Friday, 17 November 2000

From "Philosophy as Stand-In and Interpreter"

By Jurgen Habermas.

What holds for Freud applies to all seminal theories in these disciplines, for instance, those of Durkheim, Mead, Max Weber, Piaget, and Chomsky. Each inserted a genuinely philosophical idea like a detonator into a particular context of research. Symptom formation through repression; the creation of solidarity through the sacred; the identity-forming function of role taking; modernization as rationalization of society; decentration as an outgrowth of reflective abstraction from action; language acquisition as an activity of hypothesis testing -- these key phrases stand for so many paradigms in which a philosophical idea is present in embryo while at the same time empirical, yet universal, questions are being posed. It is no coincidence that theoretical approaches of this kind are the favorite target of empiriticist counterattacks. Such cylclical movements in the history of science, incidentally, do not point to a convergence of these disciplines in one unified science. It makes better sense to view them as stages on the road to the philosophization of the sciences of man (Philosophischwerden der Humanwissenschaften) than as stages in the triumphal march toward objectivist approaches, such a neurophysiology, that quaint favorite child of the analytic philosophers.

What I have said lies mainly in the realm of speculative conjecture. But unless I am completely mistaken, it makes sense to suggest that philosophy, instead of just dropping the usher role and being left with nothing, ought to exchange it for the part of stand-in (Platzhalter). Whose seat would philosophy be keeping, what would it be standing in for? Empirical theories with strong universalistic claims. As I have indicated, fertile minds have surfaced and will continue to surface in nonphilosophical disciplines, who will give such theories a try. The chance for their emergence is greatest in the reconstructive sciences. Starting primarily from the intuitive knowledge of competent subjects -- competent in terms of judgment, action, and language -- and secondarily from systemic knowledge handed down by culture, the reconstructive sceinces explain the presumably universal bases of rational experience and judgment, as well as of action and linguistic communication. Marked down in price, the venerable transcendental and dialectical modes of justification may still come in handy. All they can fairly be expected to furnish, however, is reconstructive hypotheses for use in empirical settings. Telling examples of a successful cooperative integration of philosophy and science can be seen in the development of a theory of rationality. This is an area where philosophers work as suppliers of ideas [...]

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