A Materialist Critique of Skepticism: Part Four

For the skeptic, as with Kant, appearances are a barrier to our knowledge. Empiricus argued that since the objects of perception seem to affect us in different ways we cannot speak of their nature but only of their appearance on a given occasion. Further, he wrote ‘what we investigate is not what is apparent but what is said about what is apparent – and this is different from investigating what is apparent itself.’33

As with Descartes, the skeptic metaphysically ‘investigated’ what was thought linguistically. Since no-one could decide on truth between appearances, the result for the skeptic was epochē – suspension of judgement.

Empiricus repeatedly referred to appearances in the world and held that all appearances are relative – both to the judging subject and to what is observed with it. Yet the skeptics’ emphasis on appearances and their relativity contributed to the development of dialectical materialism.

For the materialist, appearance is the manifestation of essence and the task of cognition – through engagement – is to explain how essence (the deeper structural levels of matter or more general relations) manifests in phenomena. As with all matter, essences are subject to change in accordance with the laws of matter.

The skeptic holds that our senses and ability to reason are not simply imperfect but that they ‘deceive’ (as though senses have intentionality) and fail us. Empiricus wrote ‘our senses do not grasp what external existing objects are accurately like. But our intellect does not do so either, especially since its guides, the senses, fail it.

And no doubt it too produces some admixture of its own to add to what is announced by the senses’;34 Cicero wrote ‘So what is apprehensible, if not even the senses give true reports?’35 and Montaigne: ‘nothing reaches us except as altered and falsified by our senses. …The unreliability of our senses renders unreliable everything which they put forward’.36

These attacks on our ability to sense and reason and our trust in them were made in the shadow of absolute truth, not of ‘living,’ relative truth, inseparable from uncertainty and change, from revision and replacement – on the basis of our testing of those truths in practice. Montaigne wrote ‘perhaps we need to harmonise the contributions of eight or ten senses if we are ever to know, with certainty, what Truth is in essence.’37

Montaigne well exemplified a core problem for the skeptics regarding our ability to reason in relation to our senses: ‘Our mental faculty of perception is never directly in touch with outside objects – which are perceived via the senses, and the senses do not embrace an outside object but only their own impressions of it; therefore the thought and the appearance are not properties of the object but only the impression and feelings of the senses.

Those impressions and that object are different things. So whoever judges from appearances judges from something quite different from the object itself.’ Stroud repeats this: ‘There seems to be no way of going beyond (our senses) to know that the world around us really is this way rather than that.’38

These words exemplify a presumption that there is an unbridgeable gulf between ‘us’ (in effect, our consciousness) and the world. We are matter which has developed in particular ways over many millions of years in relating with and to know the world. Our brains have thoughts and reason, our senses sense appearances.

But the moment we begin to not simply observe and contemplate but engage through practice with the appearances of other manifestations of matter, to do what we have developed to do, we begin to acquire knowledge of that matter and to move beyond its appearance. That knowledge will always be relative (to truth as a theoretical absolute) and imperfect – but as we continue to engage, employing the process Lenin summarised at the beginning of this essay – our knowledge deepens.39  Guthrie quoted George Herbert:

A man that looks on glasse
On it may stay his eye,
Or if he pleaseth, through it passe
And then the heav’n espie40

Empiricism has skeptical potential precisely because it is a flawed understanding of how we know the world – for the empiricist sensation is the only source of knowledge. In sensation are to be found internally necessary connections between the sensed world and our brains.

Logical categories are not merely subjective tools applied on the basis of convention or habit but forms of knowledge which have developed through our engagement with the world. They are not (as for Kant) prior to experience – fixed and dead. Hegel showed that not only does the objective content of thought develop, so do its forms and the development of both is inter-related.

Hegel also introduced the role of practice (which for Marx is social) into thought. Concepts are summaries of the experience of thought as it reflects the world and are neither inborn nor given with everyday consciousness but require effort.

Part four/to be continued…


33. Sextus Empiricus Outlines of Scepticism, op. cit., 8. Stroud writes of life made bearable, imprisoned by appearances. ‘Other people, as I understand them, are not simply sensory experiences of mine; they too, if they exist, will therefore inhabit the unreachable world beyond my sensory experiences, along with the tables and chairs and other things about which I can know nothing. …I would have no more reason to believe that there are any other people than I have to believe that I am now sitting in a chair writing. The representations or sensory experiences to which Descartes’s conclusion would restrict my knowledge could be no other than my own sensory experiences; there could be no communal knowledge even of the veil of perception itself.’ ‘The Problem of the External World’ op. cit., 21, 22-23

34. Sextus Empiricus Outlines of Scepticism, op. cit., 33

35. On Academic Scepticism, op. cit., 46

36. ‘An Apology for Raymond Sebond‘ op. cit., 678

37. Ibid., 667

38. ‘The Problem of the External World’ op. cit., 20

39. ‘The sophism of idealist philosophy consists in the fact that it regards sensation as being not the connection between consciousness and the external world, but a fence, a wall, separating consciousness from the external world – not an image of the external phenomenon corresponding to the sensation, but as the “sole entity”.’ ‘Sensation is an image of matter in motion. Save through sensations, we can know nothing either of the forms of matter or of the forms of motion; sensations are evoked by the action of matter in motion upon our sense-organs. That is how science views it.’ V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, pp. 38, 282.

40. W.K.C.Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, Vol. 2, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996, 464. Galen wrote that after abusing the senses ‘Democritus represents them as saying to ‘the mind’: “Wretched mind, you you take your evidence from us and then throw us down? That throw is your overthrow.”’ Ibid., 460

A Materialist Critique of Cosmopolitanism: Part Four

To undo the concentration of power in the state, to foster democratisation and to benefit human rights Pogge theorises a curious ‘vertical dispersal’ of power. Not only does such a vertical dispersal already exist in government (federal, state and local), there are a range of government and non-government organisations.

Pogge’s understanding of the state is flawed. He compares the state with a game and ‘the ideal’ of a ‘level playing field.’33 The analysis of Marx and Engels exposed the state as the tool of the capitalist class, the purpose of which is, contrary to Pogge’s view, to ‘bend – or bias – the rules’ and to make the ‘field’ consistently ‘uneven’. The state is not a neutral structure.34

In defence of the state with regard to his global resource tax, Pogge gave the example of the suppression of the slave trade, writing ‘States do sometimes act for moral reasons.’35 Not only does his example echo the position of the United States capitalist class regarding its attack on Iraq – ‘We got nothing out of it’ – the reasons why states act are economic and geo-political, in the interests of their dominant class, never moral. Claims of morality are their first justification.

The position of the British capitalist class regarding the suppression of slavery was essentially the same as that of the rising capitalist class in the United States on the ‘liberation’ of slaves as a result of their Civil War – slavery had become an impediment to the development of capitalism. It had become more economical, more profitable for workers to be ‘free’ than in chains.

