File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2000/habermas.0007, message 17

Subject: Re: HAB: #2: Autonomy as dogma
Date: Sun, 23 Jul 100 02:29:06 +0300 (EETDST)

> Dear list members;
> I have yet another question. I remember having read, somewhere in 
> french, Habermas saying that individual autonomy was for him the 
> ultimate, or perhaps the only, dogma ("un dogme"). 

I don't know the interview you are referring to, but in the light of the
last paragraph of BFN it is not surprising:

"Certainly this understanding [of changing legal paradigms], like the 
rule of law itself, retains a dogmatic core: the idea of autonomy according
to which human beings act as free subjects only insofar as they obey just
those laws they give themselves in accordance with insights they have acquired
intersubjectively. This is "dogmatic" only in a harmless sense. It
expresses a tension between facticity and validity, a tension that is
"given" with the fact of the symbolic infrastructure of sociocultural
forms of life, which is to say that _for us_, who have developed our
identity in such a form of life, it cannot be circumvented." (BFN,

I'd like to reflect aloud a bit on this. No doubt the following will be
familiar to most of the list members, so feel free to skip it.

As I see it, both the importance of autonomy and "dogmatism" about it 
clearly stem from Kant. There are two issues involved: whether we are in fact
autonomous and whether we should be (whether autonomy is a value to be
promoted). The Kantian strategy is to argue that we cannot prove that we
are free (and so autonomous), but all the while we cannot help
conceiving ourselves as such. What we believe without evidence is
dogmatic, even if the belief is in fact necessary. Habermas is not
interested in the metaphysical issues of free will, but in the practical
issue of the value of autonomy. Or rather, his interest is in
investigating the conditions for exercising autonomy. For both
individual and communal autonomy these conditions turn out to be
discursive and hence intersubjective - unlike for atomists, it is in principle
impossible for a solitary subject (if there were such a thing) to be
autonomous. On the question of whether it is a good thing to exercise
autonomy Habermas chooses to remain dogmatic. There is no knock-down
argument proceeding from non-moral facts nor from more fundamental moral
values to the value of autonomy. (As to the latter, Kantian anti-realism
takes other moral values to rest ultimately on rational autonomy - what
is truly valuable is what would be valued by rational subjects.
Conceived in this manner, values can be objective without belonging
ontologically to the objective world.) Nonetheless, as beings whose
identity is constituted and maintained in and through communicative
action, we cannot help valuing autonomy at least implicitly. For
example, raising validity claims - which we'll have to do if we are to
mean anything by our words - implies the recognition that the addressee
of the speech act may rationally reject it, and thus the recognition of
the other's autonomy in contrast to mine, just as implicitly undertaking the
responsibility of redeeming the validity claims implies my own autonomy
as a person capable of providing reasons for my words and actions. In
such a manner treating each other as autonomous, that is, as beings
capable of acting on basis of good reasons, is woven into human forms of
life. Since we in fact do not always a) know what are good reasons or b)
act on the basis of them even if we know, there exists a tension between
the mutual autonomy and rationality necessarily assumed in communicative
action and our factual heteronomous irrationality.

I don't know if that makes sense. I've sometimes toyed with the idea of
dubbing the practice of treating the other as (discursively) autonomous
as "communicative stance" by analogy to Dennett's "intentional stance".
I need to adopt an intentional stance to _predict and explain_ the
other's behaviour; but, I would argue, it is not enough if I wish to
_reach an understanding_ with the other - that requires adopting the
communicative stance. The other is no longer an opaque object standing
over against me, but a cohabitant of a shared, linguistically disclosed world.

Sorry for rambling,


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