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On § 7: values, pluralism, and assessment
In virtue of ethical pragmatics: part 4 of 6

  March 19, 2014 gary e. davis  

§ (7) introduction

Habermas begins § 7 with a misleading statement: “Putnam presents three arguments against differentiating between the modes of validity of judgments of fact and judgments of value.” A continuum doesn’t imply being against differentiation. JH appreciated from the beginning that Putnam’s view was about a continuum, and JH will re-indicate that in his next paragraph (“...there is a continuum between cognitive and noncognitive value orientations”). But his focus is on differentiation.

The locus of the continuum, as JH early on indicated of Putnam, is one’s background view of one’s world.

The developmental background of one’s sense of value can be well regarded to have a temporal horizon, and the background of one’s sense of truth has such a horizon.

For the sake of brief heuristic here, both backgrounds were ontogenically first “fused” in past growth of differentiability, and in the long run, they tend toward long-sighted futural fusion about life-general importances (worth keeping or making true) and realities of one’s world (likely to retain lasting value).

In one’s meantime, i.e., in present-centered reliability of preference and belief, the truth in value and value in truth have pragmatic ambiguity. (A fleshed out sense of ontogeny and mature flourishing can make a heuristic about horizons and fusing more credible.)

Lateral (present-oriented) differentiation between kinds of judgments is abstracted from the living, fully-temporal holism of belief and preference that is one’s sense of lifeworld. Such abstraction is standardly project-centered.

So, the distance from [a] living, action-orienting degrees (need) of differentiation to [b] well-formed inquirial kinds of discourse is real, important, explicable—and occluded by present-centered analysis of formal inquiry.

§ (7).a: “overlap” between cognitive and noncognitive values

Habermas is concerned with “the normative basis of inquiry” (226), where “cognitive values are characterized by the fact that they are functionally related to truth, a feature that all other values lack.”

That depends on an empirical notion of truth, which begs the question of what truth is for normal life: It’s bound up with embodied reliabilities, fidelities, and efficacies that are expressed in preferences and beliefs that work well. No wonder, then, that Putnam (according to JH) argues that “truth itself is a value that ‘overlaps’ with other values.” Moreover, constraining one’s attention to empirical truth is indeed a value judgment about the meaning of ‘truth’.

Yet it is not truth as such but the epistemic concept of ascertaining truth that is the regulative idea guiding our practices of inquiry and justification.

But this now seems irrelevant. What’s good for whole life-based, prevalently-purposeful enaction is the basis for a fair sense of truth as such for a life. There, a reliabilist sense of epistemic acceptability is quite important.

Our practices of inquiry span ontogeny, from Piaget’s “little scientist” (which is axiomatic for educational psychology) to notions of project-centered learning in leading approaches to teaching. And epistemic reliabilism serves us well through most of life for justification of our experience about what works.

Truth is not a good that one might possess to a greater or lesser degree but a concept of validity.

To the contrary, the many senses of ‘truth’ are indeed goods that have variable relevance for the manifold interests of action. In fact, the cohering of modes of validity is what has been classically associated with conceptions of capital-T “Truth.” A cohering of validities is what gives activity its confidence about reliable importances (for orienting life-fruitful priorities) and efficacy.

A coherence theory of validity involves the entire sense of ‘truth’, as well as normativity—and comprehensibility, which is the fourth mode of validity in JH’s formal pragmatics which he has “forgotten” (i.e., underplayed) since 1976. Immanently, comprehensibility is about discernability of sense, but at the level of cohering itself, comprehensibility is about the conceptuality of cohering, standardly framed theoretically or philosophically.

I would argue that a cohernece theory of validity is what was intuited in earlier conceptions of a coherence theory of truth. Such theories were untenable because everyone bought into the factualist aspect of “truth”—being “true”—that is so scientifically important (or jurisprudentially important), and that requires a veridical-correspondence correlate (or deflationist conception), which valuationally discounts other life-based senses of ‘truth’.

