Pilot H  Jurgen Habermas's  Empirically Falsifiable Philosophy of History

Habermas clearly does see a connection between interventions in social science and politics, seen best in his aim of developing a  'philosophy of history with practical intent' [in an essay in Theory and Practice]. The project is not to develop laws on the meaning of history but programmes for social action. However, this is dependent upon empirical possibilities upon the notions of possible futures contained in the present. Both the aims and the means are therefore empirically establishable.

There are odd features of this project as well -- it has to have a basis in existing society, but not be compatible with existing society: it must be society's  'determinate negation' (259). The empirical part of the project is only to secure validity, while its truth lies in the practical establishment of meaning. In this way Habermas argues that his project is neither deterministic nor decisionistic. It is also clear that for Habermas existing empirical research cannot get at determinate negations, because of its restricted interests and procedures. At the same time, to attack all kinds of the empirical research will lead only to scepticism. The answer is that existing empirical research needs to be transcended, to become a domain for hermeneutic. There are four areas of discussion in particular.

1. Determinate negation.
This depends on the existence of contradiction, and this is open to the objections made by people like Popper [ must society always feature deep conradictions?]. Habermas argues that he is not developing a formal dialectic but a contingent one, resulting from actual structures of domination. The dialectic is only possible because there is no free dialogue (261). It becomes unnecessary, or rather its potential is fulfilled, by developing a domination-free universal dialogue. This clearly shows and fulfils Habermas's interest in emancipation as well. Thus the argument apparently demonstrates empirically the actual constraints at work, the actual contradictions [those which prevent free dialogue as in distorted or strategic communication?] and legitimates or grounds the interest in emancipation  [emancipation is implicit in and achievable by the ideal speech act].

According to Habermas, therefore, social science shows that there are incompatible interests in existing social life, but that emancipation cannot just be another interest. It must be an interest that transcends contradictory interests, uniting them. Nor could it be just a logical procedure, but is showing the possibilities of critical praxis. There is a problem, however, says Pilot. If we look at the first stage of demonstrating contradictory interests, it is clear that this cannot be done with conventional social science and conventional empirical techniques. Habermas's attempt to criticise the rules of the empirical sciences becomes a necessity to overcome this limitation  [he does it by showing that positivism is restrictive, and that the technical interest lies behind the apparent value freedom of the approach]  (263). Once the technical interest is subordinated to the emancipatory interest, however, scientific achievements can be preserved and transcended. Because of the restricted nature of technical empirical rules, hermeneutics is needed. But Habermas wants to suggest that even hermeneutics is too restricted by the empirical/analytical stance, as in his debate with Gadamer.

What we end up with is a dual critique [at different levels].  [A note on 268 suggests that Habermas also against verstehen, and against functionalism as well -- this is also a contradiction for Pilot, but I'm not sure it is --both are limited in comparison to adequate analysis of the totality? Pilot's point reminds me of the difficulties school students have in leaving behind their view of Sociology as having either an action perspective or a systems one with nothing else available]. This will only lead to scepticism  [the whole wrangle between learned philosophers is likely to do this!]. This complex structure is only needed if we accept that there are 'value references' in the empirical/analytical sciences.

2. Value relevance.
Empirical approaches do have value relevance in three senses:  (a) the selection of research areas depends on an assessment of their relevance which depends on values;  (b) basic statements are indeed accepted only after some  'resolution' by discussants;  (c) the process of operationalization presupposes joint understandings. These three are combined in the underlying technical/cognitive interest and it is this that produces the objectivity of science. In the social sciences, research 'belongs to' the objective context [ the social context?].

No-one is denying value relevance in sense (a). Popper's arguments about sense (b) have been summarised by Habermas as involving admitting that chains of inference are potentially infinite or have to be settled by dogma or decisionism. Habermas argues that in practice, everything depends upon a technical interest. By contrast, specific motivations or interests are recognised by Popper, as is the role of scientific institutions in securing agreements about rules. It is not so easy in the social sciences, however, since their immediate perceptions are already normative  [in a recognisably political way, compared with the perceptions of science]. It is impossible to translate social action into unambiguous behaviours.

