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The Theory of Communicative Action / Jürgen Habermas

I started reading this as I was interested in the thread that starts in digital and virtual communication media, which I feel correspon with phenomena of rationalization and reification of society, leading then into political conflict, lack of ability to reach agreement and conversations laden with hate and prejudice. I am seeking for practices in construction and uses of technological mediums that could aid in political discussion.

Volume one

From Lukacs to Adorno: Rationalization as Reification

Starts with a criticism of Weber's view of of the process of rationalization of society. For Weber it seems that the various subsystems of society became rationalized with a shift of human consciousness and the creation of institutionalized and self-referential systems of science, art and law. However, Weber neglected to address to process of reaching understanding between participants and the need for consensus before those systems can be realized.

Weber missed the true catalyzing forces behind the coordinated action of everyday life that enables those purposely rational action. Habermas believes that steering media such as money and power replace language as the coordinating medium for rationality. The economic system is differentiated via money and the administrative system is differentiated via power.

“Only with the conceptual framework of communicative action do we gain a perspective from which the process of societal rationalization appears as contradictory from the start. The contradiction arises between, on the one hand, a rationalization of everyday communication that is tied to the structures of inter-subjectivity of the lifeworld, in which language counts as the genuine and irreplaceable medium of reaching understanding, and, on the other hand, the growing complexity of subsystems of purposive-rational action, in which actions are coordinated through steering media such as money and power.”

Habermas argues that this is the basis for the paradox of the rationalization of society and Weber spoke of. The systems of rationalization have a self destructive and disintegrative effect on the lifeworld. Enlightenment developed and rationalized metaphysics and at the same time robbed it of credibility. The same idea is present in the writings of Marx who speaks about how wage labor and the idea of offering you own labor power as commodity had a contradictory and destructive effect on economy and society. Those notions were carried on in the west by Lukacs, Adorno and Horkheimer.

Horkheimer in his Eclipse of Reason develops Weber's ideas and connects them to Lukacs' Reificationon:

Thesis of the Loss of Meaning

Horkheimer claims that concepts such as objective reason, which induced rationality from some cosmological order, organizing principles of the universe and human destiny, have gave way to subjective reason, calculated formally from internal logics and relativism. These came from the dis-enchantment that followed the enlightenment of the bourgeous. With the advent of Protestanism(maybe?), religious-metaphysical knowledge passed by teaching and inherited wisdom, became dogma and practical traditions. Sacred objective knowledge transformed into subjective beliefs and the word faith by definition is detached from true knowledge. “Justice, equality, happiness, tolerance” lost their objective rational grounds and instead their rest on traditions and historical documents.

Subjective, instrumental, reason is driven by self-preservation, thus social solidarity, integration, and unity become irrational.

Thesis of the loss of freedom

If I understand correctly, this is the loss of individuality to rationalized bureaucracy and societal subsystems. Horkheimer and both Weber agree that initially the ascetic nature of Christianity and Protestanism allowed the flourishing of the individual, maintaining personal ideals while avoiding instant gratification, allowing society and the infinite nature of man to exist. Later, however, rationalized subsystems replaced personal ideals and were in fact elevated to the level of ideal. The loss of freedom is the replacement of these aspirations with adjustments of the individual to maintain those technical rational subsystems.

Connection to reification

Coined by Dilthey - form of objectivity - the interactions of human beings with their environment, the objectivity of their inner and outer lives. It transforms with society as a while. The form of objectivity that predominates in capitalist society prejudices the world-relations, the ways in which speaking and acting subjects can relate to things in the objective, the social and their own subjective worlds. According to Lukacs this prejudice is reification, driven by commodity fetishism. The lifeworld is reified.

Te rationalization of society involves the reification of persons and thought, as people now represent calculable wage labour. Reification of people = abstraction and prejudice? Unlike Weber, Lukacs sees a more casual connection between the economic system and the commodity form to the rationalization of man and society With labour as a commodity that is subjected to instrumental rules and calculations - the market - then human relations themselves are being objectified, picking up a life of their own, becoming detached from actual values, morals, desires and goals of people. No longer agreed upon by natural language, but instead formalized and institutionalized. Passive rational information systems are alienated from active and natural expression. Use-value switches to exchange-value. From the point of view of action theory, workers coordinate their interaction through the medium of exchange value rather than through norms and values.

