Welcome to The Valve
Login
Register


Valve Links

The Front Page
Statement of Purpose

John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Advanced Search

Articles
RSS 1.0 | RSS 2.0 | Atom

Comments
RSS 1.0 | RSS 2.0 | Atom

XHTML | CSS

Powered by Expression Engine
Logo by John Holbo

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

 


Blogroll

2blowhards
About Last Night
Academic Splat
Acephalous
Amardeep Singh
Beatrice
Bemsha Swing
Bitch. Ph.D.
Blogenspiel
Blogging the Renaissance
Bookslut
Booksquare
Butterflies & Wheels
Cahiers de Corey
Category D
Charlotte Street
Cheeky Prof
Chekhov’s Mistress
Chrononautic Log
Cliopatria
Cogito, ergo Zoom
Collected Miscellany
Completely Futile
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
Conversational Reading
Critical Mass
Crooked Timber
Culture Cat
Culture Industry
CultureSpace
Early Modern Notes
Easily Distracted
fait accompi
Fernham
Ferule & Fescue
Ftrain
GalleyCat
Ghost in the Wire
Giornale Nuovo
God of the Machine
Golden Rule Jones
Grumpy Old Bookman
Ideas of Imperfection
Idiocentrism
Idiotprogrammer
if:book
In Favor of Thinking
In Medias Res
Inside Higher Ed
jane dark’s sugarhigh!
John & Belle Have A Blog
John Crowley
Jonathan Goodwin
Kathryn Cramer
Kitabkhana
Languagehat
Languor Management
Light Reading
Like Anna Karina’s Sweater
Lime Tree
Limited Inc.
Long Pauses
Long Story, Short Pier
Long Sunday
MadInkBeard
Making Light
Maud Newton
Michael Berube
Moo2
MoorishGirl
Motime Like the Present
Narrow Shore
Neil Gaiman
Old Hag
Open University
Pas au-delà
Philobiblion
Planned Obsolescence
Printculture
Pseudopodium
Quick Study
Rake’s Progress
Reader of depressing books
Reading Room
ReadySteadyBlog
Reassigned Time
Reeling and Writhing
Return of the Reluctant
S1ngularity::criticism
Say Something Wonderful
Scribblingwoman
Seventypes
Shaken & Stirred
Silliman’s Blog
Slaves of Academe
Sorrow at Sills Bend
Sounds & Fury
Splinters
Spurious
Stochastic Bookmark
Tenured Radical
the Diaries of Franz Kafka
The Elegant Variation
The Home and the World
The Intersection
The Litblog Co-Op
The Literary Saloon
The Literary Thug
The Little Professor
The Midnight Bell
The Mumpsimus
The Pinocchio Theory
The Reading Experience
The Salt-Box
The Weblog
This Public Address
This Space: The Fire’s Blog
Thoughts, Arguments & Rants
Tingle Alley
Uncomplicatedly
Unfogged
University Diaries
Unqualified Offerings
Waggish
What Now?
William Gibson
Wordherders

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ian Hunter, “Talking About My Generation”

Posted by John Holbo on 06/18/08 at 08:38 AM

I owe a follow-up to my Jameson post. Some discussion of the Ian Hunter response to Jameson’s piece. This is it - at least a stab at it. The Jameson/Hunter exchange, a response to an earlier Hunter essay, is to be found in Critical Inquiry 34 (Spring 2008), for those with subscription access. Hunter’s contribution is “Talking About My Generation”.

As Rob noted in comments, the Hunter response is quite good. Better than his original essay. I agree. I fear that I have somewhat dragged it, by association, through the mire of my traditional comment box sparring stylings. So I thought I would just quote a few substantial chunks, let them stand on their own, to make clear that Hunter is not, per se, Holbo, nor vice versa. 

To start out, here is Hunter responding to Jameson’s criticism of his employment of a quote from Husserl’s Crisis. Basically, the quote described the performance of the epoche in strikingly mystical-sounding terms. Jameson is indignant at the implication that this passage could be a paradigm of what Theory involves. He, Jameson, does Theory, but is no sort of Kantian or idealist, is nothing like Husserl.  The following probably won’t be clear in isolation, if you are totally unfamiliar with the original Hunter piece, “The History of Theory” (Critical Inquiry 33, 78-112). Then again, maybe you can put the pieces together. At any rate, here is Hunter;

For the purposes of the essay [Hunter’s original essay, criticized by Jameson], the point of redescribing the transcendental reduction in this way is not to engage with Husserl’s philosophy as such, let alone to denounce it as idealism. Rather, it is to identify the source of a spiritual exercise that, just because it is a means of cultivating a particular intellectual disposition or persona, is capable of migrating to other (extraphilosophical) fields of knowledge, carrying its problematizing power with it. The central historical argument of the essay is that poststructuralist theorizing arose from this process of migration, problematization, and colonization. It thus emerged in a variety of forms, depending on the disciplinary field targeted as the fossilized carapace that had to be shattered in order to admit a renovatory engagement with the so-called other. These forms included Althusser’s suspension of humanist values and positivist political economy as a means of allowing a renovated Marxism to break through in the form of an answer to a question not yet asked. A further instance is supplied by Julia Kristeva’s identification of a claustral symbolic level of poetic language underpinned by the pulsing energies and flows of a semiotic chora, whose containment permits signification and whose irruptive breakthroughs grant ecstasy. We also provided the example of a poststructuralist literary criticism—part Marxist, part phenomenological— that alighted on a preexisting New Criticism and performed the same set of (self-) problematizing operations: declaring this criticism to be closed to flows of meaning coursing beneath texts and opaque to the forms of literary production making them possible, thus ripe for the possibility of various kinds of revolutionary irruption and breakthrough. (Here we can indulge in a minor point of correction by noting that in this discussion of criticism it is not theory that is traced back to the Protestant “seminar of conscience”—as Jameson misparaphrases [p. 569]—but a particular kind of antitheoretical literary criticism personified in the Leavis school.) (587)

I quote this, in part, to make clear that my own interest in tracing the roots of Theory to Kant is not simply identical to Hunter’s interest in characterizing Theory as a particular sort of spiritual stance, or work on the self. I think the two intellectual projects are related. I think, broadly, our approaches are consistent.

Jameson rightly regards my treatment of dialectical philosophical history—as the instrument of a voluntary (or pedagogically imposed) practice of intellectual self-problematization and grooming—as the point of maximum difference between our respective historiographies (see p. 572). In fact, faced with the unexpected and unwelcome thought that the artefactual character of man as an “empirico-transcendental doublet” might transform the divisions of the dialectic into instruments of a regional intellectual regimen, Jameson reacts with Ptolemaic incredulity and a sudden recourse to the transhistorical, neurobiological, and finally universal structure of thought and reality:

Doublet indeed! Have we really solved this problem, which runs from the mind/body dilemma through Cartesian and Spinozan dualisms all the way down to base and superstructure if not the mechanical materialist mirage of the cognitive brain itself? The traces of this metaphysical raw nerve are to be found in all the dualisms in human history. . . . The only truly original solution, which does not claim to resolve anything but rather to incorporate the dilemma of oppositions and binaries into its very structure and method, remains the dialectic, which posits a permanent gap between subject and object within all our thoughts as well as in reality itself (herein lies its kinship with Lacanian analysis as well as its foundational and inextricable relationship with Marxism itself). [Pp. 574–75]

The issue of course is not whether this problem has been solved but how it has been created, and continuously re-created, as the instrument of a longstanding art of intellectual self-problematization and transformation. In order to put the brakes on Jameson’s headlong descent from the Cartesian and Spinozan dualisms through the brain and out into the universal structure of thought—and in order to indicate the history and pertinence of a nondialectical historiography—we can observe that even at their initial appearance there was a historiography that treated these dualisms as voluntary assumptions of a particular philosophical culture. (591-2)

I won’t quote the details. Hunter is concerned to ‘regionalize’ this problematic that Jameson regards as essential, inescapable and, indeed, constitutive of intellectual life itself. ‘Regionalize’ means, roughly: diagnose this approach as a product of a certain academic intellectual environment. Hunter has some good fun at Jameson’s expense for his narrow usage of ‘intellectual’. But you will have to judge Hunter’s actual historical argument for itself. Here’s just a hint:

The philosophical dualisms that Jameson ascribes to the structure of human thought, and thence to the dialectical motor of history, have thus long been viewed as contingent scholastic teachings by a nondialectical historiography. This nondialectical historiography was indeed driven by a combative cultural-political agenda. It was fashioned to undermine the claims of metaphysics to offer a philosophical or “natural” explication of Christian theology, which, in the era of ecclesial fragmentation, had given rise to rival philosophical theologies whose conflicts were incapable of resolution and yet a powerful source of intolerance and persecution. This contextualizing historiography may thus itself be treated as the instrument of a particular kind of spiritual exercise, a means of suspending the nonnegotiable truth-claims of transcendent philosophies by historicizing them. Its aim is the grooming of a persona capable of grasping philosophies in a detached and relativistic spirit, as just so many teachings of the sects and schools. (592)

Now, as to this nondialectical historiography the man speaks of. It came in for some indignant treatment in the comments thread to the previous post. The idea seemed to be: Hunter must be committing some grave methodological error - perpetrating appalling, positivist naivete. I’ll just quote John Halasz: Hunter must be “falling prey to the illusion of a self-sufficient, transparent empiricism as the actual metaphysical antipode to metaphysics.”

I’ll just quote Hunter’s response to these sorts of charges, which Jameson also makes - and very indignantly:

Despite its combative and programmatic motivation and its evident “regionality,” however, we should not assume that this antimetaphysical historiography [Hunter’s own] is incapable of descriptive neutrality. Needless to say, this neutrality is not founded in any kind of transcendental objectivity. It finds its grounds only in the contingent capacity to withdraw from irreconcilably conflictual transcendent philosophies and to relocate them within a noneschatological temporality, where they are viewed in terms of their personal and civil effects. It is not the case that in claiming a capacity for true (falsifiable) description this historiography “finds itself fatally rationalizing its own disciplinary position as a place of truth . . . which surely betrays a philosophical commitment to system rather than a theoretical refusal of it” (p. 575). The point of the exercise is not to proclaim a new philosophical truth but to transform the intellectual disposition in which such truth will be acceded to, from apodictic to fallibilistic, as we shall discuss below. The antimetaphysical historiography thus does not itself claim to be yet another recovery of human reason that sweeps the entire cultural field into modernity, only to be a combat-discipline making available a particular capacity for metaphysically neutral historical description. Its “foundations” lie not in the kind of knowledge to which it gives rise, but in the forms of sectarian adherence that it was designed to overcome. (594)

I agree with this. But, all the same, that last sentence is troubling.

Please feel free to discuss these bits of Hunter, and related matters.


Comments

Hunter ends up sounding a lot like William James here.  James’s take on the history of philosophy was to view it as a series of grand mistakes, as non-problems were continually treated as Major Topics of Thought.  Hunter sees Theory as making similar errors (which isn’t a large step from James, considering that many Theorists were basically philosophers in fact if not in field).

I like Hunter’s irony, in which the Other that Theorists continually see disrupting reified, naturalized, essentialized modes of thought itself becomes a timeless, universal, constitutive element.  I think he has a point there.

