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In virtue of ethical pragmatics
On "Norms and Values: on Hilary Putnam’s Kantian Pragmatism,"
Jürgen Habermas, Truth and Justification (MIT Press, 2003)

  March 19, 2014 gary e. davis  

In Habermas’s set-up for discussing Putnam, he says (p. 213):

Against noncognitivist as well as relativist approaches, [Putnam] defends the objectivity of value orientations from the Aristotelian perspective of striving to live a good life ([to be discussed in § 6–7 of the essay]). However, it is not easy to bring a pragmatist virtue ethics into harmony with the universalist validity of an egalitarian morality and the foundations of liberal democracy (8–9).

I agree that it’s not easy. But the problem is not with pragmatist virtue ethics. An objectivity of value orientations can be richly derived from intrinsic values, which appeals to intrinsic motives for progressive activity, whereas extrinsic force of demand cannot cause commitment to progressive change.

I surmise that lifeworld value provides a better basis for interest in progressive policy than deontic force. “Egalitarian morality” is merely ethical life pragmatically scaled up for interest in creating law. But, in neo-/quasi-Kantian guise, there is lack of the lifeworld appeal that is necessary for successful public policy (and, by the way, good law doesn’t require transcendentalist warrant; but that’s beyond the scope of Habermas’s present essay). A sociocentric mentality is not helpful for creating lifeworld-motivated commitment to progressive futures.

Though such a long-sighted practical line of interest is distant from the philosophical venture here between Habermas and Putnam that I’m employing, the really valuable questions are truly relative to bridging the distance through humanistic, effective public policy, excellent education, and living well (even exemplarily).

re: Habermas’s introductory paragraphs, re: pp. 213-4

Habermas begins (p. 213) with a broad sweep statement about Putnam as Kantian which anticipates what JH will argue: In short, Putnam isn’t Kantian enough. “In order to make room for practical reason,” Putnam “does not reach this goal by way of delimiting practical from theoretical reason.” Instead, Putnam sees “a continuum.” 

But wait. This continuum is at the level of “the authority of the lifeworld,” whereas Kant’s delimitation is at the level of formal discourse. One shouldn’t be surprised that “the self-understanding of rational subjects” in lifeworld activity is less delimiting than formal analysis. 

So, the reader is to find out why it might be problematic that “Putnam holds that there is a continuum between judgments of facts and judgments of value. [According to Putnam,  o]ur interests and value orientations are so deeply inscribed in our view of things that it would be a senseless undertaking to try to rid facts, which are pervaded by values, of all that is normative” (213-4). Conversely, “empirical statements, whose truth we do not doubt, are inextricably intertwined with commitments to values” such that “evaluative statements...can be true or false.”  In many cases, values become traditional for good reason, as if it’s factual that the better way is....; or what’s best really is so.

Two kinds of “judgments” are based in “our view of things,” i.e., a living background understanding that embraces our interest in both facts and values. Lived preferability, not judgment in an overt sense, constitutes the continuum. Time has shaped preferability and relevance. The temporality of growing up and making a life is like an agency of cohering that one has become. 

Habermas claims that Putnam “tends even in practical philosophy toward a kind of internal realism,” but this is an odd claim, since Putnam gave up defending an internal realism in the mid-’70s, according to Putnam, 1994 (threefold cord, 2001, p. 13, from an essay first published in Journal of Philosophy, 1994). Even so, JH says in effect, proffering that temporal continuum—lifeworld-based self understanding—is an internal realism. So, why is that a problem? 

The issue is “a pragmatist reading of Aristotle” (214). But a pragmatist reading wouldn’t be simply an assimilation of Aristotle’s realism, I anticipate. It would be a lifeworld-based cohering. “Here, eudaimonaia—human flourishing—has the last word.” So, the realism would be a cohering that flourishes. 

“Putnam understands autonomy in the classical sense of leading a reflective life.” Is JH equating flourishing and autonomy? That would be invalid. Actually, the classical sense of flourishing pertained to leading a well (eu-) spirited (-daimon) life. Whoever claimed that human flourishing was primarily reflective? The well-spirited life is a healthy Project of making a good life.

But Habermas is concerned about conditions for “rational moral self-legislation.” Can a cohering lifeworld-based flourishing be the basis for reliable fidelity?

“I am implicitly raising the question of how high the price of this split loyalty is.” But there’s no proximal split loyalty in distinguishing lifeworld flourishing and acceptance of commitment (or duty). The two are quite commensurable, I think. But that’s exactly the issue that JH questions. 

