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Stantly Fish on _An Awareness of What is Missing_

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  • Gary E. Davis
    Stanley Fish comments on Habermas _An Awareness of What is Missing_ in today s NY Times, Does Reason Know What It Is Missing? (1), which might not be
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 13, 2010
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      Stanley Fish comments on Habermas' _An Awareness of What is Missing_ in today's NY Times, "Does Reason Know What It Is Missing?" (1), which might not be interesting to a Habermasian. But Fish's blog column may be the most focused attention that Habermas has gotten in a U.S. newspaper (which bodes poorly for both U.S. papers and Habermas' influence in the U.S.). Just as interesting might be the ethnographical record that is provided by 13 pages of comments to Fish's column (300+ comments).

      I confess that I'm weary of issues of religion and secularity. I bought _An Awareness_, but Fish's column is my first exposure to a discussion of Habermas' discussion.

      I surmised immediately that Fish had been reading Habermas, before I saw his citation of the book, because his commentary wasn't so off-key as most commentary on Habermas is. But an important error in his reading is apparent early on, which speaks to his predictable conclusion that reason does not know what it is missing.

      Fish quotes Habermas:

      F[H]: Among the modern societies, only those that are able to introduce into the secular domain the essential contents of their religious traditions which point beyond the merely human realm will also be able to rescue the substance of the human.

      F: The question of course is what does Habermas mean by "introduce"?

      G: No, the question is what does Habermas mean by "essential contents." Fish, with his account of Habermas' interlocuters, seems to presume that something religious and faith-based is to be introduced (or not) into the secular domain. But I wager (not having read Fish's quote of Habermas in context) that the issue is "substance" within religious traditions that can be understood in secular terms. It's no condescension toward religion to appreciate that religious content can be understood in, say, humanist terms, such that appreciating a faith-based claim against a humanist understanding of something in the world can be instructive for enriching one's understanding of the world. It's not that religious understanding accepts the secular reading, rather that the secular reading is enriched by the appreciation.

      "Humanist self-confidence" may be either authentic or not (on a continuum). It's inauthentic humanism that presumes "it is capable of determining what is true and false," not humanism as such---which, by the way, would be oriented by a sense of validity that is more than a concern for factuality. I have no trouble understanding religious views from a humanist perspective, relative to what's relevant to a cultural pluralism in the public sphere. There's no condescension in appreciating humanist value, newly and anewly, in view of religious conviction. It does beg the question of what a postmetaphysicalist humanism might be. If Fish is right, in his quoting of Habermas out of context, I would disagree with Habermas that "postmetaphysical thinking...cannot cope on its own." Nowhere does Habermas connote that the coping is reduced to The Political, as social evolution (and a humanism that is appropriate) is as cultural and existential as it is social.


      1. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/12/does-reason-know-what-it-is-missing/?nl=opinion&emc=tya1

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