But it’s a point that can only be made from such a distant, global perspective that the actual complexity of theoretical thought is lost.  Hunter’s certainly not the first person to point out the connections between, say, Derridean differance and Kristevan jouissance and Barthesian writerly writing and Bataille-ian open economies and Marxian revolution and the Lacanian Real.  At some level of very deep structure, these modes of thought share a common narrative structure.  We might call it the story of the Return of the Repressed, and we might add it to Hayden White’s four narrative modes of history writing.

But once we actually look at the theorists’ work, we find that it’s not so easy to swallow it all up into some single storyline.  Hell, the theorists themselves struggled to mix Freud and Marx. 

And we’d no more say all theorists are X than we’d say that all histories written in, say, the comic or tragic mode are the same history.  (Especially considering that Hunter’s ur-narrative—the theorist uncovers what previous ways of thinking repressed—is essentially the history of Western philosophy, from Socrates to whoever.)

By on 06/18/08 at 01:47 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"Hunter ends up sounding a lot like William James here.”

He also sounds a lot like Rorty. And like Stephen Toulmin’s “Cosmopolis”.

Hunter’s response to the “doublet indeed!” bit actually reminded me a lot of John McDowell, but that might just be me.

By Daniel on 06/18/08 at 06:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

That last passage, John, that you cite from Hunter is the one that I found most interesting. This is partly because it shows how Hunter’s approach is implicated in an intellectual and (for want of a better word) political battle, which is a real antidote to the tone of epistemological authority that characterises the original piece and which Jameson rightly picks Hunter up on.

But the passage is interesting also because of the way it wants to disclaim any metaphysical commitment, ascribing such commitment only to the apparently transcendent philosophies, while at the same time monopolising the claim to a fallibilist disposition (as well as to a “small-e empiricist and historicist” disposition). It’s this process of disclaiming and monopolising that time and again characterises Hunter’s analyses: no thought may be entertained of antimetaphysical historiography’s potential dependence upon a (perhaps implicit or unwitting) metaphysical commitment — notwithstanding the fact that the “anti” is perhaps the metaphysical gesture par excellence — and no attention may be given to the possibility that at least some of those “transcendent” “philosophies” (e.g. Derrida’s, IMO) are, in fact, simultaneously “empirical” demonstrations of fallibility and “philosophical” justifications for maintaining a fallibilist disposition generally.

(And, as an aside, at least one of those “transcendent” “philosophies” [no prizes for guessing which one] would lead me to ask after the fallibility of fallibilism; is that a question that Hunter could ever ask?)

As for its neutrality, which I accept is grounded only in its “contingent capacity to withdraw [albeit, seemingly] from irreconcilably conflictual transcendent philosophies and to relocate them within a noneschatological temporality”, the approach becomes demonstrably committed as soon as one questions the necessity, inevitability, virtue or even possibility of a “noneschatological temporality” or of an infallible capacity to withdraw.

And that’s when we get right back to the beginning of Hunter’s first piece. Hunter’s arguments provide, IMO, a potentially radical shock to anyone possessed by a dogmatic critical ethos. Moreover, I would argue that his work is a potentially important contribution to theory. I would have only minor quibbles with his work if it weren’t for that anti-metaphysical commitment or tone — a sneer that pervades everything he writes about theory. It’s a tone which betrays the dogmatic and infalliblist attitude that characterises his work. And it’s a tone that is perfectly evinced by the difference between the original piece and his response to Jameson. That difference, btw, is enough to show that, despite its flaws and historico-philosophical naivety, Jameson’s critique of Hunter is extremely important for helping to expose what’s really at issue in Hunter’s history.

By on 06/18/08 at 09:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

rob writes: “no thought may be entertained of antimetaphysical historiography’s potential dependence upon a (perhaps implicit or unwitting) metaphysical commitment”

Why does Hunter’s approach commit him to being uncritical in this way? I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. You may think he is in fact being uncritical in certain ways. But there is nothing necessarily uncritical about this sort of stance, per se. Unless you know better.

As to the fallibility of fallibilism: surely if you admit you can make mistakes, then you admit you make can mistakes. Could you make a mistake in admitting that it is possible to make mistakes? That is, could fallibilism turn out to be infallible? No: because an infallible fallibilism would be a counter-example to fallibilism, ergo falliblism would have failed. Ahem.

Could some other view turn out to be infallible: Marxism, for example? Jameson is, in a sense, much more dogmatic than Hunter. Could it turn out that Jameson is right to be dogmatic because he is, in some sense, infallible? I suppose that’s possible. But it doesn’t sound too likely.

Could Derrida be a small e-empiricist fallibilist like Hunter? I guess. I seriously doubt that’s actually a correct reading of Derrida. But that’s an argument we could have.

In general, I’m in favor of Hunter’s anti-metaphysical commitment or tone. The sneer is, I will admit, an optional accessory.

I agree that the second Hunter essay is better, in large part because of the tone - but that is just because the change in tone makes the intellectual position clearer. That is, it becomes clearer what he was already saying in the first piece. The tone of the first piece isn’t, per se, a species of intellectual error. Unless you know better.

I think maybe the most profitable way forward would be for you to address address that first point, above: what makes you so sure that Hunter can’t examine his own position for hidden metaphysical commitments, potentially? He obviously isn’t guilty before you’ve specifically shown he is. So: show he is. (And citing high-handed tone won’t be sufficient.)

By John Holbo on 06/20/08 at 05:58 AM | Permanent link to this comment

So this Ian Hunter is an intellectual historian specializing in early modern (17th and 18th century) German thought, who then proposes to extend his approach to the “post-structuralist” thought of the “1960’s”. Leaving aside that the latter derives from and unfolds over a longer period than the “1960’s” and that, though there are some common themes and underlying problematics among the group of thinkers that Anglos identify as “post-structuralist”, there are marked differences and oppositions among them,- (and, at any rate, their works are a different matter and import from the “Theory” that their importation into Anglo academic literary departments gave rise to), there looms the question of exactly on what basis Hunter proposes to engage with such a body of thought, other than the claim that “transcendent philosophies” were already engaged with by an empirical historiography within their 18th century point of origin, a rather sweeping trans-historical claim, (not to mention that labeling the works in question “transcendent philosophies” is rather much of a howler). (Hunter would know much more about 18th century German thought than I, but, still, I find his apparent identification of the ever diplomatic, conciliatory, and slippery Leibniz as a propounder of a sectarian metaphysical theology a bit odd, and his locating the transposition of such theological concerns onto historical thought in the work of Kant, whose criticism of “pre-critical metaphysics” in terms of “the amphiboly of concepts of reflection” resulted in an officially agnostic stance, and whose book on “Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Alone” was by far his most scandalous work, probably because most accessible and widely read, more than a little confused and confusing. In fact, though we tend to think of Kant as the culmination and summation of the “Aufklaerung”, he was intent on criticizing and delimiting the excessively optimistic and benevolent claims of his predecessors, introducing a fundamentally “tragic” ground note into the whole matter). It’s simply not clear that Hunter offers any sort of adequate criteria for identifying the object of his criticism, let alone for any attempted reduction to its allegedly contingent institutional base, (whether “over there” or in the confused hodge-podge of Anglo literary “Theory"). The ethics of Levinas, (who belonged to the older generation), is not the same as Foucault’s analytics of power-knowledge, and Derridian deconstruction is not the same as Deleuzian ontologies of sheer becoming, and the anti-dialectical and post- or anti-Marxist cast of “post-structuralism” is not to be conflated with Hegelian-Marxist works or modes of thinking, nor with existential phenomenology, nor do these exhaust the entire field of French thought in the relevant time-frame, nor does “post-structuralism” amount to the entirety of continental philosophy, nor its inevitable outcome or distillation, but rather a specific and historically contingent turn within its broader effective history. That a faillibilist-historicist empiricism eo ipso would be an effective antidote or neutralization to such an effective history and its questions and concerns strikes me as sheer question begging, short of any actual descriptive adequacy which would demonstrate an actual engagement with the sorts of claims being raised. Short of that, Hunter seems to be engaging in a “sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” approach, a relativization of relativistic relativizations, actually an old apologetic move, which mimics what it ostensibly opposes, without asking as to the basis of such relativization, or whether it is really simply a matter of relativism at all.

Now perhaps some basic propositions to serve as ground-rules might be in order. Greek metaphysics merged with Christian theology in successive steps in the process of their formation and historical-cultural transmission, giving rise to the peculiar conception of “Reason”, as the final or supreme instance, before and by which all thinking, knowledges, and practices must be “justified”, as distinctive of Western culture in general, not just narrowly Western philosophies. To reduce that to mere “Scholasticism” neglects the fact that early modern philosophies, in their struggles to gradually differentiate cultural/discursive domains, philosophy from theology, natural science from philosophy, socio-political thought from natural science, etc. were far less self-grounding or presuppositionless than they imagined, with empiricism being just as much an off-shoot of Scholastic nominalism as rationalism was of Scholastic realism, (and there were other combinations such as the Neo-Platonic nominalism of Nicholas da Cusa from which, e.g., Vico devolves). But regardless of which particular combinatorial and its parsing obtains locally, that complex effects all the cultures of the Latin West, Anglicans and Calvinists as much as Catholics and Lutherans, Poles as much as Dutchmen, heretics as much as reactionaries. Secondly, metaphysical thinking emerged as a counterposition to mthic thinking, orginally as a rationalization and Enlightenment of Greek political religion, but metaphysical thinking has always carried mythic thinking along with it as its doppelgaenger. The Western ideal of critical and self-critical Reason as productive of and justifying all thought, knowledge, and practice emerged from and was carried by the aegis of metaphysical thinking, itself commingled with Christian theology. Thirdly, the distinctive Western sense of History, if not histories, and temporality, as futurally directed, as opposed to sheerly cyclical or declining from a prior perfection, is itself partly a secularization of the eschatological perspective of Christian theology, as outlined, e.g. in Karl Loewith’s little book on the topic 60 years ago. Which means that metaphysical orders of meaning are already “pregnant” with and exposed to their transformation, as soon as the advent of full modernity takes hold with the historical thinking/historicism of the 19th century. Fourthly, the main thrust of modern philosophy, beginning with Kant,- (at least according to me),- is the progressive critique of metaphysics. Progressive not in a politico-historical sense, since some of the main figures were clearly not so disposed and the overall outcome is at least ambivalent in that regard, but in roughly a philosophy-of-science sense, as a consecutive, consequential, and collaborative back-and-forth, leading on to at least a consensus about the transformations of the topic/problematic, if not a consensus on or about it. Which is to say that the critical and self-critical ideal of “Reason” turns back upon and criticizes the very metaphysical roots from which it has arisen, and thus turns upon itself. Thus philosophy, as the supposed guardian of “Reason”, dispossesses itself and comes to an end, as no longer a self-grounding, “autonomous” project or discipline, let alone one capable of “grounding” anything else. And this “end” of philosophy is “paradoxically” the finest flower of the critical and self-critical “spirit” of “Reason” that first arose under the aegis of metaphysics. And the last figure of residually metaphysical thinking is the epistemological project in modern philosophy, that Kant first full-fledgedly initiated and that Husserl strove to renovate, which, (in my book at least), comes to an end in the critical dissolution of epistemology in Wittgenstein’s PI and in Levinas’ critique of Heidegger. Henceforth, the fate of Reason and the fate of History as tied together in the justification of Knowledge are irremediably fractured with respect to any systematic Unity.

