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'An aphorism, properly stamped and molded, has not been "deciphered" when it has simply been read; rather one has then to begin its interpretation, for which is required an art of interpretation.' -- Nietzsche, 'On the Genealogy of Morals'

Philosophical Discourse of Modernity « Previous | |Next »
July 19, 2005

William Burroughs Baboon has started reading Habermas' 1987 text, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures. Even though the French poststructuralist radical critique of reason can be considered the point of departure for the Twelve Lectures, the text is also a response to Horkheimer and Adorno's core argument that there is a fundamental flaw in the reason of modernity, and that this flaw gave rise to domination. Over at Thinking Culture Paul Privateer says that in this text:

"...Habermas attempts to recover the project of modernity, one that he sees as unfinished not bankrupt, from the specters of post-modernity; from Derrida, Deleuze and Foucault. On Habermas' account the project of modernity needs to be reconstructed not deconstructed, and those who critique it are correct on nearly every technical point but wrong in the most important way. They are wrong as to what it means, and they are wrong in which direction they take in trying to deal with the very real problems they see."

What this text offers us is a useful map of the intellectual confrontation between the modernist and the postmodernist is basically engaged by Habermas and his followers and the French deconstructionist (such as Foucault and Derrida) and some other philosophers who share with their views. This debate smoulders away in the Australian blogsphere between the modernists who, reaffirm with Habermas, the intention and effort of Enlightenment project to seek for a universal foundation upon which a reasonable social order can be established; and the postmodernists who regard the modernist project as a flawed attempt to retain an outdated universal reason in a highly decentered and differentiated world.

There is very little light in this debate. So the map provided by Habermas does help us to chart the issues and conflicts of this most difficult of philosophical terrains. We need all the help we can get to traverse this terrain and not get lost.

The only other weblog in Australia interested in Habermas is Ali Rizvi's Habermas Reflections. This has now become a Habermas resource site, due to the pressure on Ali to finish his PhD. I thought that I might re-read the Modernity text with WBB, and who knows, an online reading group/conversation may even begin to happen.

In the Introduction to the Habermas text Thomas McCarthy states that the themes raised by the debates within the philosophical discourse of modernity include:

'the overwhelming "impurity" of reason, its unavoidable entanglement in history and tradition, society and power, practice and interest, body and desire'.

McCarthy states that Habermas's strategy in these lectures is to return to those:

... historial "crossroads" at which Hegel and the Young Hegelians, Nietzsche and Heidegger made the fateful decisions that lead to this outcome [the challenge posed by the radical critique of reason]; his aim is to identify and clearly mark out a road indicated but not taken: the determinate negation of subject-centre reason by reason understood as communicative action.'

That clearly states what Habermas is up to. McCarthy then highlights soemthign important. He says that:
The key to Habermas's approach is his rejection of the paradigm of consciousness and its associated philosophy of the subject in favour of the through-and-through intersubjectivist paradigm of communicative action. This is what he sees as the road open but not taken a the critical junctures in the philosophical discourse of modernity.

What is important here is that this response by Habermas is a long way from the Australian defenders of modernity, who in their defence of objective truth and science, staunchily defend the philosophy of the subject, instrumental reason and indicate little support for the pathway of a communicative reason, in which the decentred subject is a participant in social interaction mediated by language.

Habermas agrees with the radical critics of the enlightenment tradition that the paradigm of consciousness is exhausted and, like them, he views reason as inescapably situated in history, society, body and language.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 06:48 AM | | Comments (3)


Hi Gary,

Thanks for this nice post and thanks for advertising my blog again :)

However I would like to dispute, partially, your claim that my blog has become a resource site , because I have posted some important original post over the period of last two months or so.



I just realised that your post is from the period when I was really not posting much of my own. Just show how out of touch I am with this blog sphere!


Hi Ali,

I'm not posting much these days either. And I'm pretty much out of touch with the blogsphere as well.