Benhabib’s writing on the state is much more grounded than Pogge’s. She points to the ‘epochal’ devolution of the state’s considerable powers, as a consequence of globalised capital, and the dangers this poses to its citizens.

Exemplifying my position that the state is the tool of the capitalist class, she writes that ‘in some cases, the state disburses its own jurisdiction to private agencies in order to escape the territorial control of popular legislators. …The fraying of the social contract and the dismantling of sovereignty suggest that the transcendence of the nation-state is occurring hardly in the direction of cosmopolitanism but more in the direction of the privatisation and corporatisation of sovereignty.’36 A very negative but very thoughtful note for a cosmopolitan to end their book on.

Part four/to be continued…


33. Thomas W. Pogge, ‘The Bounds of Nationalism’, in: Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights: Cosmopolitan Responsibilities and Reforms, Polity Press, 2008, pp. 124-151, 127ff.

34. ‘By the mere fact that it is a class and no longer an estate, the bourgeoisie is forced to organise itself no longer locally, but nationally, and to give a general form to its mean average interest. Through the emancipation of private property from the community, the State has become a separate entity, beside and outside civil society; but it is nothing more than the form of organisation which the bourgeoisie necessarily adopt both for internal and external purposes, for the mutual guarantee of their property and interests. …Since the State is the form in which the individuals of a ruling class assert their common interests, and in which the whole civil society of an epoch is epitomised, it follows that the State mediates in the formation of all common institutions and that the institutions receive a political form. Hence the illusion that law is based on the will, and indeed on the will divorced from its real basis – on free will. Similarly, justice is in its turn reduced to the actual laws.’ K. Marx and F. Engels, The German Ideology, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 1, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, pp. 77-78. Pogge wrote ‘While my portrait of the noble team player may not, then, be typical of much that goes on in sport today, it nevertheless has, I believe, the kind of reality that matters here. It really is our widely held ideal by reference to which we still judge our athletes. And drawing on it is therefore appropriate to elucidate the political use of the “level playing field” metaphor.’, Pogge, ‘The Bounds of Nationalism’, op. cit., 128.

35. ‘there would still be the further question whether our governments could be moved to introduce and comply with such institutions. I think that an affirmative answer to this question can be supported by some historical evidence. Perhaps the most dramatic such evidence is provided by the suppression of the slave trade in the nineteenth century. Great Britain was in the forefront of these efforts, actively enforcing a ban on the entire maritime slave trade irrespective of a vessel’s ownership, registration, port of origin, or destination. Britain bore the entire cost of its enforcement efforts and could not hope to gain significant benefits from it – in fact, Britain bore additional opportunity costs in the form of lost trade, especially with Latin America. States do sometimes act for moral reasons.’, Pogge, ‘An Egalitarian Law of Peoples’, op. cit., 222.

36. ‘Hospitality, Sovereignty, and Democratic Iterations – Reply to Commentators’ in Another Cosmopolitanism, op. cit., pp. 176-177.

Schelling and Nietzsche Respond to Kant

‘The begetting of the gods out of one another is itself a symbol of the way the ideas inhere in and issue from one another. The absolute idea or God, for example, encompasses all ideas within itself…they are begotten of him.’1

The question that underlies all others is ‘Which precedes the other? Which therefore is the product of the other – matter (the philosophical concept for objective reality) or consciousness and its manifestation in thought?’2 The referent of the ‘metaphysics’ of ‘metaphysical matter’ is not, as is commonly believed, Aristotle’s writing that came after his Physics, but what lies beyond the processes and change of the physical world – which nothing does.

At the core of First Philosophy, at the core of what Aristotle called the Science of Theology3 was and is an understanding of and orientation to ‘god’. Recognising the primacy of objective reality over consciousness and thought, my approach to the subject will be materialist.

To write thus avoids pitfalls – that the world can be known both metaphysically and ’empirically’ – with the latter’s exaggeration of the role of the senses and its deduction of knowledge not from reason on the basis of sensory experience and the testing of that reason in practice, but from mere experience.

In particular, it avoids the pitfall of being caught up by competing idealisms and philosophies which amounted to struggles within an argument (that consciousness and thought are primary to or independent of matter, that consciousness to any degree precedes that which is independent of it and especially, that the world cannot be known or that there are limitations on our knowledge of the world).

Kant expressed strong criticism of prior metaphysicians and claimed to offer something new. Schelling strongly criticised Kant, advancing his solution to the problems he identified. Nietzsche, the arch-rhetorician, made even stronger criticisms of Kant and metaphysics, pointing us to Dionysus and his ‘higher man’.

Yet, despite the assertions by all three that they were putting forward something fundamentally new, my argument will be that not only are there several strong continuities between Kant, Schelling and Nietzsche, those continuities – which were anchored in a long tradition from Platonism, through Neoplatonism and Christianity – and differences – can best be understood on a materialist basis.

As the Neoplatonists argued that the One in its unity cannot be known, so Kant argued that the one world in its unity, that ‘thing in itself’ of which we have representations, cannot be known – ‘appearance’ being the barrier.4 He denied that we can go from a knowledge of objects presented to us in consciousness to knowledge of ‘things in themselves’.

The Neoplatonism implicit in Kant’s earlier writing became explicit in The Critique of Judgement – what was possibly his attempt to overcome the dichotomies of his earlier work.5 Schelling and Nietzsche were to build their philosophies, in particular, on Neoplatonism.

Part one/to be continued…


1. Friedrich Schelling, The Philosophy of Art, Trans., D.W.Stott, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1989, p. 44, #36. This quotation exemplifies one of my arguments – in its compactness can be found the influences of Platonism, Neoplatonism and Christianity – all rolled into One. It echoes ‘For God so loved the world…’

2. At the very end of his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant, under the heading ‘The History of Pure Reason’, discussed early developments regarding this question, in Greek philosophy – between ‘sensualists’ (represented by Epicurus) and ‘intellectualists’ (represented by Plato). ‘Those of the former school maintained that reality is to be found solely in the objects of the senses, and that all else is fiction; those of the latter school, on the other hand, declared that in the senses there is nothing but illusion, and that only the understanding knows what is true.’ Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Trans., Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan Education, London, 1987, p. 667 A 854. Epicurus, following Democritus, went much further than Kant’s division between bodies that sense and the objects they sense – he held that everything, including sensing bodies and their objects, is made of atoms moving continuously. Plato’s philosophy is also more complex.

