Metacritique Critiqued

by Ralph Dumain

In re:

Kortian, Garbis.  Metacritique: The Philosophical Argument of Jürgen Habermas; translated by John Raffan ; with an introductory essay by Charles Taylor and Alan Montefiore.  Cambridge [UK]; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980.


The introduction exists to bust the virginity of the Anglo-American philosopher by explaining the relevance of the subject matter, based in the German tradition, from the standpoint of analytical philosophy.  The immediate task is to explain the Hegelian metacritique of epistemology (e.g. Kant) and then the Marxian critique of Hegelianism based on its reformulation as social critique.  As such, it is a useful introduction (for example, on why the philosophy of identity screws everything up).  As an alternative, within a presumably more familiar tradition, the attack on epistemology from the standpoint of Wittgenstein is summarized.  It is quite clear from this alone that Wittgenstein is reactionary and obscurantist.  Taylor and Montefiore admit just this, but they remain neutral about it.

I skipped ahead to chapter 4, on knowledge and interest.  While the treatment of Marx's critique of Hegel is of interest, Habermas' critique of Marx as positivist and instrumentalist is drivel.  The end product as we know is Habermas' dubious classification of the sciences and the idealism of communicative action.  It's a shame.  Nevertheless, much is likely to be learned, esp. by the beginner, in this book.  The question remains whether it will adequately explain the unity and distinction of two aspects of metacritique, i.e. the epistemological and the sociological dimensions.  The book begins by recognizing the irreducibility of epistemic questions to sociologism.  I can't say in advance whether the book gives us all we need or whether it fudges key issues, though I have my doubts.  Will Habermas ultimately spoil the pudding?

(24 January 2003)


My participation in online academic discussion lists confirms my assertion that academia is incapable of comprehensive metacritique; it is too crippled to utilize its own cultural capital productively and it's going to be up to others to wrest the knowledge and the abilities accumulated by academia and put it to constructive purpose.  It's hard to say which group is the most bankrupt, but it's curious that the most sophisticated are the most stupid and helpless in the crunch, those most steeped in critical theory prove to be the most incapable of criticism.  And, in ironic contrast to their professed values, is there anybody worse than the Habermasians?

I'm 4 (out of 5) chapters into the book, up to the point where Habermas by way of Kortian goes off the rails with Marx.  The book is an extremely condensed calibration of Kant-Hegel-Marx-Critical Theory (Horkheimer/Adorno)-Habermas, with heavy reference to Habermas' Knowledge and Human Interests. It's quite interesting, though elusive in spots, but there is a lapse somewhere in the logical flow.  (I think Habermas' idealism is revealed in this progression.)  Just as I thought when I read KHI many years ago, Habermas has Marx all wrong, and I think his correlation of interests with different conceptions of science is completely bogus. This is where Habermas goes askew, and the logic of the progression that Kortian adumbrates does not convince me. Perhaps Kortian will give Habermas enough rope to hang Habermas with (and Kortian too). We shall see.

Critique, having originated with Kant, is apparently unable to criticize itself.  Metacritique is the real thing, "what critique comes when it is made radical."  [p.29]  Habermas is going to show that a metacritique of epistemology is only possible as social theory, after going through Hegel and Marx.  Hegel's speculative solution is shown to be untenable, and dissolved by Marx.  Kant, Hegel, and Marx all accept the goals of Enlightenment.  However, in the 20th century, the critical function of rationality is reduced to analytic positivist rationality and completely absorbed in technology.  Self-reflection disappears.  'Denial of reflection is positivism.'

Kortian's prose is not easy to digest.  While he makes quite a bit of sense in spots, I find him dubious in others.  I can understand the concept of the reduction of reason to technocracy, and the reduction of social theory to an impersonal functionalism and scientism.  But the inadequacy of positivism—which never receives clear definition—seems to be case in terms of subject-object relations rather than in terms of the nature of abstraction and scientific idealization.  While the nature of the object and relation to the subject does indeed alter the social sciences significantly from the natural sciences, it is not enough to vaguely characterize the natural sciences as quantitative, formalized, etc., let alone positivist or instrumental.

This quote, for those who have a minimal understanding of what's going on, makes sense:

The critical consciousness of Kantian 'epistemology' which is thus replaced by the concept of speculative experience is equally a result of speculative experience. This becomes clear as soon as it is realised that the genesis of its own point of view, considered now as the consciousness of the phenomenological observer, becomes translucent in proportion as the determinations of the process of the formation of consciousness are reconstructed and appropriated. At the end of the Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel asserts that this point of view constitutes absolute knowledge. This Habermas contests. His own critique demonstrates the aporias in Hegel, reasserts the importance of a critical inquiry into knowledge and prepares the ground for a transition to Marx.

