Sunday, December 24, 2023

Rebekka Habermas (1959-2023)


Nils Minkmar - "Zum Tod von Rebekka Habermas: Sie war eine Erscheinung" (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 22-12-2023).

Michael Hesse - "Deuterin der Kolonialgeschichte" (Frankfurter Rundschau, 23-12-2023).

Richard Hölzl - "Entdecken heißt nicht erobern" (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 27-12-2023).

Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Institute for Social Research at 100 [updated]

The next issue of "Constellations" (vol. 40, no. 4) features articles on The Institute for Social Research (Frankfurt am Main) and the Frankfurt School:

"The Institute for Social Research at 100: Continuity and Transformation"

Eleven articles are now available online:

* Axel Honneth - "The Institute for Social Research on its 100th birthday. A former director's perspective"

Excerpt: "There are deeper, less superficial reasons for being skeptical today with regard to the potential of this tradition to guide us in our social–theoretical attempts to comprehend the present situation in a fruitful way, both philosophically sound and empirically productive. In the following, I want to discuss three challenges resulting from structural changes in our social and intellectual environment that make it more and more difficult to preview a fruitful, productive, and energizing future for Critical Theory in its traditional form. These three challenges stem from (1) the growing awareness of the endurance of the colonial past of Western societies, (2) the unmistakable importance of the ecological question, and, finally, (3) the growing uncertainties about the exact format and arrangement of interdisciplinary research."

* Rainer Forst: "The rational critique of social unreason. On critical theory in the Frankfurt tradition"  [open access]

Excerpt: "In my view, then, critical theory must be reconfigured as a critique of relations of justification. This calls, on the one hand, for a critical social scientific analysis of social and political relations of domination that includes cultural and, not least, economic structures and relationships. In this regard, two dimensions of domination must be distinguished: subjugation to unjustifiable norms and institutions, and subjugation to conditions that prevent practices of justification. Such critical analysis must be combined with a discourse-theoretical, genealogical critique of the justifications and justification narratives that confer legitimacy on unjustifiable relations. On the other hand, we must pose the constructive question of how a “basic structure of justification” can be conceived as a requirement of fundamental justice and be realized in social practice - not as an ideal or a model to be imposed on societies, but as a normative order to be developed autonomously. Essentially, a theory we call critical ought to be based on the principle of criticism itself. Its medium is reason striving for practices of autonomous justification among equals."

* Alessandro Ferrara - "If Foucault, why not Rawls? On enlarging the critical tent"

Excerpt: "It is undeniably among the aims of critical theory to envisage a society in which diversity can exist in the absence of oppression. Now, it’s all too easy to merely invoke the ideal of equals living together with their diversity (ethnic, ethical, religious, cultural, or of gender, lifestyle, sexual preference) and without oppression. Deconstructionists, post-colonial theorists, and theorists of recognition often emphatically do so. However, when it comes to specifying concretely which institutions should form the basic structure of such a society, how they should relate to one other, what rights and liberties (and how limited and balanced) citizens should have, and what democratic legitimacy means, it is a whole different story.On the nuts and bolts of an oppression-free society the entire first generation had little to offer, to say nothing of the cauldron of the “verwaltete Welt” (Adorno). Habermas has quite a lot to say, in Between Facts and Norms and in his exchange with Rawls. Among the younger critical theorists who long for reviving the earlier program of the Frankfurt School, few even attempt to say anything. This is the problem, instead, on which [John Rawls's] Political Liberalism, not A Theory of Justice, offers an elaborate theory unmatched by any other to date (....) Critical theory can only gain from enlarging its tent to include also some of Rawls’s concepts - reasonability, civility, reciprocity - and from launching empirical research on the conditions of the possibility for them to maintain traction in the challenging decades ahead of us."

* Maeve Cooke - "Social theory as critical theory: Horkheimer's program and its relevance today"

Excerpt: "Since formalist models of politics abstain from critique of the prevailing deep-seated ethical-existential values and from recommendation of alternatives, they are conducive toward unquestioning acceptance of the ethical-existential values undergirding the established political procedures, facilitating the reproduction of the political status quo. Against this, I take the view that contemporary critical theory must engage with ethical-existential questions, not least if it is to meet the challenges posed by our disastrous ecological situation. This requires it, in turn, to engage with the question of ethical-existential validity. Given the challenge of value pluralism, therefore, a key task for contemporary critical theory is to elaborate a conception of ethical validity that is at once universalist and attentive to the plurality of ethical values and worldviews."

* Samuel Moyn - "Critical theory's generational predicament" [Link]

Excerpt: "(....) it seems clear that the principal cause of the lack of interest in critical theory for younger generations - the lack of zeal to perpetuate or even study it - is that the votaries of the tradition conformed unreflectively to “the end of history” in the 1990s. They had essentially nothing to say about American unipolarity and the militarism that has so clearly accompanied it. Worse, for one-time Marxists, they never formulated an analysis or critique of economic neoliberalism. Yet these are the causes at the center of the activism and theorizing of many who lived through the past decade and forging a critical perspective on their times."

