Europe: The Faltering Project


I came across this quote from Habermas, written in the early 2000s, which seems now more prescient than ever. His analysis of Europe may not always be right – faith in the single currency, for example, prevented him from seeing that monetary union must be married with fiscal union – but his remarks about the democratic deficit provide us with stark analysis of the problems facing the European Union in the second decade of the twenty first century. Confidence in the EU is at an all time low according to polls of citizens in the six richest countries in the union. What is the solution? I wouldn’t dare to claim I could answer that, but the quote below provides fruitful avenues for continuing discussion.

The democratic deficit is especially drastic in the European Union. Without a European public sphere, even a sufficient extension of the competences of the European Parliament would fail to enable the citizens to monitor the ever-denser and ever more invasive political decisions of the European Commission and of the European Council of Ministers. Because no European public sphere exists, the citizens elect the European Parliament on the basis of the wrong issues – that is, national ones. At the same time, the legitimacy of the governments of the member states is being undermined because now they can only ‘implement’ the insufficiently legitimate decisions taken in Brussels. Since the public spheres within the national societies do not accord sufficient prominence to European issues, citizens cannot intervene in a timely manner in European decision-making processes. When these decisions finally trickle down to the national level, the political opinion and will formation of the citizens is no longer consulted.

Habermas, ‘Political Communication in Media Society’, pp. 182 – 3


Discourse and the Development of the Individual

People who participate in democratic processes become more attuned to difference, more sensitive to reciprocity, better able to engage in moral discourse, more able to examine their own preference critically. This is the self-transformation thesis, in which the self is constituted buy interactions with its social context.

Calls for more democracy are often not taken seriously because of the threat of the
majority to minorities, privacy, rights etc; but, this line is based on an asocial (Hobbesian)
conception of the self. It reveals arguments such as: What is greater participation enabled
participants to pursue narrower, self-motivated or sectarian interests, instead of interests
in the social good? One cannot just assume that participation will make us better people.

Indeed, which is why Habermas’s discursive conception of democracy might go some
way to justifying our faith in the positive aspects of democracy, in terms of its impact
upon individual selves and society writ large.

Habermas does not equate democracy with any particular set of institutional
mechanisms, such as voting; rather, he understands democracy as an institutional order
that depends for its legitimacy on a process of discursive will formation. Habermas’s
democracy is the kind of politics that favours non-violent, non-coercive consensus, as
opposed to other ways of making collective decisions, through the authority of tradition,
for example, or the economic markets. Discourse, incidentally, is the forceless force
of the better argument; hence not all communication is discursive. It follows its own
immanent logic of validity claims.

The public sphere is the institutional embodiment of discourse in that it is separate from
the political realm and legitimates itself through the communicative action and rationality
that binds its judgements. This is a separation of judgement and power, analogous in
liberal constitutions to the legislative and executive branches of government. Habermas
is not saying that all institutions should conduct all their business via discourse, but that
they should be structured in such a way that discourse can flourish when conflicts arise
and understanding must be reached. The normative imperative is that it is efficacious
to resolve conflict in this way, rather than via coercion, markets, traditional authority or
blind consensus.

Discourse requires near perfect conditions, in that it won’t work if there is a strong
imbalance of power relations; even if the power imbalance is minimal, the burden on
communicative action to neutralise this is too great. Hence Habermas argues that it
requires an institutionalised public sphere, nominally free from power relations and
differentiated from the organisational requirements of collective action. This ideal,
embedded in the public sphere, is arrved at collectively and individually, thus discourse is
the medium in which collective and individual reason converges. As individuals express
their needs and interests publically, they are challenged, and the process of justification
both produces consensus whilst increasing the individual’s autonomy as she understands
her own needs better.

What is an autonomous self?

Autonomy for Habermas is not the Hobbesian and rational choice view that selves are
presocial monads. Rather, it refers to certain socially developed capacities of judgement.
Autonomy for Habermas is not a natural attribute of humans, but a fragile and relational
social achievement. Autonomy means self-identity, insofar as the continuous identity of

one’s life history is maintained by projecting goals into the future around which one’s
present identity is organised. Autonomy implies capacities for agency and a certain
amount of control over one’s life history. Autonomy is a kind of freedom in that it
involves the capacity to distance oneself from circumstances at the same time as locating
oneself in those circumstances. This includes, in the social world, distancing oneself
from traditions, prevailing opinion, and pressure to conform. Autonomy involves
critical judgement, and is developed though imagination insofar as we are all part of
the intersubjective framework of projecting ourselves and stepping into the position
of others i.e. thinking of alternatives. But it is also to do with giving reasons, as we are
forced to order our arguments logically in the process of public argumentation. As
such, autonomy implies communicative competencies. And in the process of engaging
in dialogue, autonomy also implies reciprocity in recognition of the other linguistic I.
Finally, autonomy implies a measure of responsibility insofar as discourse is a process of
justification: I must commit to my words and actions in giving reasons for them.

Moral Development of Autonomy

Habermas contends that social relations generally tend towards the development of
moral capacities; as such the ability to deal with political conflict is already latent in
social life. Habermas appropriates Kohlberg’s six-stage theory of moral development
as a developmental theory already present in social relations. In particular, Habermas
is interested in the idea that we progress towards autonomy in moral judgement as our
social and communicative competencies develop; thus, the capacities of autonomy
required by participatory democracy are always already present in the structures of
interaction i.e. in social life. Further, the definition of my identity – my autonomy –
arises out of recognition of the other. The dual movement of attaining higher moral
development and distancing myself in recognition of reciprocity is part of interactive
competence: in this, the moral and social converge.

Habermas argues that such development can only occur in a discursive context, so where
Kohlberg’s stages end at six with the formal (Kantian) ethics of universal principle,
Habermas adds a seventh – discourse ethics. In doing so he counters the line of critics
of formal ethics, which states that general principles of judgement abstracted from social
relations cannot be sufficiently attuned to the particulars that are always part of our
conceptions of right and wrong. For Habermas, it is discourse that is both aligned with
reason and attentive to the particularity of conflicts, thereby proposing a strong link
between democracy and the moral dimension of autonomy. On this model, individuals
are able to challenge their own interpretations, and the interpretations of others. In the
process, some interpretations will be discarded in favour of other, more appropriate
ones, as well as allowing for the most useful parts of a tradition to continue to be in play
as long as they too remain appropriate.

Reconciliation Through the Public Use of Reason: Remarks on Rawls’s Political Liberalism

Rawls is a proponent of practical philosophy and someone to whom moral questions are ‘serious objects of philosophical investigation’ (109). Against value scepticism and utilitarianism, Rawls follows Kant’s maxim that we ought to do what is good for all people and he extends this to formulate his vision of a just society. A just society is one in which every citizen is treated equally and freely. Kant’s principle of autonomy is made intersubjective, for ‘we act autonomously when we obey those laws which could be accepted by all concerned on the basis of a public use of their reason’ (109). Thus Rawls also refutes contextualist positions, which question the presupposition that reason is a common characteristic shared by all humans.

Rawls’s position aims at the justification of the principles upon which modern society should be constituted ‘if it is to ensure the fair co-operation of its citizens as free and equal persons’ (110). The position has three steps. The first is to identify a standpoint from which representatives of the people could answer questions impartially. Parties in the ‘original’ position agree on two principles: 1) the liberal principle that everyone is entitled to an equal system of basic liberties; 2) the principle of equal access to public offices; social inequalities are only acceptable if it is to the benefit of the underprivileged. The second step is to claim that this conception of justice will meet with agreement under the conditions of a pluralistic society which it itself promotes. The key assumption here is that political liberalism is generally neutral with regards to conflicting world-views. And thirdly, the outline of the basic rights and principles of the constitutional state are derived from these two principles of justice.

Habermas takes issue with ‘certain aspects of [the project’s] execution’, as he ‘fear[s] that Rawls makes concessions to opposed philosophical positions which impair the cogency of his own project’ (110). He does not object to the project per se but instead proceeds via an immanent and constructive critique. The key aspects of this critique are i) doubts about aspects of the original position in securing the ‘standpoint of impartial judgement about deontological principles of justice’ (110); the claim that Rawls should make a sharper distinction between principles of justification and of acceptance, for ‘he seems to want to purchase the neutrality of his conception of justice at the cost of forsaking its cognitive validity claim’ (110); and the criticism that Rawls fails in his goal of bringing the liberties of the moderns into harmony with the ancients, because the two theoretical decisions ‘result in a construction of the constitutional state that accords liberal basic rights primacy over the democratic principle of legitimation’ (110).

Design of the Original Position

The parties in the original position have a morally neutral character on the one hand, and are bound to choose principles of fair co-operation via morally substantive situational constraints on the other. Such normative constraints thereby permit the parties with a minimum of properties, in particular, “the capacity for a conception of the good (and thus to be rational)” (Rawls quoted on p. 111), or in other words, they are constrained by their own self-interest to reflect on what is equally good for all citizens. As Habermas notes, however, Rawls ‘soon realised that the reason of autonomous citizens cannot be reduced to rational choice conditioned by subjective preferences’ (112), though he maintains that the meaning of the moral point of view can be operationalised in this way. Habermas addressees three consequences of this approach:

(1) Can the parties in the original position comprehend the highest-order interests of their clients solely on the basis of rational egoism? (2) Can basic rights be assimilated to primary goods? (3) Does the veil of ignorance guarantee the impartiality of judgement? (112)

(1) Comprehension via rational egoism

Rawls cannot consistently hold this position when the parties representing citizens are denied the autonomy that the citizens fully have, because of ‘rational design’: ‘the parties are supposed both to understand and to take seriously the implications and consequences of an autonomy that they themselves are denied’ (112). They cannot take into account, for instance, the sense of loyalty and obligation citizens may feel towards each other. Rawls qualifies the rationality of the contracting partners: on the one hand, they take no interest in one another; on the other hand, they have a “purely formal” sense of justice, for they are supposed to know that they are bound to conform with the principles agreed upon in their future role as citizens in a well ordered society. Habermas questions whether this strays too far from the original position: ‘For as soon as the parties step outside the boundaries of their rational egoism and assume even a distant likeness to moral persons, the division of labour between the rationality of choice of subjects and appropriate objective constraints is destroyed, a division through which self-interested agents are nonetheless supposed to achieve morally sound decisions’ (113).

(2) Rights and Goods

Primary goods are defined as the means we need to realise our plans for life. For the parties in the original position, primary goods can be rights, but these are only recognised as one category of goods amongst others, thus ‘the issue of principles of justice can only arise in the guise of the question of the just distribution of primary goods’ (114). As such, Rawls would seem to adopt an approach that is more consistent with Aristotelian ethics or utilitarianism that his own theory of rights which is supposed to proceed via the concept of autonomy. In interpreting rights as primary goods, Rawls ‘assimilate[s] the deontological meaning of obligatory norms to the teleological meaning of preferred values’ (114).[1]

Rawls has to compensate for the levelling of the deontological dimension; he does so by according the first principle priority over the second, and adding a further qualification that secures primary goods a relation to basic liberties as basic rights, i.e. primary goods are ‘only those which are expedient for the life plans and the development of the moral faculties of citizens as free and equal persons’ (114), but, as Habermas argues, this step distinguishes between rights and goods in contradiction to the first classification of rights as goods.

(3) Veil of Ignorance & Impartiality

There is a problem of how to go from individual isolated perspectives to a universal, transcendental consciousness. Rawls tries to neutralise different viewpoints by withholding information, thereby keeping representative parties under a veil of ignorance. Habermas argues that there is an alternative: discourse ethics,[2] which ‘views the moral point of view as embodied in an intersubjective practice of argumentation which enjoins those involved to an idealising enlargement of their interpretive perspectives’ (117). Discourse ethics would lighten the burden of proof generated by Rawls’s position, namely a) ‘the veil of ignorance must extend to all particular viewpoints and interests that could impair an impartial judgement’ (118); and b) gradual removal of the veil might lead to discrepancies arising, so if we are to ensure that this does not happen, ‘we must construct the original position already with knowledge, and even foresight, of all the normative contents that could potentially nourish the shared self-understanding of free and equal citizens in the future. In other words, the theoretician himself would have to shoulder the burden of anticipating at least parts of the information of which he previously relieved the parties in the original position!’ (118). Instead, Habermas has in mind ‘the more open procedure of an argumentative practice that proceeds under the demanding presuppositions of the “public use of reason” and does not bracket the pluralism of convictions and worldviews from the outset’ (118-9).

[1] Norms inform decisions as to what one ought to do, values inform decisions as to what conduct is most desirable. Recognised norms impose equal and exceptionless obligations on their addressees, while values express the preferability of goods that are striven for by particular groups. Whereas norms are observed in the sense of a fulfillment of generalized behavioural expectations, values or goods can be realized or acquired only by purposive action. Furthermore, norms raise a binary validity claim in virtue of which they are said to be either valid or invalid: to ought statements, as to assertoric statements, we can respond only with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – or refrain from judgement. Values, by contrast, fix relations of preference that signify that certain goods are more attractive than others: hence, we can assent to evaluative statements to a greater or lesser degree. The obligatory force of norms has the absolute meaning of an unconditional and universal duty: what one ought to do it what is equally good for all (that is, for all addressees). The attractiveness of values reflects an evaluation and a transitive ordering of goods that has become established in particular cultures or has been adopted by particular groups: important evaluative decisions or higher-order preferences express what is good for us (or for me), all things considered. Finally, different norms must not contradict each other when they claim validity for the same domain of addressees; they must stand in coherent relations to one another – in other words, they must constitute a system. Different values, by contrast, compete for priority; insofar as they meet with intersubjective recognition within a culture or group, they constitute shifting configurations fraught with tension. To sum up, norms differ from values, first, in their relation to rule-governed as opposed to purposive action; second, in a binary as opposed to a gradual coding of the respective validity claims; third, in their absolute as opposed to relative bindingness; and, last, in the criteria that systems of norms as opposed to systems of values must satisfy. [114-5]

[2] Discourse ethics rests on the intuition that the application of the principle of universalisation, properly understood, calls for a joint process of “ideal role taking”. It interprets this idea of G. H. Mead in terms of a pragmatic theory of argumentation. Under the pragmatic presuppositions of an inclusive and noncoercive rational discourse among free and equal participants, everyone is required to take the perspective of everyone else, and thus project herself into the understandings of self and world of all others; from this interlocking of perspectives there emerges an ideally extended we-perspective from which all can test in common whether they wish to make a controversial norm the basis of their shared practice; and this should include mutual criticism of the appropriateness of the languages in terms of which situations and needs are interpreted. In the course of successively undertaken abstractions, the core of generalisable interests can then emerge step by step. [117-8]

Communicative Vs Subject-Centered Reason (I)

Foucault shows how human sciences and philosophy of subject are entangled. However, he tries to aim for more rigorous objectivity, gets caught in historiography, and thence to relativist self-denial and zero account of its normative foundations.

The problem is that followers of Nietzsche stubbornly refuse to see that the seeds of subjectivity’s counterreckoning were sown in Kant’s original formulation. So Habermas’s tactic is to go back to the starting point and trace other possible directions, since a single focus on power has not got us anywhere.

Each great philosopher could have taken a different direction. Hegel and Marx could have explicated the ethical totality in terms of the model of unforced consensus formation in a communication community. Heidegger and Derrida could have ascribed meaning-creating horizons of world interpretations in terms of communicatively structured lifeworlds that reproduce themselves via communicative action oriented toward mutual understanding.

A more viable solution than labouring under the metaphor for modernity of metaphysical homelessness is to see the endless to and fro between transcendentalism and empiricism as a symptom of exhaustion in the paradigm of the philosophy of consciousness. Habermas contends that such symptoms should dissolve entirely upon the successful transition to the paradigm of mutual understanding.

In the paradigm of mutual understanding the objectifying attitude is replaced by the perfomative attitude. Ego and alter enter into an interpersonal relationship, structured by a system of interlocked perspectives. On the level of grammar, the system of personal pronouns enables a speaker to take up and transform 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person perspectives.

Transcendental-empirical doubling, which results in the primacy of the subject to the world, is only unavoidable so long as there is no alternative to the observant (3rd) person perspective. This no longer applies. As the ego stands within an interpersonal relationship, it is able to relate to itself as a participant in interaction from the perspective of the alter, thereby escaping the kind of objectification above. Far from being frozen into an object, the 1st person recapitulates, via performative introspection from the 2nd person’s perspective, and thus ‘in the place of reflectively objectified knowledge – the knowledge proper to self-consciousness – we have a recapitulating reconstruction of knowledge already employed’ (297).

What was earlier relegated to the realm of the transcendental is now made explicit in the reconstructive sciences through analysis of successful or distorted utterances, ‘the pretheoretical grasp of rules on the part of competently speaking, acting and knowing subjects’ (298). There is no application for the separation between transcendental and empirical; the to and fro between ‘two aspects of self-thematisation that are as inevitable as they are incompatible is broken’ (298).

Foucault’s point about the unconscious/conscious binary – that the subject moves between reflectively transforming what is in-itself to what is for-itself and opaque backround that resists such transparency – also dissolves in the paradigm of mutual understanding. For participants in speech situations more within the horizons of their lifeworld, which is both context and resource for the process of mutual understanding. What is taken for granted, background, enables participants to ‘draw consensual interpretive patterns in their efforts at interpretation’ (298).

It is only possible to get insight into the lifeworld in general, for the lifeworld must evade thematisation and be present only pre-reflectively. Rule-knowledge present in utterances can only be reconstructed from the perspective of participants. In order to treat communicative action as the medium of reproduction of the lifeworld, we need a theoretically constituted perspective, and then, only formal-pragmatic statements related to the structure of lifeworlds in general, is possible. As such, participants appear as products as opposed to originators; the lifeworld can thus be said to reproduce itself to the extent that three functions, which transcend participant perspective, are fulfilled: ‘the propagation of cultural traditions, the integration of groups by norms and values, and the socialisation of succeeding generations’ (299).

If you want to understand individual biography, you must give up the intention of rational reconstruction and proceed historically. Reflection – self-critique – can dissolve hypostatisation, but only when directed at a single illusion: ‘it cannot make transparent the totality of a course of life in the process of individuation or of a collective way of life’ (300).

There are two heritages of self-reflection that get beyond the limits of the philosophy of consciousness, with two different aims. Rational reconstruction heightens consciousness, but is directed toward anonymous rule systems rather than totalities. Methodical self-critique relates to totalities but with full awareness that it can never illuminate fully the background of the lifeworld. Both heritages can be brought together within the framework of one theory.

In order to be empirically useable in the purpose of social theory, the formal-pragmatic concept of the lifeworld has to be integrated into a two level concept of society. Social evolution and history must be distinguished from one another. Social theory must be aware of the conditions of its emergence, for ‘even basic concepts that are starkly universalistic have a temporal core’ (300). Steering the course between absolutism and relativism means that we are no longer faced with the alternatives of the conception of world history as ‘a process of self-generation’, nor ‘impenetrable dispensation’ (301) that is felt through withdrawal and deprival, a yearning for lost origins.

Realism after the Linguistic-Pragmatic Turn

Published in Cognitio, São Paulo, vol.  4, n. 2 (2003), pp. 211-226

Realism after the linguistic-pragmatic turn – Theresa Calvet de Magalhães

I really am very grateful to Professor Ivo Assad Ibri for having not only  invited me but insisted that I participate this year in the 5th International Meeting on Pragmatism and for this unique opportunity after living for the last 25 years in this wonderful country to return to Peirce. It is also for me a great pleasure to be able to meet now not only the members of the Center for Studies on Pragmatism of this University but all the Brazilian and American  Peircean scholars who are attending this Meeting. But I am not going to talk about Peirce. I chose perhaps a sort of strange path to return to Peirce, reading Habermas and Searle. I certainly hope to have better luck now than I had back in the 1970’s when I began, quite innocently, to study  Peirce after reading one citation on symbols in Derrida and Kristeva, and then wrote my PhD dissertation Sign or Symbol which was published some years later[1].

Reading Wahrheit und Rechtfertigung (1999) and more specifically what Jürgen Habermas writes in the “Introduction” to his recent book, not yet published in English[2], I will try to explain his answer to the epistemological problem of realism: how can we conciliate both the postulate of a world that is independent of our descriptions, a single objective world, and the philosophy of language discovery according to which we have no direct access, non-mediated by language, to “naked” reality. Habermas wants to hold on to the moment of unconditionality that is part of the correspondence idea of truth, while retaining an internal relation between truth and justifiability: his aim is to work out a theory of truth that is inherently pragmatic yet retains the idea of an unconditional truth claim. In light of Habermas’s recent criticism of Richard Rorty’s pragmatic turn[3], his early treatment of a pragmatic theory of truth is important. What Searle tries to show in 1995, in The Construction of Social Reality, is that “external realism” is presupposed by the use of large sections of a public language: for a large class of utterances, each individual utterance requires for its intelligibility a publicly accessible reality that he characterized as representation independent. There is nothing epistemic about realism so construed. External realism is not epistemic: realism is the claim that reality is radically nonepistemic. Searle is not saying here “that in order to know the truth of our claims we have to presuppose realism”. His argument is “completely independent of questions of knowledge or even of truth”. The claim, according to him, “is about conditions of intelligibility, not about conditions ofknowledge.”[4] The presupposition of realism is not just one claim among others, but is, he insists, “a condition of possibility of my being able to make publicly accessible claims at all”. Metaphysical realism and conceptual relativism are then perfectly consistent: conceptual relativism as Searle formulates it –our conception of reality, our conception of how it is, is always made relative to our constitution – is meant, he says, “to be a trivial truth to the effect that we only form concepts that we are able to form”[5].

Does the pragmatic turn require an anti-realist understanding of knowledge?

The Christian Gauss Lectures that Habermas delivered at Princeton in 1971 – “Reflections on the Linguistic Foundations of Sociology” [Vorlesungen zu einer spachtheoretischen Grundlegung der Soziologie][6] –  contain the first formulation of his “formal pragmatics”[7] and also mark the beginning of his appropriation of speech-act theory. Taking generative grammar as a model for developing universal pragmatics, we should be able, he writes, “to discover and reconstruct the rule systems according to which we generate contexts of interactions, that is, the symbolic reality of society” (p. 65). Habermas characterizes the level at which a universal pragmatics has to be developed by comparing it with the theory of grammar originated by Noam Chomsky (p. 68-76), and this sort of facilitates his treatment of the two most important theoretical components of a universal pragmatics: one dealing with the cognitive use of language (p.78-82), the other with its communicative use (p. 82-84). Habermas makes it clear that these two uses of language are interdependent. The task of what Habermas called first universal and later formal pragmatics is to identity and reconstruct universal conditions of possible mutual understanding [Verständigung]. Reaching mutual understanding requires a speaker and hearer to operate not only at the level of intersubjectivity on which they speak with one another but also at the level of objects or states of affairs about which they communicate with one another.

The key phenomenon that a universal pragmatics must explain is the self-explicating capacity of language: a natural language, writes Habermas, “has no metalanguage that is not dependent in turn on an interpretation in that (or another) natural language” (p. 73). The illocutionary acts analyzed by Searle after Austin[8] – the illocutionary act is considered here by Habermas as the elementary unit of speech [elementare Einheit der Rede] – are paradigmatic for this peculiar reflexivity of natural languages. The double structure of illocutionary acts – and Habermas following here Searle[9] represents the structure of illocutionary acts as “Mp” where stands for mode of communication [Modus der Kommunikation] or for the different modes of language use (the main clause used in an utterance in order to establish an intersubjective relation between speakers and hearers) and p for propositional content (the dependent clause with propositional content used in an utterance in order to communicate about objects or states of affairs)  – is considered by Habermas as the foundation of the inherent reflexivity of natural languages. The elementary connection of the illocutionary component and the propositional component of speech acts illustrates the double structure of ordinary language communication:

“Communication about objects (or states of affairs) takes place only on condition of simultaneous metacommunication about the meaning of the use of the dependent clause. A situation where it is possible to reach a mutual understanding requires that at least two speakers-hearers simultaneously establish communication at both levels: at the level of intersubjectivity, where the subjects talk with one another, and at the level of the objects (or state of affairs) about which they communicate. Universal pragmatics aims at the reconstruction of the rule system that a competent speaker must know if she is to be able to fulfill this postulate of the simultaneity of communication and metacommunication. I should like to reserve the term communicative competence for this qualification.” (p. 74).[10]

Communicative competence is crucial for Habermas’s social theory[11]. A communicative  theory of society  – a theory of society that accepts abstract systems of rules for generating intersubjective relations in which subjects themselves are formed – must, insists Habermas, “do justice to the double cognitive-communicative structure of speech” (p. 64).

The distinction between the cognitive and the communicative (or interactive) uses of language captures what Austin had in mind with his (later abandoned) distinction between constative and perfomative utterances[12]:

“I call the use of constative acts (…) cognitive, because the performatively established interpersonal relation between speaker and hearer serves the purpose of reaching an understanding about objects (or states of affairs). By contrast, I call communicative the use of language where reaching an understanding about objects (and states of affairs) occurs for the purpose of establishing an interpersonal relationship. The level of communication that is the end in one case is made into a means in the other. In cognitive language use propositional contents are the topic; they are what the communication is about. But communicative use mentions propositional contents only in order to establish performatively an intersubjective relation between speaker-hearers.” (p. 76).

Without a propositional content “­that p”, which is expressed in cognitive language use in the form of a declarative sentence [Aussagesatz] “p”, the communicative use of language would be impossible. In cognitive language use “we initiate communication with the goal of communicating something about an objectified reality”. In communicative language use “we refer to something in the world in order to produce specific interpersonal relations” (p. 64). All speech acts have a cognitive and a communicative dimension. The meaning of a speech act consists of its propositional content and of the sense of the mode of mutual understanding that is sought. For Habermas, this illocutionary element determines the meaning of the validity that we claim for an utterance:

“The meaning of an assertion qua assertion is that the asserted state of affairs is the case. (…) the meaning of a promise qua promise is that the speaker will in fact keep an obligation to which she has committed herself. Similarly, it is the meaning of a command qua command that the speaker wants to have her demand fulfilled. These validity claims that a speaker raises by performing speech acts ground intersubjective relations, that is, the facticity of social facts.” (p. 63).

These claims converge in the single claim to rationality [Vernunfttigkeit]. Truth claims enjoy paradigmatic status as validity claims: “The paradigm of all claims to validity is propositional truth. Even the communicative use of language must presuppose cognitive language use with its truth claims, since standard speech acts always contain propositional contents.” (p. 86). When we raise a truth claim, we use language cognitively. Habermas’s few brief remarks on the pragmatics of cognitive language use (p. 78-81) focus on questions of reference and perception:

“We make two suppositions (…). We suppose the existence of the object about which we make a statement; and we suppose the truth of the proposition itself, that is, of what we assert about the object. Existence and truth represent the conditions that must be fulfilled if the statement is to represent a fact. The first supposition is justified if both speakers and hearers are able to identify unequivocally the object denoted by the subject expression of a proposition. The second is justified if both speakers and hearers verify whether what is predicated of the object in the proposition asserted is in fact true. The referential expression, be it  a singular term or a definite description, can be understood as specification of how an object can be identified. Together with the expression, it constitutes a proposition that is supposed to correspond to an existing state of affairs. (…) The pragmatics of cognitive use shows that any given object domain is structured by particular interconnections between language, cognition, and action.

(…)  Sensory experience leads to the perception of things, events or states that we ascribe to things (we see that something is in a certain state). The communicative experience based on sensory experience leads via perception to the understanding of persons, utterances, or states that we ascribe to persons (we “see”, i.e., understand, that someone is in a certain state). Experiences can have informational content only because and to the extent that they are surprising – that is, to the extent that they disappoint and modify expectations about objects. This background, which acts as a foil and against which experiences stand out, consists in beliefs (or prejudgments) about objects that we have already experienced. In cognitive language use we put our beliefs in the form of propositions. (…)

A similar connection between language, cognition and action is manifest in predication.” (p. 78-82).

In his subsequent articulations of formal pragmatics, Habermas no longer emphasizes perception and reference. In light of Cristina Lafont’s criticisms to the effect that he needs a theory of reference to avoid some form of linguistic idealism[13] and of Herbert Schnädelbach objection to his privileging of the discursive rationality embodied in argumentative practices[14], Habermas’s discussion of cognitive language use in the Christian Gauss Lectures is therefore important.

It is also important because it contains an early treatment of the so-called consensus theory of truth, which emerges from his account of the meaning of truth. According to Habermas, the meaning of truth implicit in the pragmatics of assertions is explicated by specifying the conditions under which validity claims can or could be redeemed. This is the task, he says, of the consensus theory of truth:

“(…) the truth that we claim propositions to have by asserting them, depends on two conditions. First, it must be grounded in experience; that is the statement may not conflict with dissonant experience. Second, it must be discursively redeemable; that is the statement must be able to hold up against all counterarguments and command the assent of all potential participants in a discourse. The first condition must be satisfied to make credible that the second condition could be satisfied as required. (…) The truth condition of propositions is the potential assent of all others. Everyone else should be able to convince him- or herself that I am justified in predicating the attribute p of object x and should then be able to agree with me. The universal-pragmatic meaning of truth, therefore, is determined in terms of the demand of reaching a rational consensus. The concept of the discursive redemption of validity claims leads to the concept of rational consensus.” (p. 89).

We can of course say that the interest of such a theory of truth lies more in what it says about how we reach agreement on claims to truth, and that it is not so much a theory of truth as a theory of justification. However, in light of Habermas’s recent criticism of Richard Rorty’s pragmatic turn, his early treatment of a pragmatic theory of truth is important.

Habermas sees speech-act theory as an attempt to bridge the gap between formal semantics and use-oriented theories of meaning. Austin’s and Searle’s account of meaning recognize both the dimension of saying something – on which, from Frege through the early Wittgenstein to Dummett, formal semantics focuses – and the dimension of doing something – on which the use-oriented theories of meaning deriving from the later Wittgenstein concentrate. A pragmatic reintrepretation of the problem of validity requires a reevaluation of what was originally meant by the illocutionary force of a speech act. What a speaker does in performing a speech act is enter into a relationship of obligation with the hearer: “With the illocutionary force of an utterance, a speaker can motivate a hearer to accept the offer contained in her speech act and thereby enter into a rationally motivating binding and bonding relationship”. This conception of the illocutionary force as a binding force presupposes not only that acting and speaking subjects can relate to more than only one world, but also that when they come to an understanding with one another about something in one world, they base their communication on a commonly shared system of worlds[15].

But does the pragmatic turn require an anti-realist understanding of knowledge? Habermas criticizes Rorty for drawing the wrong conclusions from his critique of the philosophy of language. According to Habermas, Rorty rightly emphasizes “that nothing counts as justification unless by reference to what we already accept”, but the conclusion he draws from this  – “that there is no way to get outside our beliefs and our language so as to find some test other than coherence” – is wrong. Certainly, Habermas responds, “within the linguistic paradigm, the truth of a proposition can no longer be conceived as correspondence with something in the world, for otherwise we would have to be able to “get outside of language” while using language”. Nonetheless, he insists that “the correspondence idea of truth was able to take account of a fundamental aspect of the meaning of the truth predicate”. This aspect – the notion of unconditional validity – “is swept under the carpet if the truth of a proposition is conceived as coherence with other propositions or as justified assertibility within an interconnected system of assertions”[16]. Habermas wants to hold on to the moment of unconditionality that is part of the correspondence idea of truth, while retaining an internal relation between truth and justifiability:

“In everyday practices, we cannot use language without acting. Speech itself is effected in the mode of speech acts that for their part are embedded in contexts of interaction and entwined with instrumental action. As actors, that is, as interacting and intervening subjects, we are always already in contact with things about which we can make statements. (…)

For this reason, the question as to the internal connection between justification and truth – a connection that explains why we may, in light of the evidence available to us, raise an unconditional truth claim that aims beyond what is justified – is not an epistemological question. It is not a matter of being or appearance. What is at stake is not the correct representation of reality but everyday practices that must not fall apart. (…) Reaching understanding cannot function unless the participants refer to a single objective world, thereby stabilizing the intersubjectively shared public space with which everything that is merely subjective can be contrasted. This supposition of an objective world that is independent of our descriptions fulfills a functional requirement of our processes of cooperation and communication. Without this supposition, everyday practices, which rest on the (in a certain sense) Platonic distinction between believing and knowing unreservedly, would come apart at the seams.” (“Richard Rorty’s Pragmatic Turn”, On the Pragmatics of Communication, p. 359).

Are there not, asks Habermas, “plausible explanations for the fact that a justification successful in our justificatory context points in favor of the context-independent truth of the justified proposition?”. His aim, then, is to work out a theory of truth that is inherently pragmatic yet retains the idea of an unconditional truth claim:

“In the lifeworld actors depend on behavioral certainties. They have to cope with a world presumed to be objective and, for this reason, operate with the distinction between believing and knowing. There is a practical necessity to rely on what is unconditionally held-to-be- true. This mode of unconditionally holding-to-be-true is reflected on the discursive level in the connotations of truth claims that point beyond the given contexts of justification and require the supposition of ideal justificatory conditions – with a resulting decentering of the justification community. For this reason, the process of justification can be guided by a notion of truth that transcends justification although it is always already operativelyeffective in the realm of action. The function of the validity of statements in everyday practices explains why the discursive redemption of validity claims may at the same time be interpreted as the satisfaction of a  pragmatic need for justification. This need for justification, which sets in train the transformation  of shaken-up behavioral certainties into problematized validity claims, can be satisfied only by a translation of discursively justified beliefs back into behavioral truths.” (“Richard Rorty’s Pragmatic Turn”, On the Pragmatics of Communication, p. 372).

It is this intertwining of truth in rational discourses and truth in action-contexts that favours the context-independent truth of the belief in question. For Habermas, the critical question for today’s rationality debates is whether communicating subjects are from start to finish imprisoned in epochal interpretations of the world, discourses, and language games. His conclusion is that Rorty’s strategy – his naturalization of linguistified reason – “leads to a categorical level-ing of distinctions of such a kind that our descriptions lose their sensitivity for differences that do make a difference in every day practices.”[17]

Realism as a Background Condition of Intelligibility

In 1991, replying to one of his critics, John Searle offers a sketch of a “transcendental” argument for what he calls metaphysical (and later external)realism  – the view that the world (or alternatively, reality or the universe) exists independently of our representations of it[18]:

“metaphysical realism is the condition of possibility of there being public discourse at all. In order that I should address you and say, e.g., “the cat is on the mat” I must presuppose an independently existing world of publicly accessible objects to which expressions like “the cat’ and the “the mat” are used to refer. A public language presupposes a public world. And when I address you in what I presuppose is a public language, a language which you can understand in the same way that I understand it, I also presuppose that there exist public objects of reference. In normal discourse none of these “presuppositions” takes the forms of beliefs or even, strictly speaking, “presuppositions”. They are part of what I call the Background; in the normal functioning of the Background such elements form the conditions of intelligible representation but are not themselves representations.” (John Searle and his critics, p. 190).

According to Searle,  and he had already said this in 1983, in Intentionality[19], “realism” is not a hypothesis, belief, or philosophical thesis, but theprecondition of having hypotheses:

“Realism is part of the Background in the following sense. My commitment to “realism” is exhibited by the fact that I live the way that I do, I drive my car, drink my beer, write my articles, give my lectures, and ski my mountains. Now in addition to all these activities (…) there isn’t a further ‘hypothesis’ that the real world exists. My commitment to the existence of the real world is manifested whenever I do pretty much anything. It is a mistake to treat that commitment as if it were a hypothesis (…). Once we misconstrue the functioning of the Background in this way (…) it immediately becomes problematic. It seems I could never show or demonstrate that there existed a real world independent of my representation of it. But of course I could never show or demonstrate that, since any showing or demonstrating presupposes the Background, and the Background is the embodiment of my commitment to realism. (…) the very having of representations can only exist against a Background which gives representations the character of “representing something”. This is not to say that realism is a true hypothesis, rather it is to say that it is not a hypothesis at all, but the precondition of having hypotheses.” (Intentionality, p. 158-159).

The presupposition of realism is not just one claim among others, but it is, according to Searle, “a condition of possibility of my being able to make publicly accessible claims at all”[20]Metaphysical realism and conceptual relativism are then perfectly consistent: conceptual relativism as Searle formulates it – our conception of reality, our conception of how it is, is always made relative to our constitution  – is meant, he says, “to be a trivial truth to the effect that we only form concepts that we are able to form”[21]. Searle considers the argument that Hilary Putnam uses in The Many Faces of Realism[22] against “metaphysical realism”, and to defend a view he calls “internal realism”, simply bad argument:

“Putnam thinks that because we can only state the fact that iron oxidizes relative to a vocabulary and conceptual system, that therefore the fact only exists relative to a vocabulary and conceptual system. So, on his view if conceptual relativism is true, then metaphysical realism is false. But the premise of his argument does not entail the conclusion. It is, indeed, trivially true that all statements are made within a conceptual apparatus for making statements. Without a language we cannot talk. It does, indeed, follow from this that given alternative conceptual apparatuses there will be alternative descriptions of reality. (…) But it simply does not follow that the fact that iron oxidizes is in any way language-dependent or relative to a system of concepts or anything of the sort. Long after we are all dead and there are no statements of any kind, iron will still oxidize; and this is just another way of saying that the fact that iron oxidizes does not depend in any way on the fact that we can state that iron oxidizes. (Does anyone really, seriously, doubt this?).”[23]

Searle defends, then, both the view that reality exists independently of our representations of it or the view “that the world exists independently not only of language but also of thought, perception, belief, etc.”[24] – “external realism” -, and the view that all representations of reality are made relative to some more or less arbitrarily selected set of concepts – “conceptual relativity”. Carefully stated, external realism is for Searle “the thesis that there is a way that things are that is independent of all representations of how things are”. This thesis identifies not how things are in fact, he says, but rather a space ofpossibilities for a very large number of statements[25]. Our ordinary linguistic practices presuppose external realism: by making certain sorts of utterances in a public language, we do in fact attempt to communicate with each other, and unless we take external realism for granted, we cannot understand utterances the way we normally do. The assumption Searle is making here is “that there is a normal way of understanding utterances, and that when performing speech acts in a public language, speakers typically attempt to achieve normal understanding”[26]. What Searle tries to show in 1995, in The Construction of Social Reality, is that external realism is presupposed by the use of large sections of a public language: “if you take yourself to be communicating with others in the normal way in the sort of speech acts I have given as examples, you are committed to external realism. I have not shown that there is a real world but only that you are committed to its existence when you talk to me or to anyone else”[27]. For a large class of utterances, each individual utterance requires for itsintelligibility, according to Searle, a publicly accessible reality that he has characterized as representation independent. There is nothing epistemic about realism so construed. External realism is not epistemic: realism is the claim that reality is radically nonepistemic. Searle is not saying “that in order to know the truth of our claims we have to presuppose realism”. His argument, he insists, “is completely independent of questions of knowledge or even of truth. The claim is about conditions of intelligibility, not about conditions of knowledge.”[28]

External realism is not identical with the correspondence theory of truth. For Searle, realism is not a theory of truth and it does not imply any theory of truth:

“Strictly speaking, realism is consistent with any theory of truth because it is a theory of ontology and not of the meaning of “true”[it says that there exists a reality totally independent of our representations]. It is not a semantic theory at all. It is thus possible to hold ER [External Realism] and deny the correspondence theory. On a normal interpretation, the correspondence theory implies realism since it implies that there is a reality to which statements correspond if they are true; but realism does not by itself imply the correspondence theory, since it does not imply that “truth” is the name of a relation of correspondence between statements and reality.” (The Construction of Social Reality, p. 154).

But Searle does offer us a modest version of a correspondence theory of truth in The Construction of Social Reality[29]. We need words for assessing success and failure in achieving fit for representations that have the word-to-world direction of fit, and those words are “true” and “false”.[30] Truth is just a special class of satisfaction: truth is satisfaction of representations with the word-to-world direction of fit.[31] Searle represents the structure of illocutionary acts  – the illocutionary act is the minimal complete unit of human linguistic communication – as F(p) where F stands for illocutionary force (the type of illocutionary act it is) and p for propositional content (the content of an illocutionary act). The general notion of satisfaction is based, according to Vanderveken, on the notion of correspondence:

“Elementary illocutionary acts with a propositional content (…) are directed at objects and states of affairs in the world. They are satisfied only iftheir propositional content represents correctly how things are (…) in the world. (…) the existence of a correspondence between the propositional content of an utterance and the world is a necessary, but not always a sufficient, condition for the satisfaction of that utterance. Indeed, in order that a speech act be satisfied, the correspondence between its propositional content and the world must be established following the proper direction of fit of its illocutionary force. Thus, the conditions of satisfaction of an elementary illocutionary act of the form F(p) are a function of both the truth conditions of its propositional content, and of the direction of fit of its illocutionary force.

First, when an illocutionary act has only the word-to-world direction of fit, it is satisfied in a context of utterance (…), if and only if its propositional content is true in that context (…). Indeed, in such a case, the success of fit between language and the world is achieved by the fact that the propositional content corresponds to a state of affairs existing (in general) independently in the world. Thus the conditions of satisfaction of assertive illocutionary acts are identical with the truth conditions of their propositional content. (…).

Second, when an illocutionary act has the world-to-word direction of fit, it is satisfied in a context of utterance (…) if and only if the speaker or hearer makes its propositional content true in that context in order to satisfy that illocutionary act. Unlike assertive utterances, the commissive and directive utterances have self-referential conditions of satisfaction that are not independent of these utterances. An assertion is true if and only if its propositional content corresponds to a state of affairs that exists in the world, no matter how that state of affairs got into existence. But, strictly speaking, a promise is kept or a request is granted only if the speaker or hearer carries out in the world a future course of action because of the promise or the request. (…) Thus, one speaks of requests which are granted or refused, and of promises which are kept or broken, and not of true or false requests and promises.”.[32]

The illocutionary point of assertive speech acts is to commit the speaker to the truth of the proposition. In one of his most recent works, Rationality in Action, Searle says that there is no way to explain what a statement is (what an assertive speech act is) without explaining that the commitment to truth isinternal to statement making:

“Whenever I make a statement I have a reason to speak truthfully. Why? Because a statement simply is a commitment to the truth of the expressed proposition. There is no gap at all between making a statement and committing oneself to its truth. That is, there are not two independent features of the speech act, first the making of the statement and second committing myself to its truth; there is only making the statement, which is eo ipso a commitment to truth.  (…)

But why is the commitment to truth internal to statement making? (…) What is the big deal about commitment? Well in a sense you can perform speech acts without their normal commitments. That is what happens in works of fiction. In works of fiction nobody holds the author responsible for the truth of the utterances that she makes in the text. We understand those cases as derivative from, and parasitic on, the more fundamental forms, where the commitments are to the truth conditions of the actual utterance. So, to repeat the question, why?  And the answer follows from the nature of meaning itself[33]. The reason why I am committed to the truth of the claim that it is raining when I say that it is raining is that, in making the utterance that it is raining, I have intentionally imposed certain conditions of satisfaction on that utterance. (…) when I seriously assert that it is raining, I am committed to the truth of the proposition, because I have intentionally imposed the commitment to that truth on the utterance when I intentionally imposed the conditions of satisfaction that it be raining on the conditions of satisfaction of my intention-in-action that that intention-in-action should produce the sounds, “It is raining”. And, to repeat, what makes it possible for me to do that in a publicly accessible manner is the fact that I am a participant in the human institution of language and speech acts.”.[34]

In every genuine assertion, the assuming of responsibility must be present: in making an assertion, says Searle, “we take responsibility for truth, sincerity, and evidence”, and these responsibilities are met only, he insists, “if the world is such that the utterance is true, the speaker is sincere, and the speaker has evidence for the assertion.”.[35]

For Searle, all intentionality has a normative structure, but what is special about human animals, he says,

“is not normativity, but rather the human ability to create, through the use of language, a public set of commitments. Humans typically do this by performing public speech acts where the speaker intentionally imposes conditions of satisfaction on conditions of satisfaction. These speech acts are made possible by the existence of institutional structures that the speaker uses to perform meaningful speech acts and to communicate them to other speakers/hearers. Using this apparatus the speaker can undertake commitments when he imposes conditions of satisfaction on conditions of satisfaction. Indeed there is no way to avoid undertaking commitments. The speech act of asserting is a commitment to truth, the speech act of promising is a commitment to a future action. Both arise from the fact that the speaker imposes conditions of satisfaction on conditions of satisfaction. Speech acts commit the speaker to the second set of conditions of satisfaction. In the case of an assertion, he is committed to the truth of the assertion, in the case of a promise, he is committed to carrying out the act that he has promised to perform.”.[36]

But, because promising has the maker of the promise as the subject of the propositional content, it is peculiar among speech acts. Promising has a self-referential component imposed on the conditions of satisfaction:

“the conditions of satisfaction of the promise are not only that the speaker do something, but that he do it because he made a promise to do it. There is, therefore, a self-referential component in promising, and this self referential component does not exist in certain other sorts of speech acts. For example, it does not exist in assertions.”.[37]

“Philosophy in the Real World,” the subtitle of Mind, Language, and Society (1998), captures two important aspects of Searle’s work First, Searle believes that good philosophical inquiry begins by paying close attention to everyday experiences. Second, Searle believes that there exists a reality totally independent of our representations, that the world is not a mere construct of texts and word games, and that we can understand that real world  – a position known as “metaphysical realism”. His refutation of the arguments against external realism and his defense of external realism as a presupposition of large areas of discourse are, he says, the first step in combating  “the attacks on epistemic objectivity, rationality, and intelligence in contemporary intellectual life”. What difference does it really make whether or not one says that one is a “realist” or an “anti-realist”? Searle actually thinks that philosophical theories make a difference to every aspect of our lives.

These brief remarks on Habermas and Searle show that we have to recover our innocence. The tension between the independence of reality and the accessibility of reality to our knowledge is perhaps not so severe. It may be altogether superable if our understanding of ‘independence’ is modest enough and our understanding of ‘accessibility’ fallibilist enough. This is the view of innocent realism[38]. And it might be my way back to Peirce.

* This paper was presented to 5th International Meeting on Pragmatism at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo in November 2002.

[1]. Th. Calvet de Magalhães, Signe ou Symbole. Introduction à la Théorie Sémiotique de C. S. Peirce, Louvain-la-Neuve / Madrid, Cabay, 1981.

[2]. J. Habermas, Wahrheit und RechtfertigungPhilosophische Aufsätze, Frankfurt-am-Main, Suhrkamp, 1999; Vérité et Justification. Translated by Rainer Rochlitz, Paris, Gallimard, 2001; Verità e giustificazione, translated by Mario Carpitella Laterza, Roma-Bari, 2001. The English translation will be published in 2003 [It was published in June 2003: J. Habermas, Truth and Justification (Barbara Fultner, ed.), Cambridge, Mass., The MIT Press].

[3]. J. Habermas, “Rorty’s pragmatische Wende”, Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, nº 44 (1996) p. 715-741 (reprinted as chapter 5 of Warheit und Rechtfertigung); the English version of this essay (“Richard Rorty’s Pragmatic Turn”) was published in J. Habermas, On the Pragmatics of Communication (edited by Maeve Cooke), Cambridge, Mass., The MIT Press, 1998, p. 343-382.

[4].  J. R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality, New York, The Free Press, 1995, p. 195.

[5]. E. Lapore and R. Van Gulick (eds.), John Searle and his critics, Cambridge, Mass. / Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1991, p. 190.

[6]. J. Habermas, Reflections on the Linguistic Foundations of Sociology, inOn the Pragmatics of Social Interaction. Preliminary Studies in the Theory of Communicative Action, translated by Barbara Fultner, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 2001, p. 1-103.

[7]. Cf. the fourth lecture: “Universal Pragmatics: Reflections on a Theory of Communicative Competence” (p. 67-84). In a footnote to the 1979 English translation of his essay “What is Universal Pragmatics” [Was heisst Universalpragmatik?] (1976), Habermas expresses dissatisfaction with the label “universal” and a preference for the term “formal pragmatics”: “Hitherto the term “pragmatics” has been employed to refer to the analysis of particular contexts of language use and not to the reconstruction of universal features of using language (or of employing sentences in utterances). To mark this contrast, I introduced a distinction between “empirical” and “universal” pragmatics. I am no longer happy with this terminology; the term “formal pragmatics” – as an extension of “formal semantics” – would serve better. “Formalpragmatik” is the term preferred by F. Schütze, Sprache Soziologisch Gesehen, 2 vols, (Munich, 1975).” (J. Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society. Translated and with an Introduction by Thomas McCarthy, Boston, Beacon Press, 1979, p. 208).

[8]. For Habermas, Searle’s conception of language as a rule-governed intentional behavior in Speech Acts (1969) – speaking a language is performing acts according to rules: the semantic structure of a language is regarded here as a conventional realization of a series of sets of underlying constitutive rules –  has the advantage of avoiding what he calls the false alternative between a study of the meaning of sentences, on the one hand,  and a study of speech acts, on the other hand: “It still might seem that my approach is simply, in Saussurian terms, a study of “parole” rather than “langue”. I am arguing however, that an adequate study of speech acts is a study of langue. There is an important reason why this is true which goes beyond the claim that communication necessarily involves speech acts. I take it to be an analytic truth about language that whatever can be meant can be said (…) There are, therefore, not two irreducible distinct semantic studies, one a study of meanings of sentences and one a study of the performances of speech acts. For just as it is part of our notion of the meaning of a sentence that a literal utterance of that sentence with that meaning in a certain context would be the performance of a particular speech act, so it is part of our notion of a speech act that there is a possible sentence (or sentences) the utterance of which in a certain context would in virtue of its (or their) meaning constitute a performance of that speech act. The speech act or acts performed in the utterance of a sentence are in general a function of the meaning of the sentence.” (J. R. Searle, Speech Acts: An essay in the philosophy of language, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1969, p. 17-18). For Habermas, what really is of interest here is that there are constitutive rules underlying speech acts: “Different human languages, to the extent they are inter-translatable, can be regarded as different conventional realizations of the same underlying rules. The fact that in French one can make a promise by saying  “je promets” and in English one can make it by saying “I promise” is a matter of convention. But the fact that an utterance of a promising device (under appropriate conditions) counts as the undertaking of an obligation is a matter of rules and not a matter of the conventions of French or English.”  (J. R. Searle, Speech Acts, p. 39-40).

[9].  Cf. J. R. Searle, Speech Acts, p. 31-33.

[10]. To delineate more sharply his concept of communicative competence, and to delimit universal pragmatics, Habermas proposes here a didactically plausible series of steps ofabstractions: “The abstractions begin with concrete utterances [konkreten Äusserungen]. I call an utterance “concrete” if it is made within a complete determining context. The first step is sociolinguistic abstraction. It prescinds from all those boundary conditions of linguistic rule systems that vary contingently and are specific only to individual speakers-hearers, and retains “utterances in generalized contexts”. The second step is universal-pragmatic abstraction. It prescinds from all spatio-temporally and socially circumscribed contexts and retains only “situated utterances in general”.  In this way we arrive at the elementary units of speech [elementaren Einheiten der Rede]. The third abstraction is linguistic abstraction, which prescinds from the performance of speech acts and retains only “linguistic expressions” or sentences [Sätze]. In this way we arrive at the elementary units of language. The fourth step is logical abstraction, which disregards all performatively relevant linguistic expressions and retains “assertoric propositions” [Aussagen]. In this way we arrive at the elementary units for rendering states of affairs. Utterances in generalized social contexts are the object of sociolinguistics: It takes the form of a theory of pragmatic competence. (…) Situated utterances in general that are not specific to a given context are the object of universal pragmatics: It takes the form of a theory of communicative competence. Its task is reconstructing the rule system according to which competent speakers transpose linguistic expressions into utterances. Linguistic expressions (or string of symbols) are the object of linguistics: It takes the form of a theory of syntactic competence. (…) Finally assertoric propositions [Aussagen] are the object of logic.” (p. 74-75).

[11]. Habermas’s linguistic turn, writes Barbara Fultner in her “Introduction” to these Preliminary Studies in the Theory of Communicative Action, “was initially motivated by the conviction that a critical social theory required a sound methodological and epistemological foundation: hence the project of providing a linguistic grounding for sociology.” (“Translator’s Introduction”, On the Pragmatics of Social Interaction, p. xxii).

[12].  J. L. Austin, “Performative Utterances” [1956], inPhilosophical Papers (J. O. Urmson and G. J. Warnock, eds.), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1970 (Second Edition), p. 233-252; “Performative-Constative” [1958], translated by G. J. Warnock, in: Charles E. Caton (ed.), Philosophy and Ordinary Language, Urbana, Illinois, University of Illinois Press, 1963, p. 22-54; How To Do Things With WordsThe William James Lectures 1955 (J. O. Urmson, ed.), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1962 (Lecture VIII-Lecture XII).

[13]. C. Lafont, The Linguistic Turn in Hermeneutic Philosophy [1994], Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1999 (chs. 5-6).

[14]. H. Schänelbach, Zur Rehabiliterung des animal rationale, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 1992. In “Some Further Clarifications of the Concept of Communicative Rationality” [1996], Habermas  accepts Schänelbach’s point of criticism and he assumes that “we use the predicate “rational” in the first instance to refer to beliefs, actions, and linguistic utterances because, in the propositional structure of knowledge, in the teleological structure of action, and in the communicative structure of speech, we come upon various roots of rationality. These do not for their part appear to have common roots, at least not in the discursive structure of justificatory practices, nor in the reflexive structure of the self-relation of a subject participating in discourses. It is more probably the case that the structure of discourse establishes an interrelation among the entwined structures of rationality (the structures of knowledge, action, and speech) by, in a sense, bringing together the propositional, teleological, and communicative roots. According to such a model of intermeshed core structures, discursive rationality owes its special position not to its foundational but to its integrative role.” (J. Habermas, On the Pragmatics of Communication, p. 308-309). Habermas makes now a distinction between two sorts of communicative action: “I will speak of communicative action in a weak sense whenever reaching understanding applies to facts and to actor-relative reasons for one-sided expressions of will; I will speak of communicative action in a strong sense as soon as reaching understanding extends to normative reasons for the selection of the goals themselves. In the latter case, the participants refer to intersubjectively shared value orientations that – going beyond their personal preferences –bind their wills. In weak communicative action the actors are oriented solely toward claims to truth and truthfulness; in strong communicative action they are oriented toward intersubjectively recognized rightness claims as well; (…). Underlying communicative action in the weak sense is the presupposition of an objective world that is the same for all; in strong communicative action the participants over and above this count on a social world that is shared by them intersubjectively.” (J. Habermas, On the Pragmatics of Communication, p. 326-328).

[15]. For Habermas, the insights of speech-act theory must be connected up with the communication-theoretic approach expounded by the German psychologist Karl Bühler in Sprachtheorie (1934). This  approach suggests a fruitful line of inquiry for investigations into language as a mechanism of social coordination. Bühler’s schema of language functions that places the linguistic expression in relation to the speaker, the world, and the hearer can be described as a radicalization of the paradigm change in the philosophy of language introduced by speech-act theory (Cf. J. Habermas, “Social Action, Purposive Activity, and Communication” [1981], and “Toward a Critique of the Theory of Meaning” [1988], inOn the Pragmatics of Communication, p. 105-181, and p. 278-305).

[16]. J. Habermas, “Richard Rorty’s Pragmatic Turn” [1996], On the Pragmatics of Communication, p. 357-358.

[17].  Ibidem, p. 377.

[18]. E. Lapore and R. Van Gulick (eds.), John Searle and his critics, p. 190-191; see also J. R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality,  p. 149-197.

[19]. J. R. Searle, Intentionality: An essay in the philosophy of mind, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983.

[20]. E. Lapore and R. Van Gulick (eds.), John Searle and his critics, p. 190.

[21]. Ibidem.

[22]. H. Putnam, The Many Faces of Realism , La Salle, Ill., Open Court, 1987.

[23]. E. Lapore and R. Van Gulick (eds.), John Searle and his critics, p. 191.

[24].  J. R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality, p. 153.

[25].  Ibidem, p. 182. So construed, external realism is for Searle a purely formal constraint.

[26]. J. R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality, p. 184.

[27]. Ibidem, p. 194.

[28]. J. R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality, p. 195.

[29]. Ibidem, p. 199-226.

[30]. Austin had already said,  in the William James Lectures that he delivered at Harvard University in 1955, that “truth and falsity are (except by an artificial abstraction which is always possible and legitimate for certain purposes) not names for relations, qualities, or what not, but for a dimension of assessment – how the words stand in respect of satisfactoriness to the facts, events, situations, &c., to which they refer.” (J. L. Austin,  How To  Do Things With Words, p. 149).

[31]. For the semantic concepts of success and satisfaction, see Daniel Vanderveken, Meaning and Speech Acts, Vol. I: Principles of Language Use, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 129-136.

[32]. D. Vanderveken, Meaning and Speech Acts, Vol. I: Principles of Language Use, p. 132-133.

[33]. Cf. J. R. Searle, Mind, Language and Society: Philosophy in the Real World, New York, Basic Books, 1998, p. 139-144.

[34]. J. R. Searle, Rationality in Action, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 2001, p. 184-186.

[35]. Ibidem, p. 176. According to Charles S. Peirce, an assertion is an act in which a speaker addresses a listener and assumes responsibility for its truth: “What is the nature of assertion? We have no magnifying-glass that can enlarge its features, and render them more discernible; but in default of such an instrument we can select for examination a very formal assertion, the features of which have purposely been rendered very prominent, in order to emphasize its solemnity. If a man desires to assert anything very solemnly, he takes such steps as will enable him to go before a magistrate or notary and take a binding oath to it. Taking an oath is not mainly an event of the nature of a setting forth, Vorstellung, or representing. It is not mere saying, but is doing. The law, I believe, calls it an “act”. At any rate, it would be followed by very real effects, in case the substance of what is asserted should be proved untrue. This ingredient, the assuming of responsibility, which is so prominent in solemn assertion, must be present in every genuine assertion.” (Collected  Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce [CP], ed. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, Cambridge, Mass., The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965, 5.547 [c. 1908] ). Cf. J. Brock, “An Introduction to Peirce’s Theory of Speech Acts”, Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 17 (1981), p. 319-326; Ch. Chauviré, Peirce et la signification. Introduction à la logique du vague, Paris, PUF, 1995, p. 142-152; Th. Calvet de Magalhães, Signe ou Symbole. Introduction à la Théorie Sémiotique de C. S. Peirce, p. 83-87, and p. 197-200.

[36].  J. R. Searle, Rationality in Action, p. 183.

[37]. Ibidem, p. 213.

[38]. Cf. S. Haack, Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate: Unfashionable Essays. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1998, p. 156-164.

A Return to Metaphysics? Extended Quote from Habermas

But philosophy liberates itself from logocentrism when it is not completely absorbed by the self-reflection of the sciences, when its gaze is not fixated on the scientific system, when it reverses this perspective and looks back upon the thicket of the lifeworld. It then discovers a reason that is already operating in everyday communicative practice. True, claims to propositional truth, normative rightness, and subjective truthfulness intersect here within a concrete, linguistically disclosed world horizon; yet, as criticisable claims they also transcend the various contexts in which they are formulated and gain acceptance. In the validity spectrum of the everyday practice of reaching understanding, there comes to light a communicative rationality opening onto several dimensions; at the same time, this communicative rationality provides a standard for evaluating systematically distorted forms of communication and of life that result when the potential for reasons that became available with the transition to modernity is selectively utilised.

In its role as interpreter, in which it mediates between expert knowledge and everyday practices in need of orientation, philosophy can make use of that knowledge and contribute to making us conscious of the deformations of the lifeworld. Bu tit can do so only as a critical agency, for it is not longer in possession of an affirmative theory of the good life. After metaphysics, the non-objective whole of a concrete lifeworld, which is now present only as horizon and background, evades the (50) grasp of theoretical objectification. Marx’s saying about the realisation of philosophy can also be understood this way: what has, following the disintegration of metaphysical and religious world views, been divided up on the level of cultural systems under various aspects of validity, can now be put together – and also put right – only in the experiential context of lifeworld practices.

In the wake of metaphysics, philosophy surrenders it extraordinary status. Explosive experiences of the extraordinary have migrated into an art that has become autonomous. Of course, even after this deflation, ordinary life, now fully profane, by no means becomes immune to the shattering and subversive intrusion of extraordinary events. Viewed from without, religion, which has largely been deprived of its world-view functions, is still indispensable in ordinary life for normalising intercourse with the extraordinary. For this reason, even postmetaphysical thinking continues to coexist with religious practice – and not merely in the sense of the contemporaneity of the noncontemporaneous. This ongoing coexistence even throws light on a curious dependence of philosophy that has forfeited its contact with the extraordinary. Philosophy, even in its postmetaphysical form, will be able neither to replace nor to repress religion as long as religious language is the bearer of a semantic content that is inspiring and even indispensable, for this content eludes (for the time being?) the explanatory force of philosophical language and continues to resist translation into reasoning discourses. (51)

Lescek Kockanowicz – The Choice of Tradition

Koczanowicz explains his choice of focus on Habermas and Rorty as first that they ‘contributed the most to the renaissance of pragmatism’ (56) and second, that they both employ radically different concepts related to pragmatism thus representing two extremes of pragmatic philosophy. Furthermore, whilst Rorty actively describes himself as a pragmatist, Habermas does not, though his attempt to incorporate pragmatism into his own philosophy discloses a powerful interpretation of it.

Habermas seems to hold Mead in special significance with regard to two aspects of his philosophy: the philosophy of language, analysis which leads to the theory of communicative action, and analysis of the constitution of the individual in post-conventional society. In both cases, Habermas employs pragmatism to overcome the ‘aporias’ (56) of the philosophy of consciousness in its classic formulation as well as the ‘marxist reception of Weber’s theory of rationalisation [in which] the rationalisation of society was always thought as a reification of consciousness’ (Habermas).

A key figure against whom Habermas kicks back is Adorno, particularly the latter’s merely negative conception of freedom and community. Habermas draws upon the concept of the ideal speech community as the result of the positive development of these ideas through Mead’s concept of action, thus ‘the idea of an ideal community of communication is thus a defined point of reference in Habermas’ interpretation of Mead’ (57). The ‘utopia’ of the ideal speech community ‘serves to reconstruct an undamaged intersubjectivity that allows both for unconstrained mutual understanding among individuals and for the identities of individuals who come to an unconstrained understanding of themselves’ (Habermas). The community is at once both a community of language and community of action, with logical priority being given to language meaning that action is deducted from language. Habermas’s main objection to Adorno is that ‘he neglects the mechanisms of reaching understanding between individuals and ignores the inner structure of language’ (57).

Habermas identifies three instances of ‘taking the role of the other’ in Mead’s philosophy. The first is the internalisation of some objective meaning of a particular symbol, enabling a shared response with another person to the same object. The second is the learned ability to use a gesture oriented toward meaningful interaction between speaker and hearer. The third, which Habermas claims was undeveloped by Mead, is the construction of rules that enable people to set up unanimous meanings of symbols and gestures. Habermas connects this third instance of taking on the role of another through Wittgenstein’s notion of following a rule, where a rule is seen as allowing for ‘meaningful action and for the correction of action when there is a confusion in mutual understanding’ (57). As Habermas notes, ‘if we explicate Mead’s thesis in the way I have suggested, it can be understood as a genetic explanation of Wittgenstein’s concept of rules – in the first instance, of rules, governing the use of symbols that determine meanings conventionally and thereby secure the sameness of meaning.’ (Habermas).

Habermas’s interpretation of Mead as not providing the concept of forming meanings in the context of action ‘gives a distorted meaning of Mead’s real intentions’ (58). Mead wanted to demonstrate the process of setting up meaning in communication at every level from basic utterances to complex discourse, yet Habermas ‘reduces the achievement of his theory to merely making rules and checking their validity’ (58). Hans Joas has criticised Habermas’s interpretation of Mead, arguing that his limitation of Mead’s concept to an exchange of signals and an interest in the origins of human communication belies an influence from the analytic tradition of the philosophy of language. Furthermore, Joas criticises Habermas’s contention that Mead’s social theory is idealistic, arguing that Mead works on the problem of social integration, which is not communicative in nature and therefore not reducible to communicative action. Joas also argues that Habermas misses out on a distinction within the concept of action itself, namely action directed toward goals outlined in advance and action in which goals are set up in the process of activity. Both Mead and Dewey draw on creative action, for example, to show how this latter type of action need not be necessarily instrumental only. By neglecting this distinction, ‘Habermas tries to show that pragmatic concept of action is a certain version of goal-means paradigm’ (58).

This is all part of his project, it is claimed, of transcendentalism, for example, the assumption that rules given in advance is the most important instance to which behaviour has to adopt ‘enables Habermas to subordinate pragmatism to his own idea of the quadi-transcendental rationality of communicative action: rationality which does not arise out of transcendental rules of monological character but is grounded in the dialogical situation of requirements of any possible discourse’ (59). In terms of the ideal speech community Mead’s idea of communication as a complex process taking various forms and always threatened by error must be ‘cleared on inconsistencies’, which Habermas does by bringing in Wittgenstein’s concept of rule following and by criticising Mead’s idealism. Other instances of his transcendental urge appear in his analysis of the normative and cognitive expression of the individual’s self-consciousness; Habermas’s mistake is to split the two from each other, whereas for Mead both sides of the self seem inseparable and unified, and so to develop a kind of ‘Kantian transcendentalism [which] loses its monological character but…is still language-oriented transcendentalism’ (60).

Habermas’s final use of his interpretation of Mead’s concept leads him to place his work in the tradition of speech-act theory and assumes that basic categories can be derived from pragmatics: ‘He ascribes to Mead the thesis that there are universal assumptions of communicative action which form the historically shaped concepts referring to action, self and the mind-body relation’ (61). In this interpretation, pragmatism appears as a not fully articulated version of transcendental pragmatics. Pragmatists sought to demonstrate the relationship between universal principles of discourse and their historical and cultural forms, however they reconstructed universal principles out of their historical forms, being unfamiliar with contemporary philosophy of language, and understood the ideal speech community to be a useful idealisation rather than a source of conceptual schemes and their ultimate point of reference. This interpretive scheme is used in different domains of language, but in every case pragmatism is considered to be an inspiration that requires reinterpretation through transcendental pragmatics. This process of reinterpretation requires two operations; first, proving that what has been described in sociological categories can be represented in universal principles, and second that these principles can be shown to be deductively derived from the rules of transcendental pragmatics. As Koczanowicz says, using the terminology of transcendental pragmatics, where their own dialogical version of transcendentalism is presented as a quasi-transcendentalism, I would say that successful completion of this procedure allows us to depict pragmatism as proto-quasi-transcendentalism, not conscious of its essence’ (61).

Koczanowicz now turns to look at the interpretation of pragmatism running through Rorty’s work. It is true that Rorty declares himself to be a pragmatist and that many of his ideas can be identified with pragmatism in general. However, a great deal of the pragmatist tradition is outside of Rorty’s interest (he primarily focuses on Dewey, for example); though he uses the phrase ‘we pragmatists’, he rarely refers to classical pragmatism; though it is possible to reconstruct his idea of pragmatism, one can only do this in very general terms; and finally, Rorty consistently reminds his readers that ‘“Pragmatism” is a vague, ambitious, and overworked word’ (Rorty).

The ambiguity he has in mind stems from what he sees as two contradictory tendencies in pragmatism, namely the tendency to link pragmatic philosophy to analytic philosophy, ‘which in turn is a version of standard, academic neo-Kantian philosophy focused on epistemological questions’ (61). Though Rorty very minimally recognises this interpretation’s validity, he is primarily interested in understanding pragmatism as ‘a radical rupture with traditional philosophy’ (62), insofar as there are no longer questions about the nature of truth, the world and knowledge but rather discourses about these concepts, which are fundamentally aware of their own historical and cultural limitations.

Rorty develops three main arguments within this vision of pragmatism. First, pragmatism ‘is simply antiessentialism applied to notions like “truth”, “knowledge”, “language”, “morality” and similar object of philosophical theorising’ (Rorty). Rorty emphasises the non-essential and non-referential character of truth (James’s theory of truth); truth is important in the context of action so there is more to be gained from inquiring about the results of that action rather than whether it accurately represents the world. Second, pragmatism is described as the doctrine in which ‘there is no epistemological difference between truth about what ought to be and trutha bout what is, or any metaphysical difference between facts and values, nor any methodological differences between morality and science’ (Rorty). Third, ‘there are no constraints on inquiry save conversational ones – no wholesale constraints derived from the nature of the objects, or of the mind, or of language, but only those retail constraints provided by the remarks of our fellow-inquirers’ (Rorty). It is pragmatism’s job to uncover and reject the illusion that we are able to present ultimate statements about the world and outer reality which can be confronted with reality itself, and to put in its place the notion that knowledge is ‘only of a discursive character, deriving its limitations from the reactions of others involved in the same discourse’. (62).

Rorty’s reading depends upon the introduction of a line of division within the pragmatic tradition between Peirce on the one hand, who merely gave the name to the tradition and inspired James, and Dewey and James on the other, who together embody the ‘spirit of pragmatism’. Further to this Rorty introduces division within the philosophers themselves. We see that Dewey, for example, turns out to be in contradictory relation with himself: he understands philosophy as a critique of culture but continues to strive for a metaphysical system; he does not know whether it is possible to overcome the dualisms through building up a new form of metaphysics or critiquing a certain form of philosophy attached to certain historical and cultural particularities. According to Rorty, this dualism stems from the development of two different philosophies that are influenced by Locke’s naturalism and Hegel’s historicism.

Only one, however, is substantially significant; whilst praising Dewey’s imagination, Rorty concludes that Dewey’s mistake ‘was the notion that criticism of culture has to take the form of redescription of ‘nature’ or ‘experience’ or both’ (Rorty). Dewey’s importance lies nevertheless in having ‘opened up the road to a new understanding of philosophy and its role in culture’ (63) along with Heidegger and Wittgenstein. That is to say, philosophy becomes a ‘voice in the conversation of mankind’ rather than a special type of knowledge with privileged access to reality and to universal statements of eternal truth. In this way, Rorty connects pragmatists like Dewey with the tradition of poststructuralists like Derrida and Foucault; indeed, they are the forerunners of this style of thinking, ‘which gives up any claims to transcendentalism, discovering eternal truths, which wants to respond to the challenges of its times and its culture, and which expresses itself most fully in postmodernism’ (63).

Thus pragmatism has a part to play in current debates, but at the price of a distorted image of the movement, which Rorty himself has admitted. Rorty turned toward pragmatism because he was disappointed with the results achieved by analytic philosophy; the future development of philosophy, he says, ‘will centre on the issue of reform versus description, of philosophy-as-proposal versus philosophy-as-discovery’ (Rorty). Pragmatism allows one to go beyond the limits of analytic philosophy by refiguring truth in the manner that Davidson would later go onto elaborate, namely by holding to the view that there are no relations as ‘being made true’ which ‘holds between beliefs and the world’, the result of which is the antiessentialisit epistemological utopia of replacing explanation with interpretation. Pragmatism also attracted Rorty because of its social concepts particularly its idea of democracy and community; pragmatists, unlike Nietzsche and Heidegger, ‘did not make the mistake of turning against the community which takes the natural sciences as its moral hero – the community of secular intellectuals which came to self-consciousness in the Enlightenment’ (Rorty). That is to say that pragmatism enables Rorty to both defend Western civilisation whilst at the same time denying the metaphysical assumptions that fundamental to it. He also used pragmatism to show that ‘contrary to Lyotard, there exists the possibility of mutual understanding between cultures without relying on the metaphysical principles that must inevitably entail terror’ (64). He nevertheless retains an out and out rejection of the transcendental fallacy.

Pragmatism, on these two extreme readings, is trapped between two utopias: ‘the transcendental utopia of undamaged communication and society based on this principle on the one hand, and on the other, the postmodern utopia of dominating interpretation and society without principles’ (65). Koczanowicz believes that he might have the means of solving this controversy.

The problem with Habermas’s position is that it rests on his interpretation of Mead as a transcendental philosopher; though Mead makes reference to ideas like the ‘universum of discourse’ or ‘mankind point of view’, Koczanowicz believes that Mead ‘derives such principles from the rules of social action understood as a complicated process of exchanges of gestures which functions first at a biological level and in the case of human individuals, becomes socialised’ (65). The act changes in two respects: first, the stage of manipulation comes to dominate, but second the individual disappears in the need to relate to the whole act. This is the foundation of normativity for Mead: goals arise through action rather than being decided in advance. Both Mead and Dewey convince us that ‘there are no given-in-advance goals of communication. They must be set up in the process itself’ (66). Thus the rules involved in communication depend on a specific situation; even reaching understanding between diverse societies requires ‘abandoning the belief that it can be grounded in a set of concepts common to the whole of humankind or governed by a single regulative idea’ (66). As such, success cannot be guaranteed in advance: ‘the only consolation lies in the fact that success is always possible’ (66). Strife is worthwhile, however, because it enables us to achieve a more general perspective: ‘put another way, the measure of social progress is the achievement of more complex perspectives, including partial ones, without approaching closer and closer to any universal principles of rationality’ (66).

On the other side, there is an interpretation of pragmatism at play that relegates it to a minor development in addition to the mainstream of philosophy, one which expresses an American version of life philosophy. Rorty, Koczanowicz claims, ‘in his utopias of society without principles and ultimate community of interpretation seems close to such an interpretation’ (66). Moreover, he is misplaced in heralding pragmatism as a kind of post-Nietzschean philosophy: science for pragmatists was a crucial sphere of reality in which creativity sand social recognition come together.

It would seem, then, that both interpretations of pragmatist philosophy ‘reveal intentions of their authors rather than attempt to report the real content of pragmatism’ (67).

“Domestic Disputes”

Habermas wants to clarify the subtle differences between his own position and similar approaches:

Against Brandom: Accounts of Objectivity
Brandom Habermas
“Structural objectivity” is built into our practices of giving and asking for reasons: the distinction between something’s being true and being taken to be true is a pragmatic one, built into the structures of communication The formal presupposition of a single objective world existing independently of us is, after all, also a structural feature of discourse
Against Putnam: Truth
Putnam Habermas
The objectivity of value is the inverse of the value-ladenness of facts. There are ought implying facts and, therefore, value judgements can be true or false There are different senses in which judgements can be correct. Norms must not be assimilated to facts for the facts are not up to us in the same way that moral or ethical norms are. Reaching consensus does not therefore exhaust the meaning of truth
At issue in this dispute is whether it is legitimate to allow for different types of truth that in turn require different types of justification or whether “truth” is a notion that applies to statements about the objective world only whereas moral judgements, though they have cognitive content, are subject to a different kind of validity. (xx)
Against Putnam: Pluralism  
Putnam Habermas
Instrumentalist conception of the value of pluralism: it involves more than mere tolerance, for a consistent pluralist cannot hold that some other form of life is “wrong” and furthermore, such a pluralist must accept that other such forms of life may have insights available to them that are not available to her, but may be of use to her and her own community Habermasians are confined to approaching a value judgement from another community or culture in only two ways, by asking a) whether it is deontologically admissible (whether it violates any universal norms), or b) whether it contributes to a collective form of life that is in the interest of those affected. But when we add to this Habermas’s emphasis on learning processes, and the dialogical nature of communication, we see that these surely allow for the possibility of our learning by interacting not only with the objective world but also with others

The Pragmatic Conception of Knowledge

Pragmatic conception of knowledge
Pragmatist deflation of Kantian transcendental analysis shows how the background structures of our lifeworld are embodied in our practices and activities and emphasises the participant perspective Participants presuppose the existence of a single objective world that is the same for everyone. This is how we are able to refer to objects in the world, and so underlies the representational function of language
A strictly causal theory of reference is unacceptable to Habermas This representational function of language nevertheless remains tied to contexts of experience, action and discursive justification
Empirical knowledge of the world and our linguistic knowledge are interdependent Language makes possible our access to reality, but our engaged coping with the world has the power to lead us to revise our linguistic practices
The world-disclosing power of language is “weakly transcendental” Language does not fully determine what we can know of the world or what the world is for us.
Objectivity is crucial for learning. Problem solving is the key activity underlying knowledge acquisition The resistance that we encounter when coping with the world demonstrates that reality

constrains our thinking, which provides the foothold for a robust notion of objectivity

Ontological implications: weak naturalism complements Habermas’s epistemological realism Nature and culture are viewed as continuous with one another, but Habermas refrains from making any sort of reductionist claims about social practices since these are to be analysed from the participant perspective as norm-governed

The question of truth for [Habermas] is a question of objective validity (Wahrheitsgeltung). (xv)

Objective validity has to do with what one ought to believe, so in this sense it is okay to speak of truth as a normative concept.

However, truth, for Habermas, must not be assimilated to (merely) holding true. Ultimately, objective validity is a matter of what is, in fact, true, not of what we take to be true (despite the fact that we can confidently say that some of our truths have replaced earlier beliefs that we now know were false, and the fallibilist insight that, for all we know, our own beliefs may be similarly replaced in the future). Truth, in contrast to normative rightness, in other words, is not an epistemic notion. (xv)

Since writing “Wahrheistheorien” Habermas has generally confined himself to the view that in raising a truth claim, a speaker claims that some state of affairs or facts obtains. (xv)

Rejection of traditional theories of truth:           

Correspondence Theory Coherence Theory
Assumes the possibility of direct access to “brute” or “naked” reality: too strong a notion of truth Fails to capture important aspects of our concept of truth for beliefs/statements can only be corroborated by other beliefs: too weak a notion of truth
Statements are not true because they cohere with other statements that we accept, but because the states of affairs they describe actually obtain, even though they can only be established by means of other statements.
Consensus Theory of Truth
Started life as a “discursive” conception of truth (until mid to late-90s) Truth is ideal warranted assertability (see Putnam etc)
Abandoned epistemic conception of truth in response to criticism of the above We agree that a proposition is true because it is true, not because it can be agreed to by all concerned
The problem: validity of moral judgements and norms has been over-generalised The validity of a moral claim is exhausted by ideal warranted assertability since there are no facts independent of the ideal community of those affected to which normative rightness claims purport to refer
In contrast: talk of truth has specific ontological implications It presupposes reference to a single objective world that exists independently of our descriptions and is the same for everyone (Putnam’s direct theory of reference)

Truth on the level of a theory of meaning

Although truth, as one of the three validity claims, is indispensable to the theory of communicative action, Habermas has argued against taking truth as a semantic primitive. Rather, it is but one dimension of validity. (xvii)

Communication, action, and representation are equiprimordial…In performing a speech act, a speaker represents a state of affairs, establishes an intersubjective relation with a hearer, and expresses her intention. In other words, she raises three validity claims: a claim to truth, to normative rightness, and to sincerity. (xvii)

The insistence on these three mutually irreducible validity claims underpins Habermas’s critique of e.g. Davidson, Quine, Brandom and Putnam, for all are seeking to find a common denominator or to level the conceptual landscape in ways that Habermas rejects. (xvii)

  • Quine and Davidson: turn the communicative actions of others into mere observable behaviour
  • Brandom: assimilates norms of rationality to norms of action
  • Putnam: levels the fact-value distinction by associating value judgements with “ought-implying facts”

Truth on the level of metaphysics and ontology

How should truth be defined? This question is, for pragmatists, ill put:

Indeed, one might argue that a major advantage of Habermas’s present account over that he offered in “Wahrheitstheorien” is that he no longer provides a definition of truth or equates it with anything. (xviii)

A better question: how does truth function?

In everyday coping: the unconditionality of truth is most evident in this practical context since we presuppose certain truths as unconditionally valid.

This unconditional acceptance is the pragmatic corollary of a realist conception of truth. (xviii)

In discourse: we are aware of the “cautionary” uses of the truth predicate and the fallibility of our claims.

Habermas as an epistemological realist:

The objects we can refer to may fail to meet the descriptions we associate with them (fallibilism and theory of reference). (xviii)

In defence of his version of a pragmatic conception of truth, he argues that the connection between truth and justification is epistemically, but not conceptually necessary. In other words, truth may always “outrun” justified belief, even under (approximately) ideal conditions, but he nevertheless insists on the fact that from the agent’s perspective, practical certainties are and must be taken to be true absolutely at the risk of incapacitation. It is only in discourse that such practical convictions come under a fallibility proviso. (xviii)

Habermas as a conceptual nominalist:

1) Commitment to the revisability of language by experience

2) The world does not consist of facts but of things: facts are not things (cf Davidson)

3) Facts are what make sentences true

4) There is both a mind- and language-independent objective world

5) Antireductionist in the sense that he defends the mutual irreducibility and equiprimordiality of subjectivity, objectivity and intersubjectivity


Habermas’s Kantian Pragmatism


Pragmatism after the Linguistic Turn

There are two major current in twentieth century philosophy, i.e. after the linguistic turn:

Continental Analytic Kantian Pragmatism
Wittgenstein and Heidegger Quine and Davidson Putnam, Dummett, Apel and Habermas
Linguistic world disclosure: access to reality is always filtered and made possible by language/conceptual schemes Embraces an empiricist outlook Linguistic turn is not just a methodological shift but a paradigm shift.
Against: jeopardises the notion of objectivity, we are at the mercy of “Being” or the grammar of our language games Against: does so at the expense of doing justice to the participant perspective of language users since all normative social and linguistic practices are assimilated to observable events in the world (strong naturalism) Seeks to do justice both to the constitutive nature of language and to the objectivity claims of truth.
Both traditions limit themselves to the “semantic aspects” of language and treat pragmatics as secondary Humboldt goes beyond these two traditions: he argues that there are three aspects of language, world disclosure (hermeneutics), representation (formal semantics) and pragmatics
Missing an adequate account of the representational function of language, or reference and propositional truth Does not engage in cultural critique. Truth conditional semantics is too narrow for it privileges the representational dimension of language over its expressive and communicative dimensions Habermas remedies what is missing in Continental philosophy by drawing on the Analytic tradition, specifically Putnam: he stresses the sameness of reference is a formal pragmatic presupposition of communication, and this presupposition is independent of the specific – and possibly divergent – descriptions that two speakers may associate with a term or referent.

Humboldt…emphasises the possibility of cross-linguistic and cross-cultural communication and retains a notion of objective reference. (x)

Humboldt lays the foundations of the kind of Kantian pragmatism [Habermas] defends. (xi)

Indeed, for two speakers to disagree about the appropriate description of a referent presupposes that they are referring to the same thing. (xi)

Kantian pragmatism: how do we detranscendentalise Kant?

What follows, in other words, from understanding the transcendental conditions of possibility of experience as something in the world, or situating them in our practices? (xii)

Detranscendentalising Kant

Kant’s necessary subjective conditions of objective experience are transformed and given the “quasi-transcendental” role of intersubjective conditions of linguistic interpretation and communication. If taken too far, we end up with undesirable consequences, of which Hegel is the prime example: Hegel was right to historicise reason, but he subsequently went too far in the direction of an “objective idealism” according to which objectivity is ultimately reduced to intersubjectivity.
  When we give too much constitutive authority to e.g. lifeworlds or linguistic frameworks, the result is linguistic determinism and cultural or epistemological relativism, for if there are as many way of knowing as there are languages, and these languages, furthermore, are incommensurable, the concept of objectivity loses all its bite.
Even though Habermas would agree that we do not have unmediated access to reality, he rejects relativism in epistemology, just as much as in moral theory. Habermas will argue that the threats of objectivism and relativism stem from an insufficiently thorough pragmatism.

Habermas argues the above problems follow not from the project of detranscendentalisation per se, but from a (continued) privileging of the representational model of knowledge…which has traditionally gone hand in hand with the correspondent theory of truth. (xii)

All references are to the translator’s introduction in Truth and Justification