Good pragmatism is forever flexible in balancing ideality (e.g., ideal-typical prospecting) and reality (e.g., prudent appreciation of time-limited circumstance), and that provides an adequate basis for responsible engagement with others. (I realize that I’ve slid from self-legislation to commitment, then to responsibility. But this is the continuum, I think: Can lifeworld-based fidelity to commitment cause and sustain adequate responsibility?)

I’m not surprised that Putnam “continues to search for the right way to navigate between dogmatism and skepticism” (214). That’s an epistemic matter, but it has an ethical correlate: Ethically, that “right way” could be aptly called an optimism about what seems appropriate (idealism framing prudence); or an enabling appropriativity that’s not demanding (not dogmatic), but hopeful; not discounting (not skeptical), but expectant. In ever-changing reality, that “search”—be it epistemic or ethical—is frequently renewed (flexible perspectivity, I’ll call it) and always, in principle, continuing, because it’s a balancing act vis-à-vis always-developing lives. Appreciation of living others calls for sustained flexibility in the balance. 

Also to my mind (jumping ahead, for the sake of a good sense of pragmatics), there’s no primordial split in loyalty. I anticipate a tenable naturalism that is not “a naturalistic reductionism” (214); and a relativity of relevant horizon that is not “a contextualist relativism” toward truth. To warrant good pragmatism in “a postmetaphysical conception of realism” could be a cultural-evolutionary matter, where the long-term horizons of value and validity in a life merge into Our human interest in well-going lives, well-going communities, regions, and planet intergenerationally. There is no human universe beyond our care for the future of our heirs which is always born in trust of what is given. This is intrinsically shared and appreciable, according to one’s scale of initiative.

[March 21 / April 13: an epilogue as further prefacing:

My upcoming discussion becomes increasingly distant from Habermas’s dispute with Putnam because [a] JH’s bias for issues of formal inquiry against Putnam’s evident interest in a lifeworld-based continuum (albeit in his own idiom) and [b] my defense of a continuum beyond what JH acknowledges of Putnam causes [c] my discussion to bypass JH’s prevailing values of sociolinguistic apprehension of basically cognitive-developmental issues.

But this kind of global statement now about my March 12—17 excursion is only possible afterward. The following here is a shared working-through. At the time there, I was following the lead of Habermas’s discussion, having no preconception where that would lead my response (though I was already clear to myself about my own general views). I was thinking in (so to speak) differential identification with JH’s engagement with Putnam. So, for the following, keep in mind that I didn’t have this present, distanced understanding in mind when I began my excursion. Beyond this present indented statement, the following is workbook-like, going with the flow, as they say.

In retropect now, my discussion increasingly seems to be talking/writing past JH’s preferred kind of dispute with Putnam, as I give myself opportunity to render aspects of what Putnam evidently calls a pragmatist virtue ethics (going my own way, beyond what Habermas acknowledges). I’m not attempting to explicitly defend Putnam (nor to discount Putnam’s view, which is constrained for me by what JH acknowledges about Putnam’s view). My own defense of lifeworld relevance (occasioned here, not systematically explicated) might seem impertinent relative to JH’s preferred ground.

My discussion sketches a position, occasioned by JH’s response to Putnam, which is not yet trying to systematically make plausible how a horizontal continuum between kinds of discourse (axiological and epistemological) can be shown to complement a vertical continuum of lifeworld-developed interests of valuable and truth-valuing action that may become formalized interests of inquiry (just as inquiry into general features of ordinary development may be instanced by lives that develop to inquire into general features of inquiry).

Beyond the following discussion, I would want to prospect how the value-spherical boundaries between kinds of research enterprises tend to dissolve into kindred paradigmicities of proximally-different kinds of research. Beyond the organizational complex of normal inquiry and practice—what Habermas calls the “untamed...polyglossia” of bridging theory and practice—is an especially philosophical matter of the evolving nature of conceptuality, I would argue. But that kind of discussion is far from the present opportunity to merely prospect a sense of continuum between (1) lifeworld value and truth and (2) developmental continua leading to culturally institutionalized research enterprises.]

Also: The above discussion is associated with the “conceptual inquiry” area

1 |
On Part I of Habermas’s “Norms and Values”: §s 1-4
2 | On § 5: dealing with issues of practical philosophy
3 | On § 6: the “objectivity” of value orientations
4 | On § 7: values, pluralism, and assessment
5 | On § 8: virtue pragmatism and Dewey
6 | On § 9: appealing to a common ethos

Be fair. © 2014, g. e. davis