Back to Habermas Studies page coda: from creative reason to health of nations
part 9 of “Habermas and Truth
  gary e. davis
October 5, 2003 / June 3, 2014
My “Habermas and Truth” discussion basically found closure in the previous section, part 8. The following was initially done the following day, in the same week as all of the others were initially done, as if this is a continuation of the series. In that sense, the following is related. But it’s also anticipating—very implicitly—“discursive stances” that would emerge in upcoming years, each of which was initially a posting discussion that was expanded to a Webpage, c2004—c2007, all expressing my interest in public policy. Before the “Habermas and Truth” project and after this, there were tens of posting series that have’t been made into stand-alone discussions, and I don’t know how much of that will someday be worked up. In recent years, I’ve developed a lot of work that could be called an “anthropology of contemporaneity,” though I haven’t been part of Paul Rabinow’s Berkeley Project. What I’m doing with current work is precursory, but related to a massive amount of material. I want to postpone working most of that journalistic and monographic material into presentation, in order to do conceptual work.

So, the following is exemplary of my approach to Habermass theory of action and social evolution; and unwittingly prescient of what I would write, 2004-2007, in light of Habermass ongoing activity, as the following ends suggesting a broad-based interest in public policy that I will continue to share via blogs and Webpages in future months.

Today’s annual announcement of the MacArthur Foundation “genius” awards—the 2003 MacArthur Fellows—dramatizes the importance of creative individuation for advances in all fields. The Fellows Program “celebrates and inspires the creative potential of individuals,” within a manifold mission, expressing a great philanthropic and humanistic ethos.

What fosters the insightfulness, creativity, and fruitfulness that enhances and advances Our humanity? This is a vital kind of issue—perhaps paradigmatic—for all areas of inquiry, education, and society devoted to Truth and Good. Pursuit of such a question renders a high neighborhood where perhaps Truth and Goodness may seem to be a synergy of generative constellating in Our evolving.

What is the nature of individuation that can be important? Do we all appropriately appreciate the place of individuation beyond socialization for social progress? What is the nature of that human catalysis (so to speak) that may grow into exemplarity, or even leadership?

Group leadership—ideally participatory group action which takes a leading role relative to others and groups called into their own—is nothing without the creative individuality of its participants. What can we know and say about creative individuality that may be generalizable?

Do we appropriately appreciate the nature of human flourishing that social progress serves? What is more beautiful: a bouquet of the same variety of radiant flowers or a mix of radiant varieties? What fosters the well-being of variety, the gravity of radiance?

Variety is the basis of creative hybridization, which is the basis of evolution.

The multipurposeful drama of everyday life idealizes the well-being of healthful life, among other things. In this sense, at the very least, ethical life is what counts (and any moral theory is ultimately only as good as its facilitation of ethical life).

Being true to life, a learning process may “prove its worth”:

...everyday communicative practices, by virtue of their built-in idealizations, make possible learning processes in the world, in relation to which the world-disclosing power of interpreting language has to prove its worth. (OPC, 394)

How do idealizations come to be built in? Do communicative practices alone make possible learning processes? Of course not. An individuation of capacity and capability (distinguished by the philosopher of education Israel Scheffler, On Human Potential, Routledge 1985, of the famous Project Zero at Harvard, with Howard Gardner, a leading researcher on creativity—a MacArthur Fellow, by the way)—an individuation of capacity and capability is required for productive learning.

Individuation and socialization go hand in hand, but which is more important? I can prove that individuation precedes socialization in early ontogeny, and it might be clear that, at the other end of the partnership, individuation leads social progress. In any case, only individuals learn (JH asserts in the mid-1970s; social learning is a derivative process). Always, only an individual literally embodies anything (including derived figurative senses of social embodiment), including the world-disclosing power of interpreting language. [Embodiment is not containment; it’s enactive, capabilitist, attentional, and appreciative.]

Note that JH above doesn’t write interpretive language, rather “interpreting language.” Does language itself do the interpreting? Or is it the world-disclosing power that interprets language? I think that, for JH, it is the world-disclosing power of language that allows interpretation.

Yet, recalling my previous discussion, part 8, the constitutive issue is a matter of intelligence individuated as if (phenomenologically) language itself interprets.

But it is ultimately reason—capacity for interpretation—that interprets language through its language—that languages interpretation.

Spatial reasoning, logicality, valuation, musical perception, empathy—all of these features of intelligence “participate” in the languaging of interpretation. In cognitive science, there is by now a very large literature fleshing out the meaning of “embodied mind” in, by, and with which linguistic facility forms itself and minds indivduating intelligence, through which the languaging of understanding may transform.

In learning how to do things with words, it’s the learning to do things that words work in. A theory of formal pragmatics does not address the nature of its own capacity.

In short, reason is essentially individuated intelligence, in which communicative rationality is given its potential to disclose, affect, and effect.

This view accords with the history of philosophy and cognitive science in a sense that is way beyond psychologism. Relative to JH, it is the case that reason cannot be validly assimilated to his theory of communicative rationality whereby equiprimordial types of rationality are “intermeshed” at the discursive level, but “do not for their part [??] appear to have common the reflexive structure of the self-relation of a subject” (OPC: 309).