Absolute knowledge can be contested on the grounds that Hegel is only led to a concept of absolute knowledge as a result of presuppositions borrowed from Schelling's philosophy of identity which suggest the presence of an absolute movement of spirit in its phenomenological experience. There are, moreover, considerable difficulties in integrating the approach of the Phenomenology of Spirit with the rest of the Hegelian system, especially the Science of Logic. Even if these difficulties are set aside, however, Hegelian metacritique still presents a problem. If we accept the relevance of the phenomenological argument to the critique of knowledge, and if we accept that it constitutes a metacritical radicalisation, must we therefore conclude from this the necessity of dissolving all theory of knowledge, all epistemological inquiry, as Hegel does? Habermas claims that the presuppositions of Schelling's philosophy of identity give Hegel's radicalisation of the critique of knowledge an ambiguous status: his metacritique is in the service of an absolute knowledge which seeks to make all critical investigation of knowledge superfluous. If this is the case, what has happened to the relation between philosophy and science? Whereas Kant's critique, which was oriented towards the physical and mathematical sciences of his time, was able to furnish criteria for science as such, Hegel attempts to reveal these criteria through phenomenological experience and ends in absolute knowledge. He must therefore be content with a concept of speculative science." [pp. 84-85]

But how about this:

Finally, I will examine the problem of the self-reflection of science. Here the decisive influence is that of Hegelian phenomenological reflection. Certainly, Habermas does not take the phenomenal knowledge of an Hegelian natural consciousness as the starting point for this self-reflection. He does, however, refer to the phenomenalised scientific knowledge which appears in the positive forms of the exact sciences of nature, the physico-mathematical sciences, the socio-historical sciences and the human sciences. The historicist presuppositions of Dilthey, Rickert and Cassirer are adduced to sanction the distinction between the natural and human sciences. Charles S. Peirce's systematic inquiry into the logic of scientific research and Wilhelm Dilthey's account of the foundation of the human sciences are found to contain the germs of a self-reflection of  science which would reveal the connections between knowledge and the objective context of social life. These two authors did not achieve this self-reflection, but, in the course of their methodological investigations, they stumbled on the interest which guides scientific knowledge. Moreover, their methodological reflection enabled them to go beyond the simple positivism characteristic of Comte or Mach. Positivism, in spite of its continuing influence, has increasingly lost the Kantian understanding of epistemology. Like certain contemporary analytical philosophers, it reduces epistemology to a simple theory of science dictated by the model of the physical and mathematical sciences. " [p. 73]

Now what does this actually explain about science?

(27 January 2003)


Kortian's treatment of Habermas' treatment of Marx focuses on Marx's replacement of epistemology and geist by labor, apparently based on Marx's Feuerbachian period.  There is no mention of Marx's conception of science in the Grundrisse.  Everything stops in 1844, or with luck, 1845.  While some of Kortian's observations about Marx's ontology of labor and his abjuration of idealism are interesting, the treatment of Marx's conception of scientific method, as well the specific logical structure of his critique of Hegel and others, get short shrift.

I could quote a few key passages, but I want to skip ahead to the worst part of the argument:

If one compares the materialist concept of the synthetic activity peculiar to the subjective nature of man with the Kantian theory of knowledge, a certain formal identity may be discerned. Like Kant, Marx maintains the fixed framework of a subjective disposition of man in relation to the objectification of all objects of nature. However, this transcendental disposition of Kantian epistemology is re-absorbed in Marx into the theory of instrumental action. That the relation of the human subject to surrounding nature is invariable, is, indeed, a Kantian moment in Marx's analyses. This relation, however, is treated from the perspective of an evolutionist and pragmatic anthropology.

The conditions of instrumental action arose contingently in the natural evolution of the human species. These conditions, however, also bind our knowledge of nature with transcendental necessity to the interest in potential technical control over the processes of nature. The objectivity of experience is constituted within a conceptual schema which is determined by deep-seated anthropological structures of action and which is equally binding on all subjects whose life depends on labour. The objectivity of experience is thus bound to the identity of a natural substratum, namely, the physical organisation of man as disposed to action, and not to an original unity of apperception which, according to Kant, guarantees the identity of ahistorical consciousness as such with transcendental necessity.

