Saturday, January 19, 2008

Habermas and the question of “Being”

I really want to stop making notes about my old interest in the relationship between Habermasian philosophy and Heideggerian thinking. But I’m the one who recently brought it up again, via the Yahoo! Habermas group, so I feel a responsibility to reply to replies to me. So, I replied to Matt, rather dismissively, I realize.

The following was deleted from that posting to the Habermas list:

Heidegger’s notion of Being for Habermas is associated with “world disclosure,” correlate to Heidegger’s interest in world-disclosing itself (so-called “worlding”), which, I think, is analogous, in temporal frame, to the extended ontogeny of capability that may be retrieved in a psychoanalysis. But I don’t believe that Heidegger equated the notion of Being with worlding. Unconcealing and worlding are existential aspects of the epochal question of Being, which is analogous to the power of “God” in politics, though Heidegger’s interest was to work back “behind” theological thinking, in order to somehow, someday work beyond that—beyond ontotheological metaphysicalism, which was a politics, as well as an existential constitution. The meaning of “Being” belongs to an era, not merely to existences-as-lived “proximally and for the most part.”

The meaning of Being includes a sense of the historical legacy of “Time” that makes capitalization proper. The meaning of Being involves a scale of attention associable with the discernible cultural evolution of conceptualization capability in the West: “Being” is Time is Being. Habermas seems to have basically an existential sense of Heidegger’s sense of “Time-Being,” though his own work can be manifoldly applied to understanding a cultural evolution of conceptualization capability.

Anyway, the meaning of Being includes the kind of historicality of legacy that might cause someone to say that, for example, the contemporary Catholic polis is Platonic in a sense of the legacy of constitutive cosmic-political thinking that goes back to the real Plato and his influence on Plotinian Oneness in the creation of theologicality from the Judaic notion of YHWH.

One exemplary implicature of “Being” in existential worldness is a unifying sense of cosmos, polis, and existence in feeling Onenesss. Plotinus's sense of The One, which had such power in the neo-Platonic conception of the Christian Church, is a hybrid of its time that is further hybridized in Christian theologization (out of the Council of Nicod). Not even Aquinas’ endeavor to renew the conception of theology through Aristotle got beyond the Plotinian Oneness that is integral to the constitution of theological (a kind of political) thinking. Protestantism sought to retrieve the existential origin of the meaning of Christ that echoes the existentiality of Greek nonconcealment (or “Aleitheia”) prior to Plato, already “beyond” the kingdom of “Being” (which is partly why Heidegger, for a while, wrote “Sein” with an ‘X’ over the term)—a motif echoed further in so-called postmodern theology and The Jesus Seminar. (I must add that I’m uncomfortable referring to the notion of “Christ” and focusing at all on a religious interest in finding The True Jesus. Above, I’m merely interested in the existential interest that Heidegger initiated early in the 20th century, which, by the way, of course, also led to existentialism in France).

A profound kind of question that should be posed to anthropological thinking is: Given what we now understand to be evolution—natural and, for humans, cultural—what would this reality look like to ancients who yet lack a modern (proto-Darwinian/Lemarckian) sense of Time? We and they see and saw, in some sense, the “same” nature; have/had the “same” capacity for remembrance and enculturing legacy; have/had the “same” humanness—but they couldn’t conceive an evolutionarity of it all. The construal of there being Creation (analogous for Nature to the mystery of human birth) looked to be that which came to be called (in English) “Being”.

I would argue that Heidegger, steeped in an era of untenable notions of naturalism and scientism (in Freud, too), sought to think phenomenologically one’s developmentality (historicity) in evolution (historicality), and the notion of “Being” belongs to this kind of scale of conceptualizing the experiential mystery of Time.

One could develop the notion of that-which-by-legacy-was-called-”Being” in terms of Habermas’ work—some discursive hybrid of parts of his work that may be gathered into a discursively-conceived integration of his sense of cultural evolutionarity as such—but it wouldn’t appropriately look much like his sense of Heidegger’s notion of Being.

So, I suggest here a further sense in which Heidegger and Habermas are more complementary than Habermas has admitted (beyond the earlier-surmised complementarity of neo-Aristotelian/communitarian and neo-Kantian/deontological thinking).

A sense of that-which-by-legacy-was-called-”Being” that may be discerned from the work of Habermas’ career (i.e., reconstructive-hermeneutical dwelling across many texts by Habermas) wouldn’t be a synthesis of Habermasian argumentation in terms of Habermas’ representations of what he’s doing (especially since he hasn’t attempted to think the developmental continuity of his career as a singular emergence of “Habermasian” thinking; i.e., he hasn’t undertaken a philosophically autobiographical self-reflection of his development as developmentality—has he?). Rather, the sense of “Being” in Habermasian thinking would emerge from the way that he argues the linguistic relativity of conceptualization.

I would, of course, carry a severe burden of showing that my endeavor (a reconstructive hermeneutic of emergent sense of Being) wasn’t a projection of my private “Habermas“ into his texts—a problem I’ve identified in others' reading of his work (a general problem of scholarhship, though especially likely with young scholars—an elderly friend calls them "young Turks"—seeking to make their mark).

I’ve long argued that JH's formal pragmatics is ontologically uncommitted, which is good: A formal pragmatics of rationality doesn’t require a conception of the inquiring that discerns the formalism. Inasmuch as an implied conception has been called “quasi-transcendental,” that’s merely more pragmatics about the interest of reflection in its own conditions, not an assertion of ontological commitment about the inquiring as such.