonic conception of the Christian Church, is a hybrid of its time that is further hybridized in Christian theologization (out of the Council of Nicod). Not even Aquinas’ endeavor to renew the conception of theology through Aristotle got beyond the Plotinian Oneness that is integral to the constitution of theological (a kind of political) thinking. Protestantism sought to retrieve the existential origin of the meaning of Christ that echoes the existentiality of Greek nonconcealment (or “Aleitheia”) prior to Plato, already “beyond” the kingdom of “Being” (which is partly why Heidegger, for a while, wrote “Sein” with an ‘X’ over the term)—a motif echoed further in so-called postmodern theology and The Jesus Seminar. (I must add that I’m uncomfortable referring to the notion of “Christ” and focusing at all on a religious interest in finding The True Jesus. Above, I’m merely interested in the existential interest that Heidegger initiated early in the 20th century, which, by the way, of course, also led to existentialism in France).



A profound kind of question that should be posed to anthropological thinking is: Given what we now understand to be evolution—natural and, for humans, cultural—what would this reality look like to ancients who yet lack a modern (proto-Darwinian/Lemarckian) sense of Time? We and they see and saw, in some sense, the “same” nature; have/had the “same” capacity for remembrance and enculturing legacy; have/had the “same” humanness—but they couldn’t conceive an evolutionarity of it all. The construal of there being Creation (analogous for Nature to the mystery of human birth) looked to be that which came to be called (in English) “Being”.

I would argue that Heidegger, steeped in an era of untenable notions of naturalism and scientism (in Freud, too), sought to think phenomenologically one’s developmentality (historicity) in evolution (historicality), and the notion of “Being” belongs to this kind of scale of conceptualizing the experiential mystery of Time.

One could develop the notion of that-which-by-legacy-was-called-”Being” in terms of Habermas’ work—some discursive hybrid of parts of his work that may be gathered into a discursively-conceived integration of his sense of cultural evolutionarity as such—but it wouldn’t appropriately look much like his sense of Heidegger’s notion of Being.

So, I suggest here a further sense in which Heidegger and Habermas are more complementary than Habermas has admitted (beyond the earlier-surmised complementarity of neo-Aristotelian/communitarian and neo-Kantian/deontological thinking).

A sense of that-which-by-legacy-was-called-”Being” that may be discerned from the work of Habermas’ career (i.e., reconstructive-hermeneutical dwelling across many texts by Habermas) wouldn’t be a synthesis of Habermasian argumentation in terms of Habermas’ representations of what he’s doing (especially since he hasn’t attempted to think the developmental continuity of his career as a singular emergence of “Habermasian” thinking; i.e., he hasn’t undertaken a philosophically autobiographical self-reflection of his development as developmentality—has he?). Rather, the sense of “Being” in Habermasian thinking would emerge from the way that he argues the linguistic relativity of conceptualization.

I would, of course, carry a severe burden of showing that my endeavor (a reconstructive hermeneutic of emergent sense of Being) wasn’t a projection of my private “Habermas“ into his texts—a problem I’ve identified in others' reading of his work (a general problem of scholarhship, though especially likely with young scholars—an elderly friend calls them "young Turks"—seeking to make their mark).

I’ve long argued that JH's formal pragmatics is ontologically uncommitted, which is good: A formal pragmatics of rationality doesn’t require a conception of the inquiring that discerns the formalism. Inasmuch as an implied conception has been called “quasi-transcendental,” that’s merely more pragmatics about the interest of reflection in its own conditions, not an assertion of ontological commitment about the inquiring as such.

January 12, 2008

a question of "Philosophy" (as gardening)

Appropriations posting

If the Philosophy Department disappeared from your university, what difference would it make?

Its literature could be covered in other departments, right? Since every domain’s curriculum has its “foundations” component or “theory” component, the correlate philosophical literature could find good place in the wider context of its subject matter, as part of a rich appreciation of the domain it pertains to. Right?

Moral philosophy, for example, divides up into a more-or-less standard set of issues, and issue-centered moral philosophy (“Applied Ethics”) can easily be associated with specific subdomains outside philosophy, such that abstracted inquiry—so-called moral “theory”—would be as compelling as the applied issue which motivates it.

This would be pragmatics raised to the level of academic domain design: “Pure” inquiry thereby gains its incentive from practical issues which imply need for it within the practical domain (e.g., regarding questions of conceptual foundations or implied schools of thought: naturalist, communitarian, contractualist, consequentialist, etc). Indeed, this is how the philosophy curriculum itself has traditionally worked: moving from the survey course that is articulated relative to standard issues, then to focus on specialty areas (e.g., 20thC epistemology), and then to focus on specialists (e.g., episemological inquiry by John Greco) or special topics.

