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On § 8: virtue pragmatism and Dewey
In virtue of ethical pragmatics: part 5 of 6

  March 19, 2014 gary e. davis  

§ 8.1: virtue pragmatism with boundless appeal

Not to presume that I have boundless appeal to proffer, but what is the sensible appeal of Habermas’s “universalist validity of an egalitarian morality” to which “it is not easy to bring a pragmatist virtue ethics into harmony” (229)?

“...[V]alues have a certain reference to a...form of life.” I’ve extracted lots between the ellipsis, but I’m going to fill it in, in terms of JH’s paragraph, in a moment. 

The existence of values shows in the valuing that action fulfills, i.e., the valuing of action which includes preferences. In a manner of speaking, the existence of valuing is enactual. Representation of valuing is about an enactuality of preferring. The value as such is an abstraction from valuational action. The “certain objectivity” is a function of representability of action which can be analyzed into components. So, a form of life is the basis for a concept of value that can be regarded analogously to regarding objects. An objectivity of value is relative to its enactuality, i.e., its real existence in orienting action.
The enactual basis of value is expressed in action, and action is purposive in the trivial sense that intentions are satisfied, whether or not they’re embedded in goal-oriented plans. Plan-based conceptions of activity—actions nested in action complexes—are common in theory of action. Doing things with intentions is how we primarily are. Representation of this relies on one’s capability for do this, including parsing action representations into components. 

Evaluating this activity surely implies standards of evaluation. But a sense of objectivity here is primarily about understanding action, not justifying that understanding to others. Thus, it’s false to say, as JH does, that “the certain objectivity....relies on the intersubjective recognition of evaluative standards.” It relies on standards that can be intersubjectively recognized, but need for justification is not prevalently why understanding action is important!

However, when one does justify, one “can give good reasons” because one understands one’s action, which is based in lived enactuality. Justification is a stance toward interaction which is distinct from the understanding of action represented. So, generally speaking, “we can give good reasons by reference to a corresponding form of life,” which is complexly engaged with its ongoingness, distinct from the ephemeral, occasioned stance of justifying lived action. One lives an important difference between understanding and self representation in talk about value. Understanding value extracted from the objectifiability of its life (its enactuality) is heuristic.

Enactual value is not “conceived as intersubjectivity,” because intentionality (thus enactuality of valuing) is only psychologically embodied. It’s justifiable in intersubjectively-appreciable contexts, and I can’t justify what I’ve preferred unless I feel assured of a common basis for explicating understanding, normally “indexed to particular communities.” But that presumes the existence of the value (enactual) and individual insightfulness for rapport we have or make between us, which usually includes interpersonal history together not associated with a specific background community, as with complex projects, longstanding friendships, or organizational role engagements. The hermeneutical condition of each participant (bridging sense of value and need for representation) prevails in the occasioned need for justification. So, yes:

But in questions of posttraditional justice, evaluative standards come into play that transcend the context of existing communities.

But the abrupt shift here from the paragraph’s narrative context of ethical value “objectivity” to procedural justice just dramatizes a disconnect between lifeworld and a separateness of “moral” domain that has not been justified. 

My discussion in earlier sections here indicates that the shift is not necessary (and not tenable), though JH’s essay so far hasn’t provided me occasion to prospect how a systemic extension of ethical value can be part of a continuum reaching to issues of procedural validation. Yet, I don’t think it’s difficult to render credibly. (Any brief discussion can only render what takes lots of space to detail, of course.) 

Functionalizing values and scaling up engagements fairly to systemic proportions is common in organizational policy formation that often leads to securing constraints across the scale—facilitative over regulative, for innovative organization!—as normative opportunities and regulations. The larger the organization, the greater the challenge of comprehensive communications in policy formation. But the challenge is here: in innovative policy formation. It is not in procedural validation, which is relatively easy to manage. Ensuring fair communications in validation processes is a matter of communicative structures; and ensuring fair opportunity for shaping final form of constraints proposed for normativity—organizational structure—is a procedural matter.
“The objective validity of a universal morality” has not been established (since the dispute between Putnam and Habermas tracks back to Putnam’s rejection of JH’s discourse ethic, which JH is implicitly defending here—not appealingly, so far, to my mind). What matters is how programmatic cultivation of our humanity can be well served by public policy and law. What matters (an objectivity of value?) is an excellent sense of one’s humanity that aspires to embody ideals for humanitarian and humanistic work of cultivating humanity through progressive  projects.