The problem with the object domain of social science is that it is irreducibly normative because it can only access statements rather than facts in themselves, or  at best a mixture of them. It is acceptable to remain on the level of statements -- so that questionnaires, for example, will research statements not actual behaviours -- but we still need some rules of correspondence to uncover the intentions at the heart of responses. These rules will inevitably lead to ordinary language and its operations [some sort of plug for ethnomethodology here?]  (270).

Overall, pre-understandings are involved in the formulation of hypotheses, but this need not compromise the validity of these hypotheses. For example even if pre-understandings formulated both a hypothesis and a prediction, it is still possible to go ahead with a test -- there could be an inconsistency leading to the rejection of the hypothesis  (271). What this means for Pilot  [and I'm glad for the clarification here!] is that pre-understanding is necessary for operationalism, but it does not mean that it is an ideological commitment. In critical rationalism, then, there are possibilities for avoiding ideology. These possibilities are stronger than for Habermas's work, because for him attempts to study pre-understandings alone secured the relation between hypotheses and facts -- this is what Habermas really means by his demand for intelligibility and adequacy, and its is also what he means when he says that interests guide knowledge. [This seems a long-winded way of making Albert's point that relying on personal experience as the starting-point will lead to conservatism and the inability to subject anything to rigorous testing].

Habermas says no genuine metalanguage is possible, that ordinary language is always the source and origin of any metalanguage  [including the metalanguage of critical rationalism and positivism]. Metalanguage also necessarily involves a praxis [?]  (272) . Pilot believes instead that meanings are possible in reference to behaviour rather than praxis [he evidently believes it is possible to study behaviour directly despite the impossibility of translation between language and intention that he mentions above -- 268n]. Habermas insists on a connection between language and praxis, which leads to his remarks about understanding as a form of socialization into the norms of a linguistic tradition. These norms or the prejudices they provide can be overcome by reflecting  [a key point in the work of Habermas and Apel at the time, based on Freudian analysis to overcome various theoretical and political 'blocks' to critical thinking and action]. However, reflection is not the same as hermeneutic analysis [and if Habermas advocates hermeneutic analysis, even of emancipatory 'unblocked' thinking, he will undermine the foundations altogether, Pilot argues below].

Because language use is dependent on social processes, language becomes a medium of social power for Habermas. Language is to be related to social power objectively, instead of focusing on the structures of consciousness themselves as in hermeneutic [Habermas is exempting his own analysis for hermeneutic analysis here, in other words]. This is where Habermas must add an empirical/analytic approach, especially some  'general theories of social action' [that is, turn to some sociology] . What he needs to show, however, is how these more objective understandings help him analyse actual constraints. There is a dangerous circularity here. Studying objective levels of reality, and how they have become objective, involves using the rules of empirical procedure which are, as we know, based on pre-understandings. [So you can't rely on these rules and procedures for one part of the analysis, having insisted that they need to be dissolved by hermeneutic in another part]. The two are  'mutually exclusive' (274).

It is also the case that Habermas presupposes that all interests are determined by social power, but that the interest in emancipation has somehow escaped. This emancipatory interest guides the research, yet the research is supposed to ground the interest [otherwise it would simply be an arbitrary starting point arrived at dogmatically or decisionalistically]  (274--5).

Even if the emancipatory interest is legitimated, why should it assume priority over the technical interest? Presumably, the technical interest must presuppose the emancipatory one, and yet fail to capture it fully, becoming distorted. Why should not the technical interest appear as a precondition for the emancipatory one?  [which is certainly close to some of the work of Marx himself]. If emancipatory potential in the empirical/analytic sciences are to be realised, they must be made subject fully to the emancipatory interest, for Habermas. It is not sure whether this means that all scientists must use the full unrestricted form of the dialectic, together with or instead of their existing methodological rules. Or perhaps the uses to which science is put is the only ideological part?