In short, Habermas is saying that the Kantian moment in the concept of synthetic activity understood as social labour could have been developed within the discourse of an instrumentalist epistemology. This epistemology would have to explain the transcendental context of the process of social labour, a context where the possibility of experience and of the objectivity of knowledge would be understood from the point of view of an instrumental and technological domination of nature. The idea of the transcendental or quasi-transcendental dimension to human behaviour represented in instrumental action and communicative activity is maintained. This line of thought returns to the possibility of an epistemology which draws its theoretical strength from the pragmatism of Peirce and Dewey, Konrad Lorenz's anthropology of knowledge, Gehlen's philosophical anthropology and the Hegelian metacritique of Kant's critique of knowledge." The few allusions to such an epistemology which are to be found in Marx are certainly not sufficient to form a developed theory. Nevertheless, they do explain the reasons for Marx's affirmation of the exact natural sciences, an affirmation which was to amount to a form of positivism and which Habermas indicts. A pragmatic anthropological conception of scientific knowledge predominates in Marx although it is never explicitly stated. The production and objectification of scientific knowledge in the process of theoretical research and its application in the production and reproduction of social life constitutes a differentiated extension of an anthropologically constitutive activity which is objectified in social labour. The forms which these objectifications assume in the history of the human subject are contingent and vary according to the level of the social and historical development of man. The identity of the knowing and acting subjects which Kant attributed to an ahistorical transcendental consciousness must consequently be conceived and defined in relation to these objectifications which determine that identity.

Habermas seeks to explain the presence of this non-Kantian moment in Marx's concept of synthetic activity by reference to one of the fundamental ideas in Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre. Fichte's idealist critique of the Kantian conception of transcendental apperception as the condition of the possibility of the identity of self-consciousness is translated into the discourse of historical materialism. Fichte, whose speculative argument is based on Kant's practical philosophy, understands the identity of self-consciousness as an original action (ursprüngliche Handlung or Tathandlung), or as a self-positing of the Ego which at the same time opposes itself to a non-Ego which is understood as the objectification of a previous unconscious activity and which conditions the Ego: 'In considering your present self-positing which is raised to clear consciousness, you must conceive of a previous such positing which occurs without clear consciousness to which the present self-positing relates and by which it is conditioned."' Habermas explains Marx's analyses in the light of Fichte's speculative schema. It is only by opposing itself to the objectified forms of social production, its non-Ego, and by understanding them as its own products that the subject of social labour can acquire knowledge, form itself, and understand its own identity in its activity. The identity of self-consciousness which Kant conceived of as a disposition to a synthetic activity thus appears from this point of view as an acquisition." Marx, Habermas asserts, attempts to restrict the domain of unconscious activity of Fichte's Ego to the socio-historical world of the human subject and thus rejects the Fichtean idealism which would have it include the unconscious production of nature itself. In this way, Marx understands the concept of synthetic activity through social labour as a Selbstsetzung or Tathandlung which is relative to the given stage in the process of the socio-historical formation of man. The synthetic activity effected through social labour presupposes the evolution of nature up to the appearance of hominids. The bio-morphological disposition of hominids marks the transition from nature to culture. This is the evolutionist moment in Marx's anthropology of knowledge which replaces the idealism of an unconscious activity of an Ego or of an absolute spirit. [pp. 90-92]

I  think this is pretty much a load of crap from beginning to end.  What say you?

(27 January 2003)


This is what Kortian (Habermas) leads us to:

An assessment of the double metacritique directed by Hegel and Marx at the critique of knowledge and transcendental philosophy of German Idealism would be bound to conclude that both must lead to the dissolution of epistemology. In the one case, the philosophy of identity immanent to the Phenomenology of Spirit compels the concept of self-reflection to sublimate the Kantian critique in absolute knowledge. In the other case, the reduction of the entire cognitive dimension to the concept of social labour makes all theory of knowledge otiose. This reduction, as is clear in Marx's metacritical appropriation of the Phenomenology, ends up by abandoning the concept of self-reflection because it understands the transcendental concept of reflection in terms of the model of production." To the extent that its pragmatic and anthropological assumptions depend on instrumental action, this reduction of the cognitive dimension leads to a capitulation before positivism.  [p. 93]

What a stinking load!  Get a load of the last sentence.  How could any scholar have the cheek to write such rubbish?  No logical connectedness, no accountability, just arbitrarily making it things up, within a narrow frame of reference.

Now I think we are getting close to Habermas' idealist foundations.

(27 January 2003)


Habermas' theory seems to be ideological beyond Habermas' own mind, i.e. in the social function it  has  taken on irrespective of Habermas' intentions. And I believe it is the fundamentally idealist nature of the basis of his point of departure that makes it possible for him to be watered down as readily as he is to the worst kind of two-faced self-deluding liberalism.  I need to re-read Knowledge and Human Interests to be certain, but Kortian's metacritique inadvertently exposes the false view of science that lies at the basis of Habermas' fraudulent classification of the sciences and the correlation of each with a distinct type of interest.  Habermas falsifies the natural sciences as positivist, then he correlates them with instrumental action, then he criticizes Marx for muting self-reflection, then he bases social science on reactionary irrationalist lebensphilosophie beginning with Dilthey, and then we're stuck with hermeneutics transformed into communicative action, and instead of rehabilitating the progressive features of liberalism within a radical perspective, we're back to Kantian dualism and liberalism on a subjective idealist foundation.  What does it say about the state of the intelligentsia that Habermouth could get away with selling this?