A few further points. The notion of philosophy as an the intellectual-ethical exercize addressing the conduct of (finite) life has been there since the get-go and recurred throughout. And, once the illusory ethical elevation of the epistemological project, by which the certification of knowledge would underwrite an entirely new sort of ethics, is liquidated, that conception of philosophy as addressing the ethical conduct of a finite life comes back into the fore, (as with both Wittgenstein and Levinas). (And it is the disconnect from that ancient connection of philosophy with the conduct of life which gives rise,- though not always fairly with respect to its current representatives,- to the complaint against the “scientism” of Analytic philosophy. Enter John Emerson.) But, still more basically, philosophy, since its ancient inception, has always involved a kind of conversion experience, an accession to the standpoint of reason from without mythic enmeshment with the powers of the world. But equally that accession to the standpoint of reason has been dogged by the contradiction between its claim to universality and open accessibility and the elitism of an elaborate and esoteric complexity. (I’ll just cite Nietzsche’s remark that Kant wrote to proclaim that the people were basically right over against the philosophers, but that he wrote in such a way that only the philosophers could understand him, thereby incurring the wrath of both). Philosophy anciently began with the recognition of the transcendence of Being, that Being is, regardless of what one can say or do about it. That entailed both a trauma of separation from the world/cosmos, and oddly the possibility of recognizing in it a quasi-systematic ordering and intelligibility. Henceforth and classically philosophy as metaphysics amounted to an effort to construe the “necessary” systematic order of the world/cosmos by means of some sort of logic, with indirect implication for the ethical conduct of life. (That occurs throughout, but I think the baldest instance is that of the newcomer Spinoza, who offered a deterministic-naturalistic metaphysics to underwrite an ethics of autonomous freedom. Often that is compare to Stoical accounts, perhaps acquired through his belated Latin education, but I think that a simpler explanation is that Spinoza remained a Jew in attitude and orientation, if not in ceremonial observance, inspite of his expulsion/exile from that community). But, still a bit deeper down, the soul, as the locus of such a recognition, remains part of and participant in the world/cosmos, in which it moves about, but which exercizes its own transcendent self-ordering, self-movement beyond the soul, to which the latter is subject even in its very recognition of the fact. And yet somehow, inspite of the transcendent self-ordering, self-movement of the world/cosmos to which the soul is subject even as it recognizes it, somehow, mysteriously, it’s as if the freedom of the soul lurks veiled behind the transcendent self-movement of the world/cosmos, as the macro-cosmic movement of the world is reflected in the micro-cosmic movements of the soul. It’s that peculiar, mysterious connection between the freedom of the soul and its understanding of the transcendent self-moving self-ordering of the world/cosmos that lies anciently at the root of the compulsion and animus of philosophical thinking. At any rate, the point of this little excursion into the “origins” is to point up how the project of a systematically self-ordering understanding of the world/cosmos under the aegis of “Reason” through its successive iterations in the course of modernity becomes a victim of its own success, at once outrunning and undermining itself to the point where it can no longer recognize itself in its own reifications, indeed, is wont to mistake those reifications for its own “grounds”. (No, human “mind” or reason does not produce the world, nor even autonomously produce its own understandings and conceptions of the world. The world is already there and we are emergent within it. But the artefacts of reason, of its thinkings and activities, come increasingly to trample upon and cover over the world, transforming it in the process together with its own understandings. To uncover the sources of those understandings in the projection of and from the world, in communities of language and labor, and thereby examine the stakes and ends of the activities of reason, is very much the point of critical inquiry).

Well, the upshot here is that there is nothing particularly new or insightful in Hunter’s approach, but it’s rather characterized by its adventitiousness, as if drawing its authorization from the interpretive licentiousness of the pomo crowd. His account of Husserl and the phenomenological reduction as some sort of a mytic initiation is a sheer travesty. The “epoche” rather is a careful methodical move of rational reflection, whereby the question of the referential reality of phenomena is suspended in order to examine the meaningful intentional “constitution” of phenomena it emerges from the experience of consciousness. That this is just another version of the philosophical figure of acceding to the standpoint of reason should be obvious, and has nothing to do with any mystical or esoteric intuitionism. And what Husserl terms “apodictic” is supposed to emerge from the course of phenomenological experience and is not a matter of dogmatic a priorism, though it does aim at the traditional epistemological criterion of foundational certainty. (There was actually early on a cross-Channel debate between Husserl and Russell as to whose approach could lay claim to being the “true positivism”!) Further Husserl’s approach did amount to something distinctively, even radically new within the transcendental turn. Rather than claiming to provide the conditions of possibility for objectivity in general and relying on the hypostatization of the fact of science or the fact of reason in the manner of Neo-Kantianism, phenomenology focused on the conditions of possibility of specifically differentiated objects and regions and their corresponding intentions and it sought the sources of the intelligibility of scientific concepts and their objects in the primordial experience of a meaningful world. (And there is, indeed, something fundamentally right about that. The relation between ordinary experience, knowledge and understanding in the life-world and scientific theories that operate beyond its horizons is not a one-way street. The intelligibility and implications of scientific theories depend on a two-way interaction, if not a symmetrical relation, between them. When Levinas, whose work is a thorough-going phenomenological critique of phenomenology, reversing the intentional constitution of meaning into the modal relation to the other, without acceding to structuralism, completes its course, it returns to the original site of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, though nothing remains of it but a bombed out crater, to tarry there, out of solidarity with its originating “emancipatory” intentions, if not accomplishments, though that’s also just another way of sticking it to Heidegger). Further, though Husserl’s epistemological project is a failure, that is not an a priori matter, simply because its appeal to the “apodictic” is to be ruled out of court, but rather such a judgment requires following out its initiative to the point of its entanglement in its own intractable problems, whereby one can “see” why the project of an epistemological foundation to knowledge of the world comes to grief precisely in the light of its own intentions and means. But then Hunter only cites Husserl to use him as a flail to indict “post-structuralism” as merely a matter of a kind of performative egolology, inspite of its extensive and extensional concerns and the fact that none of it relies on a “transcendental ego” as a source of synthesis or constitution, but precisely repudiates such a notion. (Kolokowski similarly tried to indict Adorno’s “Negative Dialectics” as merely an empty egolology, just as orthodox Marxist denounced him as merely a Left Hegelian; to be sure, any thinking occurs “inside” someone’s head, but that does not mean that it aims at some sort of self-confirmation. And it’s been noted that Kolokowski’s concern for accuracy and his polemic ire are in inverse proportion the further he moves from Marx and Engels,- old habits die hard,- and Adorno was, of course, concerned to bring out the monstrous idealism involved in reductionist-deterministic interpretations of Marx’ “materialism”: reductionist-deterministic materialism + technological voluntarism = Stalinism). Now arguably some sort of ethico-intellectual striving toward a “perfection” of self might be occurring in some brands of “Theory”,- (though how exactly would that be different from traditional Bildung?),- but that does run rather counter to the famous “decentering of subjectivity” and the dissolution of fixed forms of identity and the means of their “normalization” that runs as a leitmotif throughout. And the leap from the Husserlian epoche to Foucault’s “empirico-transcendental doublet” is a howler, since that “doublet” is precisely the object of Foucault’s criticism, as the figure of the “anthropological” turn of humanist thought,- (though arguably Foucault’s argument is dependent on a certain tradition of continental thought going back to the Left Hegelians),- which is to be collapsed and dissolved, the famous “death” of Man, though what is to follow from it, other than a Wile E. Coyote moment is not immediately clear, ( as it wasn’t to Foucault, who took some time in formulating his counter-position, in the midst of which he announced his “happy positivism”, which almost certainly was parodic, if not sardonic). But Hunter seems to want to latch on to the possibility of a sheerly neutral descriptive analytics, as a means of countering such excesses of thought, without realizing that Foucault’s account is precisely a version of an “epoche”: for Foucault, normative claims can not be adjudged, decided, or argumentatively substantiated, but only described, as, in effect, a species of behavior. (To be sure, norms are counterfactuals, so that they are as likely to be shown forth through their violations, as through their recognitions, enactments, or enforcements). In turn, Foucault goes on to subtend his account of discursive “epistemes”, with an account of underlying atelic nexuses of material practices, in a kind of anti-pragmatic pragmatism, which underlies the institutionalization of formal-rational discourses, in a relation of mutual and ironic subversion. That, in turn, is the “micro-physics of power”, the network of disciplinary/normalizing practice that form the constitutive source of all-pervading power, which replaces the constitutive source of “transcendental subjectivity”. From which Foucault goes on to develop an account of “subjectification”, by which various modes of selfhood are formed through their “foldings” within the field of power-knowledge, which leads on to an exploration of the possibilities of conceiving human freedom beyond or on the other side of Heideggerian “thrownness”. The point here is that Foucault’s descriptive analytics of formal-rational discourse and its institutionalization is by no means as neutral or normless as he ostensibly makes out. Not only are his set-piece tableaus of, say, the execution of the regicide or the convicts’ march through Paris not merely a re-presentation of events, but rather a repetition aimed at re-enacting the suffering/suppressed-resistant vitality involved, but Foucault’s whole approach, malgre’ lui meme, involves the normativity of a critical redescription. But the broader point is that Hunter misses or refuses the “fact” that the whole discursive topos that he would ostensibly address takes place in terms of a post-, if not anti-, epistemological context, which to be sure, is largely assumed rather than argued for. Still more broadly, the whole discursive formation at issue takes place within the context of a self-liquidating critique of metaphysics, of the ambiguous “end” of philosophy, and hence of any pretension of philosophy to ground itself, let alone anything else, the utter self-displacement of philosophical “authority”. To speak of a “process of migration, problematization, and colonization” of “extra-philosophical fields of knowledge”, which would “sweep the entire cultural field into modernity”, as if the project of Husserlian phenomenological epistemology and its regional ontologies were still in force, is more than a misprision: it is not the imperialism of Reason and its rationalities that is being proclaimed, but rather that is precisely what is being collapsed, whether rightly or wrongly. How that would effect other “extra-philosophical” disciplines,- (which are still formal-rational disciplines, no?),- would be an open question. If philosophy migrates, through its radical self-displacement,- (which is not exactly recent news),- that does not imply that it is a one-way street.

So this Ian Hunter is an intellectual historian specializing in early modern (17th and 18th century) German thought, who then proposes to extend his approach to the “post-structuralist” thought of the “1960’s”. Leaving aside that the latter derives from and unfolds over a longer period than the “1960’s” and that, though there are some common themes and underlying problematics among the group of thinkers that Anglos identify as “post-structuralist”, there are marked differences and oppositions among them,- (and, at any rate, their works are a different matter and import from the “Theory” that their importation into Anglo academic literary departments gave rise to), there looms the question of exactly on what basis Hunter proposes to engage with such a body of thought, other than the claim that “transcendent philosophies” were already engaged with by an empirical historiography within their 18th century point of origin, a rather sweeping trans-historical claim, (not to mention that labeling the works in question “transcendent philosophies” is rather much of a howler). (Hunter would know much more about 18th century German thought than I, but, still, I find his apparent identification of the ever diplomatic, conciliatory, and slippery Leibniz as a propounder of a sectarian metaphysical theology a bit odd, and his locating the transposition of such theological concerns onto historical thought in the work of Kant, whose criticism of “pre-critical metaphysics” in terms of “the amphiboly of concepts of reflection” resulted in an officially agnostic stance, and whose book on “Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Alone” was by far his most scandalous work, probably because most accessible and widely read, more than a little confused and confusing. In fact, though we tend to think of Kant as the culmination and summation of the “Aufklaerung”, he was intent on criticizing and delimiting the excessively optimistic and benevolent claims of his predecessors, introducing a fundamentally “tragic” ground note into the whole matter). It’s simply not clear that Hunter offers any sort of adequate criteria for identifying the object of his criticism, let alone for any attempted reduction to its allegedly contingent institutional base, (whether “over there” or in the confused hodge-podge of Anglo literary “Theory"). The ethics of Levinas, (who belonged to the older generation), is not the same as Foucault’s analytics of power-knowledge, and Derridian deconstruction is not the same as Deleuzian ontologies of sheer becoming, and the anti-dialectical and post- or anti-Marxist cast of “post-structuralism” is not to be conflated with Hegelian-Marxist works or modes of thinking, nor with existential phenomenology, nor do these exhaust the entire field of French thought in the relevant time-frame, nor does “post-structuralism” amount to the entirety of continental philosophy, nor its inevitable outcome or distillation, but rather a specific and historically contingent turn within its broader effective history. That a faillibilist-historicist empiricism eo ipso would be an effective antidote or neutralization to such an effective history and its questions and concerns strikes me as sheer question begging, short of any actual descriptive adequacy which would demonstrate an actual engagement with the sorts of claims being raised. Short of that, Hunter seems to be engaging in a “sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” approach, a relativization of relativistic relativizations, actually an old apologetic move, which mimics what it ostensibly opposes, without asking as to the basis of such relativization, or whether it is really simply a matter of relativism at all.

