File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2000/habermas.0012, message 18

Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2000 12:39:56 -0800 (PST)
Subject: HAB: Re: Habermas on Freud

Dear Ken: 

You present very interesting themes, making quite clear at length why
you "simply cannot agree". 

While I don't find JH's stance toward Freud invalid, I want to read
him through the perspectives of later work. But you seem to find JH's
stance toward Freud invalid, as part of claims that JH's view of
psychoanalysis is generally unacceptable for advancing Critical

--- wrote:
> As irrelevant as [JH's stance toward Freud] may be to 
> [his] later work (from the 70s onward) I still think it is
> worth treating as contemporary 
> ....
> Despite Habermas's eventual collapse of the specifically
> emancipatory 
> self-reflective model of psychoanalysis into a more refined and
> differentiated 
> theory of communicative action (Habermas 1973; Honneth 1991)....

"Collapse" is untenable. Reformulation of the critical potential of
psychoanalytical modelling in terms of the theory of communicative
action is not an endeavor to ground psychoanalysis itself or reduce
psychoanalysis; rather to *reappropriate* earlier perspectives on the
critical potential of such modelling now in terms of the broader
developmental interests of communicative metatheory. 

> ...which draws its strength from theories of cognitive development,
Joel Whitebook reminds us....

> ....the idea, developed in Habermas's reinterpretation of Freud,
that language "is the only thing whose nature we can know," made in
his Frankfurt inaugural address in 1965, "holds just as true for
Habermas today as it ever has" (Whitebook 1995: 167; Habermas 1971:

But the implication of this is that psychoanalysis, read after the 
theory of formal pragmatics and cognitive development theory, IS a
very different "thing". Whitebook's point supports my stance, rather
than clarifying your disagreement.

>...Habermas remarks, "My interpretation of Freud in terms 
> of communication theory still seems to me plausible" (Habermas
> 1992: 162). 

And his communication theory has, over the decades, deepened and
refined that plausibility. This is not a comment on his KHI reading
of Freud. It's a comment on the durability of his communication
theory over his career.

> Additionally, there is ample evidence to suggest that Habermas 
remains devoted to his [formal pragmatic!!] reinterpretation of Freud
and continues to uphold psychoanalysis as a representative of the
twin powers of self-reflection and reconstructive science.

I disagree with the latter statement. JH turned to psychoanalysis as
an example of critical potential within hermeneutical practices, for
the sake of explicating an emancipatory interest in knowledge.
Clearly, when JH seeks examples of reconstructive science, he turns
to cognitive developmental work, not psychoanalysis. It is the
efficacy of cognitive development work within psychoanalysis that
makes psychoanalysis still indirectly useful for the theory of
communicative action. 

> ....Habermas writes: "As can be shown through the example of
> psychoanalysis, as interpreted in terms of communication theory,
> the two procedures of reconstruction and of self-critique can still
be brought together within the framework of one and the same theory"
(Habermas 1987:300).

Yet, this "one and the same" is the theory of communicative action,
not a basically psychoanalytic reading of the communicative potential
for learning and emancipation from distortions.

> Although the conceptual geography of Habermas's argument has
> shifted, .... the key tenets of his
> communicative theory.... still very much lean on, 
> to some degree, the validity of his reinterpretation of Freud
> (Habermas 1971: 
> 226-228, 238). 

This is an untenable claim (whatever you mean by "very some

> .... despite Habermas's shift in emphasis
> from psychoanalysis to cognitive development, he still makes use of
a psychoanalytic  dimension to mitigate and ground his claims for a
critical social theory interested in the legitimation of its own

Yes. But this isn't an matter of "in other words." This is a very
different kind of claim. Claims about the development of critical
potential is another matter from claims about the relationship of
Freudian psychoanalysis to the cognitive-developmental theory of
communicative action. 

