"...a response [by JH] to Paolo Flores d'Arcais," Feb. 2009 (Nov. 2007)[source footnote at the end below: *]
short article, Jürgen Habermas
[JH] provides a synoptic of
his extended argument
in "Religion in the
Public Sphere" (2005), now
defending against an
Italian atheist (an
editor of an Italian
political publication) who
believes that Habermas is
unduly (and untenably) *sympathetic* to religious faith, arguing against Habermas cogently enough to warrant Habermas' response (though, in "reading the piece, [JH] frequently asked [him]self who the author might possibly be addressing").[ftn. on the link at the end below: **]
When JH writes that, I see a hermeneutical issue posed immediately (the second sentence of his article). This reminds me that, in some of my replies through this list over the years (and via the Spoon Collective before 2005), I've dwelled with an alleged difference between "Habermas" (proffered) and Habermas (the real author), obviously begging the question of whose reading of Habermas is closest to authorial intent (usually relative to conflicting senses of implicature).
Coming to interpersonal understanding through the text is as important
as---more important, in my view, than---resolving a question of
fidelity to a text, though a particular matter of disagreement may
be simply that: a matter of what IS JH's actual implicature. A hermeneutical situation is more than a matter of finding a straw man fallacy, then correcting the misunderstanding. *Both* you
and I may be misreading JH, but each of us may have valid points to make, relative to a shared text we disagree about, though one of us is likely making the point more contrary to JH's actual view than the other is, since we disagree significantly about what JH said (again, probably in terms of implicature read very differently from the same passage—a point that is vital to disagreements between religious humanists and secular humanists, discussed below). Often, too, both readers are equally misreading, but learning something worthwhile in the dispute. The important thing is to be learning through interaction.
Anyway, understanding the text is probably instrumental to a process of interpersonal understanding. We may become clear, to each other's satisfaction, about how exactly we disagree about the text, but an interpersonal satisfaction about the character of disagreement is an accomplishment with its own merit, despite lack of agreement about
the thing itself.
Likely, we want this interpersonal satisfaction for the sake
of ongoing relationship, limited in our case to online, textual interaction, but exemplifying the normal condition of gaining interpersonal understanding for the sake of future interaction. If we come to agreement about the action-orienting meaning of a mutually important passage of text or thing; then, that understanding becomes normative for our interaction relative to the text/thing. If we don't come to agreement about the action-orienting meaning, but agree on the specific character of our disagreement about the thing, then we've set in place a marker or starting point for a shareable learning process whereby that given, specific disagreement may be resolved in the future. A gap is not yet closed, but the character of the gap may be clear.
If the disagreement is very difficult to resolve, we would have a long learning process ahead of us. But the learning process remains *ours* (rather than *yours*, as I go about my life, feeling no
challenge; or vice versa)
as we are engaged with each other such that the disagreement will continue to matter for our shared orientations of activity.
It could be that we value our friendship enough or our shared neighborhood (teaching together, writing together, maintaining a forum together, building something together) enough that we gladly live with serious disagreement, based on a legacy between us that provides common ground for future activity and for interaction that serves our shared commitment to future activity that we mutually value enough that we live with our disagreement fruitfully.
We should have to commit to the learning process which can resolve the serious disagreement. This may require significant change to an array of views, in order to find that a change of view coheres with other aspects of our separate lives, which may implicate many of the lifeworld relations which one's self identity integrates. One may be
such that the integrity of one's career---or "the Meaning" of one's life---is implicated in resolving a disagreement. Thus, commitment to a long-term learning process can be quite difficult to sustain, inasmuch as it portends revisionary processes in one's lifeworld involving a network of very invested relations.
So, if I find admirable semantic potentials in your unacceptable view (or enlightening potentials, inspiring potentials), this is not merely an act of generosity that belongs to me; rather, it's an avowal of what belongs to both of us: semantic potentials in *your* articulations which, I insist, are worth *our* time to learn to better appreciate, such that we may appreciate this together, just as it's worth both our times to richly appreciate the common ground that keeps us wanting to sustain our relationship, despite serious disagreement, if only for the sake of the neighborhood that we both value very much ("highly" or "deeply" or
My above 7 paragraphs have been pushing
forward the end of an earlier paragraph that I largely abandoned (the 7 explicated an initial idea), but maybe the large share of that earlier paragraph serves to focus a good point now:
....The importance to Habermas of the
learning process implies an interest in the way that misreading happens, for the sake of
bridging a divide (or enacting a gap-closing process through interaction) rather than basically counterposing one's view to the alleged misunderstanding. It's not just that "You don't understand me, so here's what I really mean" (though, in the short space of an article, this would seem to be his entire point). Rather, it's a matter of seeking to bring the other to understand (which is something that can't be demonstrated through a single rejoinder). An advantage of THIS medium (the discussion list) over the years has been to provide a way to try to exemplify this learning process as an extended interaction, though the mechanics of it---sometimes calling for 3 or more layers of quotation to reconstruct a disagreement (and the Internet garbling!)---can be forbidding. So, the list becomes more or less a resource listing.
