File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2001/habermas.0102, message 35

Date: Wed, 14 Feb 2001 12:49:35 -0800 (PST)
Subject: HAB: Isn't inquiry defeasible, rather than fallibilistic?

It's common here to talk about the fallibilistic status of inquiry in
Habermas' work (for me, at least), but I think this is the wrong
term--a misinterpretation of what Habermas means (in German)--or
*should* mean (I think: *DOES* mean).

The words 'fallibilism' and 'fallibilistic' don't appear in the
Merriam-Webster and American Heritage dictionaries. Philosophically,
the term refers (_Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy_) to a kind of
skepticism about the possibility of certainty about presuppositions;
fallibilism is a stance within the history of aprioristic discourse

'Defeasibility' *is* in the English dictionaries, and it pertains to
annulment or invalidation (potential for--, susceptibility to--).

I believe that it's 'defeasibility' that pertains to the status of
work in reconstructive science. Is it not the case that 'fallibilism'
in Habermas' work is used in the sense of fallibility or a potential
for error, susceptibility to error? Fallibility surely applies to
reconstructive science (and rationality generally). But what's most
appropriate to inquiry is not just the appreciation of fallibility or
potential for error that applies to assertoric representations;
rather an openness to future *invalidation* is indicated (which
pertains to any dimension of validity): a formal methodological
openness about any kind of knowledge in inquiry, not just an openness
about constative action or to error in truth-functionality. Science
presumes 'defeasibility', openness to invalidation; skepticism may be
methodological, though usually model-theoretic, but never is
skepticism in science fallibilistic, except at the level of discourse
in the foundations of science (if at all); so, it would probably be
good to stop talking about inquiry being fallibilistic, unless one is
referring to the status of fundamental features of science, as a
matter of issues in philosophy of science. 

In _Moral Consciousness & Communicative Action_, 'fallibilism' is
only indicated (in the Index) in Habermas' discussion of Apel, where
a "principle of fallibilism" is associated by Apel with performative
contradiction. 'Fallibility' turns up in Habermas' discussion of
"Pierce and Communication"; lots of instances of 'fallibilistic' are
cited in the Index of _On the Pragmatics of Communication_--but I
didn't pursue any of them. I imagine, though, that there's
inconsistency of use; 'fallibilistic' is not a key notion in Habermas
thinking--or is it? Is there a confusion here in Habermas' thinking?
I doubt it.

I doubt that one will find Habermas anywhere focusing on the stance
of fallibilism as it's standardly defined (as a kind of general
skepticism about certainty--which is not the same as a critique of
foundationalism, by the way). Rather 'fallibilism' turns up in
association with a defeasible sense of 'fallibility'. In any case,
there is an important difference between fallibility, fallibilism,
and defeasibility.

So, in order to distinguish issues of a priorism and validity, I'm
going to use 'defeasibility' in reference to the status of statements
or results of inquiry in reconstructive science. And, for what it's
worth, I'm not especially interested in the stance of fallibilism,
since it begs specific issues which are better detailed by the actual
topics in critique of metaphysics and foundations of science.

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