Now perhaps some basic propositions to serve as ground-rules might be in order. Greek metaphysics merged with Christian theology in successive steps in the process of their formation and historical-cultural transmission, giving rise to the peculiar conception of “Reason”, as the final or supreme instance, before and by which all thinking, knowledges, and practices must be “justified”, as distinctive of Western culture in general, not just narrowly Western philosophies. To reduce that to mere “Scholasticism” neglects the fact that early modern philosophies, in their struggles to gradually differentiate cultural/discursive domains, philosophy from theology, natural science from philosophy, socio-political thought from natural science, etc. were far less self-grounding or presuppositionless than they imagined, with empiricism being just as much an off-shoot of Scholastic nominalism as rationalism was of Scholastic realism, (and there were other combinations such as the Neo-Platonic nominalism of Nicholas da Cusa from which, e.g., Vico devolves). But regardless of which particular combinatorial and its parsing obtains locally, that complex effects all the cultures of the Latin West, Anglicans and Calvinists as much as Catholics and Lutherans, Poles as much as Dutchmen, heretics as much as reactionaries. Secondly, metaphysical thinking emerged as a counterposition to mthic thinking, orginally as a rationalization and Enlightenment of Greek political religion, but metaphysical thinking has always carried mythic thinking along with it as its doppelgaenger. The Western ideal of critical and self-critical Reason as productive of and justifying all thought, knowledge, and practice emerged from and was carried by the aegis of metaphysical thinking, itself commingled with Christian theology. Thirdly, the distinctive Western sense of History, if not histories, and temporality, as futurally directed, as opposed to sheerly cyclical or declining from a prior perfection, is itself partly a secularization of the eschatological perspective of Christian theology, as outlined, e.g. in Karl Loewith’s little book on the topic 60 years ago. Which means that metaphysical orders of meaning are already “pregnant” with and exposed to their transformation, as soon as the advent of full modernity takes hold with the historical thinking/historicism of the 19th century. Fourthly, the main thrust of modern philosophy, beginning with Kant,- (at least according to me),- is the progressive critique of metaphysics. Progressive not in a politico-historical sense, since some of the main figures were clearly not so disposed and the overall outcome is at least ambivalent in that regard, but in roughly a philosophy-of-science sense, as a consecutive, consequential, and collaborative back-and-forth, leading on to at least a consensus about the transformations of the topic/problematic, if not a consensus on or about it. Which is to say that the critical and self-critical ideal of “Reason” turns back upon and criticizes the very metaphysical roots from which it has arisen, and thus turns upon itself. Thus philosophy, as the supposed guardian of “Reason”, dispossesses itself and comes to an end, as no longer a self-grounding, “autonomous” project or discipline, let alone one capable of “grounding” anything else. And this “end” of philosophy is “paradoxically” the finest flower of the critical and self-critical “spirit” of “Reason” that first arose under the aegis of metaphysics. And the last figure of residually metaphysical thinking is the epistemological project in modern philosophy, that Kant first full-fledgedly initiated and that Husserl strove to renovate, which, (in my book at least), comes to an end in the critical dissolution of epistemology in Wittgenstein’s PI and in Levinas’ critique of Heidegger. Henceforth, the fate of Reason and the fate of History as tied together in the justification of Knowledge are irremediably fractured with respect to any systematic Unity.

A few further points. The notion of philosophy as an the intellectual-ethical exercize addressing the conduct of (finite) life has been there since the get-go and recurred throughout. And, once the illusory ethical elevation of the epistemological project, by which the certification of knowledge would underwrite an entirely new sort of ethics, is liquidated, that conception of philosophy as addressing the ethical conduct of a finite life comes back into the fore, (as with both Wittgenstein and Levinas). (And it is the disconnect from that ancient connection of philosophy with the conduct of life which gives rise,- though not always fairly with respect to its current representatives,- to the complaint against the “scientism” of Analytic philosophy. Enter John Emerson.) But, still more basically, philosophy, since its ancient inception, has always involved a kind of conversion experience, an accession to the standpoint of reason from without mythic enmeshment with the powers of the world. But equally that accession to the standpoint of reason has been dogged by the contradiction between its claim to universality and open accessibility and the elitism of an elaborate and esoteric complexity. (I’ll just cite Nietzsche’s remark that Kant wrote to proclaim that the people were basically right over against the philosophers, but that he wrote in such a way that only the philosophers could understand him, thereby incurring the wrath of both). Philosophy anciently began with the recognition of the transcendence of Being, that Being is, regardless of what one can say or do about it. That entailed both a trauma of separation from the world/cosmos, and oddly the possibility of recognizing in it a quasi-systematic ordering and intelligibility. Henceforth and classically philosophy as metaphysics amounted to an effort to construe the “necessary” systematic order of the world/cosmos by means of some sort of logic, with indirect implication for the ethical conduct of life. (That occurs throughout, but I think the baldest instance is that of the newcomer Spinoza, who offered a deterministic-naturalistic metaphysics to underwrite an ethics of autonomous freedom. Often that is compare to Stoical accounts, perhaps acquired through his belated Latin education, but I think that a simpler explanation is that Spinoza remained a Jew in attitude and orientation, if not in ceremonial observance, inspite of his expulsion/exile from that community). But, still a bit deeper down, the soul, as the locus of such a recognition, remains part of and participant in the world/cosmos, in which it moves about, but which exercizes its own transcendent self-ordering, self-movement beyond the soul, to which the latter is subject even in its very recognition of the fact. And yet somehow, inspite of the transcendent self-ordering, self-movement of the world/cosmos to which the soul is subject even as it recognizes it, somehow, mysteriously, it’s as if the freedom of the soul lurks veiled behind the transcendent self-movement of the world/cosmos, as the macro-cosmic movement of the world is reflected in the micro-cosmic movements of the soul. It’s that peculiar, mysterious connection between the freedom of the soul and its understanding of the transcendent self-moving self-ordering of the world/cosmos that lies anciently at the root of the compulsion and animus of philosophical thinking. At any rate, the point of this little excursion into the “origins” is to point up how the project of a systematically self-ordering understanding of the world/cosmos under the aegis of “Reason” through its successive iterations in the course of modernity becomes a victim of its own success, at once outrunning and undermining itself to the point where it can no longer recognize itself in its own reifications, indeed, is wont to mistake those reifications for its own “grounds”. (No, human “mind” or reason does not produce the world, nor even autonomously produce its own understandings and conceptions of the world. The world is already there and we are emergent within it. But the artefacts of reason, of its thinkings and activities, come increasingly to trample upon and cover over the world, transforming it in the process together with its own understandings. To uncover the sources of those understandings in the projection of and from the world, in communities of language and labor, and thereby examine the stakes and ends of the activities of reason, is very much the point of critical inquiry).