I got a little thrill seeing Habermas refer to "discursive inquiry" near the end of his
article. The phrase doesn't
appear in "Religion in the Public Sphere,"
2005. I wrote about "discursive inquiry" during March and April of 2007, before Habermas' article, indicated here, appeared in November, 2007. (The fantasy that JH eventually reads anything I write---quite available to him!---is fun) But his passing point about discursive inquiry can be put to good use for my view of discourse as learning process---which is implicit to the evolution of philosophy after its birth in Socratic maieutic:
Normally, Socratic method is viewed, I believe, as a process of clarifying an other's background presumptions, thereby validating the inquirer's view (that is seen to be proximally contrary to a reflecting other's view) by showing the other, through discursive interaction, how the other already presumed the cogency of the inquirer's apparently contrary view. This is commonly represented by showing that a person asserts one belief but acts as if a contrary belief prevails for action. A person may be asserting one
thing, but showing a contrary belief to prevail. Discursive inquiry as interaction exposes the other's more invested, prevailing belief that
undermines the genuineness of the other's proffered
belief—thereby framing, through interaction, a performative contradiction, in order to counter the other's claim against the inquirer's claim.
(I've gotten regular delight from of a friend who likes to try to turn everything I say into a self-incrimination—basic for comedy.)
Reconstructive inquiry—through extended interaction—is thereby used, as "Socratic method," to resolve a disagreement (to the skilled inquirer's advantage). Does that begin an extended learning process? It *should* be generatively enlightening to the other, once they appreciate the performative contrary as not only betraying their prevailing belief, but expressing a general dynamic. It's vital for reflective belief-holding generally: Becoming better able to see what one is doing, apart from (in complement to, but also contrary to) what one says, is generally useful for reflective learning processes---for extended self-management of learning about one's action-orienting beliefs. Understanding the
difference between performance and representation is enlightening and can be emancipatory. It's not about merely exchanging arguments and trying to be convincing in the moment.
Readers of Habermas easily recognize that the difference between performance and representation is a basic distinction in Habermas' work (implicit to linguistic pragmatics, but central to JH's analysis of communicative action). Any important distinction in philosophical work may become very implicative for discursive inquiry, but only through extended interaction. Important disagreements will not be resolved in a Moment of immanent argument. Important disagreements are only resolved through extended learning processes. It's easy to misread Habermas to be claiming that immanent arguments are going to resolve major disagreements. But the only way to credibly make sense of the importance of
discursive inquiry is relative to long-term learning processes, initiated by the appeal of discursive inquiry and sustained by engagement and commitment to staying the course.
In his article, JH emphasizes the standard epistemic distinction between belief and knowledge. Since knowledge is also about belief (reliably cohering strongly with all relevant factuality), it can be misleading to distinguish religious and secular difference in terms of simply a difference between belief and
knowledge (a point which Habermas appreciates, of course). He might readily agree that a better way to render the
difference is: faith-based belief vs. epistemic belief.
JH> "...given such a clear demarcation between belief and knowledge, it [can] still be possible to expect that content should be „translated" from one language into another."
G: Better to say: ..."translated" from one mode of shareable language into another mode (or put 'language' into scare quotes, too). It's important for conflict that a difference of worldviews can be represented *as* difference within the *same* shared language, which must be the kind of point he has in mind (as we *need* a shared language for generating understanding).
It may be difficult to understand the notion of worldview, such that "a difference of worldviews" could make sense in the first place, but one doesn't have to accurately understand another's worldview in order to understand the notion of worldview and the notion of conflicting worldviews, which is important for the scale of
disagreement that commonly happens between religious and secular views. To deny that my view is *merely* a worldview (when one claims that s/he is expressing what's really real) nonetheless
*presumes* the cogency of the notion of worldview (in order to make the point that one is not expressing *merely* a worldview, which suggests subjectivism). Both religious and secular understanding claim to represent Reality, beyond a mere worldview about Reality.
