Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Dialogue between Agnes Heller & Jürgen Habermas

The current issue of the journal "Thesis Eleven" features a dialogue between Agnes Heller and Jürgen Habermas in 2012. The exchange took place at a conference on ”Habermas and Historical Materialism” at the University of Wuppertal, Germany, in March 2012.


Agnes Heller:
My most important critical remark was, as I already mentioned, that Habermas does not clearly distinguish between the transcendental and the empirical levels. On the one hand, it was possible to understand the ‘universal validity claim’ in empirical and historical terms because modern human beings claim universal validity in the sense of the Enlightenment. However, when Habermas counts as a condition for universal validity claims the counterfactual assumption of domination-free communication in the ‘ideal communicative community’, he speaks on a transcendental level. And yet he at least presupposes the possibility of a de facto universal consensus, i.e. he ‘descends’ again from the transcendental to the empirical level without accounting for this transition. That is to say, universal agreement, a consensus omnium, is empirically impossible.
For Kant this did not yet create a problem. Transcendental freedom is the absolute law of humanity as it stands within me. We do not need to discuss it in terms of empirical human beings under empirical conditions of freedom from domination in order to reach consensus. If one begins from ‘being-in-the-world’ and not from a transcendental subject, empirical consensus is in principle excluded. I reached the conclusion that Habermas, precisely due to his continuous slippage from a transcendental to an empirical level, does not at all reflect on the true problems of the empirical world. (......)
In general, I was more than skeptical about Habermas’s ‘true consensus’. The consensus theory of truth in particular was indigestible for me. ‘What I find faulty in Habermas’s theory is not that it is counterfactual. It is, after all, a philosophical idea and its counterfactual constitution is at the same time its justification. The problem I have consists in the fact that I cannot accept it even as an idea.’ I add with far too much pathos, but with too little justification: ‘I do not wish that humanity will ever reach consensus about questions of goodness and truth. I do not wish that there will ever be one single true interpretation of Hamlet. I do not wish that there will ever be one single good purpose. I do not wish for consensus. [ . . . ] I presuppose the plurality of forms of life.’
[In her comments Agnes Heller is referring to her book "Philosophie des linken Radikalismus" (VSA Verlag, 1978)]

Jürgen Habermas:
"I need to touch on yet another point of contention, which does indeed concern a central idea – the alleged confusion of moving back and forth between a transcendental and an empirical level. I do indeed take back an element of what is intelligible into the domain of symbolically structured social reality by way of the uncommon thought figure of ‘indispensable idealizing conditions of communication’. These universal and necessary conditions of communicative action possess, I think, strong phenomenological evidence: in a dialogue one person must hold the other accountable in the sense of an orientation according to validity claims. If one person informs the other about a fact, he must indeed assume that his claim is true, not only in the given context or ‘for us’, but absolutely and ‘in itself’. Without the common orientation towards the universality of truth claims or the rightness of assertoric or, respectively, moral assertions, arguments lose their meaning. On the other hand, the intention to communicate, including its pragmatic assumptions, is only a necessary presupposition for the creation of dissent and for the justified identification of justified disagreements. The orientation towards rational agreement does not aim at totalitarian homogenization, but first allows for disagreement. The fundamental human monopoly of being-able-to-say-no presupposes an orientation towards agreement."

The dialogue between Agnes Heller and Jürgen Habermas was originally published in Smail Rapic (ed.) - Habermas and der Historische Materialismus (Verlag Karl Alber, 2014).

See Heller's critique of Habermas in 

* "Habermas and Marxism", John B. Thompson (eds.) - Habermas. Critical Debates (MIT Press, 1982) and Habermas's response "A Reply to my Critics" (pp. 220-229).

* "The Discourse Ethic of Habermas: Critique and Appraisal", Thesis Eleven no. 10/11, 1984/85.  

Links to many of Agnes Heller's essays in "Thesis Eleven" here

[The photo of Heller and Habermas is not from the conference in 2012, but  from a conference on "The Philosophy of Jürgen Habermas", University of Pécs, Pécs, Hungary, May 2009.]

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Scanlon: "Why Does Inequality Matter?"

Why Does Inequality Matter?

T. M. Scanlon

(Oxford University Press, January 2018)

192 pages


Inequality is widely regarded as morally objectionable: T. M. Scanlon investigates why it matters to us. Demands for greater equality can seem puzzling, because it can be unclear what reason people have for objecting to the difference between what they have and what others have, as opposed simply to wanting to be better off. This book examines six such reasons. Inequality can be objectionable because it arises from a failure of some agent to give equal concern to the interests of different parties to whom it is obligated to provide some good. It can be objectionable because it involves or gives rise to objectionable inequalities in status. It can be objectionable because it gives the rich unacceptable forms of control over the lives of those who have less. It can be objectionable because it interferes with the procedural fairness of economic institutions, or because it deprives some people of substantive opportunity to take part in those institutions. Inequality can be objectionable because it interferes with the fairness of political institutions. Finally, inequality in wealth and income can be objectionable because it is unfair: the institutional mechanisms that produce it cannot be justified in the relevant way. Scanlon's aims is to provide a moral anatomy of these six reasons, and the ideas of equality that they involve. He also examines objections to the pursuit of equality on the ground that it involves objectionable interference with individual liberty, and argues that ideas of desert do not provide a basis either for justifying significant economic inequality or for objecting to it.

