Albert H  Behind Positivism's Back?

Habermas has reformulated his critique [in A Positivistically-Bisected Rationalism] --  whether Popper is a positivist or not now depends on  'demarcations which can be made in a number of ways'. Albert is still keen to rescue Popper from the general criticisms of positivism especially those referring to restrictions of thought. The issue is now whether Habermas's approach is superior to Popper's. Habermas has shifted his ground here, and is now claiming superiority from a neo-pragmatic perspective. The argument turns on:

The methodological role of experience
Habermas has admitted the role of the nonempirical in Popper and thus has not justified his claim that only hermeneutic can do this  [but Habermas is saying that Popper uses the hermeneutic in an unreflected way?]. The dialectic claims to measure up to the experience of the totality in advance: this is really a reassertion of the old problem about using experience as the source of wisdom, and the conservatism implicit in that. Of course tests are connected to theories, and the facts must be relevant, but this does not indicate a philosophical innocence in Popper. As for the other kinds of tests, we really need examples  [psychotherapy is the example in Habermas].

There are dangers of immunisation involved in poorly designed tests, especially in non- empirical modes. It might be possible for example to reject theories simply because they are not in accord with a traditional world-view  (230 - 31).  [This issue of immunisation is raised in critical theory itself, and refers most specifically to the sort of political challenge to capitalism that only makes it stronger by helping it identify immediate weaknesses]. This is particularly likely if experience is raised prematurely and 'directly to a validating instance' (231). In general, social experiences are good at accounting for the history of a particular theory, but cannot negate cognitive content (231). Perhaps Habermas is really speaking of normative rather than cognitive arguments? The foundations of these arguments are different, but even the normative ones are open to critical rationalism. There is a general lack of examples in Habermas though.

On the issue of Popper's work specifically, all theories are fallible, but the criteria are fixed. Criteria need justification, and this produces what appears to be a problem of inconsistency for Popper. Actually every source, even a critical tradition, is open to criticism for Popper. Popper recognises this problem of foundationalism [foundationalism here refers to some positive grounding]. The problem is that foundationalism must rest on a dogma or on an infinite regress. Popper insists on a combination of methodological test and a final commitment to reason, while for critical theory the solution to this problem lies in the dynamics of reification -- but this faces challenges from other positions including phenomenology or linguistics [the latter refers to what appears to be the growing challenge from various  'post' positions. The references are to various articles in Telos]. Generally, Popper tries to do without a foundation in this positive sense, and this, says Habermas, leads to justificationary thought and verificationism. This needs to be explored further.

Popper is included as a positivist because of his epistemology of independent facts. But Popper is against empiricism and the pure givenness of facts. Habermas criticises Popper's correspondence theory which implies the existence of independent facts for him, but Albert says that Popper agrees facts are the products of both language and reality  [recognised by Habermas but seen as one of Popper's inconsistencies]. Actually, the correspondence theory in Popper is not crucial to his work on science [argued in Popper's Logic of Scientific Discourse, apparently]. Instead, there is a narrower methodological focus on the adequacy of scientific theory if it is testable or falsifiable.

The basis problem and instrumentalism
The basis problem  [that is the problem of basic statements?] is a vicious circle for Habermas, according to his discussion of the analogy of trial by jury. This discussion is taken of context. The procedural rules for tests are not the same as theories, although they are linked  [for example, they can be embodied in the usual statements of theories -- 236n . They can also be embedded in institutions but not solely so -- procedures can be both logical and institutional for Albert]. Since falsification occurs, it is clear that procedural rules are not the same as theories. These problems can be recognised without any recourse to hermeneutic and in ways which are often clearer  [leading to another dig at Adorno's liking for obscurantism, 237n]. What are the results of this for Habermas? He has shown a correspondence between theoretical regularity and the elementary needs of behavioural stability -- but this arises with any system, even metaphysical, mythical or religious ones.

The point is that science emancipate people from these needs for behavioural stability, although it is still connected to them. Successful technical manipulation demonstrates the plausibility and realism of the theses. In other words, science is successful because it is able to penetrate to the real  (237). Thus there are good cognitive reasons for pursuing it as well as particular procedural techniques offering behavioural stability.

Habermas's alternative to instrumental reason involves making claims about the realisation of totality and its dependent particularities etc through history, and thence to practical politics. Albert wants to question the methodological status of these procedures, and suspects that there is a practical rather than cognitive force at the heart of them. These devices criticise science or positivism as instrumental for practical and political reasons. This is followed by a pretence that some other knowledge is been advanced  (239). For example, it is significant that Habermas's critique of empirical science is that goals are unreflected, not established. However, it is possible to rectify this if it is a problem by adding normative discussion, rather than questioning the whole categorial system.

