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Meaning and Validity Habermas on Heidegger and Foucault

  • Rudi Visker
Chapter
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Part of the Phaenomenologica book series (PHAE, volume 155)

Abstract

Meaning, Habermas warns us, should not be allowed to consume validity. For once we let meaning exhaust validity, the further exhaustion of the project of modernity and the loss of its normative content are bound to follow, as becomes clear from the writings of those Habermas calls “the theorists of the counter-enlightment”, — an epithet wide enough to include authors as diverse as Heidegger, Nietzsche and Foucault. One way or another these philosophers are all undoing the intrinsic connection between meaning and validity and, we are told, the political mésalliance of some of them only goes to show how catastrophic indeed the replacement of critical theory’s commitment to “the philosophical discourse of modernity” by some blend of post-modernism and post-structuralism is bound to be. For, according to Habermas, only a theory that respects the internal relation between meaning and validity, without at the same time eliminating the difference between the two, only such a theory can be entrusted with the delicate task of defending the legacy of modernity, whilst retaining a critical perspective on the way it is materialized in society. And Habermas is sufficiently confident in the results of his Theory of Communicative Action to claim the title for his own theory and to counterpose it to a host of other attempts which are, successively, shown to be mistaken or to have missed the opportunity of taking “the alternative paths” (PDM 295) implicit in their own problematics.