Well, the upshot here is that there is nothing particularly new or insightful in Hunter’s approach, but it’s rather characterized by its adventitiousness, as if drawing its authorization from the interpretive licentiousness of the pomo crowd. His account of Husserl and the phenomenological reduction as some sort of a mytic initiation is a sheer travesty. The “epoche” rather is a careful methodical move of rational reflection, whereby the question of the referential reality of phenomena is suspended in order to examine the meaningful intentional “constitution” of phenomena it emerges from the experience of consciousness. That this is just another version of the philosophical figure of acceding to the standpoint of reason should be obvious, and has nothing to do with any mystical or esoteric intuitionism. And what Husserl terms “apodictic” is supposed to emerge from the course of phenomenological experience and is not a matter of dogmatic a priorism, though it does aim at the traditional epistemological criterion of foundational certainty. (There was actually early on a cross-Channel debate between Husserl and Russell as to whose approach could lay claim to being the “true positivism”!) Further Husserl’s approach did amount to something distinctively, even radically new within the transcendental turn. Rather than claiming to provide the conditions of possibility for objectivity in general and relying on the hypostatization of the fact of science or the fact of reason in the manner of Neo-Kantianism, phenomenology focused on the conditions of possibility of specifically differentiated objects and regions and their corresponding intentions and it sought the sources of the intelligibility of scientific concepts and their objects in the primordial experience of a meaningful world. (And there is, indeed, something fundamentally right about that. The relation between ordinary experience, knowledge and understanding in the life-world and scientific theories that operate beyond its horizons is not a one-way street. The intelligibility and implications of scientific theories depend on a two-way interaction, if not a symmetrical relation, between them. When Levinas, whose work is a thorough-going phenomenological critique of phenomenology, reversing the intentional constitution of meaning into the modal relation to the other, without acceding to structuralism, completes its course, it returns to the original site of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, though nothing remains of it but a bombed out crater, to tarry there, out of solidarity with its originating “emancipatory” intentions, if not accomplishments, though that’s also just another way of sticking it to Heidegger). Further, though Husserl’s epistemological project is a failure, that is not an a priori matter, simply because its appeal to the “apodictic” is to be ruled out of court, but rather such a judgment requires following out its initiative to the point of its entanglement in its own intractable problems, whereby one can “see” why the project of an epistemological foundation to knowledge of the world comes to grief precisely in the light of its own intentions and means. But then Hunter only cites Husserl to use him as a flail to indict “post-structuralism” as merely a matter of a kind of performative egolology, inspite of its extensive and extensional concerns and the fact that none of it relies on a “transcendental ego” as a source of synthesis or constitution, but precisely repudiates such a notion. (Kolokowski similarly tried to indict Adorno’s “Negative Dialectics” as merely an empty egolology, just as orthodox Marxist denounced him as merely a Left Hegelian; to be sure, any thinking occurs “inside” someone’s head, but that does not mean that it aims at some sort of self-confirmation. And it’s been noted that Kolokowski’s concern for accuracy and his polemic ire are in inverse proportion the further he moves from Marx and Engels,- old habits die hard,- and Adorno was, of course, concerned to bring out the monstrous idealism involved in reductionist-deterministic interpretations of Marx’ “materialism”: reductionist-deterministic materialism + technological voluntarism = Stalinism). Now arguably some sort of ethico-intellectual striving toward a “perfection” of self might be occurring in some brands of “Theory”,- (though how exactly would that be different from traditional Bildung?),- but that does run rather counter to the famous “decentering of subjectivity” and the dissolution of fixed forms of identity and the means of their “normalization” that runs as a leitmotif throughout. And the leap from the Husserlian epoche to Foucault’s “empirico-transcendental doublet” is a howler, since that “doublet” is precisely the object of Foucault’s criticism, as the figure of the “anthropological” turn of humanist thought,- (though arguably Foucault’s argument is dependent on a certain tradition of continental thought going back to the Left Hegelians),- which is to be collapsed and dissolved, the famous “death” of Man, though what is to follow from it, other than a Wile E. Coyote moment is not immediately clear, ( as it wasn’t to Foucault, who took some time in formulating his counter-position, in the midst of which he announced his “happy positivism”, which almost certainly was parodic, if not sardonic). But Hunter seems to want to latch on to the possibility of a sheerly neutral descriptive analytics, as a means of countering such excesses of thought, without realizing that Foucault’s account is precisely a version of an “epoche”: for Foucault, normative claims can not be adjudged, decided, or argumentatively substantiated, but only described, as, in effect, a species of behavior. (To be sure, norms are counterfactuals, so that they are as likely to be shown forth through their violations, as through their recognitions, enactments, or enforcements). In turn, Foucault goes on to subtend his account of discursive “epistemes”, with an account of underlying atelic nexuses of material practices, in a kind of anti-pragmatic pragmatism, which underlies the institutionalization of formal-rational discourses, in a relation of mutual and ironic subversion. That, in turn, is the “micro-physics of power”, the network of disciplinary/normalizing practice that form the constitutive source of all-pervading power, which replaces the constitutive source of “transcendental subjectivity”. From which Foucault goes on to develop an account of “subjectification”, by which various modes of selfhood are formed through their “foldings” within the field of power-knowledge, which leads on to an exploration of the possibilities of conceiving human freedom beyond or on the other side of Heideggerian “thrownness”. The point here is that Foucault’s descriptive analytics of formal-rational discourse and its institutionalization is by no means as neutral or normless as he ostensibly makes out. Not only are his set-piece tableaus of, say, the execution of the regicide or the convicts’ march through Paris, not merely a re-presentation of events, but rather a repetition aimed at re-enacting the suffering/suppressed-resistant vitality involved, but Foucault’s whole approach, malgre’ lui meme, involves the normativity of a critical redescription. But the broader point is that Hunter misses or refuses the “fact” that the whole discursive topos that he would ostensibly address takes place in terms of a post-, if not anti-, epistemological context, which, to be sure, is largely assumed rather than argued for. Still more broadly, the whole discursive formation at issue takes place within the context of a self-liquidating critique of metaphysics, of the ambiguous “end” of philosophy, and hence of any pretension of philosophy to ground itself, let alone anything else, the utter self-displacement of philosophical “authority”. To speak of a “process of migration, problematization, and colonization” of “extra-philosophical fields of knowledge”, which would “sweep the entire cultural field into modernity”, as if the project of Husserlian phenomenological epistemology and its regional ontologies were still in force, is more than a misprision: it is not the imperialism of Reason and its rationalities that is being proclaimed, but rather that is precisely what is being collapsed, whether rightly or wrongly. What is at stake is not the unity of reason, but its differentiations. How that would effect other “extra-philosophical” disciplines,- (which are still formal-rational disciplines, no?),- would be an open question. If philosophy migrates, through its radical self-displacement,- (which is not exactly recent news),- that does not imply that it is a one-way street.

Now, it is a legitimate enterprise to suspend the validity claims of a formal-rational discourse to examine how that discourse is institutionalized, (which unsurprisingly might involve formal-rational modes of institutionalization). The sociology of natural science does this sort of thing, and uncovers all sorts of status hierarchies, self-interested motives and power-plays, none of which is exactly surprising, but none of which exactly impugn the validity of the enterprise or its underlying project, since the examination precisely disclaims authority over its criteria, procedures and norms. Validity claims are always conditioned and conditional, and subject to various contestations, which is to say that they draw on the counterfactuality of norms to sustain their validity. Such examinations of the institutional basis of validity claims can be salutary, in that they further delimit their conditions, restricting, but also enhancing their scope. Scientific results often abut upon socio-political and ethical issues, which they precisely lack the competency to adjudicate and decide, but de facto seem to decide in advance. After all, the generation and organization of socio-political power occupies the same world as any scientific knowledge. (That Comtean positivist fantasy of an authoritarian institution of science which would claim the competency to administer the whole of society has long since been criticized and disspelled, not least by positivist currents themselves, but one suspects that that same fantasy remains lurking “underground”, less because of its scientific than its authoritarian credentials). But what is not the case is that a purely empirical inquiry into empirical inquiries can somehow neutralize and evade the issues and contentions that are at stake. I would put this less in term of hidden metaphysical assumptions than in terms of hermeneutical understandings: to what extent can one actually criticize any ethico-intellectual enterprise or project without some interpretive commitment as to what the matter in question is about?

Finally, there is that issue of “faillibilism” that rob touched upon. The issue is how falsification, the failure of validity claims, comes about or occurs. It’s not as if facts simply don’t exist; but facts always occur within frameworks by which they have their specific import. When a debate over “the facts” occurs between different frameworks, are the facts the same, but the frameworks different, or vice versa? It’s easy enough to make a factual mistake and simply withdraw and correct it. Similarly, some factual revisions can readily be accommodated within a given framework. But part of the question of faillibility involves the breakdown and re-formation of frameworks. We “know” that some of our sets of inferences, following from our received knowledge, might fail, and, indeed, going by historical experience, will fail, though we don’t know now when, where or how. The point is that the proclamation of faillibility can be just lip-service, if it is assumed that any revision would be continuous with present assumptions and their inclusions, and not involve any break-down of the structure of inferences involved in our present conceptions and self-conceptions; in other words, “faillibilism” can be precisely an evasion of the stakes involved in our finite understandings and the existential costs of their failure. Conversely, the “eschatological” perspective involves our “final” ends, beyond our deaths, beyond our self-interested involvements with the world, which is not to say that they are final for the world, nor immune to revision, but that they are the terms of our responsibility for the world and our existence in it. Further, any conception and self-conception of our existence in the world involves relations of inclusion and exclusion with others in it. It’s not entirely clear that a reduction to an empirical-historicist withdrawal of any “eschatological” temporality is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

By on 06/22/08 at 03:22 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Why does Hunter’s approach commit him to being uncritical in this way?

Nothing in the approach commits Hunter to being uncritical in this way—that’s the point! The tone (= sneer) is simultaneously inessential to yet constitutive of (his version of) anti-metaphysical historicism. It is inessential insofar as without it the argument or “intellectual position” is “clearer”, but the tone is constitutive insofar as it presents (i.e. rhetorically) anti-metaphysical historicism as cool, calm and rational (i.e. disinterested) in contrast to Theory’s putative scorn for science, positivism, etc. To that extent, moreover, the argument presented in the first paper is not the same as the argument presented in the second paper.

In case it looks like what I have to say here is in any way a rejection of anti-metaphysical historicism or of Hunter’s work more specifically, let me state quite clearly here: it is not. And in case it looks like I’m defending the conceptual and historical rigour of Jameson, let me state quite clearly: I am not. Jameson’s reading of Hunter is ill-informed and his argument is weak for a number of reasons. Moreover, aside from some specific papers and some individual arguments here and there, I don’t have a great deal of time for his work. I only give his critique of Hunter a weak endorsement here because without it Hunter would never have written the second, far superior paper. Jameson does a great job of exposing a potential (as distinct from the necessary) alignment between Hunter’s (first) argument and a series of other positions or strategies or processes that many humanities academics would not want to endorse. Jameson’s paper (without necessarily arguing this itself) indicates how a particular set of contemporary discourses would exploit that potential in order to legitimate (i.e. against the conclusions of anti-metaphysical historicism) the inevitability and all-round incontestability of their truth-claims by rejecting as “unfounded” the forms of critique that call those discourses into account.

I really don’t know why you’re so keen to read far stronger or more expansive claims in(to) my comments, John, than they seem to me to be making. I am talking about Hunter, not anti-metaphysical historicism as such.

Generally speaking, I have two issues with Hunter: (1) the tone and (2) his affirmation of “the state” (or “governmentality” or the range of “historically available” “institutional forms”) as the proper, final context for assessing the fallibility of things, and his (sometimes tacit, at other times explicit) affirmation of the present at the expense of any opening to future. It’s in the latter especially, I think, that his metaphysical commitments may be found. If you want, I can give you evidence of his reluctance (to put it somewhat mildly) to examine his own arguments for such metaphysical commitments, etc. (from “Setting Limits to Culture”, from “Humanities without Humanism”, from “Personality as Vocation”, from “Talking about My Generation”, and from the fact that the only response I’ve seen that he’s given to his critics is this one to Jameson: i.e. the weakest, most misguided of those critics). Just name the place and time.

As to the fallibility of fallibilism: surely if you admit you can make mistakes, then you admit you make can mistakes. Could you make a mistake in admitting that it is possible to make mistakes? That is, could fallibilism turn out to be infallible? No: because an infallible fallibilism would be a counter-example to fallibilism, ergo falliblism would have failed…

… ergo fallibilism, by failing, would have succeeded, ego fallibilism would have failed to fail, ergo fallibilism would have failed, ergo (ad infinitum). “Ahem”. And there, by the way, is just one such metaphysical commitment: i.e. to the universal or limitless self-identity of a concept of fallibilism. It’s mischievous of me, I know, to cite Derrida here (a red rag to a bull, perhaps?), but “if things were simple, word would’ve gotten round by now” (Limited Inc).

As for whether my reading of Derrida as a fallibilist, etc., is the “correct” reading, I couldn’t actually care less. I think it’s a pretty good reading: i.e. one that’s productive, not mischievously unfaithful, reasonably informed by ideas other than Derrida’s, open to transformation and amelioration, responsive to the specificity of contexts or debates within which it might be called upon, oriented towards the claims of an other (to others in general) that, relative to the existing state of affairs, are powerless, etc. – in a word (kind of), a reading that is ethico-pragmatic, rather than absolute, definitive or dogmatic, etc.. That is the limit to affirmation of Derrida’s work. Whether or not my reading is in fact a good reading is, therefore (since my reading is open to amelioration, etc.), indeed an argument we could have, but only if you too are after the most productive reading of Derrida. Are you?

By on 06/22/08 at 11:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

the proclamation of faillibility can be just lip-service, if it is assumed that any revision would be continuous with present assumptions and their inclusions, and not involve any break-down of the structure of inferences involved in our present conceptions and self-conceptions; in other words, “faillibilism” can be precisely an evasion of the stakes involved in our finite understandings and the existential costs of their failure. Conversely, the “eschatological” perspective involves our “final” ends, beyond our deaths, beyond our self-interested involvements with the world, which is not to say that they are final for the world, nor immune to revision, but that they are the terms of our responsibility for the world and our existence in it. Further, any conception and self-conception of our existence in the world involves relations of inclusion and exclusion with others in it. It’s not entirely clear that a reduction to an empirical-historicist withdrawal of any “eschatological” temporality is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

That is, in a largish nutshell, the counter-point I would make to Hunter’s affirmation of the present at the expense of any opening to the future. Thanks, john h.

By on 06/23/08 at 12:11 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Good comments from rob and john. I don’t have time to respond adequately but I’ll be back later.

