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Theoretical Enlightenment

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  • matthew_piscioneri
    Dear List, The following quote is from Axel Honneth s essay on Habermas s theoretical movement beyond the negative dialectics of Adorno ( Communication and
    Message 1 of 4 , Apr 1, 2002
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      Dear List,

      The following quote is from Axel Honneth's essay on Habermas's
      theoretical movement beyond the negative dialectics of Adorno
      ("Communication and Reconciliation" in _Telos_,1979):

      "Using *interaction* as a form of action viable in all social
      systems, and therefore also in the context of historical reification,
      Habermas is able to salvage the possibility of a theoretically guided
      political practice. Thus, for Habermas, the practical focus of
      critical theory shifts to that dimension of social reproduction in
      which subjects interpret their own needs and intentions. This
      communicative action should generate both a meaningful self-
      definition and a critique of domination through a process of
      collective social criticism which would reach the social space where
      theoretical enlightenment can be politically organized."(58-59)

      What interests me most here is this notion of *theoretical
      enlightenment* and the possibility of *translating* a theoretically-
      achieved enlightenment into a practical enlightenment.

      What I am conjecturing is that Habermas has underestimated the
      difficulty of politically (as well as personally) organizing the
      theoretical enlightenment exposed - as it were - by his overall
      critical communication theoretic.

      As James Schmidt makes clear in his essay in the same _Telos_ volume
      quoting Richard Bernstein that:

      "If *all* speech entails this telos [towards domination-free
      communication], then we need an account of what it is that 'leads
      human beings to overcome forms of distortive communication and work
      toward the conditions required for ideal speech. What seems to be
      lacking here is any illumination on the problem of human agency and
      motivation."(69)

      Yet for Habermas to acknowledge the centrality of a volitional
      component (presumably on both the individual and collective levels)
      in the translation of a theoretical enlightenment into political
      practice risks commencing the slippery slide back into decisionism
      and finally a confrontation with the self preservationist principles
      and the philosophy of consciousness subject/object paradigm Habermas
      so strenuously seeks to move beyond.

      More pointedly, is the difficulty of the widespread and lasting
      realisation of an emancipatory program finally explicable in terms
      commensurate with Habermas's professed theoretical recourse to
      genetic structuralism? Isn't Habermas committed to this? Otherwise he
      would be back with Adorno and a metaphysical dialectic of enlightened
      reason, surely.

      Regards,

      Matthew Piscioneri
    • Gary E Davis
      Matt: I m glad you re participating here, especially since you re very involved with Habermas s issues. Your first posting drew on the 1981 _Theory of
      Message 2 of 4 , Apr 1, 2002
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        Matt:

        I'm glad you're participating here, especially since you're
        very involved with Habermas's issues.

        Your first posting drew on the 1981 _Theory of
        Communicative Action_, and I would expect that *that* at
        least would be a primary context for addressing Honneth's
        1979 concerns. But an even more appropriate context would
        be JH work of that period already available to Honneth, on
        "the reconstruction of historical materialism."

        Also, I would want to distinguish Honneth's issues (frame
        of interpretation) from Habermas's.

        Honneth (AH) writes: "Using *interaction* as a form of
        action viable in all social systems, and therefore also in
        the context of historical reification, Habermas is able to
        salvage the possibility of a theoretically guided political
        practice....

        Wanting a "theoretically guided political practice" is a
        very precursory, almost tired level of formulation that
        recalls JH's 1971 essay for the re-publication of _Theory &
        Practice_, "Aspects of the Attempt to Link Theory and
        Practice." By 1975 or so, this has become what one finds in
        _Communication & the Evolution of Society_, especially
        "Development of Normative Structures" and the
        "Reconstruction" essay I mentioned. Moreover, _Legitimation
        Crisis_ is 6 years into the past by 1979. Thus, we're far
        from anything specially Habermasian in the characterization
        by Honneth that:

        AH: "....Thus, for Habermas, the practical focus of
        critical theory shifts to that dimension of social
        reproduction in which subjects interpret their own needs
        and intentions...."