I could quote some choice passages from Kortian, but let's start with this doozy:

In a formal sense, Hegel's Phenomenology and the metacritique contained in the 1844 Manuscripts and the German Ideology can now be understood in terms of the two objective figures of spirit found in the Jena Philosophy, namely, social interaction and the process of social labour. The Phenomenology can now be read as the reconstruction of the process of formation of the human subject from the point of view of the anthropologically constitutive domain of social interaction. Once the Phenomenology has been freed from its metaphysical concept of substance, it is found to relate essentially to the figure of spirit developed in the Jena Philosophy under the title of 'ethical relation' (sittliches Verhältnis), and hence to the paradigm of social interaction. Moreover, when the presuppositions of the philosophy of identity are abandoned, the other anthropologically constitutive domain in the formation of the human subject is released from the hold of the absolute concept, namely, the process of social labour which depends on material praxis and instrumental action. It is this second paradigm which Marx brings into play in his metacritical interpretation of the Phenomenology.

The greatness of Hegel's Phenomenology and its end result the dialectic of negativity as moving and productive principle  is therefore . . . that Hegel understands the self-production of man as a process, objectification as disobjectification, as alienation and as Aufhebung of this alienation; its greatness is that he grasps the essence of labour and understands objective man, man who is true because real, as the result of his own labour.

Marx, as we have seen, understands the process of the formation of the historical human subject essentially in terms of this paradigm. Habermas argues, however, that in this way Marx comes to regard the process of social labour as itself absolute. The dialectical movement of production comes to absorb the entire sphere of praxis as conducted within the framework of communication and social interaction, or, in Hegelian terms, all the forms of phenomenal consciousness.

The concept of instrumental action, however, has no power to understand and criticise the sphere where the forms of domination and ideologies are objectified as a set of relations of production.

As well as the forces of production in which instrumental action is sedimented, Marx's theory of society also incorporates the institutional framework, the relations of production. It does not ignore the structure of symbolically mediating interaction or the role of cultural tradition. It is only on the basis of these aspects of praxis that domination and ideology can be understood. These aspects of praxis were not, however, integrated into the philosophical foundation of the theory. It is here, where instrumental action cannot penetrate, that phenomenological experience moves. Here, the forms of phenomenal consciousness which Marx calls ideologies appear, and here reifications are dissolved beneath the silent force of a reflection to which Marx restores the Kantian name of critique.

The intention behind Habermas's criticism of Marx is to establish the irreducibility of the two paradigms in question—social interaction, which includes communicative activity, the struggle for recognition and class antagonisms, that is, ethical and political praxis, and, labour or social production through instrumental action, that is, technical and material praxis. Once this irreducibility is established, the question of the theoretical objectifications proper to each domain must be considered. These are, respectively, the human hermeneutic sciences and the exact nomological sciences. The differences between the two become clear once the epistemological inquiry into the foundations of the human sciences is no longer bound, as in positivism, to a model dictated by the physical and mathematical sciences, and is free to find the conditions for an adequation between theory and its object which respects the specificity of the object.

Marx's relation to positivist scientism is ambiguous. The relation of his social theory to the physical and mathematical sciences remains affirmative, because, as we have seen, elements of a pragmatic and instrumentalist epistemology provide him with the theoretical framework for his understanding of the exact sciences which determine production in industrial society. Marx, moreover, never explicitly addressed the question of the necessity for a distinction between the natural and human sciences. What can be discerned, and indeed appears explicitly, is a positivist tendency to subsume and integrate the latter in the former.  Nevertheless, when he considers the status of his own social theory, Marx understands it as a critique which retains a normative significance inherited from the practical philosophy of Kant and Fichte. The normative sense of the concept of critique which belongs to decisive Enlightenment is essential to Marx's social theory. This concept is indispensable if Marx is to justify his emancipatory intent in a way which goes beyond the subjective moralism of Kant and Fichte, the limits and dangers of which he so clearly saw, and if he is to apply this emancipatory intent in a theoretically coherent manner to the social totality. Habermas therefore believes that Critical Theory must integrate a double experience into this concept of critique: the experience of Hegelian phenomenological reflection, and the experience of the epistemology of the human sciences which its founder, Dilthey, understood as a critique of historical reason which complements and extends the Kantian Critique of Pure Reason.  [pp. 96-98]

Now the beginning, on the Jena Philosophy and the reconfiguration of the Phenomenology, I have no problem with.  The claims about Marx, in connection with scientism and positivism, are pure piffle.  Both the Habermasian claims about the natural sciences and about Marx's grounding in them are pure fantasies.  From the false basis of idealism Habermas weaves an entire research program.  While much of it is salvageable from a different perspective, the false basis reveals the reasons—on a logical basis—the ideological calls for further explanation—that we have to be unnecessarily tormented by so much distraction in order to extract the good stuff.