In exchange for obtaining the freedom of choice, being able to offer your labor autonomously an independently, we also lose our objective reason and value to reification.

Thought: Other than the capitalist method, how does the virtual world and social media contribute to reification? What about AI? Is it also reifying human values into it?

“Individuals degraded - as systems theory foresees - into an 'environment' for a society that has become external to them, that has consolidated for them into an opqaue system, that has been abstracted from them and become independent of them.” - Reminds of Merleau-Ponty and also this is prevalent in Reinforcement Learning agents

As opposed to Weber who apparently thought that rationalization is inevitable and the future can be brighter only with help of charismatic liberal leaders who will be democratically elected, Lukacs uses Marx's Crisis theory to demonstrate the limits of rationalization.

Critique of instrumental reason

Lukacs agrees with Marx's criticism of Hegel. Hegel tried to resolve the problem of the fragmented rational thought by the dialectics and synthesis of the unity of reason. However this is still abstract thought grounded in contemplative relations. “Even a philosophy that reaches beyond the limits of formal rationality merely reproduces the reified structures of consciousness that constrains us to adopt a contemplative relation to a world that we have ourselves created.”

Lukacs believed that ultimately the subjective nature of human beings is resistant to reification, that due to increased alienation and abstraction the workers would unite and resist and bring the revolution of the proletariat. However, history has shown otherwise and Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse of the Frankfurt school attempt to make sense to what has happened:

* Reification intensified using mass-culture and pervaded all aspects of human life * The resistant forces to rationalization and reification were repurposed or refunctionalized by ruling factors into fascism. The Nazis gained into power with the support of victims of repressed nature and instrumental reason. Facism is a “Satatnic synthesis of reason and nature - the very opposite of that reconciliation of the two poles that philosophy has always dreamed of” (Horkheimer / Eclipse of reason).

Interesting note by Habermas: “they considered above all the ideological pattern of antisemitism and the sadomasochistic drive structure of the authoritarian character (In the meantime these studies have led to inquiries into political prejudice that have moved away from psychoanalytical assumptions and abandoned relationship to the conceptual apparatus of a critical theory of reification)“

Adorno focuses on the reification of cultural goods and their conversion to pure exchange values.But Habermus suggests: “Whereas the medium of money replaces understanding in language as a mechanism for coordinating action, the media of mass communication remain dependent on achieving understanding in language. They technically amplify linguistic communication, bridge over spatial and temporal distances, multiply possibilities of communication and intensify the network of communicative action, without, however, uncoupling action orientations from lifeworld contexts as such. Of course, this pronounced expansion of communication potential is neutralized for the present by organizational forms that establish one way - that is nonreversable - communication flows. But whether mass culture tailored to mass media develops into a regressive integration of consciousness depends in the first instance on whether 'communication (brings about) the assimilation of human beings by isolating them' and not on whether the laws of the market exert and increasingly decisive influence on cultural production itself.”

Adorno and Horkheimer are agreeing with Weber, the 'arch-positivist'(I guess this means he just accepts facts as they are and keeps the analysis flat) , that objective reason cannot be restored, not even in dialectics. Through critique of Hagel and an extrapolation of Lukacs' Reification they try to explain why Luckacs' theory didn't hold in the historical developments.

Adorno speaks on “Negative Dialectics”,Showing how Hegel's idealist dialectics rejects the contingency between objects and subjects (Kant's noumena and phenomena) and see everything as part of unified logical deduction process, ending in the 'absolute' synthesis. Hegel sees the non-identity being always present in the identity, identity is between non-identicals. Adorno knows that the promise of synthesis is problematic, see capitalism and fascism. We must bring forth the non-identical, the other/alien, what is outside of rationality (post-humanism?).