* Martin Saar - "Rethinking Critique and Theory" [open access]

Excerpt: "Benjamin’s partisanship for the perspective of the defeated in historiography, Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s insistence on the deep ambivalence of enlightenment ideals, and Marcuse’s clear-sighted perception of the central role of the excluded and marginalized, whom the capitalist system cannot even properly exploit, are starting points for a radical self-critique of the Western liberation movements, which have yet to admit their own entanglement in domination elsewhere and thus should actually make way for an even more radical, decentered enlightenment and liberation."

* Frank I. Michelman - "Totality, morality, and social philosophy"

Excerpt: "We thus see the Institute for Social Research, at a signal moment in its early history, posing for itself the dialectic of human individual agency and environing social totality - with neither element placed at the other’s disposal - as a main topic for pursuit by social philosophy and its connected program of social research. It is by pursuit of that topic that the Institute’s engagements over the decades of my own academic career have figured, importantly for me, in my work (not generally classified as “Frankfurt School”) on liberal constitutional theory. Most pointedly it has done so in undertakings by Jürgen Habermas to explicate a moral point of view from which citizens in a political society encounter one another as each a free and equal person commanding full respect as such - but to explicate that morality, as I have sought to explain, not as a view “that philosophy independently discovers,” but rather as one that lies embedded in a historically particular social totality."

* Cristina Lafont - "The return of the critique of ideologies" [open access]

Excerpt: "(....) I shall focus on just one issue: the recent revival in critiques of ideology. In my view, this type of critique is an important task of critical theory and remains one of its most significant legacies. Yet, if one focuses on the work of critical theorists over the past decades, this statement is far from obvious. In fact, the second generation of the Frankfurt school,most notably Habermas in his Theory of Communicative Action, explicitly rejects ideology critique as obsolete in the context of contemporary societies. Even though in the 1960s and 1970s, he had embraced the classicalMarxist approach to ideology critique, he ultimately rejected it. It was the explicit attempt to rebut objections that had plagued this approach that brought about the so-called “democratic turn” of critical theory characteristic of Habermas’s work from the 1980s onward and in which the critique of ideologies no longer plays a role."

* Christopher F. Zurn -  "We're not special: Congratulations!"

Excerpt: "It is fine, then, to get right to work on current social movements - Occupy Wall Street and other Square movements, Black Lives Matter, the Sunrise and Third Act movements, MeToo, the Arab Spring, or the Mahsa Amini protests - and on pressing contemporary social problems - climate change and human adaptation, deepening material inequality, the erosion of constitutional democracy, artificial intelligence and human de-skilling, global migration and refugee waves, the transformation of the Westphalian international order, the resilience and resurgence of patriarchy, and so on - without worrying how to fit these movements and problems into the architectonic of Dialectic of Enlightenment or Theory of Communicative Action. To be sure, we need not ignore the conceptual resources and insights of our tradition when they are relevant and enlightening. But we need to take interdisciplinarity seriously by looking to the much broader currents of critical thought on social formations and the changing horizons of human emancipation."

* Peter E. Gordon - "The animating impulses of critical theory"

Excerpt: "For some readers, this generational shift - between the first and second generations of critical theory - is overdramatized into a stark contrast between totalizing negativism and restorationist optimism, both of which seem to hover at too great an altitude above social reality. Needless to say, this contrast does an injustice to both parties. Adorno and Horkheimer are far more committed to reason’s self-reflective possibilities, while Habermas remains far more attentive to reason’s systemic distortion. They converge at a point of dialectical mediation, whereas neither pure negativism nor pure idealism would serve as a viable groundwork for critical theory. In what follows I wish to suggest that Horkheimer’s original model of social philosophy, as animated by a rational but materialist ideal of emancipation, still has enduring merit."

* William E. Scheuerman - "Horkheimer's unrealized vision"

Excerpt: "Horkheimer’s idea of a mutually constructive exchange between philosophy and critical social science has too often been rare and ephemeral. And this should worry us if you believe, as this author does, that Horkheimer was right to see such an exchange as indispensable to critical theory. (....) Only in 1962 did Habermas, in an appropriately interdisciplinary study that relied heavily on research from legal scholars, political scientists, and sociologists, begin to revitalize Frankfurt critical theory. Not only did his landmark Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere take the social sciences seriously, but its young author seems to have implicitly grasped that critical theory could only flourish on the basis of an authentically cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship between philosophy and the social sciences. Horkheimer’s original interdisciplinary vision clearly inspired the young Habermas. When properly reconstructed, it should inspire us today as well."

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Habermas on Martin Seel

 A new essay by Jürgen Habermas:

"Sich-bestimmen-Lassen. Zum philosophischen Grundgedanken von Martin Seel"

(Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft, vol. 68, no. 2 (2023), pp. 68-87).

The essay was written in the spring of 2020.