        G: This especially recalls "Moral Development & Ego
        Identity," from CES, which is ultimately about just this:
        the capacity for "subjects [to] interpret their own needs
        and intentions" relative to a role competence and
        moral-cognitive maturation that makes workable a
        participatory response to the distortive conflicts outlined
        in LC in terms of the development of normative structures
        (which becomes JH's theory of democracy in _Between Facts &
        Norms_).

        It seems clear to me that JH's work satisfies the
        requirement that:

        AH: "...This communicative action should generate both a
        meaningful self- definition and a critique of domination
        through a process of collective social criticism which
        would reach the social space where theoretical
        enlightenment can be politically organized."(58-59)

        G: There are four modes of development here. One mode is
        "the social space", which can be organized, presumably via
        processes of deliberative democratic action.

        M> What interests me most here is this notion of
        *theoretical enlightenment* and the possibility of
        *translating* a theoretically- achieved enlightenment into
        a practical enlightenment.

        G: Yes, very interesting. It's essentially an issue of
        translating academic work into organized community activity
        that is progressive. TRANSLATING is a very good focus. I
        recall a report I heard last week about the work of the
        U.S. National Instutes for Health, where the reporter
        talked about "translation research" that works out the
        bridge between research and program implementation.

        Matt> What I am conjecturing is that Habermas has
        underestimated the difficulty of politically (as well as
        personally) organizing the theoretical enlightenment
        exposed - as it were - by his overall critical
        communication theoretic.

        G: That's not yet plausible to me, given the context of
        work I indicated above--not plausible for 1979 and less
        plausible by the mid-1990s. So, can you be specific about
        the political difficulty? Is something missing in, say, TCA
        and BFN (which is, in effect, volume 3 of TCA)?

        M> As James Schmidt makes clear in his essay in the same
        _Telos_ volume quoting Richard Bernstein that:

        "If *all* speech entails this telos [towards
        domination-free communication], then we need an account of
        what it is that 'leads human beings to overcome forms of
        distortive communication and work toward the conditions
        required for ideal speech...."

        G: I agree, but it seems to me that even in 1979, it's not
        the case that, as Schmidt continues:

        S: "...What seems to be lacking here is any illumination on
        the problem of human agency and
        motivation."(69)

        G: What does Schimdt mean by "here"? An "account" of the
        problem of agency seems to be a keynote of "Moral
        Development & Ego Identity" (especially in the early
        sections on psychoanalytic ego psychology which leads into
        Kohlberg's focus on moral motivations in cognitive terms).
        Also, the analysis of the lifeworld in TCA is centrally
        about the *embodied* interests of personal, cultural and
        social identity.

        M> Yet for Habermas to acknowledge the centrality of a
        volitional component (presumably on both the individual and
        collective levels) in the translation of a theoretical
        enlightenment into political practice risks commencing the
        slippery slide back into decisionism....

        G: How so? His theory of communicative action doesn't have
        a decisionistic grasp of understanding, mediation, and
        validation. Granted, there are risks (there are always
        risks). But there are also critical processes that can be
        developed through education and institutionalization (e.g.,
        critical media) and competences for analytic and
        self-reflection that translation processes can *foster*, as
        well as embody (or exemplify).

        M> ....and finally a confrontation with the self
        preservationist principles and the philosophy of
        consciousness subject/object paradigm Habermas so
        strenuously seeks to move beyond.

        G: Yes, the problem of "subject-centered reason" that is
        central to _Philosophical Discourse of Modernity_ which JH
        resolves practically in _Justification & Application_, in
        terms of the "employments of practical reason" and
        appropriative processes between discourse and lifeworld
        that is the focus of "Remarks on Discourse Ethics".