3. Hegel wrote of ‘the science of religion’ ‘The object of religion, like that of philosophy, is the eternal truth, God and nothing but God and the explication of God. …Thus religion and philosophy coincide in one. In fact philosophy is itself the service of God, as is religion. …The linkage between them is nothing new. It already obtained among the more eminent of the church fathers, who had steeped themselves particularly in Neopythagorean, Neoplatonic, and Neoaristotelian philosophy.’ Georg Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Ed., Peter C. Hodgson, Clarendon, Oxford, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 152-153

4. Regarding his transcendental unity of apperception: again, it is not a unity of a thing, rather an abstract unity of ourselves as thinkers and the world as we think it.

5. ‘the feeling of the sublime involves as its characteristic feature a mental movement combined with the estimate of the object, whereas taste in respect of the beautiful presupposes that the mind is in restful contemplation, and preserves it in this state.’ Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgement, Trans., James Creed Meredith, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988, p. 94. Also ‘The mind feels itself set in motion in the representation of the sublime in nature; whereas in the aesthetic judgement upon what is beautiful therein it is in restful contemplation.’ Ibid., p. 107. The junctures of ‘the sublime’ and movement and of contemplation and rest are the two great pathways to ‘god’ in our culture – both in the sense of well-trodden and what has been created on that basis. They appear in Schopenhauer, and in Nietzsche where they recur as the Dionysiac and the Apolline, blended in The Birth of Tragedy for even greater effect. The linking of the sublime and movement is a core tenet of Romanticism. Again, cf. ‘the highest model, the archetype of taste, is a mere idea, which each person must beget in his own consciousness…(and this) may more appropriately be called the ideal of the beautiful. While not having this ideal in our possession, we still strive to beget it within us’ (ibid., pp. 75-76). Compare with the central simile of the sculptor in The Enneads (I.6.9). As with in vino veritas, so often writing on art gives a similar result.

Henri Bergson, Neoplatonist, and the Cubist Aesthetic: Part Four

Bergson equated consciousness with memory. Hence duration is essentially conscious memory. The preservation of the past and the interpenetration of which Bergson wrote is enabled by memory and belongs therefore to ‘the mind’ only and not the objective world. In duration, there is no distinction between the present and the past and the emotions are paramount, entailing the addition to a present feeling of the memory of past moments.

‘Inner duration is the continuous life of a memory which prolongs the past into the present, the present either containing within it in a distinct form the ceaselessly growing image of the past, or, more probably, showing by its continual change of quality the heavier and still heavier load we drag behind us as we grow older.’1

For Bergson, there are different types of memory – memory applicable to daily existence (perception, ‘motor habits’, impulse) and memory attuned with the past (recollection). Referring to the two durations (not only do most commentators on Bergson incorrectly recognise only one – the ‘true’ or ‘inner’ duration – Bergson, as he frequently did, contradicted himself on this point) Bergson wrote of this interpenetration of memories

‘The duration wherein we see ourselves acting, and in which it is useful that we should see ourselves, is a duration whose elements are dissociated and juxtaposed. The duration wherein we act is a duration wherein our states melt into each other (my italics). It is within this that we should try to replace ourselves by thought’2

Memory is a synthesis of past and present with a view to the future and duration is resistant to law and measurement.3 Our perceptions are infused with memories and our memories are activated by what we see – ‘these two complimentary memories insert themselves each into the other.’4

‘If, in order to count states of consciousness, we have to represent them symbolically in space, is it not likely that this symbolical representation will alter the normal conditions of inner perception?…our projection of our psychic states into space in order to form a discrete multiplicity is likely to influence these states themselves and to give them in reflective consciousness a new form, which immediate perception did not attribute to them.’5

Not only do our different types of memory interpenetrate and interact in duration, any symbolic representation of this process will have further influence on our mental states. Further ‘there are always some dominant memories, shining points round which the others form a vague nebulosity.’6 On recollection, Bergson wrote

Subject and object would unite (my italics) in an extended perception, the subjective side of perception being the contraction effected by memory, and the objective reality of matter fusing with the multitudinous and successive vibrations into which the perception can be internally broken up…Questions relating to subject and object, to their distinction and their union, should be put in terms of time, rather than of space.’7

For Bergson, the synthesis performed by our consciousness of what is and what was, results in a permeation, completion and continuation.

Part four/to be continued…


1. An Introduction to Metaphysics, op. cit., 40

2. H. Bergson, Matter and Memory, 1896; trans. N. Paul, W. Palmer, New York, 1988, 186. On the quality of Bergson’s thought, it is worth noting that he wrote in this book ‘there can be no question here of constructing a theory of matter’, 188

3. Selections from Bergson, op. cit., 108

4. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 153

5. Time and Free Will, op. cit., 90. For Bergson, ‘space’ is a site of infinitely complex ‘mental interaction’, to which I will return.

6. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 171

7. Ibid., 70

A Materialist Critique of Skepticism: Part Three

‘The Illustrated Sutra of Cause and Effect’, ink, colour on paper, handscroll, 8th century, Japan. Artist not named. Woodblock reproduction published in 1941, University Museum, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Tokyo.

‘The Illustrated Sutra of Cause and Effect’, ink, colour on paper, handscroll, 8th century, Japan. Artist not named. Woodblock reproduction published in 1941, University Museum, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Tokyo.

*   *   *

What runs through skepticism is a differentiation between philosophy as abstract reason or contemplation and a world of practical engagement – the world of ‘the common man’. Barnes defends Empiricus’s rejection of causality from his philosophy but acceptance of it in his discussion of the events of ‘ordinary’ Life, as Common Sense:

‘Sextus makes no attempt to avoid that ordinary vocabulary, the causal import of which he must surely have recognised. More specifically, Sextus from time to time permits himself an overtly causal sentence: a wound to the heart will cause death; motion and rest must have causes; good things may be the cause of misery.’23

Barnes writes that ‘Sextus’s causal utterances are not embarrassing flaws on the smooth body of his philosophical system…For Sextus presents himself as the champion of what he calls Life, bios. Life is contrasted with Philosophy.’24 Life ‘represents the wisdom of the plain man who is uncorrupted by esoteric and presumptuous speculation…the Skeptics are friends of Common Sense’25 And no doubt of the Common Man.

Empiricus wrote that it is easy to reject causality – ‘it is impossible to assert firmly that anything is a cause of anything’26 Barnes wrote ‘The Skeptic, then, attacks unobservable entities and judgements ostensibly made about them; he fixes his sights on what by nature escapes our sight, and on the Believers’ blind statements about such things’27

While the different treatment of causality in the realm of the philosopher and the world of the Common Man is most important, what underlies this (and much else) is the divorce of theory from its proper basis in practice and the absence in understanding of the necessary relation between the two.

In the latter, knowledge on the basis of sensory experience is intuitively accepted, in the former that connection is not questioned but denied because the relation between objective reality, sensation and brain is not understood.

To claim this difference is due to Empiricus’s acceptance of his society’s customs etc. does not deny the immense difference between philosophy and ‘bios’ – nor the revealing manner in which Barnes described it.