> In his earlier work, Habermas argues that Freud and Marx stand
> together; the 
> critique of ideology and psychoanalysis represent independent
> disciplines which 
> uncover' systematically distorted forms of communication. Despite
> Habermas's 
> more recent turn to reconstructive science to defend this claim,

JH doesn't turn to reconstructive science to defend this claim. He
turns to reconstructive science to development the theory of
communicative action methodologically. Critical theory is
reformulated as a part of the general interests of reconstructive
science to contribute to the development of communicatively
productive (if not evolutionary) social life, from which a revised
view of the relationship between a discursive critique of ideology
and immanent emancipatory (educative-therapeutic) practice would

> ....psychoanalysis 
> remains the most poignant of his examples, and one which remains of
> particular 
> importance when we consider the legacy of the Frankfurt School. 

Indeed. But this is a separate matter from the place of
psychoanalysis in JH's thinking

> I do not mean 
> to argue that Habermas's theory depends on his reinterpretation of 
> psychoanalysis: clearly, it does not. 

That's not what you connote above, especially inasmuch as you're
presenting your views as a disagreement about my comments on JH's
stance toward Freud.

> I would like, however, to
> highlight the 
> salient role that Habermas accords to psychoanalysis as
> illustrating some of 
> the key points that Habermas makes with regards to critical theory
> in general 
> and, more to the point, outline an alternative (a 'return to
> Freud') which 
> might avoid some of the problems that we encounter in Habermas's
> later work. 

I don't know who "we" is, but I find nothing objectionable to still
needing to work through Freud and to THEN work beyond a Freudian
sense of psychoanalysis. But this is another matter from claiming
that JH's view of Freud informs the theory of communicative action or
that considering psychoanalysis from the stance of TCA is not
fundamentally different from considering psychoanalysis from the
stance of his 1960s work.

> To 
> this end, my argument here will challenge Habermas's interpretation
> of Freud 
> through the work of Jacques Lacan. While this reading cannot
> deliver a 
> decisive' blow to Habermas's more recent reformulations of his
> project, it 
> anticipates, even if only in retrospect, a different path for
> critical theory...

That's fine with me, though I'm suspicious of the *desire* to deliver
a decisive blow. Also, I happen to believe that Lacan's work does not
provide a tenable challenge to JH's work, but that's a rebuttive case
to be made in the face of a critical case to be made.

I will stop here, more or less. Thanks for sharing your general
discursive strategy, but since that's about arguments to be made (and
some sweeping rhetoric), rather than specific critical claims (yet),
I'll just say: Interesting reading! I'm very interested in someday
reading your specifics. A discursive interplay of Habermas and Lacan
could be very fruitful! Reading these two as complements appeals to
me, not as opponents (though they are opponents at some point, I
presume). In any case, I would side with Habermas against Lacan
(inasmuch as they cannot be read as complements), and I will look
forward to your published dissertation's specifics (should that day


It looks like one should be having a dialogue with Whitebook and
Zizek, as you seem to depend on those readings, rather than
anticipating your own. 

I would not be at all surprised to find you arguing that: 

> ... Habermas's reinvention is such that it no longer
> "fits" any consistent understanding of Freudian psychoanalysis at
all. I

This would be because JH is not a Freudian!


> Habermas's appropriation of psychoanalysis ceases to be Freudian 
> psychoanalysis. This point has not gone unnoticed. 


> My rejoinder to Habermas here calls for a
> more sustained 
> engagement between critical theory and psychoanalysis, one which
> does not take 
> psychoanalysis to be an independent model which lends credibility
> to a critical 
> social theory, but actually constitutes its driving impulse. 

Fine. Habermas has chosen another route (a more constructive one, in
my view): In a word, EDUCATION, over therapy---focusing on
*unfinished projects* of development, over dynamics of oppression and
distortion (which depend upon further development for emancipation!).

> Habermas's 
> reinterpretation of Freud is inconsistent with the purposes for
> which he wishes to appropriate it...


Best regards,though,


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