File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_1997/habermas.9709, message 54

Date: Sun, 28 Sep 1997 22:21:53 -0800
Subject: HAB: Being exemplary in the neighborhood

1. Juergen speaks of practical reason. 

2. It’s not just that “Habermas” expresses his perspective on practical
reason that is—or may *not* be—appealing. It is the case that practical
reason as *such* has the ethical, pragmatic, and moral character,
according to Habermas, that is employable--that he seeks to advance.
He’s stating a case about the *objectivity* of practical reason (that is
warrented and deepened in the *body* of his readings). In fact,
according to Habermas, this is what practical reason is (independently
of his work). 

3. But a case stated is not a case made, as any rhetor knows (too often
sadly). All cases are made intersubjectively, and (for all practical
purposes), the basic intersubjective venue of Habermas’ Career of
case-making is textual (as well as with academic advancement in general,
of course). Every moment is hermeneutical, at least tacitly (yet
actually). An ethic of reading--normally embodied tacitly by years of
schooling (seldom thematized, outside of metascholarship)--is always
implied and, arguably, derivable from the *authorship* of readings
written. Habermas’ career has made its own way mainly through readings
of other authors. His Career primarily exhibits a discourse ethic in a
hermeneutical sense. But in “...Employments...,” he is reading practical
reason itself, one could say, and doing so in broad terms.  

4. It’s odd in English to talk about a *morality* of reading (if only
because literary criticism has generally not done so, in the past couple
of decades of concern with the character of reading). In jurisprudence,
I suppose, it makes sense to talk about a morality of reading, but this
probably confuses the content of Readings with the practice of
interpretation that is basically, I think, an ethic, in a
professionalized and institutionalized sense of what Habermas generally
means by an ethic. 

5. In any event, it’s up to the reader to evaluate whether a case is
compelling, in accord with argumentative practices that pretend to be
persuasive, i.e., contend that a case, in the end, stands—and deserves
to prevail in the orientation of action, relative to counter-cases. 

6. If one is not persuaded, it may still be the case that X, such that
those who recognize that may benefit in later activity, and those you
don’t recognize that may be left behind. (For example, it is the case
that “socialism,” of all so-named kinds, is an untenable approach to
democratization, but many still don’t agree).

7. It may be the case that most persons hearing a case are persuaded,
such that the majority prevail. It may be that the case does not
objectively deserve to stand, but that the minority or the few who See
this can’t yet muster the arguments to be compelling to leading voices
or to prevail in the community as a leading voice. 

8. It may be that persons should see that a case is compelling (or that
a case doesn’t deserve to stand), or persons should see that a standing
doesn’t deserve to prevail, but they can’t appreciate trully valid cases
(or counter-case, in this case). It may be that those who have authentic
insight are incapable of appealing to others effectively, i.e., the
enlightened (in substance) are not competent enough yet (not practically
enlightened enough), or are still too young---or, at worst, are too
narcissistically conflicted to appreciate better arguments for certain
insights (either due to immaturity or personality problems; god forbid
we truly get clinical about a “Silent Majority” or radical cynicism).

                                                *  *  *

9. The so-called “ethical” mode of practical reason in Habermas’
“...Employments...” is an odd domain, to me. Those contexts of his
discussion which attend to the ethical employment of practical reason
allude to various modes of understanding: developmental, educational,
existential, clinical, and evaluative, as well as ethical (in the
lexical sense). The essay might better have been titled: ‘On the Self
formative, pragmatic, and legal employments of practical reason,’ given
all that is “ethical” for Habermas. 

10. But all that is ethical for Habermas is based in “classical usage”.
Lexically (in English, anyway), ‘ethical’ and ‘moral’ tend to be
more-or-less synonymous; ‘moral’ seems to start in Latin, while
‘ethical’ comes through Latin from Greek (via Catholic Aristotelianism,
as it happens). A *clear* differentiation of moral from ethical is not
even standard in philosophy curriculae. A differentiation of Moral from
Ethical, then, is veritably *contemporary*, compared to what’s
classically ethical (which is largely undifferentiated, relative to
contemporary distinctions between ontogenic, educational, existential,
and therapeutic meaning *versus* what’s specifically ethical-moral). 

