Back to Habermas Studies page On Part I of Habermas’s “Norms and Values”: §s 1-4
In virtue of ethical pragmatics: part 1 of 6
  March 19, 2014
gary e. davis

§s 1 and 2: seafaring between epistemological and ethical concerns

Habermas’s Putnamian context of skepticism vs. dogmatism (a dyad) is about epistemic formalism, not lifeworld-oriented practicality, of course. Yet, the dyad is ethical as well as epistemic, informal as well as formal; a matter for both of valuative preference and evidentiary assessment based in lifeworld development: outer (epistemic) and inner (ethical), higher/abstract/formal (inquirial) and lower/lived/informal (applicable, appropriable). 

I’m going to skip details of Habermas’s brief intellectual biography of Putnam in §s 1-2 of his essay. He’s backgrounding what interests me later in the essay: the titled topic of his essay. 

§ 3: against a naturalistic reductionism of mind

His essay gets more interesting in § 3. Here, my earlier intimations about lifeworld/formality commensurability that is not a split finds relevence. JH writes

Subjects capable of speech and action find themselves in lifeworld contexts; they communicate about and intervene in the objective world (218). 

This is about the interpersonal and objectively shared world. Where is the personal “lifeworld context” in his comment? Is one’s lifeworld interest in actualizing aims (satisfying a desire to complete a valuable action) or to advance projects missing here? No, unfortunately: It’s assimilated to “intervening in the objective world.” Only intentional beings intervene. The implicit sense of the agent is interventional, not self-actualizing. But the interests of action—what we “communicate about,” why we “intervene”—are integral to any exemplification of daily life. That’s occluded in JH’s brief rendering. Interested action is commonly not primarily about communicating, rather about getting something done that’s valuable. Then you have something to talk about. Or, for the sake of a shared project, we coordinate or collaborate. Value sphericality that motivates action and communication is absent from JH’s comment about lifeworldliness. 

One might overlook JH’s comment as just a brief reference to lifeworldliness within a context of discussion that’s not concerned with lifeworldliness as such; rather, concerned to merely make a distinction:

If we shift from the perspective of a participant in the practices of our lifeworld to the point of view of an observer focusing on something in the objective world, the very normativity that is characteristic of all mental activity escapes us.

But that’s misleading, because a continuum of shifting within a participant perspective is common, never getting to a point of “escape,” which belongs to methodic inquiry. Every hour of daily life may be occupied with framing, re-framing, taking a stance toward activity, and shifting around. JH connotes a formal shift out of a context of a lifeworld engagement, which occludes the average condition of flexible shifting of modalities. A flexibility of framing stays near to its normativity—which is a “normativity” of action (habituation, automaticity of capabilities, frames of mind, etc.) before linking to commonly-supplemental normativity of interaction. Obviously, interaction is the origin of interests and intentions, too! But JH easily occludes the former, which is often prevailing for a life, especially a mature, self-directing life (which should be our baseline for theory!). 

Meanwhile, it’s not the case that....

The special kind of intentionality of referring, or assuming an attitude, to objects and facts remains present to us only as long as we maintain a certain distance from the objective world from within the intersubjective horizon of shared practices.

Referring and the like are integral to activity, immanent to action as such. They are “present to us” in the enacting of activity. They gain “a certain distance” only when abstracted from action. But, again, framing and re-framing are part of the fluidity of normal activity. JH wants to make a point about the embrace of intersubjective horizon, but the primary locus of reference (intentionality) is in activity itself, likely regardless of communicative interest. Indeed, communicative objectivation is interpersonally horizoned. But action and objectivation are primarily about doing something (including monitoring one’s progress, dealing with error, etc., that requires objectivation)—which is also gaining something to communicate. Collaborative doing is a composite of doers, which are always individuals. Notions of group action are derivative (scaling up conceptually) from the paradigm of a person acting. 

Habermas is setting up a situation of either “strict objectification” (219 top) or no objectification at all. The problem there might be in Putnam/JH/Apel trying to understand everything within a linguistic frame of mind, rather than a cognitive frame of mind. 

As soon as we take an objectifying attitude and look at it merely from without, language punishes us, as it were, by withdrawing its semantic dimension (219).

But this is not the case with cognition itself. Framing and re-framing are part of activity, which is explicable relative to the mental moments of action. It’s no mentalism to see that one has intentions in mind which are actualized capably, including self-monitoring that requires framing and re-framing. 

But linguistic relativism doesn’t allow one to see how this is a natural part of action. JH may be “punishing” prospects for understanding informal/formal commensurability by buying into Putnam’s cognitive-linguistic relativism, no matter that JH’s sociolinguistic relativism is to be proffered. It’s all about the integrity of The Linguistic Turn (decades after the cognitive-evolutionist turn within linguistics itself). 