§ (7).b: family resemblance between a pluralism of theories
----------and a pluralism of world views

Here, I get warrant to dwell with the notion of comprehensibility as such. Obviously, philosophical terms can be proximally obscure—and have been notoriously so. Conceptuality can involve challenges of comprehensibility—including presumptions of grammaticalness—that are distant homologues of syntacical/semantical construal in basic linguistic understanding. The homologue of this for science is, of course, the paradigmicity of model-theoretical inquiry.

This is not basically about (JH) “pictures of the world” (227).

To be sure, the pictures of the world that the natural sciences provide do not aim at some point of convergence—if only because scientific theories do not make up some kind of unified body knowledge. At best they can be embedded in the context of such overall pictures, images, or comprehensive doctrines.

In fact, the unity of science is fairly complete. The elusiveness of the Theory of Everything is a mode of inquiry where the intra-quantum Higgs boson is offering insight into the Big Bang (or corroboration of Big Bang gravity waves are informing theories of quantum foam?). The mathematical intricacies of string theory don’t require a Platonist philosophy of mathematics. Professional notions of scientific realism have always been approximative, not correspondential, so to speak. (By the way, Putnam began his career as a philosopher of mathematics.)

But given realist premises, Putnam himself relies on intertheoretical translatability that inveighs against the incommensurability thesis. He further puts his money on the constancy of theory change that makes it possible for subsequent physical theories to include (not worldviews but) similes from prior theories as limit cases.

The reality of Our conceptual evolving (“constancy of theory change”) is that earlier theoretical modeling may retain a trOpical tenability analogous to approximative power in mathematics. So, intertranslatability may be a purely philosophical matter of the nature of conceptuality—which, of course, begs the question of what is “a purely philosophical matter" after metaphysicalism? (That may be my favorite topic—not relevant here).

Issues of conceptuality pertain to worldviews, too. Of course, there is distance between the conceptuality of a lifeworld and the conceptuality of scientific theory.

Unlike theories, worldviews have the power to structure a whole life. They are more likely to satisfy our need for direction than our theoretical curiosity. (227)

Likely, but consider what “direction” is: the holistic cohering of the life. Conceptuality of worldviews as such belongs to theory, but what that’s about is lifeworldliness altogether, which is expressed (here and there) as the entirety of interests of enaction. A talented child’s sense of curiosity is holistically enactive—wholly self enhancive, in “terms” of all possible capabilities, all “intelligences” (as Howard Gardner frames it—popularly, but with decades of experimental corroboration), which is not distinctly veridical nor distinctly goal-oriented nor distinctly pleasure seeking.

So, of course, “the pluralism of worldviews therefore differs from competing scientific theories in terms of the kind of dissensus that can reasonably be expected,” because scientific theories are formalized extensions of a kind of intrinsic interest that ontogeny shapes into worldviews. The developmental correlate is the entire interdomainity of educational curriculum leading to the entire interdisciplinarity of higher education and research enterprises.

Relative to adult interplay of incommensurable worldviews, we only need agreement relative to the degree that we want or need to be engaged, which is standardly project-centered. Accepting “legitimate differences” (227) expresses appreciation of the integrity of the other’s individuality, which has its developmental correlate in openness of learning and formal correlate in openness of inquiry. This is less about facing need for adjudicating differences than about ensuring openness to insight, inasmuch as that is wanted (or needed).

To Habermas, “good reasons for expecting reasonable disagreements are good reasons for suspending the effort to convince others that one’s own view is right.” Yet, a prevailing interest in openness, learning, and insight is less interested in coping with disagreement than creating basis for collaboration and learning. Openness recommends doing well together as much as “we” can, and using the opportunity to increase shared understanding. Good reason to expect disagreement is good reason to want to enable openness and learning. It’s unnecessary to stop at coping with disagreement. The ground of that is what brings us together and how we can move on together happily and fruitfully. Theorizing the character of that is much more interesting than theorizing how to cope with congestion. A truth of needing to deal with disagreement is its lack of prescient background prevention of such need.