11. Only the entire modern domain of “self” understanding can encompass
the classical sense of ethical appeals. Habermas *enacts* a
differentiation of what’s ethical classically, by moving among
statements about identity formation, ones about evaluative stances,
existential crisis, and therapeutic dillusionment. In keeping with his
claim within his theory of social evolution that meaning “evolves” from
numinous (undifferentiated) to articulate employments of the Word,
Habermas embodies a modern sensibility toward the classically ethical,
looking back in a way that Aristotelians could not recognize, while he
looks forward to what practical reason can be for a “Janus”-like

12. There objectively exists a multi-facetedness in *our* “ethical”
language that bears upon self understanding’s conditions of reflection.
Not only is it the case that “strong preferences...are inextricably
interwoven with each individual’s identity” (4), but apparently
(Habermas shows) very different modes of self understanding (cognitive,
maturational, self identical, and conflictual) are interwoven in
“ethical” understanding. This seems uncontroversial, but this state of
affairs can be very generative for self formation. 

13. “Strong evaluations are embedded in the context of a particular
self-understanding” (4). ‘Strong’ means constitutive, and self
constitution is life-historical, i.e., the longer an evaluation has been
tacitly efficacious, the more deeply it is likely constitutive for
understanding. Overt and covert senses of what’s conceivable
(cognition), learnable (educational, maturational), feasible
(selfidentically existential), and conflictual (clinically existential)
are interwoven in strong evaluations. They are “embedded,” and the
“context of a particular self-understanding” resonates potentially with
one’s feeling for one’s whole “world”, if not life altogether, from the
neighborhood of one’s literal embeddedness each night to a sense of
one’s presence on Earth as a singular neighborhood. 

14. “How one understands oneself depends not only on how one describes
oneself but also on the ideals toward which one strives” (4). Self
understanding stands in a fundamental difference between description and
idealization--not, here, primarily in a difference between self
description and self idealization (which is one thing), but in a
difference between self description and “the ideals toward which one
strives.” There is an indeterminateness in the employment of ‘ideals’
here that happens to be true to the reality of self understanding,
namely, that one strives toward ideals, period. And such ideals
(beginning in early childhood conceptions of The World) are, in
adulthood, *of* one’s world, of *one’s* world--in *the* world. Ideals
about the world interweave with ideals about *one’s place* in the world,
with ideals about *one’s potential* in the world. 

15. Reading this indeterminateness of ‘ideals’ strongly, I’m
appropriating Habermas’ statement for my own hermeneutical moment, to be
sure. To do this without being unfair to Habermas’ text is imperative.
It’s unethical to pretend to be genuinely attuned to the *other* while
actually misrepresenting her or him for my own designs. 

16. Next, Habermas-in-translation writes: “One’s identity is determined
simultaneously by how one sees oneself and how one would like to see
oneself, by what one finds oneself to be and the ideals with reference
to which one fashions oneself and one’s life” (4). Habermas’ attention
is not directed to a full sense of self-world idealization, as I would
like him to be. Rather, he is carrying forward the two-foldness of the
previous statement (self description vs. general idealization) into a
sense of the I-Me difference---“how” and “what”---which can be found in
Mead (and William James before him), and which has been empirically
found in research on self understanding. On the one hand, “identity is how one sees oneself what one finds oneself to
be” in the present. I “see” myself in *how* I am, by being myself; and
*what* that is *to* me is found in reflection. In the present, the I-Me
difference exists in the irrefutable difference between *seeing* “that”
and seeing *“that”*, enaction and representation, illocution and
locution, etc. Moreover, one’s identity is future-oriented,
“ how one would like to see oneself...and [by] the ideals
with reference to which one fashions oneself and one’s life.”  How
*does* one *know* how one would like to see oneself? How general can one
be about this validly? What a fascinating phrase the translator gives
us: “...the ideals with reference to which one fashions oneself and
one’s life.” What is the nature of the realm in which my coming to know
how I want to see is entwined with references to which I fashion myself?