The materialist recognises the importance and nature of theorising to our knowledge of the world and distinguishes between the complete cause (the sum total of all the circumstances, the presence of which necessarily gives rise to the effect) and the specific cause. Causality is apprehended only through the revelation of essence and contradiction as the law of movement and development.

In his Meditations,28 Descartes did the same thing – first making himself comfortable, then severing philosophical (metaphysical) speculation from practical life29 and engaging in that human facility for self-reflection – consciousness reflecting on itself – to the furthest degree (which Plotinus had done in the first phenomenology and to the same extent, as Soul progressed through the hypostases of the Enneads, almost one and a half thousand years before) at the end of which, and in the most brazen manner – given his apparent agonising in the previous meditations – returned to ‘the world of the senses,’ stating he could clearly distinguish between dreaming and being awake and acknowledging his trust in the relations between his senses, memory and understanding.30

Yet no matter how well-reasoned the arguments of Descartes’ objectors (particularly those of Gassendi and Hobbes), they all missed the point – there can be no argument on the basis of or in relation to the physical world against Descartes’ meditations – because he utterly severed the physical from the ‘mental’ which comprised them.31 Descartes failed to counter skepticism because he too distinguished his contemplation from its basis in life and the world.32

Part three/to be continued…


23. Jonathan Barnes, ‘Ancient Skepticism and Causation,’ The Skeptical Tradition, Ed., Myles Burnyeat, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1983, pp. 149-203, 155

24. Ibid., 156

25. Ibid.

26. Sextus Empiricus Outlines of Scepticism, op. cit., 149

27. ‘Ancient Skepticism and Causation’ op. cit., 157

28. ‘the title “Meditations” presents the work as something other than a chain of philosophical argumentation, and links it, rather, to religious exercises. …The “withdrawal of the mind from the senses” Descartes recommends as a precondition of the search for truth may well seem more reminiscent of spiritual techniques than of scientific enquiry.’ Introduction to Réne Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, Trans., Michael Moriarty, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008, xiv-xv.

29. ‘Let us then suppose that we are dreaming, and that these particular things (that we have our eyes open, are moving our head, stretching out our hands) are not true; and that perhaps we do not even have hands or the rest of a body like what we see.’ Ibid., 14.

30. From Descartes’ Synopsis of the Meditations: ‘Finally (in the Sixth Meditation), all the reasons are put forward that lead us to conclude in the existence of material things: not that I think these are very useful when it comes to proving what they do prove, namely that a world really exists, and that human beings have bodies, and so forth, things which no one in their right mind has ever seriously doubted’ Ibid., 12. And from the end of his Sixth Meditation: ‘I need no longer fear that the things the senses represent to me in ordinary life are false: on the contrary, the hyperbolic doubts of these past days can be dismissed as ridiculous. …when things happen to me in such a way that I am distinctly aware of whence, where, and when they have come, and I connect the perception of them to the rest of my life, without any gaps, then I am well and truly certain that they are happening not in my sleep but when I am awake. Nor should I doubt even in the slightest degree of their truth, if after I have summoned all the senses, the memory, and the understanding to join in their examination, none of these reports anything that clashes with the report of the rest.’ Ibid., 63-64.

31. ‘my doubts are metaphysical, and have nothing to do with practical life. Bourdin thus gives the unwary reader the impression that I am so mad as to doubt, in ordinary life, whether the earth exists, and whether I have a body.’ Ibid., 215. Stroud, writing in support of Descartes got it right: ‘how could a test or a circumstance or a state of affairs indicate to him that he is not dreaming if a condition of knowing anything about the world is that he knows he is not dreaming? It could not. He could never fulfil the condition.’ ‘The Problem of the External World’ op. cit., 15.

32. Hume, who held that argument from experience must be without rational foundation was another who made the same distinction between philosophy and ‘common life.’ ‘He seems nevertheless to have felt few scruples over the apparent inconsistency of going on to insist, first, that such argument is grounded in the deepest instincts of our nature, and, second, that the rational man everywhere proportions his belief to the evidence – evidence which in practice crucially includes that outcome of procedures alleged earlier to be without rational foundation…Argument from experience should be thought of not as an irreparably fallacious attempt to deduce conclusions necessarily wider than available premises can contain, but rather as a matter of following a tentative and self-correcting rule, a rule that is part of the very paradigm of inquiring rationality – that one would think that other A’s have been and will be the same, until and unless a particular reason is discovered to revise these expectations.’ Antony Flew, Ed., A Dictionary of Philosophy, London: Pan, 1984, 172. Davidson likewise not only argued for a divorce of the senses from what takes place in consciousness – i.e. reason and belief (for him only beliefs can justify other beliefs since ‘beliefs are by nature generally true’) – but ‘abandoning the search for a basis for knowledge outside the scope of our beliefs.’ Like Descartes, he writes that our senses and observations might be lying to us – we can’t swear them to truthfulness. Donald Davidson, ‘A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge’ in Epistemology An Anthology, op. cit., pp. 162, 156, 157.


A Materialist Critique of Cosmopolitanism: Part Three

The cosmopolitan wonders what is valuable and common to all – that can be recognised by all as valuable. The answer is not reason or ‘reasonableness’ but our humanity itself – one’s need and care for others, one’s sociability. It is not reason or theory that should underlie a care and regard for others but a care and a regard for others stands as the foundation, by itself.

The materialist recognises that, quoting Milstein, ‘the cosmopolitan is above all concerned with the unavoidable confrontation of difference on the global stage. …the starting point for reflection on cosmopolitanism is not unity but heterogeneity…It thus concerns humanity not as a mere idea but as an empirical set of interacting participants who must learn to coexist simultaneously.’23

One’s care and regard for others – one’s humanity – is the basis for the acceptance of, embracing of difference, uncertainty and change, the recognition that in reasoning about and acting on these are the tools for interpersonal and personal development and for the deepening of our knowledge of the world.

Rather than presenting others with reasons or reasonability that is followable and requiring reasons of others in turn, the materialist seeks out difference and welcomes the incorporation of that difference in his or her perspective.

These unities of difference will contribute to the development of a richer, more meaningful social fabric. In her theorising on ‘the Scarf Affair’ in France Benhabib wrote ‘the girls themselves and their supporters, in the Muslim community and elsewhere, have to learn to give a justification of their actions with “good reasons in the public sphere.” In claiming respect and equal treatment for their religious beliefs, they have to clarify how they intend to treat the beliefs of others from different religions, and how, in effect, they would institutionalise the separation of religion and the state within Islamic tradition.’24

A materialist would welcome the girls and require nothing of them other than that they contribute productively to the society they have chosen to become members of. The influence will naturally flow in both directions, enriching French and human culture. Those in Western culture would do well to reflect on the debt they owe to Islamic scholarship.

Benhabib herself adds ‘The constitution of “we, the people” is a far more fluid, contentious, contested and dynamic process than either Rawlsian liberals or decline-of-citizenship theorists would have us believe. …The presence of others who do not share the dominant culture’s memories and morals poses a challenge to the democratic legislatures to re-articulate the meaning of democratic universalism. Far from leading to the disintegration of the culture of democracy, such challenges reveal the depth and the breadth of the culture of democracy.’25

Cosmopolitan philosophers, with their focus on individuals,26 fail to understand and address class relations in capitalist societies. This is well exemplified in their treatment of the state which is frequently regarded as a neutral framework, as something that ‘we’ might use for cosmopolitan purposes.

Sandel wrote that ‘the rights based self finds expression in the ideal of the state as a neutral framework.’27 Nagel believes that the legal framework is under collective control and subject to social justice, that the state makes demands on the citizens or the citizens make demands on each other via its mechanisms – he does not consider that the capitalist class makes demands of the citizens, using its state mechanisms, with the assistance of its ideology.28

Pogge well exemplifies key problems of cosmopolitan philosophy. At the beginning of World Poverty and Human Rights he dismissed Marx’s account of the ‘causal factors that influence how our social world and moral values interact with each other (as) rather too neat.’29 He further exemplified his hostility to economic analysis and to mouthpieces who pose as disinterested in ‘Real World Justice’.30

Yet Pogge himself fails to understand capitalism and how it functions. He writes that ‘the rules governing economic transactions…are the most important causal determinants of the incidence and depth of severe poverty and of the human rights deficit more generally.’31 and ‘the rules structuring the world economy have a profound impact on the global economic distribution’.32

What is the most important causal determinant of global poverty, the human rights deficit not to mention global economic distribution is the dynamic of capitalism – unwilled, beneath rules and without conscious intention. No amount of rules on behalf of the capitalist class can ultimately deny that dynamic – as World War I, World War II, the Great Depression and the current Global Financial Crisis have shown.

Part three/to be continued…


23. Brian Milstein, “Kantian Cosmopolitanism beyond ‘Perpetual Peace’: Commercium, Critique, and the Cosmopolitan Problematic”, European Journal of Philosophy, pp. 1-20, pp. 2-3. (forthcoming); published online 11.11.10

24. BenHabib, Another Cosmopolitanism, op. cit., 57

25. Ibid., 68, 69

26. Rawls’ is on ‘peoples’

27. Michael J. Sandel, ‘Morality and the Liberal Ideal’, in Michael Sandel, Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2005, pp. 147-55, 153

28. ‘the broader legal framework…is subject to collective authority and justification and therefore to principles of social justice…In short, the state makes unique demands on the will of its members – or the members make unique demands on one another through the institutions of the state’, Thomas Nagel, ‘The Problem of Global Justice’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 33, No. 2 (Spring, 2005), pp. 113-147, 130

29. Thomas W. Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2008, 4

30. ‘While economists like to present themselves as disinterested scientists, they function today more typically as ideologists for our political and economic ‘‘elites’’ – much like most theologians did in an earlier age.’ Thomas W. Pogge, ‘Real World Justice’, The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 9 No. 1-2, 2005, pp. 29-53, 30

31. Thomas W. Pogge, ‘Recognised and Violated by International Law: The Human Rights of the Global Poor’, Leiden Journal of International Law, 18, 2005, pp. 717-745, 742

32. Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, op. cit., 122

Jürgen Habermas, Guardian of Mystical ‘Rationality’ – Part Five

Jane Braaten made the excellent criticism of Habermas (one which should be applied to philosophers generally) that Habermas limited his ‘critique of reason to a theory of justification, rather than the content of that theory.’1 Consonant with Lloyd’s analysis of the Man of Reason, feminists have charged Habermas with a failure to theorise gender (Jean Cohen and Nancy Fraser, Seyla Benhabib).2 Again consonant with the male/female, reason/emotion dualisms of this model, feminists have critiqued Habermas for a silence regarding the expressive aspect of communication.3 Johnson unknowingly approves the Böhmean influence on Habermas’s communicative theory of rationality.4

On the subject of art – particularly that which is non-linguistic – Habermas’s commitment to the rationalist model, to that which is linguistic and propositional and which concludes in ‘yesses’ and ‘nos’ is most exposed. To argue, as Habermas does, that works are ‘arguments’ and that art is a kind of ‘knowing’ (because it can be criticised – any such criticism traceable to the formal elements employed – ‘aesthetic harmony’ being one of them) does not stand up. Art is primarily the expression of life rather than the presentation of an argument – the expression of all that is most complex, most contradictory, most fluid and most dynamic.

Habermas’s prime concern – subsuming those for democracy and for philosophy’s guardianship of ‘rationality’ – is the regaining of a lost, mystical ‘unity of reason,’ a mystical Man of Reason. He asks ‘how can reason, once it has been…sundered, go on being a unity on the level of culture?’5 and replies ‘Everyday life…is a more promising medium for regaining the lost unity of reason than are today’s expert cultures or yesteryear’s classical philosophy of reason.’6 Hegel likewise looked to the enspirited Lutheran cultus for the same solution to the spiritual ‘crisis of modernity’. Habermas longs for ‘a worldview in which the particular is immediately enmeshed with the particular, one is mirrored in the other.’7 The philosophies of Plotinus, Cusanus and Böhme are his guides.8



1. Jane Braaten, ‘From Communicative Rationality to Communicative Thinking: A Basis for Feminist Theory and Practice’, in Johanna Meehan, Ed., Feminists Read Habermas: Gendering the Subject of Discourse, op. cit., 139

2. ‘The most significant flaw in Habermas’s work is his failure to consider the gendered character of roles of worker and citizen that emerged along with the differentiation of the market economy and the modern state from the life-world’, Jean, L Cohen, ‘Critical Social Theory and Feminist Critiques, The Debate with Jürgen Habermas’ in Johanna Meehan, Ed., Feminists Read Habermas: Gendering the Subject of Discourse, op. cit., 71. Fraser was more pointed in her verbal questioning of Habermas ‘“What are the social and economic conditions for effective participation in a nonexclusionary and genuinely democratic public sphere? Isn’t economic equality – the end of class structure and the end of gender unequality – the condition for the possibility of a public sphere, if we are really talking about what makes it possible for people to participate? Is capitalism compatible with this?” …Jürgen Habermas: “I’ll have to get over the shock to answer such a question…” ‘Concluding Remarks’ in Craig Calhoun, Ed., Habermas and the Public Sphere, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1992, 468-469. Benhabib is more sanguine, writing that Habermas’s discourse model will be useful once that discourse has been feminised. Lloyd argued that a critique of the Man of Reason from a specifically feminist standpoint runs the risk of becoming ‘a catalogue of the atrocities he has perpetrated on women’ and that he is an ideal of the male for both genders and has been maintained by both. G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, op. cit., 127

3. ‘communicative rationality must account for a crucial aspect of the symbolic meaning and content of communication if one is to consider, as Habermas has, an expansion of subjectivities in the interplay between culture and the public sphere.’ Mia Pia Lara, Moral Textures: Feminist Narratives in the Public Sphere, Polity Press, 1998, 50

4. ‘Habermas asserts that the struggle for personal autonomy increasingly comes to interpret itself as a call for recognition by others, hence as a struggle to discursively construct a shared understanding through which the need and identity claims of the self might be rendered intelligible. Through his elaboration of this aspect of the dependence of the idea of private autonomy on the principle of public autonomy, Habermas, I will suggest, provides an account of the mechanisms involved in the rationalisation of the lifeworld in terms which respond, convincingly, to the feminist critique of the gender-blindness of his earlier formulations’, Pauline Johnson, ‘Distorted communications: Feminism’s dispute with Habermas’, Philosophy and Social Criticism, January, 2001, Vol. 27 No. 1, pp. 39-62, 48

5. ‘Philosophy as Stand-In and Interpreter’, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, MIT, 1990, pp. 1-20, 17

6. Ibid., 18

7. ‘The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices,’ op. cit., 118

8. ‘The authentic and primal Cosmos is the Being of the Intellectual Principle and of the Veritable Existent. This contains within itself no spatial distinction, and has none of the feebleness of division, and even its parts bring no incompleteness to it since here the individual is not severed from the entire. …there is here no separation of thing from thing, no part standing in isolated existence estranged from the rest…Everywhere one and complete’, The Enneads, op. cit., III.2.1; Jaspers wrote of Cusanus’s philosophy in The Great Philosophers, Ed., Hannah Arendt, Trans., Ralph Manheim, Rupert Hart-Davis, London, 1966, 189 and referenced by Habermas in ‘The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices’ ‘Each thing is the whole world in a limited form, as participation in the whole, as mirror of the whole, as drawn into the whole by interaction. …each individual…limits all things in itself.’ Cusanus wrote ‘You bestow, as if You were a living Mirror-of-eternity, which is the Form of forms. When someone looks into this Mirror, he sees his own form in the Form of forms, which the Mirror is.’ De Visione Dei, Chapter 15, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1988, 710

Jürgen Habermas, Guardian of Mystical ‘Rationality’ – Part Four

Habermas wrote that radical contextualism itself thrives on a negative metaphysics1 and that it may be appropriate to do philosophy in the mode, but only in the mode of negative theology.2 In this Habermas is being disingenuous. He wrote that ‘Modern science compelled a philosophical reason which had become self-critical to break with metaphysical constructions of the totality of nature and history. …With this the synthesis of faith and knowledge forged in the tradition extending from Augustine to Thomas fell apart.’3

Firstly, idealism (in its many shades) continues to dominate philosophical ‘reason’ – Habermas’s philosophy, in which cognates of ‘ideal’ are common, is exemplary. It is philosophy’s relationship with idealism and religion that Habermas wants to preserve. His assertion that modern science compelled philosophical reason to break with metaphysics (leading to what Habermas thinks is a ‘postmetaphysical’ age) is a straw man for the question which underlies all others – ‘Which takes precedence and which the derivative – consciousness and its products in language or ‘matter’ – the philosophical concept for objective reality?’

What the rise of modern science compelled philosophers to do in their refusal to accept the primacy of matter (and the far-reaching consequences of this) was to ‘detranscendentalise’ God, to bring him from heaven to earth and place him withinin hiding. I refer to the rise of mysticism particularly post the late eighteenth century – its primary manifestation in the West, Neoplatonism. This mysticism, this ‘secret accomplice’ via Böhme, Habermas acknowledged was of great significance to him – in fact his theory of communicative reason and the ‘rationality’ he believes philosophy should be the ‘guardian’ of are built on it. Habermas’s philosophy is but one which is representative of this mystical influence – philosophy’s suppressed but beginning-to-be-told story.4

In arguing for philosophy’s role as ‘guardian of rationality’, Habermas is not only merely arguing for the continuation of a Western cultural perception and tradition summarised in philosophy’s role as interpreter (for Habermas’s ‘lifeworld’) of the arbitrary, ‘fragmented’ ‘value spheres’ derived via Weber from Kant’s Critiques – of the theoretical (science), the practical (morality) and the aesthetic (art), he is arguing, in what he calls a ‘post-secular’ age for the revival of the relationship between philosophy and religion – a relationship he hopes5 can address the tensions and fracturings of ‘modernity’ by producing a mystical unity of (communicative) ‘reason’.

Habermas writes of the blinkered, unenlightened enlightenment, which denies religion any rational content. He takes his place on a continuum from Hegel through Nietzsche and Weber, critical of the enlightenment from a spiritual perspective, from that of unity. Habermas wrote ‘the decision to engage in action based on solidarity when faced with threats (such as the tensions and divisions of ‘modernity’) which can be averted only by collective efforts calls for more than insight into good reasons. (my italics – what is philosophy if not insight into good reasons?) Kant wanted to make good this weakness of rational morality through the assurances of his philosophy of religion.’6 Hegel’s answer was that philosophers find sanctuary as an isolated order of priests and that the Holy Spirit come to a speculative Lutheran cultus; that man of god, Nietzsche’s, his mystical Übermensch; Weber’s his no less mystical hero of Beruf and Habermas’s a linguistified God, ‘detranscendentalised’ in the mutual recognition of communicative egos – for all, truly a ‘Kingdom of God on earth’.7

Part four/to be continued…


1. ‘The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices’, op. cit., 116

2. ‘Communicative Freedom and Negative Theology: Questions for Michael Theunissen’, op. cit., 126

3. ‘An Awareness of What is Missing’, An Awareness of What is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post Secular Age, Trans., Ciaran Cronin, Polity, Cambridge, 2010, 16

4. With the running out of steam of that stage of capitalist ideology known as postmodernism, mysticism (up until recently a total ‘no-no’ anywhere to do with academia) is beginning to be taught in adult education courses to eager audiences. It is but a matter of time before the tuition of mysticism enters the universities.