A keynote here is that every academic domain has its conceptual dependencies which imply a manifold legacy of intellectual history directly pertinent to problem-solving and innovation in each domain.

One may pretend otherwise about professional life (which echoes an anti-intellectualism that may be especially American), but important problem-solving and innovation depend on lucidity of problem/prospect formulation and depend on attendance to dependencies (constitutive interests and logical, methodological, normative structurings) that imply fateful conceptual stances which, thus faced with difficult challenges (given their ever-changing environments), need new stances, dependencies, and lucidities.

For this kind of reason, there will always be need for what’s standardly called “philosophy,” regardless of whether or not departments of philosophy flourish as such. But does this call for more philosophy as such? (This isn't a rhetorical question, as if I'm rationalizing a “No“ to my question.)

Anyway, domains that flourish aren't philosophically naïve (I would argue). Though philo-sophy has grown very conceptually technical, it remains at heart vital to domainal flourishing, constructiveness, or productivity.

So, the issue of my opening question—If the Philosophy Department disappeared from your university, what difference would it make?—is not about philosophy among academic domains, but about the point of sustaining (and facilitating) the gathering of domainal philosophical interests in some singular clearing, so to speak (a department), devoted to interdomainal, manifold discursive inquiry according with the history of professional philosophy. After metaphysicalism, what sense can be made of saying that ethics, epistemology, etc., are part of a kind of inquiry, traditionally called “philosophy,” that has some overriding (integrative?) sense?

More particularly, what good, outside of professional philosophy, is an interest in, say, ethics as such, across domainal problem sets? (Why should one care that it's good for professional philosophers' paychecks?) Is “Philosophy,” anymore, basically like English Literature: the leisurely repository of a canon, whose adherents provide a cultural service to more-practical domains, i.e., to those more importantly concerned with how we actually grow to live well or not (e.g., the street-smart professionals, public health project managers, business executives, government experts, etc.)? [I'm not dismissing English Literature; rather, bringing, say, “the question of literature“ into the question of “Philosophy“.) Do we need, for example, general conceptions of living well apart from what specific domains can discern? Don't professional education, public health, etc., do just fine on their own? Who needs questions of philosophy as such?



All of the above is rhetoric tacitly appealing to readers who don't think much about what philosophy is, done here in terms that such a reader probably wouldn't find cogent, but for a probable reader here who does think about philosophy (but probably wonders why I seem so skeptical, as if I'm in a department that's losing budget, which is not the case). Such is the freedom of the blog to be ambivalent about audience, as a matter (in my case) of muddling toward a specific focus that does not muddle. The above's a rhetoric of tacitly questioning myself further about how to proceed here, given a large-scale agenda I have at hand. You may know I harbor a sense of philosophy as such in terms of a discursivity of conceptual inquiry that can be constructively—progressively?—inter-/transdomainal.

Indeed, the past is preface, and, it so happens, I'm highly optimistic about planetary humanity (which is a vague rubric for the whole global warming, WTO, UN, immanently post-Bush League world in the cosmic web).

Our world muddles along like human nature itself: satisficing—profiting from good luck and coping with bad luck. So, it's no wonder that domains strive to sustain their self-interested integrities (whatever their communitarian values of academic fraternity); and they conceptually satisfice along the way, having only a degree of self-lucidity that their evolving interests need or desire (always relative to member careers). Interdomainal integrations of conceptual legacies are leisure suits? (Isn't freedom of expression a lovely thing.)

Could it be that professional philosophy as such (allegorized by the singularity of the “Department of Philosophy”) is largely a monument to classical (innocent) dreams of unified insightfulness (otherwise, being basically a caretaker of a canon and service provider to endeavors that really matter), ever more strongly facing our evolving reality (a planetarity that buries metaphysicalisms) that depends on unforeseeable emergences and time-limited satisficings which altogether have no integrated origin and no integrable basis because evolving reality rewrites its origins in the serendipity of its futuring, and cannot validly be reconstructively subsumed in some integrable telos? (—as if “freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose“? No, it's our evolutionarity that outstrips metaphysicalisms.) Primordial mystery is ultimately appealing for the Openly inquirial mind, born of the ecological openness of evolving itself (not to mention the unresolvable question: From whence did the Big Bang happen?).

