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.