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Habermas as philosopher

gary e. davis
  June 4, 2014    

If you want to skip my runaround at the top here, for the sake of a list of primary philosophical essays by Habermas, see the bulleted list below. [May 25: A link to a March 2014 posting was added. June 4: I’ve revised my commentary.]

There’s no disinterested hermeneutical principle to guide selection of works regarded as philosophically primary. But the selection below provides the basis for disagreement about what’s primary. Most of his work has been directly socio-political, as a matter of public intellectual, theorist, and philosopher. But philosophy is not itself primarily political. The listing below is primarily philosophical, in Habermas’s sense of that.

Also, ambiguities about what conceptions are antedated by later, more-explicit work vs. what’s derivative cause hermeneutical challenges. Does a sense of realism after the Linguistic Turn and detranscendentaliszation of the use of reason (late ’90s) provide essential windows into the post-Kantian implicature of formal pragmatics of the mid-’70s? Does “Rightness versus Truth...” (late ’90s) change the appropriate reading of “Discourse ethics...” (early ’80s)

Finally, what’s the practical interest that brings the conceptual analyst to philosophical work in the first place? My special interest is what’s done by elder Habermas in “Liberal eugenics,” thus replies to critics regarding this (not listed here) are especially important to me. Are We the species growing to design our own evolution?

These are not ordered chronologically. This syllabus would not be an introduction to Habermas’s thinking. It would be venturing into clarifying the essential conceptuality of what he’s doing. I’ll dispense with citational formalities. These are all chapters of indicated work, easily available, abbreviated later in the list:

  • Realism after the linguistic turn, Truth & Justification
  • Some further clarifications of the concept of communicative rationality, On the Pragmatics of Communication
  • What is universal pragmatics?, OPC
  • Toward a critique of the theory of meaning, OPC
  • A genealogical analysis of the cognitive content of morality, Inclusion of the Other
  • ...Reflections on the detranscendentalized “use of reason,” T&J
    A March 2014 posting on this essay is here.
  • Norms and values: on Hilary Putnam’s Kantian pragmatism, T&J
  • Rightness versus truth: on the sense of normative validity in moral judgments and norms, T&J
  • Discourse ethics: notes on a program of philosophical justification, Moral Consciousness...
  • Remarks on discourse ethics, Justification and Application
  • Liberal eugenics, Future of Human Nature
  • An argument against human cloning: three replies, Postnational Constellation
  • Language game of responsibility, Philosophical Explorations, v10: n1 (2007)

I believe that the above offers a good indication of where the primary philosophical character of Habermas’s work is to be found—to me at least, at present. Meanwhile, I have had my own agenda, in respect to Habermas. I’ve been as Habermasian as anyone, and I would defend him vigorously against misreading. He is very important to me. But my sense of philosophy is not primarily Habermasian. Yet, what at heart is “being Habermasian”? What is the singularity of the philosophical name that Habermas greatly exemplifies? There’s no contemporary philosopher more worth the time needed to appropriate their thought to one’s exuberance toward discursive inquiry. Yet, in light of all of the exemplarity of a great other’s influence, by text and in life, I go my own way, probably not originally, but not idiosyncratically, I hope.

What is the nature of promise here, in light of what has been there? I cannot say. A key interest of some researchers in cognitive science has been to ask: What are the conditions of emergent originality that can’t be willed—that is no mere innovativeness?

I ask: What can such research mean for the future of philosophy? What are the contemporary conditions for the possibility of philosophical insight, after metaphysicalism and in light of advances in cognitive science (and conceptual prospecting)?

Questioning is fun.

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

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