This situating reason[, i.e., enactive reason that situates itself in ephemeral sites]—of inevitably individuating intelligence[, i.e., the human being that intrinsically desires to individuate]—bears importantly, I think, on the relationship between the pragmatic and ethical employments of practical reason, in JH’s sense of this (while recent philosophical discourse in English on practical reason is largely incognizant of JH), and this [an enhanced conception of practical reason (which I have not tried to render online)] bears importantly, in my view, on the nature of discourse ethics, thereby improving JH’s formulations[, if I may be so bold]. But this prospect is beyond the scope of “Habermas and Truth.”

Ordinary action is always in “layers” [horizons] of context which embody mixed “action types,” in JH’s sense of this in Theory of Communicative Action. In other words, ordinary action is always nested in a site that is type-ically mixed, i.e., the site is typically hybrid, and ordinary action implies some determinable sense of sitation.

Communicative action is dependent on situational contexts, which in turn represent segments of the lifeworld of the participants in interaction. (OPC: 111)

I would substitute ‘express’ for ‘represent’.

....acts of reaching the teleologically structured plans of action of different participants and thereby first combine individual acts into an interaction complex...” (OPC 121).

This is delicious. Teleologically structured plans of action are the pretext for acts of reaching understanding. Yet, is the multipurposeful individual primarily “teleological” (in JH’s sense of this)?

No. Specifically-teleological action connotes broader plans, in turn implying projects in a life’s complex of projects, in turn expressing altogether a life’s sojourn or Career of purposefulness: the telic cohering of a life.

Simply put, there is general intentionality of one’s lifeworld beyond and before sited action, which may be expressed in site.

So, it’s more appropriate—in order to be true to life—to think primarily of purposeful activity, served by teleological action, in the background of all action in sitation—to think of teleological action relative to the telic cohering of our lives. [A keynote of later work will be a brief version of a conception of organized flourishing.] earlier publications [prior to 1986]....The fundamental teleological structure of all action, including all social interactions, was...lost from view. (OPC 212, ftn. 42)

More appropriately, perhaps: The fundamental lifeworld purposefulness of teleological action was occluded.

Between horizonal cohering and local teleology, life includes a mosaic of strategies for making—one hopes—a good life. Strategical action, as such, is a proceduralization, if not formalization, of the ordinary practicality we give to strategies for making a good life. Strategies or strategical actions are made to serve plans and projects; it’s not basically manipulative of others (which is instrumentalist), since communicative action belongs to strategical action, just as (precedingly, though conversely) strategies belong to a life, and (accordingly) well-made plans require a long-term, strategical articulation for the building of what is valuable, through collaboration, solidarity, friendship, kinship, intimacy, and one’s own commitments, fidelities, and persistence, for the sake of what matters: career, family, research project, work of art, so on.

Overall, indeed, the hierarchization of levels of action must be taken into account whenever both types of action [i.e., communicative and strategical] are entwined. Communicative action is always embedded in the teleological action contexts of the individuals respectively participating in it. (213, ftn. 47)

But Habermas apparently doesn’t have a clear sense of the difference between strategical action (properly conceived relative to plans and projects), instrumental action (which serves any activity), and the purposiveness that orients telelogical action (which is project-ive or long-term, horizonally goal-oriented). I find this to be the case in any context where he is focused on the difference between communicative and strategical action (e.g., OPC 118, where the efficacy of plans in projects can be only, for him, an efficiency of rational choice accordance, and instrumental action is an accordance with technical rules, stripped of action-interested purpose)—also in the continuance below of the quote above. (Below, I’ve replaced ‘strategical’ with ‘instrumental’ to make his statement valid):

...the [instrumental] deployment of communicative means can be subordinated to the goal of consensus formation if, for example, the situation permits no more than a “giving the other person to understand something” [i.e., informing that S, short of intending the other to accept that S] in an indirect way. I assume that the corresponding attitudes of the actors similarly can form a hierarchy; attitudes oriented respectively toward success and reaching understanding are incompatible only with reference to one and the same level of action. (ibid.)

It’s sociocentrically fine to do social theory, thus to limit one’s interest in action to what’s communicative, but that’s a constrained sense of human science. Singular lives are motivated by what serves the good of the life, no matter how socialized. No one but oneself goes through all of the situations of one day, the eras of the same life, and anticipates the Meaning of It All that keeps the living worthwhile. Especially for very individuated lives—creative, self-directed, exemplary, or leading lives—the sense of purpose in the flourishing of the life Project prevails over communicative action.

A vitally important point for Habermas’ work is that individual-to-individual interaction complexes are homologic with group-to-group interaction complexes. The potentially profound importance of a focus on individuality grounds the potential of fruitful interaction, thus the potential of groups to act individually relative to other groups, no matter that interaction between individuals composing a group allows for what uncollaborative persons cannot collectively do as well.

