Back to Habermas Studies page philosophy of Truth
part 2 of “Habermas and Truth

gary e. davis
September 29, 2003 / May 31, 2014


My title may seem pretentious, but I want to mean something modest.

It’s not A theory of truth that one should hope for—or should I say: that I hope for: Increasingly clear to me is that one theory of truth may be appropriate for its kind and another theory for its kind, such that a “philosophy” of truth is the approach to appropriateness that pertains to various definitions of truth. [The “Refining distinctions...” paragraph at my “facing desire for Truth” posting is relevant here. I’m going to link to that paragraph, not to the top of the entire posting that you would then have to search through (and not intending now that you follow the “...sought to defend” link near the end of that paragraph). The paragraph links back to here.]

A deflationary theory is quite suitable for transposing The Question of what’s true about true statements to the semantical/analytical domain, in effect annuling the problem of truth as having a quality of trueness any longer compelling in its own terms.

A consensus theory of truth might be suitable for theorizing what juries do; or what peer review processes implicitly express. Certainly, Habermas’s design for normative validity is a consensus theory of regulative “truth” or deservedness of action-orienting efficacy: that a regulative is validly binding. The entirety of his theory of validity is appropriately called a consensus theory of Truth, though he uses ‘truth’ only in a sense pertinent to interactive objectivity of states of affairs.

A coherence theory of “truth” might be suitable for ethical thinking, life-orienting clarity about commitments, or for an axiology. (The Christian notion that “the truth shall set you free” expresses an emancipatory, individuating interest.)

An epistemological theory is suitable for scientific interests (re: statistically significant-enough evidentiary confidence).

A pragmatic theory of truth is good for action-orienting (goal-directed) interest.
That’s the simplest way to put it, but what I have in mind for “pragmatic” sense is a balancing of engagement with high valuation (ideality) and appreciative prudence (realism). The proximal character of the appropriative thinking that I’m developing is hermeneutically appropriative at this interface: between high valuation and appreciative prudence.

“Well,” you might retort, “that’s just stretching the meaning of ‘truth’ to cover all its uses.”

Yes, so many appealing uses. What can be said for that, as a matter of a philosophical anthropology? I’m not merely endeavoring to cohere several existing modes of thinking; rather, to constellate them in an ambitious appropriativity, where high value and high comprehension show generative consilience through various venues. As part of that, I’m appropriating the best sense of Habermas’s philosophy of communicative relations into—so to speak—a progressive appropriativity.

[manifold or multimodal sense of ‘truth’] reminds me of Michael Lynch’s stance on “truth in context.” He published articles on that theme before he edited the wonderful, big anthology of others’ work, titled The Nature of Truth, 2001[, which became his True to Life: Why Truth Matters, 2005].

Maybe I should call what I have in mind an appropriative theory of truth theories. Gary’s philosophy of truth: Appropriative thinking.

Anyway, you might expect that a pragmatic theory of truth would pertain to all action-oriented interest, in accord with a scale of purposiveness in action, generally of living a life. Habermas, though, seems to want to confine his pragmatic theory to communicative action (OPC 376 bottom). Such sociocentrism is evident throughout his account of the pragmatic perspective in his response to Rorty, as well as in his career generally, as if reaching understanding with others is what we mainly do, while he gives passing attention to the lifeworld’s other action orientations, as if communicative action tends to generally override other interests.

Actually, his theory (which has much, much more to do with a presumed need for justification than with interest in what truth is) is designed for critical problem-solving relative to the common engagement we have with action coordination with each other that becomes problematic without conflict, given desire for accord with each other in light of interest in understanding each other.
[I’m especially interested in the formation of such desire, its durability, its attraction to the light of understanding, and generativity.] But the reader from Mars might easily believe that Earthlings either coordinate with each other all the time or act instrumentally[(i.e., all non-communicative action is, for Habermas, functionistic; but that’s not the case.] It’s not as if making a good life, doing art and science, building things all serve communicative action. Communication presumes what there is worth interacting about among lives largely rooted apart from given situations of “truth in context.”