“Adorno alleges that Hegel attempts to “ dispute away the contradiction between idea and reality, ” 42 that is, in effect, to overcome nonidentity. While the dialectic is the experience of nonidentity, it becomes, ultimately, a moment of the Hegelian system (a reconfiguration that parallels that of the philosophy of history): “ Hegel actually takes cognizance of that dimension only for the sake of identity, only as an instrument of identity. ” (A companion to Hegel)

Moreover, Adorno treats the non-identical as principles that you cannot reasonably and discursively justify.

From secondary source Adorno's philosophy of the nonidentical: thinking as resistance: That something may be right but unjustifiable, a paradox perfectly expressed by Benjamin’s words on the death penalty (“the execution of the death penalty can be moral, but never its legitimization” (ND 6:282/286)), is yet another case of non-alignment between the world we live in and our conception of it. Identity thinking cannot comprehend this hiatus and must never try, under no circumstance, lest it abstracts and thus cements the “objective insanity” (MM 4:228/200) of our human reality. The contradiction, once more, lies “in der Sache”: there should be no deeds so evil in this world that the unjustifiable becomes the right response to them. Yet there are, and if someone attempts to shift the cosmic imbalance 90 by doing the unjustifiable he may be right—unjustifiably so.

Portrait of nonidentity Portrait of nonidentity

Habermas doesn't like the fact that this path cannot be explicated discursively and sees this a a fundamental problem of the Frankfurt school also apparent in Horkheimer.

Horkheimer criticizes both “Neo-Thomism” (From Thomas Aquinas, philosophies trying to revive traditional/medieval objective truth such as Plato's good/beautiful, and also logical empiricism/positivism that sees scientific facts as objective truths (similar to Merleau-Ponty). Regarding traditionalism, Horkheimer suggests that if these approaches were dissolved, it is because they are indeed too weak. Regarding logical positivism, this is an amplification of reification, of abstraction. Seeing absolute material truth in facts that are of subjective reason. These are two types of theories that lead to groundless constitutions of truth and reason. 'fact' is a product of abstract social alienation, an abstract object of exchange. “A concept cannot be accepted as the measure of truth if the ideal of truth that it servers in itself presupposes social processes that thinking cannot accept as ultimates” (Eclipse of Reason).

However, as noted by Habermas, Horkheimer doens't go deeper into a reflective investigation of science, but stays in this negative line of criticism of subjective reason “from the ironically distanced perspective of an objective reason that had fallen irreparably into ruin”. Instead, they radicalize and generalize reification into the concept of instrumental reason.

Instrumental Reason

Lukacks sees the reified consciousness as an expansion of capitalist thought that is based on exchange value and expanded into wage labor, where workers are identifying themselves with the commodity and the capitalist system. Adorno and Horkheimer, however, see exchange value merely as a particular case of a more general pattern which they name Identifying Thought whose force is manifested mostly in philosophy.

Identifying thought explains not only the commodity fetishism but all interactions of the subject with its environment. It is driven by self-preservration : “technical mastery and over, and informed adaptation to, an external nature that is objectivated in the behavioral circuit of instruments action. Instrumental reason is grounded in subject-object relations and is not formed by subject-subject exchanges (no intercorporealityt?). In society it is manifested as a process of domination, in which a subject objectifies another subject and then dominates is as part of external nature. This include domination of the self, over inner nature, by the subject self-objectifying itself, all for self-preservation.

As soon as man cuts off his consciousness of himself as nature, all the ends for which he keeps himself alive—social progress, the heightening of all his natural and spiritual powers, even consciousness itself—are nullified; ..Man's domination over himself, which grounds his selfhood, is virtually always the destruction of the subject in whose service it takes place.

For reconciliation they speak of some merger of human with nature, but it cannot be formulated in the form of reason, because reason is instrumental from its very beginning. They can only stand as a code which they call mimesis.

The “dialectic of enlightenment” is an ironic affair: It shows the self-critique of reason the way to truth, and at the same time contests the possibility “that at this stage of complete alienation the idea of truth is still accessible.”