The key to creative collaboration is each individual’s capability for fruitful responsiveness with others. This is not merely a matter of the autonomy or pure freedom of the group or individual relative to the other; rather a matter of appreciating the nature of collaborative individuality as a function of the more-highly individuated actor(s) working together, or/and enabling others.

This is also not a matter of “subject-centered reason” in an egoistic sense. A primacy of individuated individuality for creative action is far beyond the “philosophy of consciousness” that Habermas unduly worries about. Capability for appropriating insight in site among/between “us” depends on present capability, which may constellate for group capability. Person-based capability for collaboration is the basis for interpersonal potential.

So, given the importance of reason distinct from rationality, I see no problem with the notion of “subject-centered reason.” The well-focused and effective actor must be very well focused, thus self-centric in that sense, in order to effectively collaborate, as well as to carry out actions well in making one’s own life. This is not being egoistic. There is no interaction apart from individuals interacting. There is no excellence that is not based on individuals excelling (thus, possibly doing so together—or because some individuals in the group are leading lights, making everyone look excellent through emergence of group excellence). In creative discovery, a collaborative melding of minds is composed of flourishing minds melding.

In the “interaction complex” of individual acts, there may be a complementarity of lifeworld-based interest positions which is more innovative and constructive than regulation allows; this is a primary basis for contested normative facticity that may lead to a broad-based reorganization and revision of things for the good of the order.

Social actions can be distinguished according to the mechanisms for coordinating individual actions, for instance, according to whether a social relation is based on interest positions alone or also on normative agreement (OPC: 115)

Throughout TCA, JH points to the coordination of action, which implies the primacy of individual actors, as the above quote—which is about Weber—indicates overtly. Interestingly, JH above makes the distinction between interest and normativity an “instance” of distinguishable mechanisms (perhaps it’s so for Weber), while that particular distinction will lead to JH’s revision of Weber in exactly those terms (OPC: 117ff.); i.e., the “for instance” turns out to be keynotes of one axis typology of action related to success vs. communicative understanding/agreement.

Interaction based on complementarity of interests the level of rational competitive behavior, for example in modern commerce, in which participants have formed a clear consciousness of the complementarity as well as of the contingency of their interest positions. (OPC: 116).

This “level” is really no mere level at all, but the entire dimension of economics.

The fall of the “commanding heights” (Yergin and Stanislaw, Simon & Schuster, 1998) is claimed to prove the superiority of fair-market economics over command economics (thus, the superiority of fair-market regulation over statism generally; cf. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, Rationality & Freedom, Harvard 2002). A complementarity of interests may be as relevant to genuine political liberalism (Rawls) as well as economic theorization of law beyond rational choice theory (Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy, R. A. Posner, Harvard 2003), all of which is deservedly controversial. True to life economics is not, for economists, simply an instantiation of rational choice models (which JH’s short discussion of telelogical action could be misread to connote; OPC: 314).

In all cases, we want regulation in society that is truly normative, and we should not want a basically regulated society, because, like basically regulated lives, productivity withers and, aggregately, longevity contracts.

The “health of nations” (L.A. Sagan, Basic Books, 1987) generally depends on “the social health of the nation” (Miringoff and Miringoff, Oxford, 1999), which depends on the health of communities, which are basically about its members, who may be able to innovate or not.

We should welcome “the rise of the creative class” (R. Florida, Basic Books, 2002), welcome thinking about “the future of success” (R.B. Reich, Knopf, 2001), strive to “evolve!” (R. M. Kanter, Harvard Business School Press, 2001), and be “building wealth” (L.C. Thurow, HarperCollins, 1999).

Considering my horizon to be the health of nations (nested, I must add, in the well-being of Earth’s life ultimately), I guess that the above 4 paragraphs render quite a nested action sitation.

Think of this presently relative to Habermas’ interest in fostering evolutionary “potentials.” For my part, I’ve been living that kind of sense of educational philosophy over the years. I was profoundly (to me) influenced by Habermas’ Communication and the Evolution of Society , when it was published in 1979. Habermas footnotes that book in his “Backward Glance” through TCA, at the point where he notes that:

Learning capacities first acquired by individual members of a society or by marginal groups make their way into the society’s interpretive system via exemplary learning processes. Collectively shared structures of consciousness and stocks of knowledge represent a cognitive potential—in terms of empirical knowledge and moral-practical insight—that can be used for societal purposes (TCA2: 313).

Yet, JH has not earlier focused—in TCA or elsewhere—on how learning processes become exemplary. Learning capacities “make their way...via exemplary learning processes,” located where? In the seminar? Surely. In reading? Definitely. So, can we theorize hermeneutical exemplarity? My questioning remains unresolved.

Anyway, so ...

...Societies can learn in an evolutionary sense....[and] establish...a new form of social integration....(ibid.)

One could usefully think of the entirety of JH’s work after TCA during the 1980s as a matter of that evolutionary sense; and think of Between Facts & Norms as a theory about forming new social integrations (which accords with JH’s characterization of his project in chapter 1 of BFN).

My interest is to progressively comprehend “evolutionary sense” as such.


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