        M> More pointedly, is the difficulty of the widespread and
        lasting realisation of an emancipatory program finally
        explicable in terms commensurate with Habermas's professed
        theoretical recourse to genetic structuralism?

        G: In my view, a notion like "emancipatory program" can
        make *practical* sense in terms of existing social system
        resources of education, social welfare, public health, etc.
        (focusing the problems of progress here relative to real
        social conditions in specific societies). In real contexts,
        "the difficulty" IS "explicable in terms commensurate with
        Habermas's" work, it seems to me, but the component of
        "genetic structuralism" pertains primarily to
        psychodevelopmental processes. The "development of
        normative structures" (JH) belongs to the entire horizon of
        sociocultural progress.

        M> Isn't Habermas committed to this [explicability]?

        G: I believe that he is.

        M> Otherwise he would be back with Adorno and a
        metaphysical dialectic of enlightened reason, surely.

        G: Surely. But I don't see any risk of that.

        Onward

        Regards,

        Gary





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      • matthew_piscioneri
        Gary, Thanks for your comprehensive reply. You are right that: G:Wanting a theoretically guided political practice is a very precursory, almost tired level
        Message 3 of 4 , Apr 2, 2002
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          Gary,

          Thanks for your comprehensive reply. You are right that:

          G:Wanting a "theoretically guided political practice" is a
          very precursory, almost tired level of formulation that
          recalls JH's 1971 essay for the re-publication of _Theory &
          Practice_, "Aspects of the Attempt to Link Theory and
          Practice."

          I suppose the issue of the relationship between theory and practice
          has been almost THE central motif of the discourse of critical social
          theory since Marx, at least. This is one reason why I am keen to
          discuss - as was suggested - Chapter 1 of _MCCA_, and perhaps then
          attempt to trace the changes in Habermas's conception of the role of
          critical theory and the critical social theorist since _Theory and
          Praxis_.

          As may be easily discerned, in the background on my query is the
          issue of the role of the theorist, or ,in more classic terms, the
          *intellectual* in the production, first, and translation, second, of
          a theoretical enlightenment:

          G:[snip]It's essentially an issue of
          translating academic work into organized community activity
          that is progressive.

          Yet whilst *organized community activity* may be a practical outcome
          of applied theoretical enlightenment in what sense can we then talk
          about a practical enlightenment having been achieved? On the one hand
          this is an empirical question, however, on the other hand it is also
          a question that has been consistently addressed on a theoretical
          level, and is an issue which I think remains available to discussion.

          This is, unless, I am stuck in a early 1970s time warp, and everyone
          else on the planet happily *accepts* the bureaucratization of
          enlightenment in departments of the state responsible for the
          inclusion of minorities, managing positive discrimination and other
          *enlightened* programs which began to appear in Australia during the
          1980s, and might be lumped together as the social phenomena of
          *Political Correctness*.

          Habermas's functionalist depiction of the emancipatory interest as a
          central mechanism of social integration in advanced capitalist
          societies is a major subtext of Habermas's _BFN_ although it is
          certainly there also in _CES_. Three issues at least arise from this.

          First, the practical realisation of theoretical enlightenment is
          largely *confined* to the symbolic reification of this enlightenment
          in the programs and activities which stem from the theoretical
          enlightenment *produced* by the critical social theorist. The
          critical social theorist or *enlightener* is better understood as a
          functionary in the service of social integration and certainly NOT in
          the service of the "holistic aspirations" of revolutionary social
          movements!

          Second, participants in programs which are the practical outcomes of
          the translation of a theoretical enlightenment are confirmed in their
          status as *clients* of the state. This begs anew the question of
          enlightenment: Can a *client* of the state be considered enlightened
          whilst remaining a client, and yet putting romantic outsider notions
          to one side - what are the other available options? Does any of this
          provide a *clue* to articulating a definition of the possibilities
          and limits of contemporary "enlightenment"?