Adorno tried to approach this mimesis non-discursively through aesthetics and art, and their correspondence with his negative dialectics (perhaps a relation to Merlaeu-Ponty's theory of the corporeality of art? this hidden qualities of the flesh. Habermas compares Adorno's “mindfulness” to Heidegger's “being”).

Habermas resents this approach:

As the foreword to Dialectic of Enlightenment clearly explains, they had given up the hope of being able to redeem the promise of early critical theory. Against this, I want to maintain that the program of early critical theory foundered not on this or that contingent circumstance, but from the exhaustion of the paradigm of the philosophy of consciousness. I shall argue that a change of paradigm to the theory of communication makes it possible to return to the undertaking that was interrupted with the critique of instrumental reason; and this will permit us to take up once again the since neglected tasks of a critical theory of society.

Communicative rationality

Instrumental reason cannot explain social solidarity in metaphysical terms, because it formulated only from the point of view of the subject operating for its own self-preservation. Inter-subjective rationality is explained by the 'non-identical' idea of mimesis Something that is outside of reason:

Even though they cannot provide a theory of mimesis, the very name calls forth associations—and they are intended : Imitation designates a relation between persons in which the one accommodates to the other, identifies with the other, empathizes with the other. There is an allusion here to a relation in which the surrender of the one to the example of the other does not mean a loss of self but a gain and an enrichment . Because the mimetic capacity escapes the conceptual framework of cognitive-instrumentally determined subject-object relations, it counts as the sheer opposite of reason, as impulse. Adorno does not simply deny to the latter any cognitive function. In his aesthetics he attempts to show what hte work of art owes to the power of mimesis to unlock, to open up. But the rational core of mimetic achievements can be laid open only if we give up the paradigm of the philosophy of consciousness—namely, a subject that represents objects and toils with them—in favor of the paradigm of linguistic philosophy—namely, that of intersubjective understanding or communication—and puts the cognitive-instrumental aspect of reason in its proper place as part of a more encompassing communicative rationality.

Adorno: “The state of reconciliation would not annex what is unfamiliar or alien with philosophical imperialism; instead, it would find its happiness in the fact that the latter, in the closeness allowed, remains something distant and different, something that is beyond being either heterogeneous or proper.” (This reminds of Simone Weil)

There is a reference to the theory of reflection and self-consciousness by Henrich, and a critique of it by Tugendhat who exposes its circularity - Much like Merleau-Ponty's critique of the theories of reflection on The Visible and the Invisible. Thus consciousness is unable to address itself 'naturally' only as an object, as in the theories of instrumental reason and self preservation.

“A subjectivity that is characterized by communicative reason resists the denaturing of the self for the sake of self-preservation. Unlike instrumental reason, communicative reason cannot be subsumed without resistance under a blind self-preservation. It refers neither to a subject that preserves itself in relating to objects via representation and action, nor to a self-maintaining system that demarcates itself from an environment, but to a symbolically structured lifeworld that is constituted in the interpretive accomplishments of is members and only reproduced through communication. Thus communicative reason does not simply encounter ready-made subjects and systems; rather, it takes part in structuring what is to be preserved . The Utopian perspective of reconciliation and freedom is ingrained in the conditions for the communicative sociation of individuals; it is built into the linguistic mechanism of the reproduction of the species.”

In Volume II Habermas will develop a communicative theory of rationality, that decentralizes the focus from studies of consciousness and instrumental reason, to a rationality that is developed through communication, reaching understanding and agreement, and under the effect of steering media such as money and power.

Volume two

Concluding Reflections: From Parsons via Weber to Marx

After analyzing society through new paradigms of system's theory, Habermas goes back to Weber's reflection on rationalization and the loss of freedom and meaning - moving from Weber's purposive rationality to 'action oriented to mutual understanding', 'symbolically structured lifeworld', and 'communicative rationality':

Then we could analyze the rationali- zation of action systems not only under the cognitive-instrumental aspect, but by bringing in moral-practical and aesthetic-expressive aspects across the whole spectrum.

phd/book-journals/communicative-action.txt · Last modified: 2020/03/30 12:16 by avnerus