In complement to this, Habermas writes in complement to Putnam that “ethical decisions [can] be rationally justified or...ethical issues [can] be clarified through discourse. We simply have to look at them from the right perspective” (227-8), and there, he footnotes chapter 1 of his Justification and Application, “On the Pragmatic, the Ethical, and Moral Employments of Practical Reason,” which I discussed in tedious detail some years ago.

An important distinction in the quote above is between justification and clarification. What we do in “ethical” life, in a phrase, is aspire wholly for enactive well-being that brings durable fulfillment. Calling this “ethical” is misleading. It’s about Meaningfulness, Purposefulness, thriving (in good health, well-being) and flourishing fruitfully (well-being). Habermas tends to gather every feature of lifeworldliness that’s not deontological into a notion of “ethical life.” But this stacks the deck.

In my immanent analysis years back of JH’s conception of “ethical life” in J&A (irreverant, but accurate, I still believe; see my “March 5, 2014” note, which backgrounds the following), I showed how his notion of “moral” meaning dissolves into (a) remedial compensation for failures of “ethical life” and (b) pre-legislative ensurances of warranted generalizability. What he wants from “deontology” can be adequately handled with a pragmatic (systemic) extension of the values of specifically ethical theory, if one keeps in mind that ethical life is not about exemplifying a legislator or living for the sake of modeling legislation. The “moral” is “simply” a problem of Kantian legacy that idealizes guidance and warranting of legislative leadership on logical (“categorical”) grounds.

If one divides his notion of ethical life into [a] its specifically-ethical components and [b] everthing else (“existential,” “clinical,” developmental, etc.), then the venue is one between specifically-ethical issues and a humanistic psychology of lifeworldliness. In short, it’s a difference between ethical thought and interests of flourishing. Deontic interest is comprehensible as a pragmatic scaling up of ethical values, I would argue, not really implying any separate domain of “the moral” (or rather, The Moral is a name for legislative warrant).

So, back to the Putnam/Habermas venue: Understanding the continuum of lifeworldly value and truth—sophistications of preference and belief—is about just that: issues which are not specifically ethical. A “pragmatic virtue ethics” (JH’s capsule phrase for Putnam’s interest) is better framed as a virtue-ethical pragmatism.

Interests of flourishing motivate interests of specifically ethical care, I would argue. The classical notion of virtue can be appropriately understood as a balancing of these two, where the latter is understood as prudence. Modernly, the virtuous life is ambitious, aspirational pragmatism. In other words, the well-lived life could be appropriately called a virtue pragmatism, where ethicality as such is part of the conception of virtue, understood in a 3-mode manner: [1] interest in flourishing (a good life; classically eudaimonic), [2] interest in excellent exemplarity (an influential life, be it aesthetic, professional, olympian, whatever; classically areteic), and [3] a fairly appropriate engagement with others (ethical life as such; classically prudentia).

Thus, a more-differentiating sense of Habermas’s “ethical life” emerges—not congruent with his view of the world, but more congruent with admirable lifeworldliness. He writes:

Ethical-existential questions—what is best for me overall? who am I and who do I want to be?—arise from the first-person perspective just as ethical-political questions about the collective identity and way of life do.

But we wouldn’t say that questions about collective identity arise from the first-person perspective; they arise from a shared perspective. Likewise for questions of my own good life: My life is engaged with others.

But others can’t live my life! My aspirations, my loves, my career, my struggles, my aging, can only be mine. What I most want for my life is potentially full of engagement with others. But the matter is that: meaningful engagement, fruitful fulfillment, and caring, thus happiness (one hopes—I hoped, and I am “happy” [prevelantly]).