With a philosopher like Martin Seel, reflecting this closely on the literary form in which to present his ideas, it is not surprising that philosophy of language makes for a focus of interest. Since my own interest also points in this direction, I will start with Seel’s groundbreaking essay on literal and figurative speech (I). I will then deal with the concept of "letting oneself be determined" as the pivotal point of Martin Seel’s philosophy (II). The resulting pragmatist understanding of sociocultural forms of life has important consequences for the way in which Seel detranscendentalizes Kant’s epistemology (III). Finally, I will critically examine the conception of a practical philosophy developing aesthetics and morality out of the fundamental question of ethics (IV). In this conception, a self-image of philosophy oriented towards the unity of the true, the good and the beautiful. In my opinion, however, Martin Seel neglects history as a dimension in which reason leaves its traces (V).


"Martin Seel nimmt weder moralische Freiheit noch Emanzipation unter die Modi des Sich-bestimmen-Lassens auf. Ich vermute, dass er zu sehr Ästhetiker und zu sehr Wittgensteinianer ist, um die Dimension der Geschichte als Verlaufsform einer für Gerechtigkeit prozessierenden Vernunft angemessen zu berücksichtigen."

"Auch diese Art von Autonomie kann noch als eine Gestalt des Sich-bestimmen-Lassens verstanden werden, wenn nicht gar als dessen Modell. Denn Kant begreift Autonomie genau nach dieser Denkgur als die Freiheit, sich im Handeln von den Geboten der praktischen Vernunft "binden" zu lassen. In diesem mysteriösen Kern des "Sich-binden-Lassens" vereinigt sich allerdings das Moment des Sich-von-vernünftiger-Einsicht-bestimmen-Lassens mit der Anerkennung eines kategorischen Sollens, das über die bloße Önung gegenüber dem, was mir geschieht, hinausweist. Mit diesem überschießenden, über das Bestehende idealisierend hinausweisenden Charakter des Gesollten entsteht das Bewusstsein, dass es an uns liegt, keinen Fehler zu machen. Im Vergleich zu jener Ermächtigung und Bestimmung, die das kommunikativ handelnde Subjekt einerseits durch seine Sprachkompetenz und andererseits durch den jeweils aktuellen sowie den einsozialisierten lebensweltlichen Kontext erfährt und durch sich hindurch zur Wirkung kommen lässt, nimmt im Falle moralischer Forderungen mit der Schwelle möglicher Verfehlungen die Zumutung einer Selbstermächtigung dramatisch zu. Daher gibt es zwischen diesen beiden Alternativen der Zustimmung des subjektiven Geistes zur Ermächtigung durch den objektiven Geist auf der einen, und der Einwilligung des subjektiven Geistes in die Zumutung des objektiven Geistes auf der anderen Seite ein Mittleres, das man erst versteht, wenn man wie Marx auch den Charakter der schon angedeuteten Naturwüchsigkeit des objektiven Geistes in Rechnung stellt, der den subjektiven Geist "mit Gründen täuschen" kann. Wie sich der subjektive Geist von diesen Fesseln des objektiven Geistes befreien kann, zeigt sich freilich nur in seltenen Augenblicken der Emanzipation. Auch diese vollzieht sich im Modus des Sich-bestimmen-Lassens zugleich an und mit dem subjektiven Geist und beleuchtet sowohl in der Lebensgeschichte des Einzelnen wie auch in der Geschichte der Völker ein Mittleres zwischen den Konventionen des Alltags und den Herausforderungen zu moralisch bewusstem Handeln. Und zwar sind das die Momente einer leidenschaftlich inspirierten, jedoch zugleich getriebenen Befreiung – sei es zur Autonomie des Heranwachsenden, sei es zur Erringung institutionalisierter und rechtlich gesicherter Freiheiten. Diese Verwicklung in Prozesse einer "Freiheit im Werden" ist ein Modus des Sich-bestimmen-Lassens diesseits der Moral und des schon geltenden Rechts. Solche Momente einer durch lebensgeschichtliche oder gesellschaftliche Krisen beglaubigten und legitimierten Befreiung vergessen sich auch dann nicht, wenn eine Revolte kurzfristig scheitern sollte – wie zurzeit jene bewegenden, hartnäckig durchgehaltenen Proteste der unbeugsamen belarussischen Frauen, ja, überwiegend Frauen, die mit Blumen in den Händen den hemmungslos prügelnden Schlägern eines repressiven Regimes selbstbewusst die Stirne bieten."

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Weithman on stability in a Rawlsian theory of liberal democracy

A new paper by Paul Weithman (University of Notre Dame):

"Stability and Equilibrium in Political Liberalism" [read access]

(forthcoming in "Philosophical Studies")

Thanks to Paul Weithman for sharing!

See also: 

* Samuel Freeman - "Reasonable political conceptions and the well-ordered liberal society", in Paul Weithman (ed.),  Rawls's Theory of Justice at 50 (Cambridge University Press, 2023). [+ my blog post].

* Paul Weithman, Why Political Liberalism? On John Rawls's Political Turn (Oxford University Press, 2011). [Preview]