Short responses to both: I actually agree with john about this: Hunter’s approach is “characterized by its adventitiousness, as if drawing its authorization from the interpretive licentiousness of the pomo crowd.” To pick one of my favorite Nietzsche bits: ‘sometimes we remain loyal to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid.’ There is a sense in which the weaknesses of Theory, qua academic table-manners, may seem to make its opponents automatically the clever and correct ones. This is something to watch out for, because it tempts one to debase serious arguments into ‘gotcha’ exercises. (I have fallen prey myself, I know, but am trying to do better.)

The problem with this is that the likes of Jameson certainly do deserve to be pestered with ‘gotchas’, in my opinion. But, although that may even be necessary for intellectual health, it certainly isn’t sufficient.

For the rest - well, there’s a lot of serious history in there that I am passing over for the moment without thereby dismissing it - I’m inclined to dig in my heels at the following:

“It’s not as if facts simply don’t exist; but facts always occur within frameworks by which they have their specific import. When a debate over “the facts” occurs between different frameworks, are the facts the same, but the frameworks different, or vice versa? It’s easy enough to make a factual mistake and simply withdraw and correct it. Similarly, some factual revisions can readily be accommodated within a given framework. But part of the question of faillibility involves the breakdown and re-formation of frameworks ...”

And now the implication comes that the likes of Hunter must be somehow peculiarly blind to the possibility of ‘paradigm shift’, call it what you will. But this seems to me simply a mistake. “the proclamation of faillibility can be just lip-service.” Yes, but the proclamation that proclamations of fallibility can be just lip-service can be just lip-service.’ And so on. It seems to me that the bare possibility that Hunter might make a certain sort of mistake is being offered as an argument that he must actually be making it.

But really the way to sort this is to go through the history. It is a mistake to think Hunter has made a philosophical mistake, although he may well be writing sloppy history.

rob, I’ll respond, likewise, briefly. “If things were simple, word would’ve gotten round by now.” On the other hand, if it could be shown that the likes of Hunter and myself can be convicted of assuming things are simple, word would have probably gotten around about that as well. (It’s not as though the likes of Derrida haven’t been trying for a long time to show that the other side is necessarily over-simplifying.)

The point about fallibilism is not a red rag but a herring. It’s not as though Hunter is arguing: but I’m a fallibilist, therefore I can’t be making any mistakes. The point of emphasizing fallibilism is to show that what look like specific metaphysical commitments may not be. We should look and see. It’s not as thought Hunter is proposing to use any sort of ‘I’m a fallibilist, so I get out of the prison house of metaphysics free’ card. You’ve got to pay your way with arguments, if challenged. There isn’t any disagreement about this in principle, so the thing to do is sort the claims at the practical level of history. And here I don’t want to pretend that Hunter is entirely in the right or that you - john and rob - are entirely in the wrong.

By John Holbo on 06/23/08 at 12:13 AM | Permanent link to this comment

rob’s second point and mine passed like ships in the intertubes. Since job and john h both like this bit

“the proclamation of faillibility can be just lip-service, if it is assumed that any revision would be continuous with present assumptions and their inclusions, and not involve any break-down of the structure of inferences involved in our present conceptions and self-conceptions;”

let me be clearer why I don’t like it. It is NOT assumed - by Hunter or myself - that ‘any revision would be continuous with present assumptions and their inclusions ...’ etc. etc. Why would we assume anything as manifestly implausible as that?

By John Holbo on 06/23/08 at 12:21 AM | Permanent link to this comment

rob also writes: “If you want, I can give you evidence of his [Hunter]s] reluctance (to put it somewhat mildly) to examine his own arguments for such metaphysical commitments, etc. (from “Setting Limits to Culture”, from “Humanities without Humanism”, from “Personality as Vocation”, from “Talking about My Generation”, and from the fact that the only response I’ve seen that he’s given to his critics is this one to Jameson: i.e. the weakest, most misguided of those critics). Just name the place and time.”

I want. Whenever is convenient. For my part, I’ll try to get into the historical weeds a bit more later. I do think that most of the substantive disputes are to be found out there.

By John Holbo on 06/23/08 at 12:38 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry, John. Did not mean (by way of citing john’s point) to imply that you or Hunter would assume thus. I was reading john’s comment in the context of my remark about Hunter’s privileging of the present and my earlier point about how Hunter’s approach becomes demonstrably committed as soon as one questions the necessity, inevitability, virtue or even possibility of a “noneschatological temporality” or of an infallible capacity to withdraw. So it was less the bit about fallibilism than the point about the virtue of a (certain form of) eschatology that I was endorsing. And it’s precisely a commitment to looking further than the present institutional forms that Hunter rejects, or at least eschews, in his successive attempts to put “critique” and “theory”, and the humanities generally, in their place. (Cf. “Humanities without Humanism”, p.489: “it is important to know the limits of these conducts [i.e. of the humanistic and the bureaucratic]; to conduct ourselves within these limits; and to resist the temptation to see further or deeper than the institutional forms in which their interactions are negotiated")

As a rule, moreover, when I’m critiquing Hunter I only intend to critique Hunter. My comments are intended to say something about your argument/position, etc., only when they are directed at your statements of your own position.

It’s not as thought Hunter is proposing to use any sort of ‘I’m a fallibilist, so I get out of the prison house of metaphysics free’ card

It all comes back to the tone. Regardless of whatever Hunter might mean or want to say, his tone makes it sound like he is proposing just such a card. Again: the problem (or this problem) with Hunter’s argument has to do with the way his tone affects the depiction both of Theory he delimits and of the “anti"-metaphysical historicism he endorses.

The point of emphasizing fallibilism is to show that what look like specific metaphysical commitments may not be. We should look and see.... You’ve got to pay your way with arguments, if challenged.

And the point of emphasising the fallibility of fallibilism is to suggest that what look to be anti-metaphysical historicisms and/or historical and empirical descriptions that are free from metaphysical commitment may turn out to depend upon a metaphysical commitment. The problem (or this second problem) with Hunter, for me, is that there have been a number of occasions in which people have had a look and have seen metaphysical commitments underpinning Hunter’s work, they’ve paid their way with arguments, but Hunter has carried on as though convinced of the infallibility of his anti-metaphysical historicism.

By on 06/23/08 at 02:46 AM | Permanent link to this comment

“the proclamation of faillibility can be just lip-service.” Yes, but the proclamation that proclamations of fallibility can be just lip-service can be just lip-service.’ And so on.

I’m imagining Philosopher’s Lip Gloss. On the case is a picture of a stick of Philosopher’s Lip Gloss. On the case of the stick in the picture is yet a smaller picture of a stick of PLG. And so forth.

By Bill Benzon on 06/23/08 at 05:53 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I want. Whenever is convenient.

Okay. Here are two papers that examine Hunter’s arguments and that point out their metaphysical commitments and their inconsistencies:

John Frow (1992) “Rationalization and the Public Sphere”, Meanjin 51, 505-16.

Tony Thwaites (1998) “Crossing the Floor: Hunter’s Governmentality”, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 12, 187-95.

Not only do these papers point out such commitments and inconsistencies, but they are also papers that Hunter would have had to have worked very hard not to have come across. Frow, for instance, presented his paper as a rejoinder to a one given by Hunter at the same conference and the two papers were published side by side in the same issue of the same journal.

I’ve already noted above how Hunter’s genealogy of the humanistic mode of conduct culminates in an admonishment not to look beyond the living present. I’ve also argued that any fallibilist disposition that cannot recognise the impossibility of fallibilism as such betrays a metaphysical commitment to the universal or limitless self-identity of a concept of fallibilism. At any rate, Hunter’s reluctance to respond to to adapt his arguments in response to his best critics (as distinct from the easy targets such as Jameson) suggests that he’s not all that committed to affirming or responding to the fallibility of his own arguments.

But really, this is all a distraction, because I’ve just realised that we’re arguing at cross-purposes. You wrote above:

It seems to me that the bare possibility that Hunter might make a certain sort of mistake is being offered as an argument that he must actually be making it

That’s not what I’m arguing at all (obviously, I can’t speak for john h., but I’d be surprised if were not also arguing something else). What I’m arguing is that — contra what is implied by Hunter’s tone (as distinct from his “approach”, if the two are in fact distinguishable) — “critique” and “theory” are valuable and important. They are valuable and important if only for the fact that if “anti-metaphysical” historicism does actually conceal a metaphysical commitment, it is “critique” and “theory” that will be able to identify that commitment and not “anti-metaphysical” historicism (which is not for a second to suggest that the same person can’t shift between the two epistemological dispositions). Moreover, “critique” and “theory” provide considerable resources for orienting action, decisions, etc. toward a future that remains a question, whereas “anti-metaphysical” historicism can only privilege the present as the proper ground for assessing the success, failure or worth of a given programme, discipline, etc..

Finally, when Hunter chooses to make use of the optional sneer, it’s very hard not to read his work as a delegitimation of theory, critique, etc. on account of the latter’s lack of an a-historical (i.e. metaphysical) ground. Surely it’s a reasonable response, in light of that critical effect as it were, to say:

(1) so what? the same can be said of all human endeavours and so the project of critique, in the anti-metaphysical view, cannot be seen as any less legitimate than any other project. Moreoever, critique and theory both aspire towards the same challenging of metaphysics and so such historicism amounts to one of the strategies of critique, etc..

(2) critique and theory remain valuable for their “problematizing power” (to use the words of the sneer-free Hunter), which is to say their potential both to diagnose metaphysical commitments and to open practices, institutions, ideas, etc. to other possibilities (hence to a future that is not the simple continuation of the present).

So to repeat what I’ve said all along, I think there’s a great deal of value in Hunter’s work. When I respond critically to what he argues it is in order to challenge what is implied by the tone by showing how its dream of critique/theory being made completely restricted and utterly impotent conceals all manner of metaphysical commitments and in order to problematise, particularly, his commitment to the present (and to a specific conception of governmentality) as the proper ground for assessing the worth and effectiveness of projects. It’s the implications that we are invited to draw from his work — and only some of them — that are problematic, rather than the substance (so to speak).

By on 06/23/08 at 10:47 PM | Permanent link to this comment

O.K. Some more of my $.02 worth. Faillibilism, the revision of judgments in the light of further experience, has long since been part of the conceptual set of all modern thinkers, and it is closely aligned with the gathering thinking through of human finitude. (It is by no means the exclusive property of empiricist strains, though it is one of the strong points of empiricist thinking). And I certainly didn’t mean to imply that Prof. Holbo has some sort of crude lack of awareness of the issues and problems involved, (though he’s using Hunter as a stalking horse for his own position, without spelling out just what he’s thinking on his own). The question I raised was how falsifications come about and what sorts of stakes they involve, very broadly within, roughly an inferentialist and quasi-behavioral account, not strictly concerning just scientific cases. (And, mind, I’ve only read Hunter 1, not Jameson 1 or Hunter 2, except for doled out morsels, so I can’t even tell how bad Jameson’s allegedly poor response really was). The constructive suggestion I would have here, rather than fruitlessly arguing over who, implausibly, is or is not faillibilistic, or exchanging accusations over wild mis-inferences, mis-attributions, or mis-recognitions, (since arguments aim, among other things, at falsifying opponents’ positions, and “argument” is a semantically ambiguous word), it might be useful to speak in terms of the temptations of faillibilism, since obviously faillibilism does not render anyone infallible, and no modern person with some minimal competence to argue is going to disclaim or miss the point about faillibility. Rather the point is to examine the implications of the notion. And, mind, at least according to me, we are not dealing here with the issue of a properly faillibilist philosophy, but of faillibility of philosophy itself, even its outright failure and falsification, with the issue of the differentiation and disunity of “Reason”, which surrounds debates over “post-structuralist Theory” with their ire and vexation, provoking charges of irrationalism, relativism, reactionary Counter-Enlightenment and nihilism. It is not just a matter of a suitable philosophical modesty and carefulness, though there is nothing wrong with that and they might even be accounted virtues, but they are not somehow self-sufficiently the “cure”.