Keywords

Philosophical Discourse Internal Connection Validity Claim Reciprocal Causality Core Proposition 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    J. Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Twelve Lectures, Cambridge, Polity, 1987, p. 320 (transl, altered); originally published as Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne. Zwölf Vorlesungen, Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp, 1985. With PDM I refer to the English translation.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    J. Derrida, Mémoires pour Paul de Man, Paris, Galilée, 1988, p. 225 (my transi).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    J. Derrida, Limited Inc., Evanston Ill., Northwestern U.P., 1988, p. 157 (Derrida is quoting from PDM, the italics are his own).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See, inter alia, the excellent commentary by B. FLYNN in the fifth chapter of his Political Philosophy at the Closure of Metaphysics, London/New Jersey, Humanities Press, 1992; and J. M. Bernstein’s insightful discussion of Habermas’s failure “to recognize the philosophical discourses of modernity [Foucault, Adorno, Derrida] as the philosophical expression of artistic modernism” (‘Frankfurter and French fries: between modernity and modernism’ (review of PDM), Art History, 1988 (11:4), pp. 586-90, quotation at p. 588). And as a third example, J. Rajchman’s lucid review (‘Habermas’s Complaint’) in the Fall 1988 issue of New German Critique (nr. 45).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    J. Habermas, ‘Nachwort’, in Fr. Nietzsche , Erkenntnistheoretische Schriften, Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp, 1968, p. 257.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The expression was omitted in the English translation (PDM 275-6-see the German original p. 326).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    For a systematic exposition on ‘Meaning and validity’ see J. Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, vol. 1, Boston, Beacon Press, 1984, pp. 295 ff.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See e.g. PDM, pp. 346-7: “as a participant in discourses, the individual, with his irreplacable yes or no, is only fully on his own under the presupposition that he remains bound to a universal community by way of a cooperative quest for truth”. For the role the alternative ‘yes or no’ is forced to play in Habermas’s universal pragmatics, see the opening section of chapter 5 below.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    M. Foucault, Truth and Power’, in ID, Power/Knowledge. Selected Interviews and Other Writings (1972–77), New York, Pantheon, 1980, pp. 109-33.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    I cannot repeat here the attempt to show to what an extent the traditional Foucault-reception has been misled by the ‘face-value’ of his texts (see my Michel Foucault. Genealogy as Critique, London/New York, Verso, 1995).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    See my Genealogy as Critique, esp. chapters 2.2 and 3.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Since the term “power” assumes a specific meaning here, the ultimate mistake would be to oppose power-strategies because they involve “power”. The problem is of course to look for a model of critique that does not mix up the constitutive and the contingent (as a certain ‘Foucault’ — this much should be admitted — found himself doing).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    D. C. Hoy, ‘Taking History Seriously: Foucault, Gadamer, Habermas’, Union Seminaty Quarterly Review, 1979 (34: 2), p. 87.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Th. MCcarthy, ‘Rationality and Relativism: Habermas’s ‘overcoming’ of Her-meneutics’, in J.B. Thompson & D. Held (eds.), Habermas. Critical Debates, London/ Basingstoke, MacMillan, 1982, pp. 57-78; B. Waldenfels, In Den Netzen der Lebenswelt, Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp, 1985, pp. 110-7; K. Meyer-Drawe, ‘Zähmungeines wilden Denkens? Piaget und Merleau-Ponty zur Entwicklung von Rationalität’, in A. METRAUX & B. Waldenfels (eds.), Leibhaftige Vernunft. Spuren von Merleau-Ponty’s Denken, München, Fink, 1986, pp. 258-75.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    No weaker version of a decisive test could do here, since, as suggested above, authors like Heidegger and Foucault are framework-relativists in the sense that they thinlk that what changes between frameworks is not simply the stock of attainable truths (in which case comparisons of scope would suffice) but also what it means to attain truth (Heidegger) or to be “in the true” (Foucault). The strange thing about Paracelsus, for example, is not simply that he was serious about a lot of things we cannot possibly be serious about, but that what it meant for him to be serious about ‘truth’, seems to be something different from what it means to us. This is why a counterargument to the kind of incommensurability that is at stake here (Hacking’s second type discussed as ‘dissociation’ in his Representing and Intervening, Cambridge U.P., 1990, pp. 69-72) cannot rest with the attempt to show that all or part of a framework’s empirical propositions have some bearing on its ‘core propositions’, and that there is therefore room for a ‘dialectical feedback’ between the two (cognitive pressure feedbacking in such a way that the framework itself would change). Rather, since a framework is not primarily defined by a set of core propositions but by a’ style of reasoning’ (Hacking), including a certain view on what it means to know, to argue seriously, to be relevant, to be “in the true”, the attempt to refute this position should include a way of showing that from one ‘framework’ to another, there is not simply progress in knowing, but also in what it means to know, to be “in the true”, etc. Habermas, of course, is well aware that he needs to come up with some kind of solution to this Hegelian problem and that is why he has been trying to use (and extend) the results of a Kohlberg-Piaget type of research to build in a diachronical moment into the framework of his universal pragmatics.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    E.g. M. Heidegger, ‘The Question Concerning Technology’, in ID., Basic Writings, New York, Harper & Row, 1977, p. 299: “Man can, indeed, conceive, fashion, and carry through this or that in one way or another. But man does not have control over unconcealment itself, in which at any given time the real shows itself or withdraws”.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Th. MCcarthy, ‘Private Irony and Public Decency: Richard Rorty’s New Pragmatism’, Critical Inquiry, 1990 (16), pp. 369-70 and compare PDM, p. 323. This argument of McCarthy also constitutes the backbone of his significantly titled Ideals and Illusions. On Reconstruction and Deconstruction in Contemporary Critical Theory, Cambridge Mass/London, M.I.T., 1991, in which this essay on Rorty was reprinted in a revised form.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Whereas Habermas tries to ground the possibility of dialogue in an ethics of language, he accounts for the absence of dialogue not in ethical but in political terms (systematically distorted communication). I suspect that ultimately this dissymmetry in his analysis will prevent him from taking such distortions seriously.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Merleau-Ponty introduces the counter-concept of a “lateral universality” (as against an “overarching universality”) in the course of his essay ‘From Mauss to Claude Lévi-Strauss’, the problem being precisely “how [to] understand the other without sacrificing him to our logic or it to him” — see Signs, Evanston Ill., Northwestern U.P., 1964, pp. 115 (quote) and 120 (“a second way to the universal”). I give a closer reading of Merleau-Ponty’s essay in chapter 8 below.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    E. Laclau, New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time, London/New York, Verso, 1990, p. XIV.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

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  • Rudi Visker

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