Habermas

SUBTILE at aol.com SUBTILE at aol.com
Mon Aug 8 23:04:36 MDT 1994


Responses to questions about 1) Habermas on praxis philosophy and 2) Habermas
on Marx's place in the philosophy of social science.

1) Habermas objects to praxis philosophy because he doesn't like starting
with the idea of society as a "mass subject."  The "philosophy of the
subject" is in Habermas's opinion inimical to the regulative ideal of an
uncoerced social consensus because it attempts to do with the laboring
subject what can only be done with the communicating subject.  Habermas
thinks that Marx explained that:

"The same principle that is behind the achievements and the contradictions of
modern society is also supposed to explain the transforming movement, the
release of the rational potential of this society.  However, Marx connects
the modernization of society with an increasingly effective exploitation of
natural resources and an increasingly intensive build-up of a global network
of commerce and communication.  This unfettering of productive forces must
therefore be traced back to a principle of modernity that is grounded in the
practice of a producing subject rather than in a reflection of a knowing
subject." (p. 63 of PHILOSOPHICAL DISCOURSE OF MODERNITY)

Habermas objects to the joining of the "release of the rational potential of
society" and the increase in the power of the productive forces of society
because it results in the "utopia of social labor" -- the utopia of "working
together" issuing from a "philosophy of the subject that locates reason in
the purposive rationality of the acting subject instead of in the reflection
of the knowing subject," (p. 65 PDM) whereas for Habermas, reason is more
than just the direction of labor, and only the cognitive work done in
approximations of uncoerced and fair argumentation (which can't, for him, be
called "labor") will lead toward human emancipation.  (Yes, I agree with
Philip Goldstein's characterization of Habermas as projecting praxis
philosophy as a false totalization.)
 The problem with this argument of H's, I think, that he then needs to find
or create a utopian projection of his own to avoid being, by default, a
negativistic tearer-down of utopias in the spirit of Horkheimer and Adorno.
 In an essay titled "The New Obscurity" in THE NEW CONSERVATISM, Habermas
deals directly with what happens to the utopian impulse of modernity in our
age of the retrenchment of utopian desire -- and all he can come up with in
the essay is a lukewarm endorsement of the utopianism of Andre Gorz (whom you
should all read, especially the CRITIQUE OF ECONOMIC REASON).  I suppose that
if you have tenure like Habermas you don't need to be a utopian or even a
social activist.
  The preconditions of the emergence of Habermas's ideal of fair
argumentation across social boundaries, of course, are the end of the culture
of oppression and the beginnings of a socialist movement.  Habermas says
little about this besides what he said in the last chapter of part 2 of
THEORY OF COMMUNICATIVE ACTION because he doesn't seem to think that it
generates philosophical problems that he can solve.  In fact, Habermas seems
to be delimiting his focus as a professional philosopher, as one can gather
by reading the essays in the recent collection JUSTIFICATION AND APPLICATION.
 Seyla Benhabib's SITUATING THE SELF contains many essays that try to tackle
the problems of communicative action's contribution to emancipatory social
progress.

2) Perhaps my comment on Habermas's position on "scientific Marxism" was too
general to make any sense to Philip Goldstein.  Habermas thought that Marx
"loosely identified with empirical sciences" (p. 188 of ON THE LOGIC OF THE
SOCIAL SCIENCES) but that marxism was INSTEAD "guided by an emancipatory
cognitive interest that has reflection as its aim and demands enlightenment
about its own formative process" and was thus not invalidated by the
Popperian critique of the social sciences as failing to meet the scientific
criteria of proper empirical science which Popper himself leveled against
marxism in part 2 of THE OPEN SOCIETY AND ITS ENEMIES.
Marxism, Habermas argued, meets a different criterion than that which
distinguishes empirical science, regardless of whether Marx himself was
capable (by virtue of his placement in an era of intellectual history) of
explaining this.
-Samuel Day Fassbinder




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