17. “Habermas” continues: “This existential self-understanding is
evaluative in its core and, like all evaluations, is Janus faced.” How
enchanted. Janus was (according to Webster’s) “a Roman god that is
identified with doors, gates, and all beginnings and that is represented
artistically with two opposite faces.” But the differences expressed by
Habermas are not basically opposites. Description vs. idealization, I
vs. Me, present vs. future---living in this complex of differences is
generative, as if being a gate unto oneself that is always beginning,
facing “this” in aspiration, doing what can be done. “This existential
self-understanding is evaluative in its core...,” but not basically, not
primordially. At heart, self understanding is *valuative*, *standing*
for--standing *in* and *as* “what” is most appealing and desirable.
However, as far as *reason* goes, the *evaluative* (judicial) “core” of
self understanding (though based in lived valuation) is what matters.
“...[S] Janus faced.” In English, this connotes
duplicity or manipulativeness. Relative to what Habermas has said in
previous statements of this paragraph, the possible duplicity would
stand in the relationship between (1) description and idealization; or
(2) I and Me; or (3) present and future prospects; or between (1) and
(2), etc. Self understanding can be deceived by idealization hiding as
veritable description; or being concealing itself in representations; or
future prospects hiding in present-centered attention; or matters of
identity (I-Me) hiding in concerns about cognition
(descripton-idealization); or matters of time (what’s feasible in the
future vs. now) hiding as matters of consciousness (Me, compulsion to
idealize). What’s Janus faced here is the extent to which Janus (an
enchantment of generative differences) may become two-faced (an
opposition of differences), in denial of the fluidity of difference in
the formation of oneself, like a fallenness. Such a condition prompts me
to feel that primarily evaluations, like all self understanding, can be
Janus faced rather than, as Habermas states, “self-understanding...,
like all evaluations, is Janus faced.” What *is* for Habermas should
have been stated as what merely might be; Habermas is more interested in
potential oppositions in self understanding than in generative
differences because he is more interested in evaluation than in
valuation. *Inasmuch as* self understanding is evaluative in its core,
it is *Janus faced*, like all evaluations *can* be. It is in our
communicatively-based disposition toward evaluation that duplicitous
oppositions are instilled in self understanding. Having evaluation first
made possible to us through the example of others (parents, peers,
teachers, and models)--unlike the self-origin of valuation--it is the
evaluative activity of others that instills duplicitous oppositions in
self understanding (if only to shelter one's dignity or deeply inner

18. “Two components are interwoven in it”---in “existential
self-understanding”--“the descriptive component of the ontogenesis of
the ego and the normative component of the ego-ideal” (4-5). This is not
to say that self understanding is fundamentally constituted by an
interweaving of descriptive and normative components (suspectible to
truth-functional and normative evaluations); rather, two components are
interwoven “in” existence that Habermas would focus upon. What, though,
*is* the relationship between the so-called “ego” and self all tolled?
This isn’t Habermas’ present concern, but it’s an important question,
given the nest of existence that Habermas has brought to the present
point of his paragraph. What difference does it make to say: the
descriptive component of the ontogenesis of the *self* and the normative
component of the *self*-ideal? The difference is a matter of what can be
cognitively relevant for discourse, distinguishable from what is
altogether meaningful for existence. But how stringent does Habermas
mean to be? Idealization is a cognitive matter as well, so one could
speak of the imaginative component of the ontogenesis of *cognitive*
self understanding (distinguishably from the feeling for oneself that is
shown in *how* “I” goes about being itself). In fact, this is a very
confusing matter. ‘Ego’ is originally an English Latinization of Freud’s
technical sense of ‘Ich’ (I believe) that psychology adopted outside of
psychoanalysis. Within psychoanalysis--which grew up before cognitive
psychology was invented--the Ego *included* all that is covered by the
notion of self in contemporary English, though Freud had his own sense
of how that All goes, which evolved through his life. To be fair to
oneself and to Habermas--and to be fair to the phenomenon at hand (a
*life*), ‘ego’ must be read in a fully psychoanalytic sense, not
primarily in a cognitivist sense. So, to keep this in mind, I’m going to
read ‘ego’ as “self”. What is cognitively relevant for discourse,
according to Habermas, is the descriptive and normative component of
self identity. Habermas associates the descriptive component of self
understanding with its ontogenesis and the normative component with its
idealization. Yet, idealization grows during the same ontogenesis in
which the capacity for self representation grows. Indeed, what’s
normative for my life presumes a sense of anticipated future integrated
with memory and earlier self-representations, altogether for the sake of
present involvements, the full sense of which *should* be in play for
“strong evaluations,” and this full sense is altogether maturing in the
ontogenesis that *includes* representational facilities. In *fact*, a
facility for descriptive and normative self-clarification is
“interwoven” in the ontogenesis of self understanding, which includes
evolving ideals which have normative weight for life--which enlighten my
way through time, one could insist. 

19. “Hence,” continues Habermas, “the clarification of one’s
self-understanding or the clinical reassurance of one’s identity calls
for an *appropriative* form of understanding--the appropriation of one’s
own life history and the traditions and circumstances of life that have
shaped one’s process of development” (5). What is the plausible scale of
this event of appropriation? One’s process of development has been
shaped by one’s own life history, by the traditions of life, and by the
circumstances of life: personality, culture, and society--subjective,
intersubjective, and objective worldliness. What scale of appreciation
of the circumstances of one’s life are appropriate to self
understanding? What scale of identification with culture is appropriate
to one’s sense of belonging in the neighborhood of humankind? What scale
of feeling for one’s being in time is appropriate for one’s self
understanding? At this point, Habermas inserts one of his few footnotes
of this essay: Gadamer, whose calling was like that of all the history
of philosophy, an unending conversation of evolving humanity. It seems
that the scale of one’s self understanding can be as appropriate as one
can stand to sustain. Be it clarification or reassurance, one’s self
understanding is as appropriative as it can be. It appropriates itself
to time, history, and circumstance to whatever degree it is able to bear
frutifully, if not happily. But what is the nature of this
“*appropriative*" form of understanding that Habermas associates with
Gadamer? How does one move from a small neighborhood to a big
neighborhood, without losing touch with the potential of self
understanding to authentically belong to the time it acts within; and
the potential of self understanding to genuinely identify with the
neighborhood it acts within; and the potential of self understnding to
actually appreciate the fullness of circumstances with which its
neighborhood and its time fatefully plays?

20. “If illusions are playing a role,” writes Habermas, “this
hermeneutic self-understanding can be raised to the level of a form of
reflection that dissolves self deceptions.” A clinician would probably
prefer to say that self understanding can be *deepened* through a
*dynamic* of reflection that dissolves self deceptions, but the
difference is not critical, for Habermas indeed understands “form of
reflection” in a dynamic, dyadic way, and any depth psychologist would
agree that a deepened understanding is “higher” understanding. Whether
or not illusions are prevailing in the telos of self understanding,
maturing the sustainable scale of the event of appropriation is a matter
of a higher depth whose potential horizon is, in principle, Open, a

21. “Bringing one’s life history and its normative context to
awareness...” (5), the historicity of one’s own life and the self
identical continuity of its inclinations, interests, values, ideals,
conceptions of implicative Meaning, etc.--the normativity of *my* life,
distinct from the present-centered dispositions, desires, and feelings I
may express, is entwined with a normativity or *our* history that is
normative and historical differently. What is the difference between the
normativity or Meaning of *my* life and a normativity or *our* history?
Is the normativity of lifeworld Meaning the ontogenic (and thus
cognitive) basis for understanding what a cultural normativity is?
Granting the difference (whatever it is), is learning the difference a
matter of differentiating-out (as Habermas might put it) a sense of
cultural normativity from normative lifeworld Meaning? Or is the sense
of the normativity of lifeworld Meaning basically a product of
enculturation mapped into the growth of self description, *as if* self
identity is basically an internalized culture of personas or aspects of
oneself? So far in Habermas’ discussion, there is no reason to claim
that the normativity of a life is basically a cultural organon (despite
the sociocentrism of much inquiry in the human sciences and the
sociological interests Habermas largely addresses). Rather, it seems
more plausible to claim that the normativity of a life *gains* an
effective interactive sense of the normativity of culture *as part* of
the growing, maturing “Meaning” of one’s own life. But this neighborhood
of worms is too entwining for the present (though I’ve pursued it at
great length in my own development).

