Tag Archives: Habermas

The self is both made and explored with words

“The self is both made and explored with words; and the best for both are the words spoken in the dialogue of friendship.”
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self – The Making of the Modern Identity, Harvard University Press, 1989, p. 183.

In reading these pages, I was reminded by the abomination that is the word “paradigm”. Although I am largely sympathetic to the project of Charles Taylor in tracing the origins of self and identity, there is a certain something about it which annoys me. Thinking about it his pinpointing of pivotal moments in philosophy is the cause of this slight discomfort. In his own words I think his is the natural way of explaining, as against the more convoluted way which is less prone to be accepted in this scientistic bottom-up world. Sure, this way serves the purpose of bringing home the point that the way we see things naturalistically is neither eternal nor inescapable. Still it also exposes us to the risk of marking “paradigm shifts” showing side by side clear before’s and after’s and simultaneously expressing a strong valuation that such before’s are inferior and the corresponding after’s are superior. Thinking in “paradigm shifts” has led to the abominable results that we see all around us, marking in’s and out’s in the most uncharitable of ways.

The quote stresses, I think, not the discrete but the continuous; not the sudden but the emerging; not revolution but evolution. It connects the continuous evolution of language with its essence in friendship. The quote gets it all right. From that very first time that people pointed to the same thing in uttering or gesturing (hence thinking) the word “that”, the mechanism of development is a mechanism of co-operation (see P. Grice), a mechanism presupposing being charitable to understanding the other (D. Davidson) and best seen in one of Quine’s favorite metaphors of rebuilding the ship as we are sailing it:

“We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.”
Otto Neurath, from Wikipedia. Continue reading

Three Aspects of Universal Pragmatics

“It is further assumed that communicative competence has just as universal a core as linguistic competence. A general theory of speech acts would thus describe precisely that fundamental system of rules that speakers master to the extent that they can fulfill the conditions for a happy employment of sentences in utterances, (..).” J. Habermas in ‘On The Pragmatics of Communication’, edited by Maeve Cooke, P.47, MIT Press, 1998.

I have a great sympathy for some of the failed philosophers like Popper, Habermas and Jaynes. They have a research program based on a great hunch after which they fail to come up with the technical details and get sidelined because of the fact that progress is mostly – and luckily also still in philosophy – a matter of technical progress. 

Habermas is important to me because his goal is also my goal: to trace back the moral stance to the basic structure of language and to the preconditions of communication. Such an unashamed aprioristic starting point is to me the only possible route to a really universal claim to humane behaviour; a claim that is not based on traditionalist or maximalist or essentialism assumptions that cannot but lead to a morality characterized by the final non-morality of exclusion.

But he fails in the details.

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