(27 January 2003)


As I've stated, Kortian summarizes a logical progession fairly convincingly, until something happens in the course of Habermouth's treatment of Marx, that has once Marx has made the step into historical materialism.  (From the references given, the bulk of Kortian's treatments is based on Habermouth's Knowledge and Human Interests, and the basis in Marx goes as far as The German Ideology.)  The illegitimate logical transitions are sometimes made within a single paragraph.  See what happens here:

Habermas's intention is to combine the reflective movement of Hegel's phenomenological experience with an epistemological inquiry into the human sciences which is incorporated within Marx's social theory. In this way, he hopes to elaborate an adequate concept of the science of man which would make possible a radical critique of knowledge, a metacritique of epistemology, as social theory. But, 'Marx did not develop this idea of the science of man. Indeed, by equating critique with natural science, he repudiated it. Materialist scientism merely confirms once more what absolute idealism had already achieved: the dissolution of epistemology in favour of a universal science freed from its bondage. Here the universal science is not absolute knowledge, but scientific materialism.' [pp. 99-100]

The bit alone about natural science and materialist scientism is a heaping steaming pile of shit, but there's more:

The radicalisation of the Kantian critique comes to a sorry end. Hegel capitulates to metaphysics in the claim to be the universal science, and Marx capitulates to its latter-day counterpart, scientistic positivism. It is this that leads Habermas back to Kant. However, Hegel and Marx, in spite of their respective capitulations, opened up the way to understanding knowledge in its process of formation, or as the process of formation of  the human subject. It is this theoretical perspective which Habermas exploits when he returns to the Hegelian phenomenological project in a way which does justice to Kant but avoids the aporias of Kantian philosophy. This enterprise clearly requires that due account be taken of the changed theoretical presuppositions. It is thus impossible to continue with Hegelian 'phenomenal knowledge'. Attention must now be directed to the knowledge presented as phenomenal in the positive objective forms of the exact natural sciences and of the socio-historical sciences. The social implications of these forms of knowledge are now at issue. [p. 100]

Note where the argument goes awry: "Marx capitulates to its latter-day counterpart, scientistic positivism."  This just isn't a steaming pile of cat shit in a litter box, or dog shit on your driveway, or even horse shit in your barn, it's a half-ton of elephant shit dropped in front of your face as you feed the elephant peanuts through the fence at the zoo.

Note carefully the paragraph's last sentence: exact historical sciences (which means positivism) and socio-historical sciences (hermeneutics and lebensphilosophie).  Note: this is the edifice on which Habermouth builds, bootstrapped by a Kantian "transcendental inquiry into the conditions of the possibility of knowledge."

As there is no legitimate way backwards into "metaphysics", "positivism is therefore the end of epistemology."  [p. 101]  The concept of the knowing subject becomes lost as well as the nature of the object of knowledge.  We are left only with a system of rules for theory construction and verification.  Logic and mathematics become autonomous formal sciences, their validity is presupposed, and hence any deeper questions about the genesis of knowledge and its relation to the knowing subject can no longer be asked. [p. 101-102]  Other than the ritual repetition of the word "positivism" without adequate explanation and without justification for its equation to the natural sciences and mathematics, this is the closest Kortian gets so far to an explanation of what he means.  And while there's some truth encapsulated within this characterization; it is adequate neither to the nature of the natural sciences nor to the range of positions or options within the philosophy of science nor to the problem of the self-consciousness of any discipline though the hints are there.  I would argue that above all it is the culture of analytical philosophy (as one academic culture geared towards the "positivist' model)  rather than its specific content that suppresses self-reflection.  I also don't believe that a culture emphasizing ritual gestures towards reflexivity is anything more than narcissicism and a guilty conscience and a defense-mechanism against the attainment of objective knowledge.  That is, it is the mask of liberal pluralism.  Like Marx confronting Bauer and Stirner, I claim that consciousness and reflexivity are products of objective conditions and possibilities (in one place Marx calls this "world intercourse") and not formalistic gestures.  Hence, while I agree that positivism suppresses self-consciousness, this should not be promiscuously conflated with the nature of the empirical-analytic sciences.  Habermas cannot see this any more than could his predecessors (Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse).  The Frankfurt school caught on to the nature of modernity and its contradictions; that a limited rationalism generates its antithesis, contemporary irrationalism, but they did not characterize this relationship accurately because they themselves were the products of a divided intellectual culture, in their case, the reactionary tradition of lebensphilosophie they themselves rebelled against.

Habermouth goes his predecessors one better in his zeal to incorporate every recuperable trace of bourgeois philosophy.  So he takes Peirce and Dilthey as the exemplars of the philosophy of the natural and socio-historical sciences, respectively, as separate and irreducible paradigms of instrumental action (control of nature, monologic) and communicative interaction (intersubjective understanding, dialogic).  [pp. 103-104]  B.B. King should write a song about Habermouth: "How Bourgeois Can You Get?" Play it for me, Lucille.

