Back to Habermas Studies page What is truth for?
part 1 of “Habermas and Truth

gary e. davis
September 28, 2003 / May 30, 2014


Given all due regard for technicalities, a theory of truth must (as a practical imperative) be realistic, in at least the pragmatic sense of according with what we do when we look for truth or ask for truth in everyday life, as well as via methodic determinations. [I have a posting which deconstructs this sentence: “given all due regard”] We don’t expect everyday life to become normally dependent on technicalities, so (or yet) we should expect technical analysis to accord with how the interest in truth goes along unproblematically (i.e., inasmuch as truth-functional problem-solving in daily life largely remains unproblematic or largely manageable). [I had this in mind when I wrote the “evening” part of “notes on Truth” (the top half), which I’ve already referenced. By the way, I’m not going to revise my 2003 text here, just copyedit minimally.]

A theory of truth is invalid if what it implies about its lifeworld background is false. This stance accords with Habermas’s respect for the lifeworld background of thematized or differentiated concerns, including a formalization (or discursivity, not a formal logic, of course) of interest in thematization. [I’m inviting known readers into interaction about what I’m trying to clarify. I’m wanting to be influenced by others, so I’m being candid about my terms of thinking at the time. All indents are quotations of Habermas. In the original postings, I prefixed the quoting with ‘JH:’; that’s deleted here.]

...the question as to the internal connection between justification and truth....[is about] everyday practices that must not fall apart....Reaching understanding cannot function unless the participants refer to a single objective world, thereby stabilizing the intersubjectively shared public space with which everything that is merely subjective can be contrasted (OPC 359).

At this point, JH footnotes a crucial comment:

It is no accident that I introduced the formal-pragmatic concept of the grammatical supposition of an objective world in the context of the theory of action; Cf. TCA-1, pp. 75-101; TCA-2..., pp. 119ff. (OPC, 379ftn.32).

So, there are three modes of discourse implied by the “internal connection between justification and truth”: the grammatical supposition of an objective world, the formal-pragmatic concept of this, and the theory of action.

Now, if one looks at a dictionary definition of truth (taking that as a standardization of the ordinary variability of what we mean in using ‘truth’), not only a supposition of an objective world in a formal sense is relevant. The connection between what’s “true to life,” if you will, and a theory of truth-relative-to-an-objective-world is not the same as the connection between the latter and justification.

Ordinary life takes for granted a wider use of ‘true’ (e.g., being true to form) and of ‘truth’ than is intended by a focus on what’s the case for the world, objectively speaking. Habermas presumes in his theory that a matter of fidelity or concordance is not at issue, such that this and other meanings of ‘true’ and ‘truth’ have been already appropriately differentiated?—and that relevance of “the” objective world is clearly the matter at hand. I accept that presumption; his theory is about that kind of truth: the so-called “truth-functional” situation of standard “truth” theory. But the difference between lifeworld “truth” and standard truth theory is pertinent, if only inasmuch as a theory of truth implies an implicit sense of appropriateness (that is not theorized) that standard truth theory is axially pertinent (e.g., that interest in scientific realism overrides interest in pragmatic realism).

So, along with a concern for the internal connection between truth and justification, we might wonder about the internal connection between objectivized matters of truth and the lifeworld background out of which differentiations are found or made situationally appropriate. This connection between lifeworld and objective truth is theorizable (and, indirectly, theorized by JH), along with the matter of the connection between truth and justification.

Indeed, truth is not reducible to justified assertability:

...truth cannot be reduced to coherence and justified assertability, [though] there has to be an internal relation between truth and justification....we...always already find ourselves within the linguistically disclosed horizon of our lifeworld[,] impl[ying] an unquestioned background of intersubjectively shared convictions, proven true in practice, which makes nonsense of total doubt as to the accessibility of the world. (358)

A theory of truth is only as valid as its implied background claims and assumptions, i.e., its implicature. How is it, relative to our interest in getting to the truth of a matter, that we “always already find ourselves within the linguistically disclosed horizon of our lifeworld” such that objectivation becomes the matter at hand? (One is to presume that objectivation is appropriately the matter at hand; I’m not presently questioning that the objective world can be—and is largely—appropriately the matter at hand for a theory of truth). How is it that “convictions [are] proven true in practice” but come to be tested relative to the objective world?

Importantly, Habermas’s theory of truth depends on a valid theory of the lifeworld—in more ways than the above suggests (as background for thinking about the connection between truth and justification), for what we also want from a theory of truth is appreciation of what it is to, as one says, “get to the truth,” i.e., appreciate what truth-conducive practices are (and see appropriate accordance), such that there are truth claims to justify, especially in order to contribute insight to a problematic situation, i.e., improve knowledge. That is the occasion for questioning truth claims! We want truth (and question truth claims) in order to contribute or gain insight, and we want theory of truth to accord with truth-conducive practice, if not primarily serving to foster the growth of truth. [This kind of interest as been the occupation of recent virtue epistemology.]

Habermas provides a substantive discussion of lifeworld in “The Formal-Pragmatic Concept of Lifeworld,” pp. OPC 239-46, but he seems clearly to rely there (1988) on his analysis in TCA (which the 1996 footnote above suggests, too).

So, I’m going back to that analysis in TCA, with interest in how it is (or may be) that insight is available for truth-conducive practices, as a matter of theory (i.e., how one has to theorize the possibility of insight, relative to Habermas’ analysis of the lifeworld and his sense of the development of competences). [I didn't go back to TCA in my presentation; I must have been noting what I did privately. I had lived through TCA when it first came into English, during the mid-1980s, and my sense of it was integral—becoming implicit—to many other projects afterward.]

Initially, I’m asking: Is Habermas’ “reading” of the lifeworld true? But the larger issue pertains to the potential of critical theory (i.e., theorization that we regard as very important [distinct from Critical Theory as a literature]) to contribute to the actualization of those “potentials” that Habermas seeks to foster for the sake of social evolution (or in a way that may be social evolutionary; cf. TCA2: 313-4). [This thought is apparently the “going back” referenced above, as if some hours or a day has passed between paragraphs. All of the postings were uploads of writing already done, not improvising in the moment. But intent to post gave it all an improvised aura, because I had been writing offline for eventual posting.]

Habermas--and all of us, I take it—want theory to contribute to important practice. We want efficacy for theory, relative to our interest in progressive potentials in the world, progressive potentials for inquiry, and the progressive potential of post-conventional learning for onself (where the connection between theory and practice is an immanent self formation). [This was written over a year before “doing theory & practice” (which is dated Feb. 2007 because the Nov. 2004 version was substantially amended, as is indicated there.) My very American-pragmatic valuing of progressive practicality traces back to my philosophical education, but especially to my intensive interest, 1973-’79, in Habermas’s long 1971 “Introduction” to the fifth edition of his 1960s philosophical essays, Theory and Practice. That “Introduction” was titled, aptly, “Some Difficulties in the Attempt to Link Theory and Praxis.” My doctoral work had become occupied with resolving those difficulties validlly, titled “The Discourse of Emancipatory Practice in Habermas’s Historical Materialism," unpublished. This was before the appearance of Thomas McCarthy’s The Critical Theory of Jürgen Habermas. There was no comprehensive approach to Habermas’s work, prior to McCarthy’s book which appeared, of course, prior to Habermas’s own attempt to extend his “historical materialism” while comprehensively re-engaging his past approach to social theory.]

Next: “philosophy of Truth

Also: This discussion is associated with the “being well” area of

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