Popper famously elevated faillibilism to a supreme criterion, though the thought itself was hardly original, and he derived “falsification” from a commonplace logical criticism of induction, while holding to the notion of the hypothetico-deductive method as the key to science. But then falsification was to be the “demarcation” criterion between valid scientific knowledge and any other claim to know or body of knowledge or lore. But I’ve never understood how he thought that might work as a demarcation criterion, since he fails to provide an account of how ideas or theoretical proposals are derived, such that they might be eminently worthy of empirical testing. (Something like Peirce’s account of “abduction” is required). Further, his account of empirical falsification is too restricted and narrowly tailored, since empirical tests react against theoretical concepts in more-or-less complex ways, and no single test or its result is decisive, nor are scientific concepts somehow ever completely testable, or reducible, as whole theories, to operationalized terms. (Lakatos would speak of lacking an adequate account to distinguish from “naive falsificationism” and Kuhn, who, though I’m no fan, Hunter let’s off a gratuitous sneer at, would speak of “normal science"). But of course, Popper goes on to use his falsification criterion to disqualify from any claim to truth or knowledge anything that did not meet his notion of empirical testing. (He so stigmatized Darwinian evolution, though he later withdrew that allegation, and neo-classical economics, pointing out, partly correctly, that they could draw those graphs any which way). But it was most of all “historicism” that incurred his wrath. Now I myself prefer to restrict the term “science” to the natural sciences, whereas social “sciences” I prefer to term studies, which are formal-rational disciplines and potentially informative, but for a number of reasons lack the determinacy and definitive results of the natural sciences,- (though the case might be different if we were peaking the German “Wissenschaft"), and the case of the “humanities”, though also formal-rational disciplines and potentially informative, is still different, as not addressing real causal conditions and structural constraints, but rather possibilities of self-understanding. However, there are ways in which conceptions, even bodies of knowledge, which are not amenable to more-or-less direct empirical tests can be subject to falsification through the course of worldly experience, though that, of course, is not an infaillible criterion of faillibility. The further, broader point that I tried to make is that faillibilism does not just concern purely cognitive issues, but involves an ethical-existential dimension, and, where relevant, socio-political issues. (Though the “more-radical-than-thou” posturings and the substitution of a merely academic literary politics for the real and dispiriting work of politics in literary studies is cause for irritation, since the domain of literature, after all, is sheerly imaginary, and rightly so. But I suspect that Hunter’s appeal to the “personal and civic” effects of “intellectual personae” is precisely a depoliticizing move, an effort to evade any public-political contention). And I would hope that we could agree that, even though there is no Truth, there are truths, i.e. cognitive validity claims that can be, however provisionally, faillibly, or conditionally, supported or sustained, which, though conditioned and conditional, normatively and counterfactually, lay claim to a “force” beyond the empirical conditions in which they are raised, even though we shall never enter into a “final” Truth, (which is a theological remnant, which actually counts against the Peircean community of inquirers), and some sum-total of truths shall never attain the sheer openness at which they putatively aim,but nonetheless truth-claims bear an earth-bound remnant of that openness toward others and the world, even and precisely at their most factual. But truth is a different normative dimension from the ethical, which concerns rightness, justice, goodness, which can’t in any simple way be derived from truth, nor vice versa. It makes some sense to speak of an ethics of truth, but at least part of that ethics would involve an eschewal and even occlusion of ethics, of any claim to justice, for the sake of the factual accuracy of truth. So the stakes of faillibilism, the failure of validity claims, can not readily be resolved in terms of a procedural criterion for “truth” which would overarchingly decide the question. Who’s truth, whose experience, who shares in or is excluded by the possession of “truth”, which and whose possibilities does “truth” allow or disallow, what possiblities or alternative arrangements or configurations does the “truth” render possible or alternatively what failures and costs must the “truth” be accountable for? A nice neat distinction between a cognitive validity-claim and an ethical-normative one is that in the former case when the factual conditions of the claim fail, the cognitive claim is held to account and must be conceptually revised, but when the factual conditions of the normative claim fail, the facts are held to account and must be revised, (which, of course, does not mean faked). Or, at least, that would be a nice neat distinction, were it not an articulation of a norm of cognition. Perhaps the upshot here is that there are multiple forms or kinds of failure of validities, and wearing a hair-shirt of prideful humility is not least among them. Mind, I do not in the least mean to attribute to Prof. Holbo a Popperian account of faillibilism, and I would suspect that he might at least partly agree with me in criticizing it. Popper is cited precisely as a really bad form of faillibilism, which is used as a cudgel to beat down opponents, without taking any account as to what they might be up to, and without any differentiation of domains of understanding. I agree with Wittgenstein and his iron poker.

I’m going beddy-bye now, without getting to the end of my screed. But I’ll try to get back tomorrow. Part 2 is the much better case of Habermas, which still might have some short-comings. Then there is the question of Kant, which Prof. Holbo was insistent on identifying as the source of continental philosophy, even though no one here, or, as far as I read, on the old LS thread, actually disagreed with him. I suspect that there is a disagreement, though, over the validity of Kant’s basic moves against empiricism and then the subsequent fate of the transcendental turn, even if we agree over its influence. (And if Kant is at the source of the subsequent problematics of continental philosophy, then attributing “post-structuralist Theory” to his effects is a trivial syllogism). Finally, there is a question about “reification” and whether it is a real phenomenon and whether empiricism possesses adequate resources to identify and deal with the problem. But that’s all for now.

By on 06/24/08 at 04:07 AM | Permanent link to this comment

O.K. So let’s poke around a bit in Habermas, though it’s been a good while since I read up on him and I’m not up on the latest news. Habermas definitely derives from continental philosophy, and his stance amounts to a kind of neo-neo-Kantianism. But he is oriented toward social “science” and its empirical claims and toward a reception of Analytic philosophy. Further, he has obsessively proclaimed his faillibilist orientation in stitching together his grand theoretical project at least since that peculiar debate over positivism in the social sciences between Popper and Adorno and their respective surrogates. (Though “Knowledge and Human Interests” fell victim to quite conceptual criticisms, following on his subsequent debate with Gadamer). Habermas claims that embedded in everyday communicative (inter-)action in the life-world, which provides the unquestioned set of resources and assumptions by which participants interpretively understand each other’s performances, there is already immanent a set of validity-claims that are quasi-teleologically directed at an “ideal speech situation”, in which they would be argumentatively “justified” and sustained. Whenever there would be a break-down in the understandings of the life-world in communicative interaction, discursive argumentation directed toward the “redemption” of implicit validity claims could ensue. And there are three kinds of validity embedded in such interaction which would give rise to three forms of discursive argumentation, cognitive truth, ethical rightness, and expressive sincerity or authenticity, which are three dimensions involved in every speech-act.  But there are already a number of problems here. Why just three validity-claims and dimensions? O.K., there are three “worlds” in the life-world, the world, our world, and my world, which give three genera, but are there no species and subspecies? Leaving aside any account of speech-acts as deriving sheerly from mental intentions and the question of how they would be meaningfully identified and separated out interpretively, speech-act theory is incomplete and would require an account of speech-reception or speech interaction, since speech always occurs across and as a relation to an other, which is in some sense “prior” to any speech-act, as stimulating or soliciting it. And the full contextual background of any speech-act can not be fully recuperated by any such speech-act, nor a succession of them. And not only do speech-acts combine several dimensions of signification in their actually embedded occurrence, and not only are many speech acts in everyday life “failures”, riddled with misfires, miscues and other distortions, but many speech-acts legitimately are of mixed kinds, rather than paradigmatic instances. So how exactly are speech-acts to be abstracted out of and selected from their occurrences in the life-world “atomically” to become instances of discursive “redemption” of their claims? And what exactly would be the motivation for such efforts at discursive argumentation? The sheer functional reproduction of the life-world and with it the social “system”? But then there is a more basic aporetic problem with respect to the transfer from the life-world to discursive argumentation in the “ideal speech situation” and about the relation between life-world and “system”. The life-world is supposed to provide an unproblematic background for understanding of social interactions within it, but as soon as such understandings break-down, the life-world recedes and discursive argumentation is to take hold. But then on what basis does discursive argumentation occur to resolve disagreements and conflicts, and how would any such resolution be embedded back into the life-world? An hermeneutically thicker account of the life-world would seem to be required to effect such a transition, but that would also tend to forestall and render problematic such a transition, (which, further on, comes to haunt Habermas’ account in terms of the problem of the relation between universal moral norms of rightness and particular “ethical” communities, among other issues). Habermas deals with the problem by a “pre-established harmony” claim, that the life-worlds of modern societies are already oriented, via the rationalization processes in modernity, toward the discursive “redemption” of validity claims, inspite of the fact or claim that such modern rationalization processes have been destructively or oppressively one-sided, and that the life-worlds of modern societies have been “colonized” by the functional “imperatives” of system reproduction and their “steering-media” of money and power. But then, exactly how the distinction between life-world and system is to be made out is not exactly clear “topologically”, since the life-world must be intersticial to system reproduction and the system must depend for its reproduction on the transmissions and understandings of human communications. (It could only be an analytic distinction, like that between the relations and forces of production, rather than a substantive one). But then how does the “ideal speech situation”, which is supposed to provide for the counterfactual “force” of norms already embedded in social life, fit in? What are its fora or forums, in the distinction between system and life-world? Leaving behind the notion of ideology as “systematically distorted communication”, Habermas relies on a procedural specification, which would putatively evade the implication that consensual understandings might nonetheless be pervaded by power-relations. “Universal pragmatics” is supposed to be a “reconstructive science”, (like Chomskyan linguistics, since it ultimately relies for its data on the intuitions of native informants), which is supposed to have faillibilistic premises and be subject to a revision of its proposals. And, to be sure, the overall project is to construct a critical social science that can have action-guiding implications to social groups within social systems without imposing its requirements upon them, but rather assuring a two-way street between the proposals of the science and the situatedness of social agents. But then the identity condition which would allow for such a science, via the “ideal speech situation”, “universal pragmatics”, and systems theory, is a consensus theory of “truth”, which would connect up the faillibility of social “scientific” proposals with the faillability of social relations. Now, it makes sense that truths of sufficient generality would tend toward consensus, but that would because they are true, not because they invite consensus. But not only are the various dimensions of validity not necessarily amenable to argumentative validation in the same way,- (and, in particular, I’d suspect that moral-ethical arguments are not of the same kind, nor as readily resolvable as cognitive issues, with Habermas’ position, I’d take it, being a species of moral cognitivism),- and not only is there the problem of distinguishing “true” from “false” consensus, since there is not necessarily, nor can there quite be, any guarantee that all parties to a consensus understand it in the same way, nor that their understandings are free from any illegitimate or dominative asymmetries, not withstanding formal-procedural stipulations, but the goal of consensus,- (which might not actually be held by any participants as their heart’s own desire),- amounts to a quasi-transcendental stipulation, in order to underwrite the whole project. Mind, such consensus is not a matter of that underlying agreement of judgments which nonetheless strangely leaves logic intact, of which Wittgenstein writes, which concerns the meanings/usages of words, (though Habermas’ account of argumentation allows for opening up disputes over meanings used, if necessary), but concerns referential validity-claims with extensive and extensional import, which are supposed to legitimate and criticize social relations and their effects in terms of their being, broadly speaking, in “truth”. Such an idea of consensus, supposedly already embedded in ordinary speech, itself embedded in the needs of social reproduction, as its telos, through the counterfactual force of the idealizations involved in validity claims, is supposed to constitute the “normative foundations” of a critical social science, by which both social relations and the proposed knowledge thereof can be opened to at once to criticism and to faillible revision, (though, again, just how such a critical social science would be structured into already structured social systems, relations and conceptions, and how it would hold sway over or influence determinately their functional “imperatives”, structural constraints, and power-relations and guide projects of social action has never been clear to me). But there is just the rub: consensus is presupposed even as it is quasi-teleologically aimed at and proclaimed as “universal” amidst the welter of social conflicts. Now, politically speaking, I’m highly sympathetic to the aim of a broadly participatory and deliberative democracy within a republican framework of governance. But it simply can not be assumed that social processes either tend toward or aim at “universal” consensus, nor is it the case that all the possibilities and potentials of present, let alone futural, social reality could be gathered together in such a consensus. And such consensus is determined as much by its exclusions as its inclusions, nor are those inclusions and exclusions simply determined by a clear-cut separation of the valid from the invalid. Such a “universal”, counterfactually idealized consensus can fail and be falsified in ways other than those intended by its aim of faillible revisability. (E.g., Habermas’ own expressed support for the bombing of Serbia, in the name of the enforcement of “international law”, support for which, in the Kantian tradition, in turn, is traceable to Habermas’ account of law as having the “moral” function of the juridical “disemburdenment” of the relations of the modern, emancipated life-world). Habermas’ consensus theory of truth has always had a “cart-before-the-horse” feel to me, as if it is to function in anticipation of the success of its own faillibilism, which it identifies with its own “emancipatory” aim.