          Third - and this leads onto the next discussion - what of the
          reification of communicative reason?
          ______________________________________________________________________

          Matt> What I am conjecturing is that Habermas has
          underestimated the difficulty of politically (as well as
          personally) organizing the theoretical enlightenment
          exposed - as it were - by his overall critical
          communication theoretic.

          G: That's not yet plausible to me, given the context of
          work I indicated above--not plausible for 1979 and less
          plausible by the mid-1990s.

          My terminology here (*underestimated*) has let me down I think. What
          I probably meant was *under theorized*. Habermas's outline in the
          _BFN_ provides a good starting point - by my standards at least - for
          a satisfactory (enlightened) theoretical basis for initiating
          programs of practical enlightenment. Yet, as he admits in _BFN_, and
          I can't provide the reference immediately because I am away from home
          for the next week, there are empirical issues which affect the
          translation of his theoretical program into practice.

          William Scheuerman in his essay "Between Radicalism and Resignation"
          in the 1999 Dews ed. anthology asks the blunt question does anyone
          (including Habermas) really believe that omsbudpeople and judicial
          watchdogs can prevent the distortion of the due processes of
          deliberative democratic systems. This is one area in which I would
          argue Habermas has under theorized the practical difficulties which
          face the translation of his theoretical enlightenment.
          __________________________________________________________________

          G: In my view, a notion like "emancipatory program" can
          make *practical* sense in terms of existing social system
          resources of education, social welfare, public health, etc.
          (focusing the problems of progress here relative to real
          social conditions in specific societies). In real contexts,
          "the difficulty" IS "explicable in terms commensurate with
          Habermas's" work, it seems to me, but the component of
          "genetic structuralism" pertains primarily to
          psychodevelopmental processes. The "development of
          normative structures" (JH) belongs to the entire horizon of
          sociocultural progress.

          M: Agreed, Gary. The provocative thread I was mischievously tugging
          at - for the sake of stimulating discussion - is to invert Habermas's
          focus upon species-wide *competencies* and look for species-wide
          *incompetencies* in an attempt to make clear what are the empirical
          conditions shaping the possibility for the successful realisation of
          a theoretical enlightenment in the real world, shall we say.

          And before people label me a social darwinist or supporter of
          meritocracy I have raised this point in the context of examining the
          difficulties of translating a theoretical enlightenment into a
          practical enlightenment. Thoughts anyone?

          Matthew Piscioneri
        • Gary E Davis
          Matt: Very stimulating. People get awfully nebulous with the terms theory and practice . These two terms are really emblems for large-scale attitudes toward
          Message 4 of 4 , Apr 2, 2002
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            Matt:

            Very stimulating.

            People get awfully nebulous with the terms 'theory' and
            'practice'. These two terms are really emblems for
            large-scale attitudes toward reality--something on the
            order of "academic life" and "the real world." This is
            registered in your direct association of "the theorist"
            with "the intellectual".

            I mentioned earlier (which you quote) that a so-called
            theory-practice concern is "essentially an issue of
            translating academic work into organized community activity
            that is progressive."

            This must also involve processes of assessment and
            re-thinking that would include questions such as yours: "in
            what sense can we then talk about a practical enlightenment
            having been achieved?"

            Such a question can only be answered relative to specific
            "translations" or programs, involving educational, social
            welfare and health systems, etc., as I mentioned. We *can*
            talk about progress (a common synonym for your "practical
            enlightenment"?), but talk is also questioning. So, one
            *does* have to ask of *any* frame of understanding "in what
            sense can we talk"--*validly* (you surely mean).

            It's at once an epistemological and evaluative questioning:
            How can we do it (whatever good we aim to actualize), and
            how can we know that we've done it well (i.e., critically
            appreciate arrival--and recognize non-arrival or
            unacceptable rates of advance)?