The notion of an “ever wider community” (229) is a wonderful thing, inspiring for the aspiring that we can instill in developmental education and progressive programs. But the “context transcendence” belongs to the imaginative capability of one’s ownmost sense of humanity. “Constitutive significance” originates from intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic categoriality. Wanting to see greater actualization of human potential emerges from one’s identification with idealizing possibility—a very postconventional appeal—not from the conventional force of a “social sphere of recognition.”

Habermas, of course, wants a cosmopolitan justification for a regulative regime of international law. But this is not oriented to enabling human potential; it’s aimed at defending against domination. Is that constructively appealing? Or is that remedial or compensatory? Does the force of the “better” argument not tend to trump the appeal of instilling generalized aspiration, generalizing actualization of human potential—in short, a truly pragmatic and systemic challenge of universalizing human development? This annuls the power of domination constructively, which is a greater power than aiming to regulate domination in ways not derived from the great appeal—and great challenge—of more systematically cultivating our humanity. The necessity of defending against domination either serves a vision of cultivating humanity, or else it looks like a defensive regime.

So, it’s claimed that “those moral judgments that merit universal recognition are ‘right’...” in their “demand for rational acceptability...” But where is the venue that the demand is to be heard? People turn away from demands, in fact, increasingly bypassing it. Habermas was writing in 1999, when the universalistic nature of the Internet was not yet appreciable. (The Web may be, strictly speaking, 25 years old, but it wasn’t really There until the mid-‘90s, not pervasive until the turn of the millennium.)

Live generalizing of idealizing trends in particular communities long ago hybridized with other communities in the countless interplays of comprehensive aspirations that we find in multicultural life. We locally hybridize in a kind of emergent constructivism that is already richly networked in global multiculturality that reached its universality a while ago. Everywhere is local to every locality, in the sense of Internet life, 24/7 media, global economies, and geopolitics run by smartphone. The entire “universe” is here, evolving at untraceable speed. 

Prospects for international law are less a “moral” issue than a strategical issue of progressive politics: to advance human development through international organizations and have the conception of law become more attuned to enabling humanity, rather than regulating domination (which is supplementally important). 

“The validity concept of moral rightness has lost the ontological connotation of the justification-transcendent concept of truth” (229-30), but the conception of ethical value has not lost the appeal of actualizing human potential through generalized cultivation of humanity. 

For both value and truth—conceptual abstractions—enactual evolving is the reality. Though “the meaning of the truth of statements cannot be reduced to epistemic conditions of confirmation” (230), the fallibalistic idealizations of epistemic conditions we actually live with imply that “truth” evolves; and truth was never primarily a matter of statements, i.e., the constrained sense of “truth functionality” that dominates theory of “truth.” “...Truth goes beyond idealized justification” prospectively, analogously as the idealizations of humanity in practical reason prospect our evolving imaginability.
Habermas’s continuation of his dispute with Putnam is in the mode of comparative discursive forms which is contrary to the reality of enactual value that pertains to ethical life. He’s quite cogent in distinguishing illocutionary thematization of a validity claim from the whole enactual validity basis of assertion. “Obviously empirical, evaluative, and [ethically normative] statements differ in terms of the category of reasons that are in each case appropriate for justifying the statements in question” (230). [I’ve substituted his ‘moral’ with my ‘ethically normative’ unsurprisingly now, but it’s also noteworthy that norms, as valid constraints, can be about any kind of constraint that enables [e.g., “positive constraints” in standardized curriculum] or that regulates [e.g., “controls,” like union job descriptions in organizations]). But that’s (a) now very abstracted from the theme of pragmatic virtue ethics, (b) presumes an issue of “morality” that’s not shown to be necessary or, to my mind, appealing; and (c) seems to beg the issue of his general shift away from lifeworld bases of both value and truth in preference for an extrinsic motivating force of discursive categoriality (which undermines itself by tending to repeatedly seem misplaced, relative to Putnam’s apparent interest, realities of background reliabilism, the potentials of “ethical” life, etc.). 