This is not mainly about problem-solving through interaction that accords with ensurances of fairness and situational appreciation of the other’s alientated integrity. The latter is important! But it’s not what well-being is basically about.

That said,...

Casting the issue [of the good] in terms of ethics already means selecting the context of one’s own life history or of our collective form of life as the point of reference for this kind of hermeneutic self-reflexion.

It might be clear now how JH is being too undifferentiating, valuatively biasing how the discourse can go. (One might expect otherwise, given that his J&A discussion acknowledges more differentiation within his conception of “ethical life” there than he’s representing here.)

He’s just incorrect to say that “reflection on one’s own practices and on the various situations in one’s life does not bring any counterintuitive kind of knowledge to light” (228). Growing up can seem to be all counterintuitive (stage transitional discoveries). How is it that growing up is so filled with amazing realization and discovery through trial-and-error learning, if not that insight is counterintuitive? What’s the point of intrinsic curiosity that draws learning into thrills of increased capability? Alas, what are the results of his famous emancipatory interest, if not counterintuitive enlightenment?

And since such reflection guides what we do or don’t do within the horizon of our own lifeworld, there is no universal validity claim connected with ethical wisdom.

So? Wisdom is so much more than “ethical,” and it does not aspire to legislate for the world.

Even if they have the same communicative infrastructure at their disposal, lifeworlds always manifest themselves in the plural.

Good point. I’ve long held that multiple heads can be a good thing—not Hydra-like; rather, protean. Seriously: The flexible perspectivity of mature autonomy doesn’t aspire to embody universality; it aspires to be exemplarily open and appreciatively grounded in actuality, where ongoing development is everywhere. Ongoing evolving is our world’s nature.

§ (7).c: normative assessment of alien practices and social conditions

“Putnam rightly insists that abstract concepts like ‘good’ and ‘right,’ ‘ought’ and ‘obligation,’ play the same grammatical role in all evaluative idioms” (228). That is not to say that all contexts are that differentiated. “Ought,” for example, functions primarily as functional requirement, not deontic authority: If you want to do something, certain things are required. You ought to do these things, if you really want success. What’s concordant is “right,” in the sense of correct fit, before it’s about ethical value.

This common semantic dimension makes it possible to make transcontextual value judgments about how other cultures behave.

But this is not intrinsic to the terms. Finding fitness is likely to prevail over finding interactive problem-solving ensurances. Or rather, the latter are likely to show as derived modes of the former; i.e., we all want the ecology to be sustained, so we need problem-solving ensurances.

Putnam is right to ask why we should refrain from making judgments about the Aztec practice of human sacrifice, for example, if we can say that their mythology is false.

The worldview of the Aztecs doesn’t warrant fidelity to their practice; it’s epistemically flawed (as well as psychologically abhorrent—which has been so not recognized universally). But premodernly, the authority-sustaining efficacy of witnessing the sacrifice performed by the powerful worked. Our adhorrence expresses anthropologically superior values, due to better understanding of the world as always having had the potential to appreciate the intrinsic value of our being. Besides, there are better ways to advance prosperous authority.

Indeed, though, “we call the torture of human beings ‘cruel’ not only here for us, but everywhere and for everyone.” We have fortunately grown to do so; and to stand for the intrinsic humanity of our fellows. There is great merit to insisting that literacy causes appreciation of superior ways of understanding how to govern prosperously. There are ways to truly justify claims that one given worldview is superior to another. This is one important purpose of an approach to cultural evolution that shows intrinsic value disclosed by intelligent individuation and literacy, i.e., greater humanization of our ecologies (which increases prosperity, as well as happiness), greater appreciability in human self-actualization, great consequential good in humanitarian care; and greater promise for our heirs. (An Aztec chief back from the grave might find a lot of appeal in that, once he understood how the gods always preferred human thriving, knowledge-based agriculture, leadership that enables potential, etc.)

