File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2001/habermas.0102, message 42

Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2001 09:50:27 -0800 (PST)
Subject: HAB: Follow-up, re: Isn't inquiry defeasible,...?


"You have IT right," I should have said--I should have noticed the
little error. Of course, you (we all) also have rights (ha!)--"right"
in the abstract....

On second thought, I also disagree with you--constructively, I hope.
You have it largely right--you do settle my concern--but the
distinction between fundamental and methodological questionability
remains. Specifically....

--- Bill Hord <> wrote:
> ... for the sake of understanding, I
> would argue against attributing [the distinction between
fallibilism and defeasibility] to Habermas or the assertion that he
> would accept it in the following manner.
> Gary D wrote:
> >Philosophically,
> > the term [fallibilism] 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
> > (metaphysics).
> > 
> > 'Defeasibility' *is* in the English dictionaries, and it pertains
> to
> > annulment or invalidation (potential for--, susceptibility to--).
> > 
> Using dictionary definitions is always iffy, because definitions
> are
> abstracted from actual use.  
> But, looking at the Cambridge article
> by
> Bruce Aune, I don't see that he defines the term the way you say. 
> Aune
> writes:
> "the doctrine, relative to some significant class of beliefs or
> propositions, that are inherently uncertain or possibly mistaken."

Yes: "inherently..."  This level of concern is not generally what is
meant (I would argue) in claiming that Habermas' sense of research
programs or reconstructive science is "fallibilistic". If I'm wrong
about this, the question at least usefully highlights the difference
between methodological and foundational issues. I believe that it's
*always* appropriate to keep in mind the difference between
methodological and foundational issues. But AM I wrong here? I.e., am
I misconstruing the Habermasian view?

> Aune goes on to say that while a few philosophers attribute
> uncertainty
> to every belief, more restricted forms of fallibilism refer to "all
> empirical beliefs or to beliefs concerning the past, the future,
> other
> minds, or the external world."  

Such a generality of scope is inappropriate to methodological
concerns about science. And "uncertainty" is not a useful
characterization of the stance which one (including Habermas)
*substantively* makes toward foundational issues. Usually, one is
tacitly in a mode of working in light of foundational stances or
otherwise questioning foundational issues in some specific way, not
taking an anti-aprioristic stance generally (nor an aprioristic

>I think Habermas endorses fallibilism
> toward empirical beliefs, especially the empirical propositions of
> science, and more.  

Defeasibility--potential for invalidation or annulment--toward
empirical beliefs (not skepticism!).

> Perhaps it is fair to say that Habermas adopts
> fallibilism toward discursive contents (in his distinctive sense of
> discourse).  

Defeasibility fits here better, too: matters of invalidability or
annulment. Fallibilism--as so far characterized--does NOT fit. 

> He claims that fallibilism toward practical contexts of
> action is not defensible--I think drawing on a bounds of sense kind
of argument--the lifeworld cannot be questioned without performative
> contradiction.

Where does he claim this? I would imagine that, inasmuch as Habermas
*focuses* on fallibilism (does he?), he would--as you say--not find a
doctrine about beliefs appropriate to evaluations of action. But
where does he deal with this? (I will follow up on Matthew's

> The article on fallibilism by Nicholas Rescher in the Concise
> Routledge
> Encyclopedia of Philosophy says:
> "Fallibilism is the philosophical doctrine regarding natural
> science,
> most loosely associated with Charles Sanders Peirce, which
> maintains
> that our scientific knowledge claims are invariably vulnerable and
> may
> turn out to be false....  it does not hold that knowledge is
> unavailable
> here, but rather that it is always provisional."

Now this does indeed seem to be what Habermas has meant! Habermas
means 'fallibilism' in the Peircean sense. Thank you! BUT this wasn't
obvious, since such a term (missing from the standard dictionary) is
characterized differently in another standard reference work (and
seems to be employed--as I recall (no specific passage in mind) as a
synonym for fallibility and defeasibility in Habermas' discussions of
reconstructive science.

> This captures quite well the important sense in which fallibilism
> central to Habermas's work.  Note that neither definition says
> anything about presuppositions.

I disagree. The "inherent" sense *is* implying something about
presuppositions. The Peircean sense is methodological! My concern for
a distinction *stands* in the different technical senses of
'fallibilism', and use of 'defeasibility' (a technical philosophical
term which is also a standard lexical item) instead of fallibilism (a
non-standard technical term) can help avoid misunderstanding. Or
else: Back to Peirce? No, that's not the impression one gets from
Habermas' work after 1970.

Best regards,


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