If we consider that mathematical statements, aesthetic evaluations, and hermeneutic interpretations in turn require other types of reasons, the traditional sorting under theoretical and practical reason is not specific enough. (230bot.)

Agreed, but look out: Value has just been scooted off to aesthetics (not enactual for running one’s life), and aspiring to make a good life is kept reflective (rather than expressive of purposeful desire or being project-ive). 

Like empirical or mathematical judgments, moral judgments differ from nonmoral value judgments in virtue of raising a universal claim to validity.

But vindication of the “moral” claim turns out to be either (1) compensatory, which can be ignored or instrumentalized by someone unmoved by extrinsic demands, thus undermining a claim of “universalistic” appeal, i.e., turning away from Principle D in JH’s discourse ethics. Or the vindication of the claim is (2) legislative, proffering a functional efficacy for Principle U. There’s nothing especially “moral” about the claim that isn’t parasitic on ethical life or proffering legislation. 

[Moral judgments] can reasonably be expected to meet with universal consent.

And they can be reasonably declined because (1) they’re inappropriately abstracted from the ethical life (or community life) that is presumably addressed (e.g., a political party with a different agenda); and/or (2) the proposed legislating isn’t appealing enough to endorse (e.g., EU nations confronted with an EU-wide constitution). 

Nonmoral value judgments about someone’s “modesty” or “lovability” do not merit unqualified universal consent, but merely the recognition of those who interpret the underlying standard of value in the same way, either by habit or for good reason.

But such judgments merit respect for the integrity of different values because mutuality is nearly-and-dearly integral to kinship and intimacy, i.e., derived from our feeling for intrinsic value (“its cognitive content” [231top]), not because there’s a categorial imperative to respect strangers. 

...[T]here is a link between the universal validity of moral judgments and the context-transcendence of a completely inclusive equal treatment of all persons.

There is a link between (1) the intrinsic value of respect for the integrity of individuality and (2) my sense of self—regardless of abstract notions of complete inclusiveness, because respect for strangers is a commonly lived extension of identification with others in engaged life. (This is why, for example, tourists may be so eager to treat strangers like neighbors; or hospitality is second nature in a locality. I live in the most multicultural town on Earth, and I regard everyone as belonging here, because it’s pleasant to feel at home. I think of distant locations as being as hospitable as where I live, because it’s gracious and generous to so presume, which is an extension of my feeling for a good life in engaged and engaging relations.)

Correct moral judgments owe their universal validity not to their corroboration by the objective world like true empirical judgments, but to rationally motivated recognition.

Appealing value judgments owe their appeal to aspects of well-being that are reliably presumed to be shared, especially intrinsic values and the central values of a life that derive from that (e.g., sophistications of curiosity, appreciations for excellence, interest in new perspectives, etc.) Appreciability annuls others’ need to gain recognition. Engagement annuls need to gain minimal respect. Intrinsic motives annul need for extrinsic motivation (and besides, extrinsic incentives don’t cause durable motivation, which is well-known by academic psychology, health professions, and educators). 

When was the last time you wanted to help out because you’ve been persuaded that “everyone is obligated to help bring inclusive realm of legitimately regulated interpersonal relations” (231). Huh? Habermas is contorting the interests of one’s humanity, confusing the conditions of legislation with the conditions of specifically-ethical appeal, but cut off from the interests of well-being that constitute a sense of belonging that can be cognitively scaled up to integrally motivate durable desire to care largely, and to orient action by way of humanitarian or humanistic values. 

To my mind, Habermas’s extrinsically-attuned theory of “moral” rightness is unlikely to “bring about intended states of affairs in the world.”

Anyway, Putnam has a “universalist conception of morality [which he] does not want to relinquish....illustrated by John Dewey’s pragmatist ethics, with which Putnam sympathizes” (232top). So, JH discusses Dewey. 