Contents [preview]

1. Introduction
2. Equal Concern
3. Status Inequality
4. Procedural Fairness
5. Substantive Opportunity
6. Political Equality
7. Equality, Liberty, and Coercion [draft]
8. Desert
9. Unequal Income [draft, pp. 1-13]
10. Conclusions [draft, pp. 14-20]

The book is a revised and extended version of Thomas Scanlon's Uehiro lectures on "When Does Equality Matter?" part 1, part 2  and part 3 (Oxford University 2013, video) [paper here]

See also Thomas Scanlon's essay: "The 4 biggest reasons why inequality is bad for society".

In this video Thomas Scanlon (November 2017) talks about his career and why he is not a Kantian:

See also Thomas Scanlon's paper: "How I am not a Kantian" (2011).

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Conference in memory of Derek Parfit

On December 15-16 Rutgers University will be hosting a conference in memory of Derek Parfit.


Sharon Street (New York): “Realism, Nihilism, and the Concept of a Normative Reason”.

Jeff McMahan (Oxford): “Doubts about Parfit’s No-Difference View”.

Elizabeth Harman (Princeton): “Abortion and the Non-Identity Problem”.

Samuel Scheffler (New York): “Temporal Neutrality and the Bias toward the Future”.

Peter Singer (Princeton) and Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek (University of Łódź): “Parfit on Act-Consequentialism”.

Mark Johnston (Princeton): “Does Reasons and Persons (Part 3) Undermine Ethics?”.

Frances Kamm (Harvard): “Parfit on the Irrelevance of Deontological Distinctions”.

Larry Temkin (Rutgers): “Box Ethics”.

More information here

See some of my previous posts on Derek Parfit here, here and here.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Rainer Forst on "Normativity and Power"

Normativity and Power
Analyzing Social Orders of Justification

by Rainer Forst

(Oxford University Press, 2017)

208 pages


In this collection of essays, Rainer Forst presents a new approach to critical theory. Each essay reflects on the basic principles that guide our normative thinking. Forst's argument goes beyond 'ideal' and 'realist' theories and shows how closely the concepts of normativity and power are interrelated, and how power rests on the capacity to influence, determine, and possibly restrict the space of justifications for others. By combining insights from the disciplines of philosophy, history, and the social sciences, Forst re-evaluates theories of justice, as well as of power, and provides the tools for a critical theory of relations of justification.

Contents [preview]

Introduction: Orders of Justification

Part I - Reason, Normativity, and Power

1. Critique of Justifying Reason: Explaining Practical Normativity
2. Noumenal Power [paper]

Part II  - Justification Narratives and Historical Progress

3. On the Concept of a Justification Narrative [paper in German]
4. The Concept of Progress

Part III - Religion, Toleration, and Law

5. Religion and Toleration from the Enlightenment to the Post-Secular Era: Bayle, Kant, and Habermas [preview of German version]
6. One Court and Many Cultures: Jurisprudence in Conflict

Part IV - Justice, Democracy, and Legitimacy

7. Justice after Marx
8. Legitimacy, Democracy, and Justice: On the Reflexivity of Normative Orders [draft] [video]

Part V - Transnational Justice

9. Realisms in International Political Theory
10. Transnational Justice and Non-Domination [preview of German version]

The German version: "Normativität und Macht" (Suhrkamp Verlag, 2015). See an excerpt here.

Rainer Forst is Professor of Political Theory and Philosophy at the Goethe University in Frankfurt. He is the author of "Contexts of Justice" (California University Press, 2002), "The Right to Justification" (Columbia University Press, 2011), "Toleration in Conflict" (Cambridge University Press, 2013), "Justification and Critique" (Polity Press, 2013). 

See also "Justice, Democracy and the Right to Justification - Rainer Forst in Dialogue" (Bloomsbury, 2014) and "The Power of Tolerance: A Debate between Wendy Brown and Rainer Forst" (Columbia University Press, 2014).

Links to papers by Rainer Forst:

* "The Point and Ground of Human Rights: A Kantian Constructivist View"
* "A Justification of Basic Rights: A Discourse-Theoretical Approach" (PDF here)
* "What Does it Mean to Justify Basic Rights?"
* "Toleration" (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
* "Transnational Justice and Democracy"

Friday, December 01, 2017

Interview with Habermas in la Repubblica

A short interview with Jürgen Habermas in the Italian newspaper “La Repubblica" (November 22, 2017):

Niente elezioni, ora la Spd governi con la cancelliera”, 

Jürgen Habermas hopes that the SPD will enter a coalition government with Angela Merkel so Germany can get a Social Democratic minister of finance, who has no hesitations towards Emmanuel Macron's proposals for a new Europe. The causes of the growing social inequalities in our countries can only be fought globally and this is only possible with an EU capable of acting on a political level.