(27 January 2003)

Responses to Questions & Comments

Uneven development of science & philosophy

(1) Uneven development of science & philosophy: I believe it is very uneven indeed.  Just triangulate, at the end of the 18th century, beginning of 19th, physical science (physics & mathematics, beginnings of chemistry, biology) with British philosophy and German philosophy (including naturphilosophie), and you can see how uneven it is.  The development of science may be lagging behind in certain respects, the development of philosophy in others.  This unevenness overall is the basis of my caution viz. the claim that Hegel properly assimilated everything of his time.  The German vs. British thing (Newton, Kepler, Goethe . . .) is involved.  Also, [some book] says something about Hegel's relegation of science to the categories of the understanding, and what the problem with placing the philosopher above science is . . .

(2) What is science?  There is a continuum here, or a number of levels to the question. First, science is empirical observation, data collection, measurement, experiment, verification.  This much I learned in grade school.  We also learned the basic concept of testing hypotheses.  Secondly, science is the formulation of laws.  We were taught this, too, though not in a sophisticated enough fashion to deal with any issues in this area.  Thirdly, there is theory.  We were probably taught something about this, but the public gets this mixed up, as we supposedly believe in hard facts, not theories, except when the facts are inconvenient.  It would be a mistake to define science as pure theory, but it is also important to emphasize it in the last instance, as here is where the greatest confusion reigns.

(3) The philosophical issues enter into science at every point, but there are some key ones that enter in at the theoretical level, which confuse philosophers and scientists as much as the average jane and joe.  Foremost, the notions of measurement, prediction, control, and explanation.  In my opinion, explanation is the key; without it, we are relegated to mystification.  The only caveat here would be that we have well-verified theories that I suspect are not really understandable.  Famous physicists have stated that quantum physics really makes no sense, and yet it has a well-elaborated structure that no one has been able to supersede, though there are alternative theories and dissidents.  However, without explanation as a normative goal, the critical function of science disappears.  The empiricism that remains makes everyone gullible from the top down to the bottom.  The popular belief in astrology is all empiricism, no theory, no explanation, pure measurement and correlation with a framework of abstract categories.

(4) Another high-level and mid-level issue is the nature of hypothesis formation and theory construction.  Here we could emphasize the notion of scientific idealization that forms the basis of the Poznan School, which in every other respect is as analytical as anyone.  Idealization vs. empiricism gives a whole different perspective from opposing positivism to objective idealism or critical theory in the usual childish manner.

(5) A related issue is the problem of metaphysics in the old-fashioned sense, and categorial distortion.  How does metaphysics differ from scientific theory?  Here both the spontaneous philosophy of scientists and the better philosophical/metascientific thinkers, including Marx, converge.

(6)  The issues of appearance and reality, essence and appearance, object and subject, devolve into modern questions of primary and secondary qualities, matter and sensation, experience and reflection.  I had a good intuitive grasp of this by the time I was 15, without reading anything.  This certainly helped me through a lifetime of combatting mystification.

(7) Yes, Engels’ writings are a mishmash, but he was on the right track and ahead of his time.  He also understood the incapacity of empiricism to confront mystification and superstition.

(8) So the proposal to start with science before reverting to philosophy, and in any case not segregating the two, matters tremendously to metacritique.  Critical theory is most sophisticated about many things, but this is its Achilles heel.  My study guide on positivism vs. lebensphilosophie enters here, too.  Critical theory does not overcome the split, but perpetuates it, as sophisticated a grasp as it has of the contradictions of modernity in other respects.

(24 January 2003)

On science & its ideologies, the misrepresentation of Marx, reflexivity & relativism

One must begin with the distinction between scientism and positivism as ideologies of science and the real thing, not to mention other philosophical conceptions of science.  Not only is Kortian wrong about science, he is also wrong about Marx's "capitulation", which in any case would be not to science per se but to the Frankfurt School's faulty image of science. The question of the nature of scientific truth, of its methods of abstraction and idealization, are squashed into the lowest common denominator of what could be philosophically considered to be the conceptual methods and procedures of science.  Kortian never really explains what he means by the formalized methods of science and mathematics, and where the limitations lie.  (I would say offhand that their "limitations" lie in the ideological context in which they are deployed, but Habermouth can't make this distinction.)  But by and large the conceptual questions are bypassed in favor of the notions of instrumental action, control of nature, and other ideological code words which narrowly define the "interest" and hence the mentality behind the scientific attitude.  And then this becomes the basis of a cognitively as well as ideologically biased notion of an absolute difference between the instrumental and the intersubjective/communicative attitudes.  This is just so wrong it's wrong.

