File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2000/habermas.0011, message 67

Date: Tue, 28 Nov 2000 15:16:31 -0800
Subject: HAB: Language is not an institution and "false consciousness"

Well, Gary and Bill:

I did not mean to respond. I forwarded the e-mail from my home to my office
computer for future consultation. But, let me write what I had in mind when
I read these postings.

The citation about language not being an institution comes from Habermas'
essay "The Universality Claim of Hermeneutics" which is from 1970. The
statement is paradigmatic of Habermas' approach. We ought not to forget
that Habermas identified himself as a Heideggerian Hermeneuticist. His
early work was deeply influenced by Heideggerian and Gadamerian
Hermeneutics -as one can tell from reading _On the Logic of The Social
Sciences_. One of his teachers, Rothacker, was a Heideggerian. etc. His
recent work on the origins of the German philosophy of  Language, where
Habermas takes up the missed opportunities in the work of Herder, is also
indicative of Habermas' resitance to assimilate language to an institution.
Further, if we follow Christina Lafont and Charles Taylor, then the
precursors and sources of inspiration for the Habermasian model of
language, then we have to go back to the three Hs, i.e. Hamann, Herder,
Humboldt, and we would have to add, Heidegger. Of course, Apel's mediation
and translation (literaly and figurative) are also fundamental. The short
version: for philosoophical reasons, Habermas must resist all attempts to
assimilate language to the technochratic, instrumental and functional model
and/or paradigm. What is at stake in this tradition is a notion of language
as Welterschliessenden (World-Disclosing). Language is apophantic, or the
cite of epiphany, of aletheia. Of course, language is also the way through
which we deal with the world. Language is a tool that allows us to cope
with the world. But I think the romantic, hermeneutic angle supersedes over
or precedes the instrumentalist. (see the interesting comments in the
introduction to the Lectures on the Philosophical Discourses of Modernity,
as well as McCarthy's comments).

Now, if we go back to the time when Habermas is writing this essay on
Gadamer, we will also note that Habermas is engaged in two fronts (sorry
for the bellicose image). On the one hand, he is meeting head on the
criticism coming from the philosophical left, and in Frankfurt in
particular, from Apel and his students. This is the time when _Knowledge
and Human Interest_ is causing much debate. He does a second edition in
70-71, in which he responds in particular to Apel and his student Böhler.
On the other front, we have the conservative front, of which Gehlen is a
particular version. At the center of both struggles is the issue of how to
construe language. Interestingly, Apel has attempted to take the
conservative discourse of Gehlen and reformulate it in terms of language as
the meta-institution of all institutions. See the essay on volume one on
Gehlen of Apel's Transformation of Philosophy. In any event, Gehlen, in his
very popular book Man (Der Mensch -this book went through several editions
and pritings) had attempted to articulate a philosophical-anthropological
reading of language as an institution. But this reading was conservative.
It refuted discourses of criticism and it failed to bring up questions of
normativity, the good life, the just life...etc. Habermas wrote against
Gehlen in his Philosophical-Political Profiles. I just checked on the
publication date (also 1970). So, he is writing the essay on Gadamer as he
is writing the essay on Gehlen.

In short: I think Habermas refused to accept the simile or analogy because
it is so tainted with conservative undertones.

But, what about the Apel angle? He is neither a conservative, nor even at
all an outside critic. Apel seemed to accept the notion. Not exactly. What
Apel meant was that Gehlen's notion of the meta-institution was actually
executed by language, but so long as we understand language in an exact
transcendental-philosophical sense. As the institution of all institutions,
as the grammar of all institution, as the deep syntax of all discourses and
instititions of discourses. And, moreover, this very meta-institution, a
transcendental apriori, that allows for self-reflexivity and
self-creativity. Language is not just the meta-institution of all
institutions, it is also the institution of all emancipatory discourse.
This  aspect is not separate but integral to language itself, which is what
Apel and Böhler criticized against Habermas's _K&HI_

Would Habermas accept the image today? Thirty years later? I think not. I
think that he would resist the attempt to attribute the properties and
functions that ought to be performed by real institutions, and conversely,
I think he is interested that we see institutions for what they are, namely
hybrids of the normative and the instrumental (see for instance his
treatment of the law in _FuG_

About "false consciousness": I think that Habermas has rejected this type
of discourse because it gets us caught in a series of performative
contradictions, and it prevents us from facing and raising questions of
normativity and validity criteria. Who and under what conditions can any
one denounce false consciousness? Here, we have to turn to the last chapter
of _TCA_, volume 2.  Second, as he moved from a Freudian to a
Piagetian-Kohlbergian model of consciousness, and as he moved from Marx and
Hegel, to Durkheim and Mead, the issue is not how a consciousness
represents itself to itself and others, but how it is constituted or made
possible through a web of relations that antecede it. Another way of saying
it is that the discourse of false consciousness is part and parcel of the
philosophy of consciousness --which as you know Habermas thinks we need to
overcome. On the other hand, the critical aspects of such a talk are taken
over by the notion of pathology and systematically distorted communication. 

Sorry, but I have to go pick up my kids.

Keep up the good work. I read all the posting, even if I am not able to

Eduardo Mendieta
Assistant Professor
Philosophy Department
University of San Francisco
2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117-1080

Tel: (415) 422-6313
Fax: (415) 422-2346

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