§ 8.2: exemplarity of community excellence in evolutionary learning as assemblage art

Cute? Does one lose credibility by feeling playful? Einstein sticks out his tongue, way out.
I’ve been called Deweyan, though I’ve not read a lot of Dewey, and that reading happened (such as it has) long after feeling deeply influenced by others who were not influenced by Dewey. But when I read accounts of Dewey, I smile with recognition. Some kind of osmosis of being in the world. 

Habermas’s short account of Putnam’s employment of Dewey

starts with the picture of a collaborating[ing] with all challenging situations, whether they are a matter of theoretical or practical issues, the same way, namely through “intelligent behavior” (232).

Considering intelligent action, let’s say, as a way of dealing with challenges is simply to identify reason as assessable in terms of behavior. The objectivity of reason is determinable. Reason is objectively valuable, and truth is a realistic value. The “same way” that may show in cognitive (theoretical) or enactual (practical) problem solving is the capability for intelligent action that has really grown from a rather uniform human nature, i.e., cognitive neuroscience is not a cultural relativism. Capability for intelligent action is really ontogenic, i.e., really a result of cognitive development and individuation. 

By “intelligent behavior” Dewey understands problem-solving behavior characterized by social collaboration, creative hypothesis formation, and experimental interventions.

The prevailing interests of individuation are intrinsic to individuation: learning, satisfaction of desire (after satisfying need), enjoyment of growth through discovery (which grows into “creative hypothesis formation”), constructiveness (which grows into “experimental interventions”), fulfillment of aspiration, career happiness, etc. There are challenges to be met, but problem solving serves the intrinsic interests of development.
This also pertains to an assemblage of persons in collaborative activity: Development and enjoyment of life are served by problem solving (including organized production). Groups in freedom basically want to flourish together. Each person benefits from the exemplarity of each other. The excellence of one is an opportunity for the other. Learning and creating together is wonderful. What results from the assemblage art of being together belongs to the art of being; it can’t be foretold. We don’t want a comprehensive concept of our emergent character to unduly prevail over our potential for being. Discovery and insight, each for each and done together, advance the character and prospects of the group, thanks to the common potentials of intelligent action that show in individuated ways, working aggregately in formation of something that “matters.”

Within this global frame of reference, empirical beliefs, interests, instrumental considerations, value orientations, and broader ethical goals form a web in which beliefs can mutually correct one another.

The webness, so to speak, is how something new emerges. Emergent options, innovations, resolutions, etc. are the origin of “infectious” constructiveness that may excellently exemplify value worth appropriating or scaling up for the sake of advancing potentials, projects, best practices, and original ways to meet challenges.
Habermas quoting Putnam, on (to my mind) a purposeful consequentialism (prudence) that may excellently exemplify our flourishing:

“As a means to an envisaged end a situation can be evaluated as better or worse, as more or less efficient, as having more or less other undesirable consequences. As an end in view a situation is evaluated both in terms of means necessary to its realization and in terms of its future consequences. All these evaluations are rational."

And there’s nothing functionalistic about cost/benefit determinations among developing projects.

This holism [JH adds] turns out to be fruitful for analyzing the creative generation, development, and sedimentation of values. It gives insight into the genealogy, corroboration, and stabilization of values in the practices of a community.

This implicitly anticipates a cultural evolutionary view of community interest. The Project of humanity (a discursive, imaginative notion, of course) is always instanced in localities, and its intrinsic interest is to embody and express its promise, which is variable because we are so capable of variability. The constellation of variations work together to advance the conceivable Project, which depends (I would argue) on the lead of flexible perspectivity.

For by definition, intelligent behavior aims at improving a situation that is assessed as “better or worse.” Dewey’s agents are guided by their intuitive understanding of what is good for them in everything they do.

This intuition can be explicated in terms of epistemic and valuative reliabilism grown from the leading acuities of intelligent action. In other words, better ways emerge from persistently astute and conscientious learning, trial-and-error, constructiveness, and revision. Better ways are appreciable as such. They lead to best practices which spread because they’re more valuable.