As for the characterization of Marx, first, Kortian/Habermas conveniently drops Marx where he was in 1845, and conveniently overlooks the development of Marx's scientific method and his conceptions of same in the 1850s.  It is convenient indeed since it is painfully clear and obvious that Marx was no positivist, ever, and especially not later.  Hence, whether or not Marx adopts a model of the natural sciences, the model he does adopt is nothing like what Kortian/Habermas claims.  They get away with this because they use weasel reasoning if not weasel words to play into the preconceptions of their naive audiences that they are making a logical argument, which is not even logical.  It is key to be able to see through the way that "science" is used here.

To take it a step further: though Engels is not involved in this discussion (I assume he would be would be the bad guy according to the likes of Habermouth), Engels' philosophical work and dialectical materialism that came out of it is also pertinent here.  The dialectical materialist outlook and similar ones (like Roy Bhaskar's critical realism before he found God) handle the classification of the sciences very differently from Habermouth's radically dualistic approach.  Dialectical materialism is neither dualist nor strictly monist: it recognizes both unity and differentiation.  There are not different conceptions of science at play, but the specific scientific method deemed to be apropos is geared toward the nature of its object of investigation: the specific natural and human sciences are differentiated according to their specific qualitative character and place in the stratified organization of matter (called by other names such as integrative levels by other philosophies).  Yes, Engels was not Marx, but an elementary acquaintance with dialectical materialism even in its dogmatic Soviet form would quickly reveal the fallacious basis of Habermouth's specious reasoning about the inherent nature of the natural and human sciences.  So much for claims about Marxism.  And as I've stated, the arguments about Marx are constructed on a series of confusions and faulty presuppositions.

Self-reflection means reflexive consciousness, the ability to critically examine the assumptions behind what you do. Relativists are the least capable people to do this.  I've stated that the much-vaunted reflexivity in vogue is by and large a scam.  It is painfully obvious when one deals with people who flaunt it who reveal themselves to be clueless and unconscious at every turn.  Have you ever attended a conference on the sociology of science?  Do you realize how stupid these people are?  (See my quote from Marx on world intercourse, and my proposed conference program on The German Ideology, whose three participants independently came to similar conclusions about the parallels between the 1840s and today's postmodern dispensation.)

( 28 January 2003)

The social theory industry

I've focused on Habermas as an irritant, but the book has some virtues in presenting the issues in a highly condensed form.  Without a thorough grasp of Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Dilthey, Peirce, Husserl, and Heidegger, it is not easy to decipher the argument.  I'm not up to the task myself, but the book is no less useful for getting the outlines of philosophical trajectory and complex of issues involved.  I note in particular the consequences of having to deal with a philosophy of identity, which is rather foreign to the way materialists think. . . . .

I find parts of what I know of Habermas useable, but they would have to be recast into a different fundamental frame of reference.  Habermas is a defender of modernity and Enlightenment and secular rationality.  However, irrationalists—people who have an investment in the whole of Continental philosophy, including critical theory and postmodernism—are also into Habermas for their own agendas.  Not to mention the lily-livered liberals who seem to comprise the bulk of Habermasians.  I could discuss the motives of both groups (which probably overlap), but I just want to point out the irony of the dubious foundations of Habermas' rationalist project.  Habermas has upped the ante in trying to incorporate every manifestation of philosophy and social thought of the past century he could utilize, but I surmise that the result has just buried him deeper in the bureaucratic mire of the theory industry, an alienation upon which a certain type of intellectual thrives, the alienation being the explanation of the gullibility which always accompanies the sophistication of this social type.

(28 January 2003)

Intellectual Cultures

I'm not certain how I've failed to explain how or why Habermas is unable to make the distinction between his ideological conception of science (positivism) and the real thing.  The Frankfurters have this poorly defined but total view of natural science as positivist (as well as the linchpin of the hated 'instrumental reason').  Obviously they can't make the distinction.  So have I failed to explain why they can't?  Perhaps I've only proved that they are blind because they're blind?  Or have I failed to explain the distinction that I draw?

I've also made a distinction between an intellectual culture and the specific techniques and usable concrete content embedded or imprisoned within it.  I used analytical philosophy as the example here.  It's not necessarily its specific content that is the problem, and not even its intrinsic limitations, but the overall way it functions, the type of people it produces, their socialization and their ideological regulation within a social field.  (One could say the same of the Frankfurters, as we shall see.)   This is a much more subtle distinction than that made in the paragraph above, but the inability to recognize it is also a product of the intellectual culture one is a part of.  Homo academicus can't even recognize its existence.

Another time I will explain what I've discerned of the Bhaskar/critical realist school.  In this case it is the culture that is the alpha and omega of the problem, facilitated of course by the special difficulties of Bhaskar's special jargon and style which serves to sequester and solidify its existence as a socialized intellectual entity.  I've always said we need to sic Bourdieu on Bhaskar.  This school is the best specimen I can think of in its class.