22. “Bringing one’s life history and its normative context to
awareness...[is a...] hermeneutically generated self-description...”
(5). It cannot be overemphasized how central to Habermas’ thinking
hermeneutical understanding is. How *does* hermeneutical inquiry
understand itself? Since hermeneutical inquiry *is* so central to
Habermas’ discursive career (from his youthful enchantment with
Heidegger through his recent expositions about “discourses of
application”) and since hermeneutical understanding is *standardly*
centered upon *textualized* language (where the literal absence of the
author is replaced by a reader-generated intentionality of the
authorship that is Janus faced), the literary condition of understanding
must be exemplary for Habermas’ theory of communicative interaction
(Indeed, TCA is designed around a series of readings of entire

23. “Bringing one’s life history and its normative context to awareness
in a critical logically contingent upon a critical relation
to self.” That is, a critical manner of bringing to awareness implies a
critical relation to self. What is critical? Is it oppositional? No. Is
it negative? No. “A more profound self-understanding alters the
attitudes that sustain, or at least imply, a life project with normative
substance” (5). Does this apply *only* to “clinical reassurance”? No. It
applies to “the clarification of one’s self-understanding” as well. “The
existential self-understanding [that] is evaluative in its core”
accomplishes self-evaluation through both self-clarification and
"clinical" reassurance (a notion that needs examination. Later). The
critical manner of a critical relation to self is not basically
emancipatory, but is a dynamic of self formative learning that includes
emancipatory (clinical, therapeutic) processes.  “In this way, strong
evaluations can be justified through hermeneutical self-clarification”
(5). An expressive validity claim to genuineness can be warrented
discursively, and the appropriateness of strong evaluations in one’s
understanding can be grounded, relative to the scale of one’s claim of
neighborhood understanding. 

24. Being *granted* standing in a given neighborhood is another matter.
One’s case may earn that standing, or one’s given position may already
have a standing, of which one’s case should be worthy. 

                                                *   *   *

25. Habermas attests that “ethical each instance...take
their orientation from the telos of one’s own life” (6). The presence of
others is part of that life, and of course has been part of self
formation from the beginning. One doesn’t have to be sociocentric to
appreciate that one’s own life is constituted with others and by others,
the degree of which is a contingent matter of each life. The sense of
intimacy, kindredness, and solidarity can have a highly variable scale,
depending upon one’s self understanding. The degree to which one’s sense
of intimacy, kindredness and solidarity with others at any given scale
is genuine is a contingent matter. Most persons, unfortunately, have a
fairly small-scale sense of belonging in neighborhoods, but there is
nothing about ethical life that entails that self understanding is
inherently particularistic. 