But let me poke a bit more at the corpus of Habermas, since the issue of the faillibility of his faillibilism has some still broader import or implication. Habermas claims that modern societies have developed in terms of one-sided processes of societal rationalization of institutional structures and social action, whereby the life-world has come to be “colonized” and reified by the functional imperatives of system integration, to the potential detriment of both, but that modernity also contains elements of a broader and emancipatory rationality, which offer the prospect of a more balanced and two-sided or multi-dimensional societal rationalization. In other words, the “project” of modernity has been distorted and is incomplete and Habermas proposes his grand syncretic theory as the undistortion and completion of that “project”. And on that basis, he not only attempts to reconstruct a conception of post-metaphysical “Reason”, but opposes “post-modernism” and the “totalized self-referential critique of Reason”. Habermas correctly claims that modern continental philosophy, (including Marx), has been bound up with the metaphysical subjectivism of the “philosophy of consciousness” with its subject-object model and conceptual resources, which result in a number of impasses, short-circuits, and distortions in its thinking, culminating in an instrumentalist reduction of reason and rationality and the paradox of a rationally motivated rejection of reason. Counterposed to that, he takes the “linguistic turn” and proposes a way out of the impasses of metaphysical subjectivism through his communicative conception of reason. However, Habermas’ version of executing the “linguistic turn” ends up producing conceptions of agency, cognition, interpretive understanding, morality, and communication that bear curiously a quite close resemblance to the (models of) such conceptions in the prior, supposedly superceded tradition. (As just one example, he insists that learning is an entirely individual process, that neither systems, nor social groups can learn, which strikes me as a curiously one-sided half-truth, almost insisting on blindness to the conditions in which individual learning and experience occur).  Transposing the problems with the concept of the subject, (which is an epistemological ground or agent of grounding, traditionally identified with consciousness), onto the plane of “intersubjective” communication does not resolve so much as displace the problems with the notion of subjectivity and its entanglements onto a different level or plane. (Luhman notes that the concept of a subject nowadays has lost any function and amounts to an empty, residual word, and, of course, Heidegger made out that the subject, as the knower of the object, was a reflex of the latter, as what is at once not the object, but tied to and conformable to it, or, in other words, that the subjectivist turn in modern metaphysics, conventionally beginning with Descartes, was a reflex and off-shoot of the core metaphysical concept of “substance”). Not only does linguistic communication not necessarily partake of the transparency and univocity supposedly attributable to reflective consciousness, and not only should the turn to language bring out the ways in which it constitutes our disclosive openness to the world and exposure to others as different, and thus how our “subjectivity”, that is, our self-conception and self-understanding as (social) selves and agents is “constituted” and structured through language, but the attribution of “communication” to “intersubjectivity”,- (yes, I am diagnosing a scrap of phantasy there),- still contains some of the anthropocentric self-referentiality of untenable notions of “transcendental subjectivity” and “collective subjectivity”, which block of questions as to how language maps onto the world and how the world emerges into language, which are not simply the “production” of any sort of human activity. (In other words, there remains a residue of epistemological self-certification in Habermas’ thinking, which began with the attempt to pursue epistemology as social science in “Knowledge and Human Interests”). But Habermas’ attempt to construct an account of communicative reason makes considerable sense, nonetheless, in terms of the impasses of Adorno’s “Aesthetic Theory” that were bequeathed to him. The realm of art and aesthetic experience for Adorno served not only as a repository for those meanings, potentials, expressive resources, and rationales which were split-off from and suppressed by the rigidifications and reifications of functionalized and instrumentalized social relations and communications, but as a locus of resistance to that world and a placeholder for the (absent) praxis toward an emancipated social condition, which would no longer be subject to the reifications of “identity thinking”. (Adorno’s work is a reflexive self-liquidating self-critique of the Marxian tradition, which seeks to preserve the deepest motivations and resources of that tradition of thought, while breaking with its untenable received forms, transposing and transforming them somewhat indeterminately onto another futural “plane”, and thus would be analogous to Heidegger’s relation to the tradition of continental metaphysics and idealism, and Wittgenstein’s relation to that of logical empiricism). The hope would be by constructing a communicative transformation of reason from without the impasses of subject-object thinking, those suppressed critical potentials could be brought back to bear on a critique of the present society and a renewal of emancipatory, socially transformative praxis within it. But Habermas glosses over something of the trenchancy of Adornian aporetics, which does not simply demonstrate the impasses of the conceptual resources of metaphysical subjectivism, but breaks out of them, insofar as the works and concepts that he exactingly interprets are repeatedly shown to be embedded in and imprinted by the worldly infrastructure of material production, all the more so, the more they abstract themselves from it and attempt to proclaim their “autonomy”. Insofar as Habermas abstracts “communication” from its structured embeddedness, he repeats something of that error, and he ties himself to the present structures of society that he claims to criticize. The economy is a “system of payments”, as systems theory styles it, but, more fundamentally, it is a system of material production that not only determines the quantities, composition, and distribution of the resources available to social life, but profoundly imprints and enchains the organization of its institutions. No, the system of material production does not produce the whole of society, as if it were a substitute for idealist “mind” or Geist, but nor can it be abstracted from it and left intact to its own devices in the name of the intractable complexity of “system integration”. That is then the broadest implication of the faillibility of Habermas’ faillibilism and its potential falsification, the way in which his project for the full “completion” of the project of modernity causes it to become entangled in the very extant structures and systems of the society it would purport to criticize. That is why some critics of Habermas, (such as, among others, the J.M. Bernstein), appeal back to Adorno, not out of any post-modernist “celebration” of an historical break with modernity, but in the name of alternative modernities, in conception, organization and practice.

This excursion into the work of Habermas is not to make him out to be stupid, by any means. The question marks I have placed over various points in his work no doubt have careful, well thought-out and detailed responses in that work, which I, at any rate, am no expert on. Rather Habermas is chosen as a best case example of a highly reflective, critically informed fallibillism. And Habermas is open in his intellectual practice and almost eager to seek out and engage in dialogue with his critics, and elaborates further proposals to answer problems arising from his own previous work or from criticisms of it by others. But I wanted to make the point that the issue concerns not the faillibility of faillibilism, but what I termed, mischievously, following out Wittgenstein’s constant confessions of his own intellectual temptations, the temptations involved in faillibilism. Faillibilism is, after all, a conceptual/normative commitment that all modern thinkers and thinking persons hold to, but it is only one conceptual/normative commitment among the set of such commitments that they would hold to and might be entangled with or in contradictory tension with those other commitments. It is not that faillibilism fails; it’s just that obviously faillibilism doesn’t guarantee its own success, and nothing else does. (I myself think Derrida’s rhetoric of hyperbolic skepticism, as if metaphysical groundlessness were a perennial scandal, which nonetheless keeps drawing us back into metaphysics, doesn’t serve his case. After all, he doesn’t really think that ordinary referential statements don’t occur, as afforded by some syntax in our language, and that any such ordinary referential statement amounts to a metaphysical totalization or appeals to one, eh? Yes, I get that he is criticizing the drive to philosophical systematization, which all but inevitably results in its own failure at some point, and the point that, though there is actually no “center” to any system, the desire for a “center” is inevitable and so recurrently infects our thinking, such that one of the main “objects” of his critique amounts to a species of transcendental illusion. But surely the point and task of what rob would see as theoretical critique, and which I think might be approached in less theoristic forms, is not to abolish or undermine conceptual/normative commitments, but rather to elucidate them by examining their situatedness in the contigent contexts in which they are applied.) So, to repeat my key thesis, the point about faillibilism is to examine just how various sets of inferences comprising the structured, (i.e. organized and governed by sets or “systems” of rules, which, no, do not somehow operate themselves), frameworks by which we form our conceptions and self-conceptions of the world and our existences within it, might fail or be falsified, since that does not occur in any single, nor in any simple way, and what the consequences might be in the re-formation of such structured frameworks.  rob made more abstractly an analoguous point in questioning whether there is or could be a continuous or recurrent self-identity to the concept of faillibilism, identifying that notion in turn as a “metaphysical” commitment. The issue is not trivial or negligible, since it concerns how arguments or criticisms tell or don’t tell when it is a matter of debates across markedly different frameworks. Which, in turn, concerns the protocol of such debates, which is not simply a matter of good manners or of necessary bad faith, whether anything is to be gained or learned from such debates and whether any progress can be made, and whether there may or may not be good normative/conceptual reasons for resisting defeasances on specific points, even faux de mieux.

I’d promised to address the question of the validity of Kant’s criticism of Hume and empiricism and the fate of the transcendental turn, and I’d meant to make a brief comment on Davidson’s criticism of the very idea of a conceptual scheme, since I suspect that’s where Prof. Holbo is coming from or headed. I’d also mentioned the issue of reification, since a version of that is part of what Hunter is sneering at, or pooh-poohing, or taking umbrage with, and whether reification is simply a projection or artefact or byproduct of idealist metaphysical subjectivism, or whether, outside of that framework, it comprises a real and fairly widespread philosophical issue or “object” of criticism. But I’m leaving off for now. Maybe later.

By on 06/25/08 at 08:40 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I haven’t had time to contribute again substantively, but I mean to come back to all this fairly soon - I mean in a few days. Thanks for the good comments.

By John Holbo on 06/25/08 at 09:50 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Add a comment:

Name:
Email:
Location:
URL:

 

Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below: