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

 

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Validity Claims and Consensus Theory of Truth

In communicative language use, if I am challenged I am expected to produce a satisfactory answer to that challenge, which will then be either accepted or rejected by my communicative partner.

There are four types of validity claims, which are also mapped onto four domains of reality:

Claim What? Domain
Truth Challenge to the cognitive content of the utterance ‘The’ world of external nature
Rightness Challenge to the speaker’s right to initiate a conversation. Roles are normatively prescribed, so the validity claim demands that speakers consider the legitimacy of those roles or relevant norms, and their relationship to them ‘Our’ world of society
Intelligibility The basic sense of an utterance may be glossed or interpreted by the hearer in the event of a challenge Language itself
Sincerity The degree to which an utterance accurately reflects the speaker’s intentions ‘My’ world of internal nature

 

Empirical evidence or experience disrupts our taken for granted assumptions on which we usually base our actions. Far from supporting the current language game, evidence is actually a disrupting force that runs counter to our normal routine. Thus, an appeal to further experience will only redeem the claim in the most humdrum of cases.

A proposition is said to be true if and only if it could be accepted by everyone else who could enter into discourse with me. However, this is not to say that truth is relative to a specific community. Rather, truth is determined by the agreement not just of those directly present, but also of all those who could be present. As such, a proposition that is held to be true now is done so only in the most provisional sense, continually waiting for further disruptive evidence or argumentation. Here Habermas is close to Peirce, in the sense that truth is arrived at within a community of participants, but is never finally arrived at as it is subject to continual revision.

Truth is therefore redeemed in discourse, which is contrasted with the more mundane communication. Discourse is defined by certain normative requirements, for instance, that no competent speaker can be excluded from conversation. Habermas acknowledges the circularity of this claim: insofar as participants cannot be excluded, their competence cannot be established independently of discourse itself. This is not necessarily problematic, however, since it coheres with the view that truth is only provisional.