So, it’s not obvious that “this example points in the direction of a deontological distinction...between a universalist morality of justice and particularist ethics of the good life.” It points to a universalist appeal based in intrinsic human interests that can be made evident. It points to an agenda whose appreciation is developmentally relative, and as worthy of scaling up globally as education itself. The objectivity of such value in intrinsic to our human interest in flourishing. A theory of the deeply human good life is not basically ethical—though it is at least so! It’s about intrinsic appeals of actualizing potential, be it individual, organizational, communal, or national (tribal, in the sense of the Navajo nation). There are better ways, objectively speaking (ways intrinsically deserving of appreciation as being objectively the case).

As ethical theory, the deeply human good of life does not imply particularism! An ethics of care is not particularist (Michael Slote)! Classical virtue ethics isn’t particularist (Julia Annas). Utilitarianism wasn’t particularist; contemporary consequentialism isn’t particularist.

But minimalist respect for others, rightly defending against extremism, cannot provide a basis for care that may prevent desire to harm. Modern regulation against extremism is compensatory for either systemic failures of ethical life (where the failures could have been avoided); or preliminary to modernization whose appeal is better ways of succeeding, better ways of organizing productivity, better ways of sustaining social promise, etc.

“Yet we feel by no means justified to object against strange child-raising practices or marriage ceremonies,...” But let’s not confuse issues: Strange child-raising practices likely stunt the actualization of child potential. Child-centered, informed parenting provides bases for knowing and valuing what is really better parenting and for comparatively evaluating parenting practices. Passive, custodial parenting compromises the human rights of the child (rights based in the intrinsic good of human potential). The answer to passive parenting is education within developments of economic, social, cultural, and mental well-being that are ecologically required for child-centered parenting to likely lead into a more promising life.

So, our standards about what’s good include intrinsic values belonging to modernization or sophistication of our intelligence, our humanity. Preferring more, greater actualization of human potential is more intelligent, more humane, than preferring less. Intrinsic values are deeply humanistic. The humanity of intelligent flourishing is deeply humanistic. What’s good for parenting, education, organizational leadership, and community life derives from the intrinsic values of our being human intelligently.

Reason is intelligent enactivity. The problem-solving ensurances that are necessary, because compensatory, derive from the intrinsic values of intelligent enactivity: curiosity, openness, desire for flexible adaptivity, and enjoyment of plural perspectivity.

Calling this “moral” (228bot.) in some sense apart from truly appreciated value will not cause greater appreciation of intrinsic value by all who keep it alive only inasmuch as they can embody, exmplify, and advance value in their aspirations and practices.

The latter are those central values that differ from other values in virtue of their universal claim to validity.

Better yet, the truly central values are intrinsic values, such that normally-regarded “central” values that aren’t intrinsic are derivative. Intrinsic values differ from other values in virtue of their humanistic claim to importance.

What strikes us as “wrong” or “abnormal” about conditions of alienation or abnormality is the disintegration of the “social fabric,” that is, the violation of the very minimum of societal solidarity....

Indeed. The fabric of solidarity is rooted in the ground of friendship, friendship in kinship, and kinship in intimacy.

Such values appeal in generalizable ways for scales of interaction that aspire to be generally authoritative because they are intrinsically appealing—the basis for derivatively substantive values like justice (fairness, based in ethical life!) and opportunity access (openness, based in caring), etc. A universalistic claim to validity is just that: universalistic, not apart from capability to welcome the appeal (which is developmentally and evolutionarily relative—the “evo-devo” reality of our nature).

The claim to universal validity appeals in comparative validation processes because intrinsic values are “at last” found in one’s own humanity. So, they make sense as deserving to be appreciated generally. The objective reality is that we are evolving. (Ontological inquiry belongs to a dynamic conceptual complex, not metastructural constituting.)

But Habermas wants something else. He’s “for the categorical transcendent binding nature of moral injunctions” (229).

Sounds creepy.

NEXT: part 5 here, re: § 8 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.