            Most times, I feel that I'm on the other side of critique.
            People talk about "bureaucratization," as you do, like it's
            news; while I would focus on ways to avoid
            bureaucratization in the first place (which is also an
            indirect basis for dissolving existing bureaucratization).
            I *know* the emporer has no clothes; what matters is how to
            make a court that isn't compelled to pretend otherwise.
            Critical theory teaches mandarins how to talk about nudity,
            but it doesn't provide much insight into shaping
            progressive programmatic action. Theory of democracy that
            speaks to the actual processes of social evolution from
            which it was shaped teaches court design.

            To my mind, the promise of a renewed Critical Theory,
            expressed by JH in 1980 (when TCA was written), has been
            abundantly realized in the two decades since, in JH's
            political "theory" (e.g., BFN) and practice (e.g.
            _Inclusion of the Other_).

            Nonetheless, specific critiques of ideology, distortion,
            domination, etc., are an integral part of the dialogue of
            social evolution. I don't want to be read as dismissive of
            critique. But I go for *doing* critique (which is a
            specific, ideally immanent matter), not talk much about it
            (unless in response to others who do, which I try to do
            immanently). So much "Critical Theory" is just that: theory
            of critique that never gets very far toward progressive
            practice. Real critical practice tends to turn into
            post-critical or constructive activity relatively quickly.
            In other words, immanent critique of a real local community
            program leads to solidarities with actual others who are
            more interested in revising the program than celebrating
            their recognition of community failure (though there are
            plenty of activists who are quite happy, it seems, to go on
            and on about their critical consciousness, rather than
            making reliable local commitments). Much academic critique
            is too distant from actual conditions of life to say much
            to a general audience about progress, so they commune with
            each other about the problems of critique.

            Please appreciate that I'm enjoying a *response* to your
            stimulating posting, not referring to you.

            --------------------

            You claim that "Habermas's functionalist depiction of the
            emancipatory interest as a
            central mechanism of social integration in advanced
            capitalist societies is a major subtext of Habermas's
            _BFN_" It makes me smile, because it's so audacious (and,
            to me, implausible). The "emancipatory interest" is an
            idiom of _KHI_ in the late 1960s--a long, long way from
            BFN. JH never--from 1968 to present--has claimed that the
            emancipatory interest is a "central mechanism of social
            integration."

            M> First, the practical realisation of theoretical
            enlightenment....

            G: "The" realization, as far as our context goes, seems to
            involve something more specific--let's say (to get more
            manageable) we're talking about education. You would, then,
            be at least claiming that education....

            M> ... is ...

            G: for JH in BFN? Or the bureaucratization of
            enlightenment? Charitably, I read you as switching back in
            attention from BFN to the latter.

            M> ...largely *confined* to the symbolic reification of
            this enlightenment....

            G: But has nothing to do with JH's sense of emancipatory
            interest or education or anything, as a matter of working
            constructively. Any notion of reification only makes sense
            relative to a pre- or post-reified sense of things.
            Understanding *this*, reification can be *recognized*, but
            better: AVIODED.

            This is the kind of tack I would take with your related
            comments--all good performances of critical rhetoric, but
            precursory to some specific context and the more important
            kind of questions about doing things well and making
            reparations.

            INDEED, as you say "there are empirical issues which affect
            the
            translation of [any] theoretical program into practice."
            This is why JH is also an exemplary participant, as public
            intellectual (while BFN itself is a *result* of his
            theorization of empirical issues for many years).

            M> William Scheuerman in his essay "Between Radicalism and
            Resignation"
            in the 1999 Dews ed. anthology asks the blunt question does
            anyone
            (including Habermas) really believe that omsbudpeople and
            judicial
            watchdogs can prevent the distortion of the due processes
            of
            deliberative democratic systems.

            G: I'm confident JH doesn't believe this. His sense of
            deliberative democracy isn't primarily jurisprudential.


            I'm going to stop here. Thanks for your thought-provoking
            comments.


            Gary





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