In fact, Habermas concentrates on the bases for going forward from critically important situations of interaction. The theory of communicative action is just that, about action insofar as it’s communicative. He never pretends that he has a classically comprehensive philosophy of “Truth.” He’s about theory and philosophy in the interest of social life. How that may be appropriated usefully, for the sake of Our general human interest in flourishing, interests me.

So, what’s needed (to my mind, at least) is a way to see the complementarity of communicative life with the larger context of what we do. In particular, I need to understand (oversimplifying here) how unprecedented change happens—innovation, creativity, progress, evolution (in the progressive sense). My frustration with Habermas is that I want him to be giving more attention to what interests me, in complement to my intense interest in what interests him.
[Not that I want attention from him, ha. I want his interest in general human flourishing to be more overt.] I look to his work for insight into what “bothers” me about intertia in human flourishing, given the social analyses, which leaves me with questions of what is, in a phrase, capacity for insight and how can it be fostered, empowered, institutionalized. (But I am oversimplifying.)

In 1980, he agreed with me that interest in emancipation presumes interest in development—which I called a “self formative interest,” in concordance with his Hegelian expressions—but his career has generally distanced itself from the classical interest in flourishing as such. Interest in development as such—which is common in his thinking—is a theoretical interest, for a theoretical career. Yet, a life develops because it has an intrinsic interest in flourishing or finding fulfillment, ultimately regardless of others’ validation. Developmentality as such is not only lived pretheoretically, most likely (in desire to learn, desire to succeed in education, desire to make a good career—desire for Happiness), but learning, succeeding, and making good are instrumental to the purposeful, Meaningful life. Habermas tends to make that supplemental to his interest, as social theorist. Yet, he would surely admit that a life is primordially only one’s own. No one else can have lived through the gestation of the works, let alone all the years that prospectively, then retrospectively, are the cohering life worth living, having lived, and still so alive. (His fulfillment is surely not that he has been generally understood! He will die hoping, while having found happiness in the work itself.)

The issue has remained: What’s a good way to appropriate Habermas’ work (among others) in a more comprehensive approach to human life, progress, flourishing, and evolution? It’s not a matter of Habermas: yes or no, rather a matter of how to appropriate his deliberate boundaries into a more comprehensive view. For example—major example, for me—what might the complementary attention to creative individuality (without coarse individualism) look like and how best to appropriate this with Habermasian work (and much other work)?

This kind of interest is what I’ve meant in the past by talking about moving “beyond” Habermas but in the human interest (in intimate solidarity with Habermas, I hope). This requires that I’m really moving on with Habermas’ work, not a willful projection of his views (as “my” Habermas) or using self-serving critique (moving against Habermas) in order to feel confident about my The Beyond.

Appropriative thinking requires close reading, while writing closely can be unbearably tedious
[coming up]: How a differentiation of view is justifiable immanently. What is truth in reading?

I add another kind of theory of truth to the lot: hermeneutical truth. Maybe all of the other theories can be found to gel in that, a hermeneutic of reading.
[I would argue that appropriative thinking is fundamentally hermeneutical, presentationally relativized to the appreciated understanding of the other, "Janus-faced," Habermas has called it, according with an appreciation that "discourses of appropriation" are integral to his discourse ethics.] Maybe Gadamer wins after all. [That's an allusion to the Gadamer-Habermas debate of the 1970s that was thought to have been resolved in Habermas’s favor. Resolving it in Gadamer’s favor gives more weight to thinking of the lifeworld than Habermas has given; and grants more credence to Heidegger than Habermas ever afforded. But I'm not basically Gadamerian. I sided with Habermas in that debate, even as I read Habermas—believe it or not—as a clandestine Heideggerian, a thought I confessed to him in conversation—a thought which he didn't reject by changing the direction of our conversation, as we walked across the Berkeley campus one night to his bus stop.]

Next: “deflationary truth

Also: This discussion is associated with the “conceptual inquiry” area of

Be fair. © 2014, g. e. davis