...[I]n the comprehensive context of a shared life project, experiences and empirical beliefs are logically connected to purposes, preferences, and values. And what for the individual is a particular life project, for an organized community is the idea of the commonweal.

This “logic” (or logos) is not primarily formalistic; it’s constellative for the sake of cohering that’s fruitful. (After all, informal logic and rhetoric are “formal” domains of study.) At best, the emergent order is generative. It consists of the enactive constructiveness of purposeful, individual understandings, the complementarity and contrast of interplaying understandings, the positive (generative) constraints of productive, creative, and innovative relationships, the orienting reliability of given knowledge and focal value, etc. As constructive, it’s postconventional. At best, it can’t be understood as a “social” order. It’s a cultural order emergent from the manifold interplay, oriented by, at best, aspiring Purpose because a potential for large-scale fulfillment is intrinsically appealing or valuable.

Of course, my portrait is not Dewey’s, just inspired by what’s quoted and rendered by Habermas.

By following Dewey in appealing to collectively shared interpretations of the good life, Putnam, too, in good Aristotelian fashion, makes the rationality of corroborated normative beliefs dependent on the ethical self-understanding of a collective. (233)

Yet, it’s obvious that Dewey is not oriented by specifically-ethical concerns; rather, oriented by  the interests of flourishing and, I presume, interests of excellent exemplarity of that background caring for problem-solving ensurances that are specifically “ethical.”

The classical notion of an examined life remains authoritative.

No. “[I]in good Aristotelian fashion.” the classical notion of human flourishing remains authoritative. Analysis of that would be reflective and deliberative, of course. But making a good life is about Purposefulness.

In a collaborative community, those value orientations are rational that foster the common good—or what the members of the community take to be the common good—in a given situation.

It’s better to say that those value orientations are efficacious, i.e., enactual values really do orient activity, by reason of intelligent action, which is not the same as JH’s sociocentric sense of rationality (accountability). The emergent chraracter (good order) of collaborative group activity from valuable action is not a compliance with accountability structures; the emergent character of the activity is the basis for good accountability. Innovations do not emerge from structures of compliance.
Vitally important here is that “common good” is not a concept that a collaborative fabricates. The collaborative fabricates interesting activities, engagements, ventures, and projects. A sense of common good is expressed through this, not especially articulated. Shared interest in a common good is implicit. That interest belongs to the history and development of its members. That developmental history is always already oriented by intrinsic interests of human development that derived central values that have proved durable, historically. The notion of common good does not as such imply cultural relativism. But also, a living grasp of an implicit sense of common good is not a strictly-normative structure. What prevails in a collaborative is what draws members together. What’s exemplary in that is a function of the collaborative. What’s admirable (excellent), thus appealing for scaling up, is a function of influence and appeal of exemplarity. 

Altogether, Habermas is simply dismissive, apparently in light of so much argumentation in earlier sections of his essay that the employment of Dewey by Putnam is self-evidently unappealing:

This connection of the rational revision of normative beliefs with the collective self-understanding of a given community and its cultural form of life does not fit with a realist, let alone a universalist, understanding of values.

To the contrary, the connection can be quite realistically understood as part of evolving communities (based in intrinsic human interests and real developmental processes) whose potential exemplarity works aggregately in bottom-up, “democratic” processes of cultural evolution. Nothing prevents exemplary excellence from having generalizable appeal. It’s important to appreciate that exemplary excellence does not recommend itself for generalization. It’s the appeal of excellent exemplarity which “says” how generalizable admirable progress can be. 

I’m very drawn to a theory of the evolution of science by David L. Hull, Science and Selection (Cambridge, 2001) which distinguishes a notion of “demic efficacy” in “replicative” (intergenerationally efficacious) processes. The excellence of action cannot gauge its own potential for demic effiacy. We all idealize that one does the best one can. Exemplarity whose admirability (its value, its scale-up employability) can be lastingly influential is valuation belonging to others. In particular, Putnam didn’t want Dewey to be forgotten.


NEXT: part 6 here, re: § 9 of the essay –|– main page of “In virtue... / Introduction

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

Be fair. © 2017, g. e. davis.