5. Habermas’s view on this is very bleak: ‘the colonisation of the public sphere by market imperatives seems to foster a peculiar kind of paralysis among the consumers of mass communications.’ ‘Political Communication in Media Society: Does Democracy Still Have An Epistemic Dimension? The Impact of Normative Theory on Empirical Research’, Europe: The Faltering Project, Polity, 2008, pp. 138-183, 177; ‘The most influential governments…who remain the most important political actors on this stage, persist undaunted in their social Darwinist power games – even more so since the catastrophe of 9/11 and the reaction to it. Not only is the political will to work towards the institutions and procedures of a reformed global order missing, but even the aspiration to a pacified global domestic politics. I suspect that nothing will change in the parameters of public discussion and in the decisions of the politically empowered actors without the emergence of a social movement which fosters a complete shift in political mentality. The tendencies towards a breakdown in solidarity in everyday life do not exactly render such a mobilisation within western civil societies probable’, ‘A Reply’ in Jürgen Habermas et al., An Awareness of What is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age, op. cit., 74; ‘More than anything else, the erosion of confidence in the power of collective action and the atrophy of normative sensibilities reinforce an already smouldering skepticism with regard to an enlightened self-understanding of modernity. Hence the imminent danger of democracy becoming an “obsolete model”’, Habermas, ‘“The Political” The Rational Meaning of a Questionable Inheritance of Political Theology’ in Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan VanAntwerpen, The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, Columbia University Press, New York, 2011, pp. 15-33, 16. Then there is his elitism ‘The addressees who comprise the dispersed mass audience can play their part in a process of deliberative legitimation only if they manage to grasp the main lines of a, let us assume, more or less reasonable elite discourse and adopt more or less considered stances on relevant public issues.’ ‘Political Communication in Media Society: Does Democracy Still Have An Epistemic Dimension? The Impact of Normative Theory on Empirical Research’, Europe: The Faltering Project, Polity, 2008, pp. 138-183, 172

6. ‘An Awareness of What is Missing’, op. cit., 18-19

7. Habermas’s words are instructive ‘enlightened reason unavoidably loses its grip on the images, preserved by religion, of the moral whole – of the Kingdom of God on earth – as collectively binding ideals. At the same time, practical reason fails to fulfil its own vocation when it no longer has sufficient strength to awaken, and to keep awake, in the minds of secular subjects, an awareness of the violations of solidarity throughout the world, an awareness of what is missing, of what cries out to heaven.’, Ibid., 19

Jürgen Habermas, Guardian of Mystical ‘Rationality’ – Part Three

Meehan encapsulates Habermas’s theory of communicative reason: ‘(When subjects employ communicative reason they can) distance themselves from particular roles and recognise that all roles are structured by shared social norms. Thus the vantage of the generalised other is the vantage of a neutral observer, who can objectively survey the reciprocal expectations and interactions constitutive of these roles. Only then can the intersubjectively grounded character of norms which shape expectations and actions be grasped.’1 Not only is this theory utterly idealistic – a denial of class, of the reality of capitalism as a political construction, and of its property relations2 – that idealism signifies its true meaning and purpose.

Communicative reason for Habermas is far more than a thoroughly democratic experience of rationality, an equal exchange of reasoned and defensible views in debate, than action oriented toward mutual understanding and the development of ‘an intact intersubjectivity, which makes possible both a mutual and constraint-free understanding among individuals in their dealings with one another and the identity of individuals who come to a compulsion-free understanding with themselves. …(an) intact intersubjectivity (which) is a glimmer of symmetrical relations marked by free, reciprocal recognition,’3 it is an exercise which can never go beyond the theoretical for attaining a spiritual unity built on and sustained by a core mystical belief which Habermas acknowledged regarding the relationship between ego and alter, knower and known, subject and object.4

‘one doctrinal element of Jakob Böhme’s mystical speculations on the “nature” that arises through an act of contraction, or the “dark ground” in God, has been of great significance for me. …The rather “dark” tendency toward finitisation [Verendlichung] or contraction is intended as an explanation of God’s capacity for self-limitation. This was the subject of my doctoral dissertation. …In order to be able to see Himself confirmed in His own freedom through an alter ego, God must delimit himself precisely within this very freedom.’5

Böhme believed that for God to realise himself, he must dirempt from and oppose an other to himself, coming to fully be through the development of this negation.6 Hegel (amongst others) took this over from Böhme and built his master/servant dialectic on it – for Hegel, selfhood not only develops in opposition to the not-self but through communal intersubjectivity all find their existence and true, non-arbitrary freedom. In his essay ‘Communicative Freedom and Negative Theology: Questions for Michael Theunissen,’ Habermas wrote ‘The dialogical encounter with an other whom I address, and whose answer lies beyond my control, first opens the intersubjective space in which the individual can become an authentic self.’7

He approvingly writes that for Theunissen ‘True selfhood expresses itself as communicative freedom – as being-with-oneself-in-the-other…In such a relation one partner is not the limit of the other’s freedom, but the very condition of the other’s successful selfhood. And the communicative freedom of one individual cannot be complete without the realised freedom of all others.’8 Habermas acknowledged that the ‘metaphysical priority of unity above plurality and the contextualistic priority of plurality above unity are secret accomplices (my italics). …the unity of reason only remains perceptible in the plurality of its voices’.9

Habermas’s ideal ‘final opinion’ that transcends material space and time not only echoes Plato’s realm of Forms but has its source in The Enneads

‘The fact that the product contains diversity and difference does not warrant the notion that the producer must be subject to corresponding variations. On the contrary, the more varied the product, the more certain the unchanging identity of the producer.10

Part three/to be continued…


1. Johanna Meehan, Ed., Feminists Read Habermas: Gendering the Subject of Discourse, Routledge, New York, 1995, 3

2. Suitably for Habermas, also a denial of the very consciousness and its products in language that he, following Weber, otherwise gives precedence to. John Sitton, Habermas and Contemporary Society, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2003, pp. 151 ff.

3. ‘The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices’, op. cit., 145

4. The oddness of Habermas’s assertion that ‘reason’ can only be found in intersubjective communication, that reason cannot be employed by a subject towards a material object is a further sign of his mystical motivation.

5. ‘A Conversation About God and the World’ Interview of Jürgen Habermas by Eduardo Mendieta op. cit., 160-161

6. This is essentially ‘the double negation of criticisable validity claims’ in my first quotation from Habermas. For Hegel, the double negation (Christ’s death and resurrection) enabled the life of Spirit and true religion (distinct from that of the Enlightenment) to come to the Lutheran cultus.