It's mostly true you can't blame people for their fans.  In Habermas' case the blame goes mostly to the fans, as it does for the Frankfurter fans as a whole.  I think the Habermasians are even worse, which seems odd given Habermas' commitment to Enlightenment and liberal institutions.  But there may be an explanation for this too.  And it may be possible to find something fundamentally reactionary in the basis of Habermas' theoretical structure.  I think the problem is in a basic idealism that renders the whole structure rotten.   I have begun to pinpoint the foundation of the problem.  What I need to do most is to explain the intellectual and not merely the institutional basis of academic corruption.  It is as corrupt intellectually as it is morally, probably even more so.  But in this case I have to explain why how the Habermasians behave and why.

(28 January 2003)

Habermasian ideology

My concern with Habermasianism as an ideology is really what others have done with him and why, rather than Habermas' own intentions.  I am sure Habermas' rehabilitation of liberal institutions is bound up in his experience of fascism and the proximity of Stalinism.  Most importantly, Enlightenment is an unfinished project which also has a dynamic of its own beyond a mere rationale for capitalism and the free market. . . .  There is "our" Enlightenment vs. "theirs", our liberalism vs. theirs, our human rights vs. theirs, etc.  Maybe there’s even our Habermas vs. theirs, though I'm not sure who ours would be.

The issue though in relating to Habermas to Habermasians is the structure of Habermas' own theory that facilitates its conversion into an ideology, either in its ideas considered abstractly or in its social instantiation.  Reading Kortian . . . has given me strong hunches about how this works.

(29 January 2003)

The ideology of discourse ethics

Does discourse ethics make sense, especially when it is clumsily applied to real world situations?  As [someone] suggested, it may not even be possible to apply a counterfactual theory to the factual world.  If you look at the political chat shows on TV, which try to maintain a semblance of rational discourse, balance, and diversity of opinion, you can see why.  Just like the debating team mentality, it's a cover-up.   Well, it's different in that the public "political" debate really is a sham, and far less substantive than a high school debate team which might produce sharp-minded functionaries one day.  The point is though that it's about being one-dimensional and gullible, taking empty rituals and propaganda and debates predetermined by ideology as something serious and sincere, to be addressed in good, polite, and earnest form by us.  Like middle class zombies, we are all supposed to pretend we have no accumulated knowledge of social reality that allows us to judge the seriousness and sincerity of any debate, and we are supposed to play along with make-believe, just as if semblance is what it purports to be.  We're supposed to be respectable and gullible and act like we don't know what we know.  This is the alpha and omega of Habermasianism.  Habermas intended something else, I presume, but he has created an ideology that has produced certain effects among his followers.  What enables such an appropriation to take place is the idealist foundation of Habermas' ontology and his fraudulent conception and classification of the sciences.  The attack on science and materialism—the fraudulent characterization of natural science as positivism and instrumental reason—is the philosophical foundation on which the alienated, ideological consciousness of Habermasianism is constructed.  It is an alienated, ideological universe, custom-made for the middle class professional and what's left of liberalism, which is pluralist ideology with no substance to back it up.  The Habermasian ideology is impervious to its own performative contradictions—it cannot deliver on its promises and doesn't know why.  When you deny material reality and the correspondence theory of truth, you never ever know why.  So do you want to remain a gullible, one-dimensional being the rest of your life, always being innocent, never seeing beneath the surface of anything, or are you going to become a real human being?

(29 January 2003)

Communicative rationality for the professional-managerial class

There are limitations to the usefulness of Habermas' clean-cut high school debating club mentality.   The formalism of the complex of ideas expressed does not seem to address the substantive power relations existing in any situation that make the pretense of rational dialogue ineffective and duplicitous. The enforcement of procedural discourse following the rules of civility is itself an ideological mask and an act of violence.  It entails having to be put through the wringer on someone else's terms.

Habermas has made a tremendous contribution by restoring the notion of the indispensability of liberal culture for modern society, and that no short cuts are affordable in the quest to overcome alienation, on the part of the counterculture, New Left, Stalinism, etc.  The values of the liberal society cannot be limited to liberalism, but must also be incorporated into a post-capitalist society as well or the horrors of the 20th century will be repeated.  In fact, the values of liberal society can only be realized within a radical perspective.  Radicals have always done the liberals' work for them and fought the battles that the liberals have been too pusillanimous to undertake themselves.  But Habermas, in spite of his early engagement with Hegel, his inept reading of Marx, etc., seems to have stagnated as an alienated liberal academic.  Those who study him seem to be much worse, far more conservative, even.  Critical theory has become an object of aesthetic contemplation, not an active tool to engage reality.  'Communicative rationality' is only middle class gentility, not the preservation of individual autonomy and freedom of inquiry.

(23 January 2003)

Compiled & edited 30 November 2003
© 2003 Ralph Dumain. All rights reserved.

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