File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2000/habermas.0004, message 10

Date: Sat, 8 Apr 2000 23:45:16 -0700
Subject: Re: HAB: Habermas vs. Apel on performative self-contradiction

Dear Gary:

>What is your view of Habermas' appropriation and critique of Apel's
>sense of performative self-contradiction, as this is addressed by
>Habermas in "Discourse Ethics"?

Habermas is of two minds on the question of the performative contradiction
when it comes to ethics. On the one hand, he rejects the extreme use that
Apel makes of it. Apel uses the performative contradiction as a litmus
test, but also a part of his Letztbegruendung, or ultimate foundation.
Habermas rejects this "philsopher king" strategy. On the other hand, as a
deontic-cognitivist, neo-Kantian, Habermas can not entirely refuse the
spirit of Apel's proposal, namely that ethics can be grounded, i.e.
rationally justified, in the face of historicist and teleological attacks
on the "rationality of ethics."

The issue must also be addressed from another angle, further. Habermas is
interested in retaining the fallibility of philosophy, i.e. philosphie ist
nur eine Platzhalter, a place holder, for the social science, which means
that an ultimate foundation, the use of the ace of aces, is unacceptable.
Habermas thinks that we can approach the question of moral consciousness
from the standpoint of the reconstruction of cognitive-moral know, mix Piaget, Kohlberge and you get a
deontologically theory of morality grounded in the fallible sciences...

of course, this is not acceptable, and Apel has provided an outstanding
refutation in his essay in the 60 year Festschrift  for Habermas edited by
McCarthy, Joas, et. al, which appeared in English intwo volumes in
McCarthy's series.

In short, Habermas rejects Apel's overextended use of the strategy, but he
does so at the peril of jepordizing the consistency of his own approach.

>Habermas's sense of performative contradiction has been discussed on
>this list--quite animately a year-or-so ago--but I don't recall that
>you weighed in on that (not that anything was ever resolved back

Yes, i vaguely remember, and did not intervene. But I would say that Apel's
"pragmatic/performative self-contradiction" is Habermas' secret weapon. You
will recall how he uses it in the PHilosphical Discourses of was like garlic to the vampires...he also uses a similar
strategy against Luhmann in his debates with him....and whenever he argues
with Rorty, he brings it up.

But, Apel's use of it makes him very, very uncomfortable to the point that
he acuses Apel of flirting with the Platonist idea of the philosopher king,
and this is a fairly tough acussation, especially if you keep in mind how
important Apel was to open up German philosophy to other traditions, and in
particular, how Apel basically gave Habermas some of his best philosophical

I remember that Apel ---I talked with him about this-- was particularly
hurt by such comparisons and extreme criticism...for this reason, Apel went
on the defensive, see his amazing three essays on Habermas in the last book
Auseinandersetzungen...these three essays merit to appear as a book (they
are as long as a book), and they are perhaps the best immanent criticisms
of Habermas I have read.

>More generally, what is your view of Habermas' critique of Apel. Does
>Habermas misunderstand Apel in some important respect, or is
>Habermas-on-transcendentality truly Apel's successor?

Habermas is Apel's junior, and they were graduate students together...they
taught at Frankfurt, and Habermas was very influenced by Apel, as Habermas
was important for Apel...I remember a conversation with Habermas in which
he claimed that he no longer remembered who came up with the idea of the
knowledge interests from the late sixties and early close
was their, i do not think Habermas has misunderstood
Apel. I think Habermas' reservations are well grounded. For instance, how
have we made a philosophical move when we claim we have "ultimately
grounded" anything. This is very important for Apel, but I studied this
argument over the last eleven years, read versions, read uses of it, etc.,
and I still do not know what it accomplishes...perhaps to show only that we
can not escape having to argue, and provide reasons for our views and
arguments, but our reasons always remain revisible...You see, I do not
think that Habermas has misunderstood his old and probably best
philosophical buddy...when Habermas criticizes Apel, it is because he
thinks he is trying to save his best friend from a philosophical
blunder...this is how i read it.

On the other hand, there is no doubt in my mind that Habermas has used
Apel's nifty philosophical weapons to neutralize or at least make people
think twice about total critiques of reason, as Apel put it.

With respect to the last question. It is to hard to tell. Habermas is still
producing, and will be for the forseable future, and with an incredible
vigor and creativity...what I mean is that Habermas has turned now back to
philosophy after an umweg around political philosophy. His last book is
very close to the spirit of Apel, but then he might decide to turn back to
political philosophy again, or sociology, and reject his transcendentalism..

Let me just conclude with this, Apel's idea of the pragmatic/performative
self-contradiction is a linguistic, i.e., pragmatic version of Kant's
transcendental method, and Aristotle's idea about what are the ultimate
principles of all science, (see the Metaphysics, where Aristotle talks
about prima philosophica, etc...In fact, Apel wrote a long and beautiful
essay in which he traces the idea of the pragmatic self-constradiction down
through the annals of philosophy....I read it in manuscript and I do not
remember whether he ever published it...I will check!). And this is
philosophy at its best, i.e., self-reflection of reason on itself...This is
Apel's intuition, and Habermas shares it...all we have in the midst of our
fallibility and finitude, is the power of human to reflect on their own
assumptions, and one can not say you can think while rejecting the power of
reason. This much Habermas does not reject, but the rest still remains to
be established, and this is for the social sciences to be analyzed.

>Thanks for letting me know you're an Apel expert!

I am not an expert on Apel...the experts would be Wolfgang Kuhlmann, Hans
Schelkshorn, Marcel Niquet, or even Vittorio Hoesle. But I hope to publish
a book on Apel in the near future.

Hope this helps

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