File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2001/habermas.0102, message 79

Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2001 13:27:31 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Re: HAB: re: Lifeworld & fallibilism


I think we agree more than disagree on lifeworld articulability. I’ll
mostly skip over what I agree with, from your posting yesterday, in
order to save space. 

Earlier, I disagreed that [BH] "the lifeworld cannot be questioned
without performative contradiction" (#39) by claiming that Habermas
was making a more limited claim (that we both might agree with?): 
[G] “ cannot at the same time presume something performatively
and take an hypothetical stance toward that same something” (#47).
But you disagree:

[B] can "at the same time presume something performatively and
take an hypothetical stance toward that same something."  The ability
to do so is the basis of the experimental attitude (fallibilism).  

[G] Immediately following my assertion above, I elaborated at some
length what I meant, in terms of *at the same time*.  I might, then,
have revised my assertion: One cannot at the same time presume
something performatively at time T and take an hypothetical stance
toward that something at the same time. This could be read as a
logical point, except that the logical reading is an entailment of a
pragmatic point: One can’t employ something and at the same time
examine it. One can’t use a term and mention it at the same time. One
can’t look at X-at-time-T and simultaneously represent that act of
looking. I believe that this kind of condition is what Habermas means
by “performatively”. 

Of course, there’s a big difference between (1) performative
presumptions that are merely immanent to an act and (2) performative
presumptions that are constitutive of lifeworld cognitivity. The
degree to which cognitivity can be thematized is a very questionable
area of inquiry and thinking. Habermas appears to be so clear about
the unquestionability of the background that I have to read him as
tacitly thinking of the Background prior to highly postconventional
thinking about the Background, since indeed one can say a great deal
about the Background, and in this sense, I agree with you that “the
ability to do so is the basis of the experimental attitude
(fallibilism).”  But reconstructive inquiry is an entirely different
kind of endeavor from reflective analysis of one’s own presumptions
(which is phenomenological). 

Phenomenological analysis may achieve a great deal--how much, though,
is very questionable. But one can’t simultaneously act and reflect on
that same action (which is a different action). The degree to which
the Background (beyond any given activity) is highly (deeply) elusive
is the question. Reconstructive inquiry never pretends to be
phenomenology (rather: Philosophy is strapped with the challenge of
finding the bridge between phenomenology and theorized /systemic

[B] Restated, my principle is that the lifeworld *as a whole* cannot
be questioned without performative contradiction.  

[G] I’m sure Habermas agrees, since he says this in his discussion of
the Background in _On the Pragmatics of Communication_. And you
provide good citations from other sources. So, you don’t have to
qualify your view as an “extrapolation”.

However, your very astute discussion doesn'’t keep clear the
distinction between reflection on one’s own activity (phenomenology)
and theorized inquiry into the presumptions of observed action.

[B] One can take a fallibilistic stance toward the entire lifeworld--
but only from a theoretical, 3rd person point of view.  (See PDM, p.
299; see also OPC, p. 430).  And it is precisely this limitation that
makes it impossible to question the entire lifeworld, as the
irreplaceable background of our practices, without performative

[G] I largely agree, but--to advance the issue, maybe--a
second-person perspective is relevant to reflection as well (so too
for the interpretive dimension of “behavioral” science, inasmuch as
we are interpreting the *actions* of “subjects” that we are WITH). 

Both personal and theorized interpretation have the second- and
third-person perspectives available, but cannot have these in the
same way. A second-person view on my own action is fundamentally
different from “your” own view of my action, and my endeavor to take
a third-person stance can’t be truly that (except through special
training, as with the psychoanalyst’s understanding of
counter-transference and projective identification--which anyway
never frees itself wholly from first- and second-person stances--and
so, too, for science). 

Accordingly, the issue of the articulability of the lifeworld is
different for the performer and the scientist. Earlier, I had been
thinking about the situation of the performer, which can grow to
understand quite a bit about the Background. Again, it’s quite the
issue how much can be understood *in general*, i.e., about the
lifeworld as a “whole”. 

So, I would agree with your points, but suggest that you’re
introducing a different kind of focus. Methodological fallibilism and
existential articulability (the basis for reflective fallibilism) are
different kinds of issues. I failed to maintain this distinction, so
your points are complementary.

You’re back with the existential perspective when you continue next

[B] To take such a stance, I must give up the practical meaning of
particular segment that might be questioned in relation to a
particular action.  Habermas apparently thinks that I can take such a
theoretical stance toward the lifeworld as a whole, that I can
bracket off my own immersion in a particular lifeworld context of
action long enough to get a glimpse of the whole thing (by means of,
I think, presuppositional analysis).  

[G] I disagree. Even your quotes from JH (deleted above) suggest the
contrary. A key issue for JH is the inaccessibility of the
Background.  I agree, though, that JH believes that, inasmuch as
articulability is possible....

[B] This happens, on his account, as specific validity domains emerge
from the lifeworld--an outerworldly domain of truth, an innerworldly
domain of experience, and a social world of norms.  It is within
these emergent domains that we are able to articulate and question
the suppositions of either (1) particular contexts of action
(hermeneutically) or (2) the kinds of suppositions that must be
present in the lifeworld in general (theoretically).)  But, on his
view, we cannot do both simultaneously, and we cannot question the
presuppositions of all particular contexts of action.

[G] Yeah, this was the kind of point that I had in mind. You put it
very well.

[B] Someone might argue that, in principle at least, we could
thematize any of those situations, so those presuppositions are in
principle articulable and hence fallible.  

[G] I was moving in this direction, in postings of the past weekend. 

[B] Given enough time, we could articulate all presuppositions.  

[G] This is the kind of statement I’m wondering about. Just how far
*can* “one” go? I don’t know. What *are* the boundaries of
postconventional learning about one’s Background? 

[B] But this [all-ness] would be mistaken, because the lifeworld must
be understood holistically.  "As a totality that makes possible the
identities and biographical projects of groups and individuals, it is
present only prereflectively."  (PDM, 299)

[G] Indeed. So, I’m at the point where I need to directly confront
JH’s position in an extended manner. I tend to disagree with “present
only”, in the quote above. He seems to not actively appreciate the
difference between preconventional presence and his own
postconventionality, as pertains to the articulability of the
lifeworld. But this is an open issue for me, regarding what JH
thinks. It seems clear that I’m either deluded or I may genuinely
disagree with JH. I need to work this out. 

I wish that I could disagree with you more (it’s more interesting for
others), but...

[B] When we thematize a lifeworld segment in order to question its
particular presuppositions, and alter through argumentation any of
those presuppositions, we must recognize that, in principle, other
unthematized presuppositions also may undergo change, and these
changes cannot be known except in the context of other
thematizations; etc.

[G] My issues is: What can learnability hope for, in this undergoing?

[B} If I am correct, [...postconvention thinkers...] are able to see
more of their experience as fallible.  They will consequently be more
open to processes of argumentation.

[G] Or, more to my point: more open to the scale of
learnability--which eventually reaches best available perspectives
and available means within the discourse community; and one is then
learning at the Edge, pushing the envelope of learnability.

[B] But it does not follow, I think, that the prethematic lifeworld
will be reduced (meaningfully).  

[G] It seems that JH would agree with you. Yet, it's meaningful to
question the unconditionality of such claims. So much *can* be

[B] This is because the lifeworld is vague in the philosophical sense
of vagueness; it remains a "vast and incalculable web" (TCA2, p.

[G] VERY good point, ultimately speaking. So: How vague must we
remain? How far can learnability go? How articulated can
lifeworldness become? I am still asking, in my own self formation,
feel so far to go.



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