However, it may be that secular understanding *can* comprehend what the religionist understands himself/herself to be claiming---*can* understand the religious worldview of a
particular other---more easily than the religionist can understand a secular view. (So, a secular view may trump a religious view through interactive, performative efficacy, analogously as a postconventional view may trump a conventional one.) I have no problem talking with a religionist in terms that can easily cause a religionist to agree that I understand faith. Rapport isn't a problem. But, for many secular humanists, rapport may be a problem. Habermas implicitly argues that secular understanding has a duty to gain a capability for good rapport with religionists.
JH> It is certainly true that any translation of a thought from a religious to a secular language must entail a loss of connotations....Nevertheless, the core of its semantic content need not be lost.
G: This is a point that goes back to JH's related comments in _Postmetaphysical Thinking_, in the late '80s. Yet, the notion of "semantic core" is vastly misleading, since
the issue is one of semantic *horizon*. Constitutive assumptions show as horizons of sensibility. To say instead, as JH also does in his
article, that it's a matter of "semantic potentials" or "semantic content" better invites a horizonal stance, but the "core" issue is ontogenic or developmental: One's background "assumptions" are constitutive for what makes proximal sense. Moral-cognitive notions are ontogenically relative; they are generally matters of learning processes which imply an era or stage of understanding in a discernibly-general continuum. This is why there are academic fields of educational psychology within schools of education that also generate curriculum specialists; and why academic departments concern themselves with prerequisites for given courses within an articulated curriculum. A "core" constitutes capabilities in development.
JH notes in his last paragraph:
secular character of this mode of thinking is already evident from an anthropocentric turn which is diametrically opposed to a theocentric perspective.
G: I'm going to suppose there that JH intends "diametrically opposed" for the sake of his next point, about an intractability of the difference between "'belief'" and "knowledge'." In fact, though, an anthropological view of religion isn't opposed to religious life, and an anthropocentrism can explain theocentrism in cultural-evolutionary terms. (Conversely, the theologian John Haught argues that evolution, granted, is just God's way of enacting Creation; _God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution_, 2007).
However, gaining appreciation of how theocentrism can be shown to have emerged from cultural evolution requires a scale of understanding (and interest in such a scale) that is contrary to the normal motivation of religious faith (which is provincial). To explain oneself, as a secular
humanist, in terms of a
profound reverence for the continuity of cultural legacies across time and for the
integrateability (?) of cultural legacies within cultural evolution isn't useful to a religionist occupied with a personal relationship to Christ that requires voting against funding for Planned Parenthood. One can argue that we all share a reverence for human life, but divisive disagreement about what makes us human (and not merely primates---with all due regard for animal rights) presents a cognitive and epistemic challenge that isn't going to be met in a short while. The "core" here shows as horizonal differences, perhaps about the nature of human wisdom (e.g., historically derived vs. revealed, though all revealed texts have been historically redacted), but ultimately it becomes a matter of ontic disagreements about the meaning of "being human." Claims about the implicature of notions of being human face very [JH} "different justificatory foundations and are thus connected to claims to validity which differ from each other in kind and
extent." *This* is what the issue of semantic potential is about: an appeal of discursive inquiry to the virtue of appreciating the constitutive scale, the horizonality, of
semantic potential—not just an avowal of trust that religious conviction may show translatable meaning for secular humanism which makes one rapportous with religious views. It's a matter of initiating and sustaining a learning process with and for the religious sensibility.
It's not possible to make good sense of postmetaphysicalist thinking without recognizing that questions of "being" "human" have gone through ontic and anthropological transformations of thinking throughout the humanities, which is likely alien to provincial religious life, which may tend to be anti-intellectual. Discursive inquiry's challenge does not come into focus at the point of actual
communicative interaction between a particular religionious humanist and particular secular humanist at a particular time, except as invocation of a long-term learning process in individualized terms, perhaps as a long tutorial, likely as an extended course of learning that changes one's life, even as transformation of one's understanding of life as such, thereby changing one's real world of dailiness in light of changed worldview and sense of being oneself.
JH> ...post-metaphysical thinking has absorbed content from the Judeo-Christian tradition which is no less important than the inheritance of Greek metaphysics...[such that a] process of discursive absorption of religious content has [not] been concluded.