We decide—or else, unavoidably imply—whether our deontic appeals are naturalist, communitarian, contractualist, consequentialist, etc. because there is no alternative to facing our humanity's aggregate condition of leading itself through its evolution, furthering itself through its irregular flourishing that's increasingly self-designing. This is the burden, as well as the opportunity, of intelligent life that's become a planetary organon of communicative flows.

The dream of unified insightfulness expresses an appeal of synergistic inquiry that remains generative for our universe of evolving horizons, and Philosophy is the legacy of shepherding that synergistic appeal. It follows the emergent lead of domains happily living unto themselves, in terms of leading voices from those domains, reminding us of the increasing singularity of our planetary condition—at once Gaic (re: global warming), transnational, globally economic, and singularly “scientific“ (especially after scientism)—as if “the“ Conversation of Humanity could have a specific membership, but always only relative to specific foci. Discursive inquiry is integrally experimental, like some pretense of intellectual virtue proffering exemplarity (against idiosyncrasy).

So, we have our bibliographical flowers (our scholarships and monographs), and the Conversations are gardens of interplay (and competition of advocacies), ways to flower in, ideally, some landscape having, perhaps, some topography, integrable, at best, by some topology that, ultimately, evolves?

January 03, 2008

philosophy as conceptual work

Appropriations posting

So, the new year begins. I have a lot of work anticipated. I'll begin the year here—and, I expect, begin to make this blog central to my work—by sharing a passage deleted from a posting today to the Habermas list.


A subscriber's recent indication of concern for “applying Habermasian conceptions” brings to mind my recent interest in distinguishing “theoretical” from “conceptual,” so let me take an opportunity to briefly discuss that, for the sake of Habermasian work (which is so conceptual).

(1) The meaning of ‘theoretical’ might best stay more associated with evidentiary or empirical inquiry, according to scientific usage of ‘theory,’ than has become common in “social theory.”

(2) A distinction between (a) speculative or ideal-typical uses and (b) hypothesizing uses of ‘theoretical’ can be important, such that use of ‘conceptual’ for (a) might often be better than ‘theoretical’ for what one is addressing.

(3) Conceptual analysis has an integrity of its own that crosses domains of validity, whereas one might expect “theoretical analysis” to be specifically about an evidentiary domain, even if not yet empirically translatable (which is normal for theory in science). Though differentiation of validity domains is vital for analysis, a coherence of considerations—typically relative to a holistic interest that’s idiomatically “philosophical”—may be post-differentiated, relative to domains of validity. Reasoning and analysis that are able to move readily among differences are thereby already post-differentiated.

It’s been common in the 20thC to consider philosophy to be integrally about conceptual analysis, which makes logical conerns integral to any other kind of concern; and ideal-typical coherence-making can be integral to analysis. A discursive inquiry is not as such norm-formative or fact-establishing or confessional. A “descendent” “discourse of appropriation” (Habermas) has its "ascendent" converse of appropriating a range of considerations, features, etc., to discourse, especially for the sake of purely discursive inquiry. Indeed, philosophical work tends toward purely discursive inquiry. Its “nature” is discursive.

In an earlier exchange with another subscriber to that Habermas list, a little quote from Habermas where he indicates his basic concern there to be about “Heidegger’s theory” expresses a basic misconception of Heidegger’s work (Is that a translator’s error? I presume not), given Habermas’ technical interest in the notion of theory.

More importantly, the whole notion of social “theory” is often confused by persons using the notion. They don’t yet differentiate the kinds of usages, indicated above, which happen to be integral to Habermas’ own work. Often, this undifferentiation is harmless, because, in conceptual proffering, the social “theorist” usually makes no pretense of methodic engagement in evidentiary inquiry (though, of course, social “theory” commonly relates itself to “empircal” concerns, thereby using ‘theory’ in both kinds of usage, as if it’s tenably the same notion across uses). This contributes, I think, to the underdetermination of social “theory”’s engagement with methodic inquiry, pretending to be part of “science” when its relation to scientific work is very marginal.

I’m overgeneralizing here in order to render a kind of point: the usefulness of characterizing activity as conceptual analysis or conceptual work. “Social theory” has great integrity as inquiry, critique, analysis, and speculation—in short, as conceptual analysis and conceptual work. But honoring an important difference between conceptual and theoretical work might give more place for both professional philosophy (as conceptual analysis that can contribute to inquiry in the "human sciences" or anthropological domains) and give more place to real science, altogether (generally) as discursive inquiry—more prominence for each than “social theory” might otherwise invite by pretending to be philosophically diligent (when it’s not) or pretending to be close to methodic research (when it’s not).