Habermas claims that his approach retains the best of Popper's  (the critiques of empiricism), but junks the problems of falsificationism. This is his argument that there is a discontinuity in Popper between the fallibility of theory and the success of technology. Albert replies that:  (a) false theories often yield successful technologies, and, as Popper has said, science often disregards successful technology;  (b) Popper's theory of approximation reconciles fallibility and progress or truth  [although this is the correspondence theory which Albert had just said is not crucial]; (c) Habermas's alternative is a verbal solution only, equating truth with what is empirically true, that is what experience corroborates. Habermas's use of instrumentalism rather than Popper's realism is a misunderstanding of Popper  (241). It might be useful to criticise self misunderstandings held by actual scientists, but rational criticism already exposes these, and quite often physicists do themselves -- so why do we need Habermas's position, and what makes it so unique anyway?

The problem of justification
Habermas says that justification is a social matter, but this actually is positivist, says Albert  [Habermas seeks to make methodological problems disappear by reference to social facts -- 243n]. Habermas ignores this point  [made in the previous piece by Albert] and raises a new problem: methodological statements are contrasted to empirical ones, and there are problems of distinction between them. This leads to the argument that critical theory is comprehensive especially in influencing attitudes as well as just criticising statements. Albert replies that the logical criticisms of statements is still relevant, and of course it goes on at different levels, and therefore there are different forms of connections with other arguments. But the logical issues are still fundamental, and in principle separable  (244).

Habermas's argument about the need for standards to be justifiable is more problematic -- and, again, requires more examples. It seems to have  'little to do with rationalism' (244n)  [this is surely Habermas' point?]. Popper would of course agree that there can be no positive foundation for critical rationalism, but Habermas does not show how the dialectic would fare better. Instead, he comes close to grounding critical theory in some dogma about the concept of totality  (245). Popper's use of argumentation does not show inconsistency, but rather the inadequacy of Habermas's assertion that positivism restricts itself in its argument. Habermas's insistence that all this be made clear is really a request for a linguistic paraphrase: there is no substantial difference between Habermas's recognition of problems and Popper's  (246). All philosophies run risks in being accused of having irrational foundations  [this is the point that was to swell into the whole post structuralist movement]. This is why Popper insists on continual critical reflection: this is not really answered by Habermas.

Standards and facts
It is not clear whether knowledge can be divided along these lines. There seemed to be two sources of this division for Habermas -- the origins of knowledge and how or whether the normative is kept out. However, no one denies that knowledge takes place within a normative framework, says Albert, so this cannot really be a basis for Habermas's critiques of Popper. In any event, Habermas has now shifted his focus? Popper agrees that the logical structure of the discussion of facts and standards is the same -- why is Popper's continual critical reflection inadequate? There seems to be some insistence here that connections between these two prevent standards being isolated enough to permit them to be criticised  (250). The point, however, is to focus on why there are these separations, rather than simply to pursue rhetorical arguments against the principle of separation. Critical rationalism does all the significant things already.

Dialectic and critique of ideology
Habermas now seems to be borrowing from neo-pragmatic traditions as well as hermeneutic ones. The role of the dialectic now seems even more obscure, and possibly not so important. Is now used just as an example of how to reflect on more things than critical rationalists can  (252). It seems that  'everything possible is acceptable' for Habermas  [that is, Habermas seems to be pursuing complexity for its own sake, while critical rationalists are prepared to leave some aspects of complex realities unreflected upon?To put it in blunter terms -- why is a complex analysis better than a non-complex one? How complex should a good argument be? How much complexity should it attept to explain -- given that there is infinite complexity in principle?]. It is conservative to rely on hermeneutics, and theological. Once this dogma or theology is rejected, it would be possible to develop a practical politics based on critical rationalism  (253).

Critical rationalism does not rule out a consideration of  'knowledge - guiding interests'. Nor is it true that empirical analytical research is unable to produce reflection on self understanding for social subjects -- normative problems can be discussed  [Popper's politics presumably?]. This can be done in a non dogmatic way. By contrast, references to some unspecified totality, and normative claims in the project to grasp law-like irregularities of history as expressions of totality usually reveal a  'decided reason... namely ideological thought' (254n). Positivism wishes to abolish such a project says Habermas [and there is a discussion of Topitsch's position again].

Critical rationalism is good at exposing strategies of dogmatism and immunisation to protect against criticism, and thus is able to criticise ideology  [apparently, a school of critics in Poland have developed this particularly well]. There is lots of critical potential even in conventional social sciences, and more progress made there than in dialectic.  [A note, 256n, claims that Habermas himself is forced to use these critical rational insights of concrete work, rather than relying upon a simple assertion that  'all connections must always be included... all separations overcome... all distinctions made by others...{rendered as} dubious']. Dialectical language is more likely to lead to the separation of scientific subcultures, especially because it is so metaphorical and often so concerned to immunise. There are lots of presuppositions in Habermas's, but few examples. Overall, the dialectic is  'an unrivalled instrument for mastery of complex connections even if the secret of how it functions as remain concealed up till now' (257).

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