7. Habermas, ‘Communicative Freedom and Negative Theology: Questions for Michael Theunissen’ (1997), in Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity, op. cit., pp. 110-128, 110

8. Ibid., 115

9. ‘The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices’, op. cit., 116-117. Martin Beck Matustik wrote ‘mystery is ascribed by Habermas to communicative reason in history, rather than to an apocalyptic myth of a saving ‘God’. Secularising the mystical Protestant and Jewish traditions of Jakob Böhme and Isaak Luria, with the gnostic narrations of the salvation history, Habermas forms his intuitions about communicative nearness and distance, reciprocity and autonomy, vulnerability and separateness’ Martin Beck Matustik, Jürgen Habermas: A Philosophical-Political Profile, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2001, 226

10. Plotinus, The Enneads, Third ed., abridged. Trans. Stephen MacKenna, Penguin, London, 1991, IV. 4.11

Jürgen Habermas, Guardian of Mystical ‘Rationality’ – Part Two

Habermas fails to understand and denies the living relationship between concepts, language and the world. Neither concepts and language, if they are to be relevant, can be imposed arbitrarily on the world, rather they develop from the world, meeting our needs in a changing and dialectical relationship with it. Concepts, language and thought, reflecting the world, are and can never be final, thought is not only linguistic and propositional.1 Yet Habermas writes

‘The ideal character inherent in the generality of concepts and thoughts is interwoven with an idealisation of a wholly different sort. Every complete thought has a specific propositional content that can be expressed by an assertoric sentence. But beyond the propositional content, every thought calls for a further determination: it demands (my italics) an answer to whether it is true or false.’2

Truth for Habermas is not found in a dialectical relationship with the world but in a propositionally communicative use of language, beyond which (if we desire to or believe that we have direct access to the world) we cannot go.3 Habermas subscribes to a Meno-like universal and what he acknowledges is an idealised theory of grammar he attributes to Chomsky4 (no longer accepted by linguists, who recognise that both concepts and language develop through our relating with the world) and acknowledges that this is an assumption by Chomsky.5 More, Habermas longs for a ‘universal reason’ (my italics) that will most reinforce unity.6

The concept ‘validity’ has no place outside formal logic because the world and its reflection in thought is not a matter of logical rules and consistency, of ‘yesses’ or ‘nos,’ is driven by contradiction and cannot but always reflect that. Habermas’s second use of ‘validity’ carries us to the mystical core of his theory of communicative reason. Where his first reference to ‘validity’ is ‘context-dependent’ his second is transcendent – of context, material space and time. In ‘detranscendentalising’ Kant’s noumenal realm – the unknowable realm beyond appearances and what can be known and said to what transcends space and time – in other words, by not detranscendentalising Kant’s noumenal realm at all other than as a bare assertion, Habermas followed the Neoplatonic model of ‘detranscendentalising’ God – of bringing God to earth while leaving him, as with Habermas’s second use of validity – ‘transcendent’ – within.7 Habermas, following Wittgenstein, brought a mystical God to earth in language. Language for Habermas replaces God thought of as a metaphysical background that has the potential to unify all. This validity that transcends space and time is a metaphysical and absolute unconditionality,8 a guarantee for the normativity of Habermas’s lifeworld.

In agreement with Wittgenstein’s core apophatic statement that bookends his ‘final solution,’ his mystical Tractatus – ‘What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence’9 – Habermas wrote that any truth claim refers to something transcendent, to an ideal ‘“final opinion,” a consensus reached under ideal conditions’10 – a unified, absolute audience or reference point that anchors the communicative interaction of all other audiences in ‘real’ space and time.11

Part two/to be continued…


1. Lloyd wrote that that intuition, which she argued is associated with ‘female’ thought, (and which Plotinus believed provides an immediate, non-discursive knowledge) can be part of a constructive assessment of reason. ‘The Man of Reason’, op. cit., 117. Plumwood’s discussion of the relevance of emotions to reason, consistent with feminist critiques of Habermas, is most valuable. She argued for a critiquing of the dominant forms of reason to redefine or reconstruct them in less oppositional and hierarchical ways and for an affirmative assessment of emotion as being both crucial and creative. She wrote of reason and emotions as capable of a creative integration and interaction and ties an inclusion and respect for the emotions to the development of rationality and ethics.

2. Habermas, ‘Law as Social Mediation Between Facts and Norms’, op. cit., 12

3. The materialist position is that in thought we are matter (objective reality) reflecting on itself. Contrary to language (or anything else) being a barrier to our knowing the world, every aspect of us including our use of language has developed from and to know the world through our senses. Our knowledge of the world is continually tested and refined – by nature – in practice. ‘Truth,’ as a result, is never absolute but always deepening.

4.‘The task of the theory of universal grammar is the rational reconstruction of a system of rules that is not yet recognised or theoretically specifiable even though it is already practically mastered and to that extent known. …Chomsky, in introducing the concept of linguistic competence, is compelled to perform an idealisation. He himself talks of the ideal speaker-hearer: “Linguistic theory is concerned primarily with an ideal speaker-listener”’ Habermas, ‘Universal Pragmatics: Reflections on a Theory of Communicative Competence’ in On the Pragmatics of Social Interaction, Trans., Barbara Fultner, MIT, Massachusetts, 2001, 68

5. ‘Chomsky uses this assumption of an innate linguistic capacity to support the further assumption that all normally socialised members of a speech community, if they have learned to speak at all, have complete mastery of the system of abstract linguistic rules.’ Ibid., 70

6. ‘nothing would stand in the way of the concept of one reason today if philosophy and science were able to reach through the thicket of natural languages to the logical grammar of a single language’, Habermas, ‘The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices,’ Post-Metaphysical Thinking, MIT, 1992, pp. 115-148, 134

7. ‘The idea of the redeemability of criticisable validity claims requires idealisations that, as adopted by the communicating actors themselves, are thereby brought down from transcendental heaven to the earth of the lifeworld. The theory of communicative action detranscendentalises the noumenal realm only to have the idealising force of context-transcending anticipations settle in the unavoidable pragmatic presuppositions of speech acts, and hence in the heart of ordinary, everyday communicative practice.’, ‘Law as Social Mediation Between Facts and Norms’, op. cit., 18-19

8. Habermas acknowledges that his philosophy employs both an absolute and metaphysics: ‘The moment of unconditionality that is preserved in the discursive concepts of a fallibilistic truth and morality is not an absolute, or it is at most an absolute that has become fluid (my italics) as a critical procedure. Only with this residue of metaphysics (my italics) can we do battle against the transfiguration of the world through metaphysical truths’, ‘The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices’ op. cit., 144

9. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 1921, Trans. D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness, Introduction Bertrand Russell, Routledge, New York, 2005 (1st pub. in English in 1922). Habermas agreed, writing ‘There are indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical’ (2002: 46, emphasis added), in Mel Gray and Terence Lovat, ‘Practical Mysticism, Habermas, and Social Work Praxis’, Journal of Social Work, Vol. 8, Issue 2, 2008 pp. 149-162, 156. The authors conclude their article with ‘we believe we are on solid ground in inferring a conceptual link between Habermasian self-reflective knowing and practical mysticism.’ Ibid., 158

10. ‘Law as Social Mediation Between Facts and Norms’, op. cit., 14

11. ‘“Real” is what can be represented in true statements, whereas “true” can be explained in turn by reference to the claim one person raises before others by asserting a proposition. …we cannot break out of the sphere of language and argumentation, even if we must understand reality as what we can represent in true statements‘ Ibid., 14