26. Habermas is misleading, in this regard (6). Coming from a paragraph
that focuses on an “egocentric” perspective (in the instrumentalist, not
self developmental, sense), relative to a moral perspective, he poses
the ethical perspective relative to the egocentric as well, noting that
“ethical questions by no means call for a complete break with the
egocentric perspective” (6). Thus, he is apparently explicating this
posture when he writes that “other persons, other life histories and
structures of interests acquire importance only to the extent that they
are interrelated or interwoven with my identity, my life history, and my
interests....” Taking to heart the fact that the growth of self
understanding isn’t inherently alienated from others (the degree of
individualism in self understanding is contingent), the entwinement of
others in my identity, etc., can give a sense of strong evaluation to
the “only” of that “extent”. It appears then that “the framework of an
intersubjectively shared form of life” (6) pertains to ethical
questioning inasmuch as it does *not* break with an egocentric
perspective. The degree to which I *should* break from an egocentric
perspective in ethical questions is itself an ethical question, relative
to an evaluation of my sense of belonging in the neighborhood of others’
belonging with me. An evaluation of the validity of one’s sense of
belonging--being a continuum of sense from intimacy, kindredness,
solidarity to mere civility--is fundamental to the intersubjectivity of
ethical life. There is nothing essential about the self understanding of
ethical life that requires a “framework” beyond the neighborhood we
share. Do I understand the neighborhood as well as others in the
neighborhood? Maybe. Do I understand others’ interests in the
neighborhood as well as they understand their own interests? Probably
not, but maybe--and possibly even better than they understand their own
interests (as with good parents sometimes, Socratic teachers sometimes,
truly trustworthy representatives sometimes). Therefore, it can be the
case that--on the basis of ethical understanding based in a “higher”
education of oneself -- “the framework of an intersubjectively shared
form of life” gets it sense from the intersubjective mode of identity,
life history and interests at the scale with which this is entwined with
other persons, other life histories, and structures of interests. That
is, in a basically ethical life, pragmatics serves the life; the life
doesn’t take guidance from pragmatic frameworks. For self understanding
that is *not* free of egocentric designs, “my development unfolds
against a background of traditions that I share with other persons” (6).
For self understanding *free* of egocentric designs, my development
unfolds with other persons in traditional and non-traditional ways.
Moreover, for self understanding that is socio-centric (which usually
follows a break with egocentrism), “my identity is shaped by collective
identities, and my life history is embedded in encompassing historical
forms of life.” But for self understanding *free* of sociocentrism--and
here I’m rendering a perspective born from research on post-conventional
identity formation--my self identity is partly composed of various
personal identifications, relative to various collectivities, and my
genealogy includes historical forms in its self-clarification, as well
as historically based ideals in its telos. 

27. To that extent, the life that is good for Habermas also concerns me,
in the neighborhood we share--the Earth--where the forms of life that
are common to us may be clarified as to their commonality (their
integrity, their strangeness, their beauty) and understood together in
some lasting way maybe. 

                                                            *     *    

28. Though I don’t wish to deal with what’s “moral” in Habermas’ essay
presently (later, *surely*) and this presentation has become
unconscienably long, I feel compelled to acknowledge that I’m begging
questions about the place of moral understanding in a unity of practical
reason. I’m hoping that circumstance allows this discussion of Habermas’
essay to continue soon, and to lead into the next manageable thing, and
onward. These closing notes are probably ill-considered.

29. It appears that moral considerations arise for self understanding
inasmuch as it is *not able* (or not permitted) to break with an
egocentric perspective, i.e., moral consideraton is a hybrid--not a
fundamental--form of practical reason, born from a need to ajudicate,
legislate, and administrate among alienated parties, i.e., opposed
interests which cannot (or will not) identify with each other, which is
a common circumstance, but only circumstantially so. Moral reason
belongs to a theory of democracy fundamentally, perhaps, and the unity
of practical reason--the complementarity of ethical, pragmatic, and
legal discourse is, in practice, highly distributed and, in theory,

30. Is “high” ethical self understanding, in some clarifiable sense, a
universalizable potential within neighborhoods (in a “high” sense of
possible neighborhood)? Are the limits of understanding--solidarity and
kindredness--merely contingent, relative to particular lives and

31. Does a discourse ethic pertain fundamentally to the potential of
*ethical* life to dissolve the need for *legally* regulated domains?
Imagining the year 2100, could the evolutionary telos of communicative
ethics---the growth of communicative neighborhood on a planet richly
laced with internets--gradually dissolve the scope of the need for law
(and "moral" reason) into only the most abstract (international)
circumstances or crisis  intervention (Bosnias, Rhwandas) by agents of a
global community (UN, NATO, ASEAN, etc), apart from our inestimably
complex pragmatics of systems management and the stabilization of
economic environments, which will forever need laws?

                                           *   *   *

I want to continue my discussion soon, if I can make time--unless I’m
informed that 10-page email essays are unethical. How about 5-page...

Juergen, you *here*?


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