[An aside: I distinguish metaphysics and metaphysicalism, such that JH, in my view, is talking about post-metaphysical-ism. There is nothing wrong about doing metaphysical inquiry, as questions of time, causality, and primordial
questions of conceptuality are ultimately unavoidable. Metaphysics is one
kind of inquiry, like epistemology, not a given result of that inquiry. Metaphysicalism is a doctrinization of previous metaphysical inquiry (blind to advances in thought since the formulation of doctrine) for the sake of finding ethical entailments from doctrine. Theology was, at its inception, a politics.]
What remains to be absorbed from religious content is not basically something that the secular humanist absorbs from particular interactions (gaining insightful remindings from religious intuition); rather, what remains to be absorbed is *for* the interaction itself in discursive inquiry, what *our* shared inquiry may promise to dwell with. The calling of discursive inquiry is an occasion for absorption in shared dwelling, not simply a matter of leaving interaction with new insights, whereby no one's self/world understanding is basically changed.
Ironically, the conception of Christianity presumes "the inheritance of Greek
metaphysics" which JH distinguishes from Judeo-Christianity. Christianity is neo-Platonic in theology and neo-Aristotelian in ethics. This is why a critique of "Christian"
politics has to become a critique of the "Logos" of Christianity. A
post-theocentric Christianity (exemplified by the historical Jesus) doesn't need theology, I would argue. But this implies that texts of Christianity belong to, say, a literary anthropology just as much as they belong to readers of faith. We, religious humanist and secular humanist, may dwell with equal authenticity in the sacred or historically-great text. The New Testament was derived, not revealed whole cloth, and that reality is integral to what the text is. The historical Jesus occurred within a vastly accessible horizon of history that has a vastly discernible background in cultural evolution of trade leading to the Axial Age. And so on. Appreciating the wealth of meaning in an historical text is a potential belonging to all of us.
Whatever our worldview, we share the irrefutable reality of common ground in a real world of life whereby we have to construct futures through shared language, guided by understandings that are fruitful for
shared purposes. A reader of Habermas misses something
fundamental by not seeing the primacy of purposive action for what we share. The
underplayed "teleological action type" in JH's work suffers from the proper critique of instrumentalism, but the prevailing reality of being human is that we get up in the morning in light of purposes we share, commitments to futures we've made, and the promise we presume of our own capability to *do* things that we all agree are worth our time together. Daily activity happens in light of an ecography of purpose that we implicitly share, which we make explicit as needed through a common language we grow together (as our language is ever evolving). This provides the basis for resolving conflicts in terms of shared values and purposes.
Not to seem simplistic or romantic, I'm implicitly advocacing a power of appeal in the change process, rather a power of coercion. The appeal of the better argument (or purpose) is what the "force" of the better argument (or compellingness) is. Analogously, control will not motivate learning. Regulation will not
motivate productivity. Postmetaphysicalist thinking happens in light of appreciations, not duties.
We *really* care
because it's appealing (or care is [re]disclosed as primordial appeal), not because we are "supposed" to care. Restoring the appeal—enowning the appeal—is a keynote of ethical discourse, so well exemplified by inspiring leadership, by leading exemplars. A keynote of Christianity—Aristotelian in origin—is
the potential of exemplarity to redeem a questioned claim to validity.
Humanitarian care is proven by what is done, not what is said. We all don't have much difficulty agreeing about what real humanitarian care does. The calling to care may be explained religiously or humanistically. We can inquire into what makes humanitarian appeals compelling. But we easily recognize together what it means to really show fidelity to our common humanity. In light of this kind of reality, disagreement becomes relatively manageable.
* Translated from: “Die demokratische Öffentlichkeit muss für alle
Beiträge offenbleiben – auch für religiöse: Eine Antwort auf die Thesen
von Paolo Flores d’Arcais”, *Die Zeit*, November 29, 2007. Thanks to
Thomas Gregersen, "Habermas Forum," Feb 27, 2009
** The article is now part of a 3-article exchange (I haven't taken interest in d'Arcais' views, just Habermas' article): "Religion
and the Public Sphere, by
Jürgen Habermas &
d'Arcais,... February 12,
case my top link to JH's article becomes invalid, a PDF of JH's
response is in the Yahoo! group archive for subscribers (though you've
probably discovered that valid URL references here don't always work):
That link just now worked for me, when I pasted it into my browser URL field.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]