§ 4: against a contextualist relativism toward truth

From a perspective of linguistic relativism, veridical relativism becomes a problem that calls for formal pragmatic coherence across communicative horizons. A linguistic cognitivist perspective (Putnam) isn’t found tenable, evidently, because it’s too easily confused with Kant’s own transcendental perspectivity (which isn’t helped by retaining Kantian rhetoric). In other words, JH sees cognitivity as a Kantian. (Maybe Putnam does, too. So, they’re brothers in a family dispute?):

This [loss of “the platform of transcendental consciousness” due to the linguistic turn] raises the question, however, of whether transcendental consciousness, having evolved into so many historical forms, splinters into just as many fragments of reason or whether the cultural manifold of its public employment manifests the same communicative reason.

There’s a third kind of option: cognitive capabilities that are flexibly pluralist in perspectivity. 

[Aside: Though this may seem beyond the horizon of JH’s essay, it’s clear to me that what “postconventionality” is really about is not primarily embodying a compelled universalism, but gaining a capability for fruitfully managing flexible perspectivity. This has everything to do with facing a pluralist world, be it of highly individualized persons—beyond conventional socialization—or very distinct cultural backgrounds. The appeal of flexible perspectivity may be why Kant-inspired empirical research on ethical-cognitive development finds a “relativist regression” around the conventional/postconvention passage. A universalist model could easily see care for flexible perspectivity—which is postconventional!—to be regression: Burgeoning maturity of autonomy strives to sustain a plural perspectivity that’s appropriate to a recently-emergent appreciability for the integrity of individual differences. In simpler terms, when we outgrow egoism, we care a lot about appreciating the uniqueness of others. From an ethical perspective, quasi-legalist universalism is less important than near-and-dear fairness to newly appreciable others that one cares for and about. Postconventional ethical sensibility is not “moral,” i.e., concerned to be pre-legislatively exemplary for All, because the deontic categoriality of legislative interest is abstract (if not irrelevant) to living, maturely caring, flexible sensibilities. Gaining good capability for flexible perspectivity is indeed very postconventional because it’s a capability for multi-conventionality, so to speak, relative to a given situation. In conventionality, a given situation is “supposed” to have one best constraint. In flexible perspectivity a given situation can be about cohering multiple constraints, which may be complementary, contrastive, or conflictual. Being flexibly re-adaptive vis-à-vis ongoing change is integral to mature autonomy. Conventionality needs the situation to remain constant and controllable. Flexible perspectivity may desire to look first for new kinds of interaction; and seeks to improvise appropriately with respect to desirable change. Anyone who has faced organizational leadership situations would recognize my point.]

JH writes:

As a Kantian, Putnam defends a reflective universalism both at the scientific level of theory selection and at the lifeworld level of cross-cultural communication (220 mid.)

This looks like burgeoning cognitivist theorizing by a philosopher (Putnam) whose work was basically consolidated before cognitive science. It also looks like good anticipation of flexible perspectivity.

“Scientific discourses are embedded in contexts of the lifeworld” (ibid). This concurs with the common theme in cognitive science that scientificity originates from the inquirial engagements of cognitive development. The adult “perspectives from which we describe what happens in the world” are inevitably plural, yet comprehensible in cognitively pluralist modeling that has correlates in standard developmental and educational psychology.

“Do the standards of rationality that underlie our justificatory practices merely reflect the particular character of our own culture?” Not necessarily, because there’s a difference between reason itself (pertaining to capable intelligence, which expresses transcultural potential) and thereby justificatory rationality which can derive transcultural cohering of cultural difference (Putnam’s point perhaps).

But JH simply assimilates an issue of capability for reasoning to the scene of interlocutors trying to understand each other justifiably—which is vitally important, of course, but begs the question of how each gains, then has, that capability for understanding and justification going into interaction. A linguistic pragmatic analysis of how the interaction goes doesn’t address the development of capability to interact insightfully, though the linguistic relativist will claim that it’s language acquisition itself that individuates. But this is falsified by contemporary cognitive development research. A theory of linguistic socialization can’t explain development of capability for inquiry, unprecedented insight, or creativity.

In complement to capability for creative insight, flexible perspectivity has a tendency to situate one’s activity appropriately, which is a hallmark of reason itself, not the interaction situation that benefits from participants’ capability to reason, then to do so collaboratively (i.e., inter-individually, which can innovate; not socially, which remains conventional). As JH says of Putnam:

“Reason is...the tendency to transcend all particular contexts from within[, which is] inscribed in the actualization of a given situated form of reason—if only so that it can immediately reappear in broadened contexts and different embodiments (221 bot.).

NEXT: part 2 here, re: Part II, § 5 of the essay –|– main page of “In virtue... / Introduction

Also: This discussion is associated with the “good thinking” area of

Be fair. © 2014, g. e. davis