In general, there is a whole problem of distinguishing ideological validity and emancipatory validity in trying to examine types of discussions that scientists actually have (276). Perhaps this will only be possible if some historical utopia becomes realised? It is also possible that the actual discussions that scientists have could already be seen as an anticipation of undistorted dialogue -- if so, it implies that some bits of science or social science can be kept, and only some other bits have to be subjected to critique as ideology. If this is the case, then some sort of piecemeal approach seems warranted rather than a full reconceptualisation.

3. The interest in emancipation in language.
Language itself is still open to deformation by ideology. For Habermas, this seems to imply:  (a) that domination-free dialogue is only possible in existing societies among marginals  [this sounds more like a popular reading of Marcuse], that is, it is utopian rather than immanent;  (b) in emancipated societies domination free dialogue is universal, and thus will be directed even at emancipation itself, leading to scepticism.

Even if option  (a) pertains, there are certain preconditions:

(1) The materials for discussion are contaminated by the existing society. Criticism of these materials therefore depends, ironically, on some notion of value freedom, which, even more paradoxically, has to be secured by existing institutions  [hence the odd ambivalences felt by radicals towards universities and other institutions in which they live]  (278).

(2) The store of existing statements or theories in science and social science have to be searched for evidence of bits of reification and bits of liberation. Existing laws of social science have to be rejected because their initial conditions are based on false consciousness of their social determinants. This needs to be demonstrated, for example to show that constraints are not anthropological [that is universal to all statements, but specific to societies with domination]. This in turn involves a need for 'knowledge of the given institutions which stabilise ideology-distorted socialization processes' [Habermas is very light on this sort of concrete analysis, for example in his Legitimation Crisis, where he is forced to rely on some pretty ancient and rather functionalist sociological analyses of actual institutions]. This will involve some empirical investigation of law-like irregularities, and a check on pre-understandings derived from tradition. Would Habermas use random samples or psychoanalytic techniques to test various emancipatory hypotheses? Why not attempt to calculate the more dangerous subsidiary effects? [obviously, Pilot thinks that critical rationalism is required here -- and who says German philosophers don't do sarcasm?]

(3) Habermas's attempts to undistort communication structurally must be focused on an emancipated society. There are problems in that he infers emancipation from the structural conditions of language, but does not show how it is to be related to praxis [he has addressed these comments a bit more in later work, and even suggested that some forms of communication in existing societies may need to be distorted]. Language is not just a field that demonstrates possible emancipation, but it is used actually to distort perceptions of society in which is spoken. The distorting potential of language is important for critical theory in explaining why no direct emancipatory praxis is possible.  But why is not the idea of emancipation equally a distortion, an ideology, a distorted utopia? Why would not such a utopia also disappear when language becomes undistorted? Habermas clearly needs some dialectical analysis of utopias as well as of the present!

4. The philosophy of history
If this is dialectical then it is either a priori rather than contingent, or contingent but thus open to ideological distortion. Habermas seems to want some a priori emancipatory interest guiding a contingent dialectic (281). The dialectic must be contingent because thought is distorted through the labour process. However, if this is true also for the interest in emancipation, '"critical theory"  begins to oscillate between its principle and the societal conditions analysed' (281). If ideology is suspected as operating even at the root of its very own presuppositions, critical theory seems headed for scepticism, following a 'sceptical regress which cannot be assuaged in any knowledge' (281). It will not be able to initiate any praxis --  'It persists in its scruples and ought to be left to them' (282).

In practice, the regress is halted only by insistence that the regulative principle of the philosophy of history is some objective interest. This is based on some objective [sic] anticipation of a domination-free dialectic going on between the sciences. This would preserve scientific objectivity, while negating all the rules which contradict objectivity. Institutional securities are needed, however, and this is really the key political interest of science. The need for some relatively free institutions, in contrast to actual societal conditions, is the key political interest of science, and the only sense in which science is in contradiction with social domination. There is no need for the dialectic [a liberal plea for an open society will do?].

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