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Habermas and the Role of Universities in Communicative Action

Habermas and the Role of Universities in Communicative Action

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HABERMAS AND THE ROLE OF UNIVERSITIES IN COMMUNICATIVE ACTION Thomas McCarthy, when translating Habermas’ Legitimation Crisis, gave

the following remarks in the Introduction: “Habermas can be quite difficult to read… it makes unusual demands on the reader, assuming some familiarity with a wide range of disciplines (from economics to ethics), authors (from Kant to Parsons), and approaches (from systems theory to phenomenology).”1 Habermas’ critical theory surely takes into consideration several great writers before him, most noted are Marx and Weber. In two of his early publications, Habermas concentrated on the issues of politics and legitimation. The critical social theory of Habermas can be traced even in his early attempts to criticize the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Kant was said to have concluded that “it is entirely impossible for we (sic) humans to explain how and why… morality interests us…” 2 Contrary to this, Habermas was said to have remarked that “self-reflection, in which the ego makes itself transparent to itself as action that returns into itself,” can actually resolve Kant’s dilemma. Hence, it would be seen that for Habermas, morality is necessarily tried with reason, and the warranted assertions of reason, for Habermas, would become possible only when human persons begin to discourse among themselves. This is also the reason why Habermas was reacting against positivism. Habermas believes that positivism limits man’s capacity for self-reflection. This is why positivism is dangerous rather than productive. The kind of dogmatism that positivism espouses hinders the growth of the society. With this then, Habermas encourages the realization of a society that allows the birth and practice of discourse. Partly he agrees with Dilthey on this end saying that there has to be an attempt to describe the “intersubjectivity of mutual understanding within whose horizon reality can first appear as something.”3 The concept of intersubjectivity would later develop to become the communicative action, which for Habermas is essential in establishing the truth. Habermas is espousing a theory of communicative competence 4 which provides him the critical standard for looking at modern society. Habermas was critical, as mentioned, of the dogmatism of positivism. He regards theories as translatable to practice, that is, they must be practical in the sense that they must have their normative value in the society. Habermas was alarmed at the kind of naivety that is slowly forming in the Universities of the 1960’s. He warns against the danger whereby theories become technical powers that are impractical, that is, without being expressly oriented to the interaction of a community of human beings.”5

In his first essay in Towards a Rational Society, Habermas was complaining against the seeming neglect of the true functions of the Universities. He warns the universities against the thinking that “research and instruction… have to do only with the production and transmission of technologically exploitable knowledge.”6 He even inquires on whether we
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Jurgen Habermas, Legitimation Crisis, trans. Thomas McCarthy. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973), viii. Geoffrey Hawthorn, “The Interest of Scientific Knowledge,” Science Studies, vol. 3, no. 1 (1973), 78. 3 Hawthorn 1973: 81. Although, Hawthorn also claimed that Habermas disagreed with Dilthey because the latter fails to see that “language… is essentially connected to a structure of communication and as such arises out of interests.” (Hawthorn 1973: 81) 4 Hawthorn 1973: 83. 5 Hawthorn 1973: 84 6 Jurgen Habermas, Towards a Rational Society, trans. Jeremy Shapiro. (London: Heinemann, 1971), 4.
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should restrict education only to those things which are socially functional and useful. Even years after the time Habermas, it seems that many universities are doing the same. The sciences (natural sciences) and engineering reign supreme while the rest of the disciplines dwindle. Habermas was particularly alarmed against this tendency and gave a strong remark against it: "Can and should the university today restrict itself to what appears to be the only socially necessary function and at best institutionalize what remains of traditional cultivation of personality as a separate educational subject divorced from the enterprise of knowledge?”7 He however gave an immediate reply: “I should like to argue against this suggestive illusion and advance the thesis that under no circumstances can the universities dispense with the three tasks I have mentioned.”8 These three tasks are: a. the university has the responsibility of ensuring that its graduates are equipped, no matter how indirectly, with a minimum of qualifications in the area of extra-functional abilities. b. The university needs to transmit, interpret, and develop the cultural tradition of the society. c. The university has also to form the political consciousness of its students. Habermas seems to argue that the third task of the university started to emerge after the Second World War. In the past, the teachings in the University were mostly apolitical. The instructions were mostly content-based, and are oftentimes taken for granted. Even in positivism, it can be seen that the dogmatism of the sciences simply reduces the universityexperience into learning the contents of the disciplines. But after the Second World War, a kind of political consciousness was starting to form. This time, Habermas describes, “student governments were occupied with current political issues and student political organization were welcomed and promoted.” 9 With these new developments, the culture of the universities was also changed. The professors themselves, especially those who would like to preserve the tradition are even also confronted with an alternative. These tendencies of some students to become politically active has somehow affected the development of what is now so-called the democratization of universities whereby the university, particularly of Habermas’ context in Germany, asserted themselves even within the democratic system. In democracy, we have the so-called rationalization of choice which can happen only within an unconstrained discussion. For in it, Habermas believes, consensus is possible to achieve and only such consensus could legitimize the pursuance of one particular course of action. Such system now becomes the pattern for Habermas’ ideal for communicative action. He affirms the importance of the form of political decision making that is appropriate for the society’s aim towards the truth. Habermas argues that “decisions are supposed to be made equally dependent on a consensus arrived at in a discussion that is free from domination. 10 With this then, public discourse is supposed to eliminate all force other than that of the better argument. In a democratic university, the force of the better argument is upheld. 11 This means that Habermas is optimistic enough to claim that reason will certainly enlighten men, who would eventually come up with a decision that is based primarily on the better reason.

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Habermas 1971: 4. Habermas 1971: 4. 9 Habermas 1971: 5. 10 Habermas 1971: 7. 11 Habermas however remarked that consensus should not be taken as a majority. He said that “majority decisions are only held to be only a substitute for the uncompelled consensus that would finally result if the discussion did not always have to be broken off owing to the need for a decision.” (Habermas 1971: 7)
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This means however that there are no privileged places in the society, not even philosophy. Philosophy and sciences have to be self-reflective, and even critical of itself. Habermas even claims that the need for interdisciplinary researches and studies are only eventual products of science’s self-reflection. Habermas for example says, “I consider it philosophical enlightenment when philosophers learn from recent psycholinguistic investigations of the learning of grammatical rules to comprehend the causal connection of speech and language.”12 The need to consider grammar rules and psychoanalytic theories even among philosophers is but a product of philosophy’s self-reflection, self-critique, that allows philosophy to see itself stripped of its traditional benefits and prejudices. Habermas seems to argue that the need to become interdisciplinary in our approach is not just an act of accommodating other disciplines into philosophy. The more pressing call behind this is the realization that if philosophers would really want to be engaged in a real discourse about the truth, philosophy could not but be mindful of the voices of others. The last three articles of the book brings out a discussion about science and technology. Here Habermas reminds the readers of the danger of the instrumental thinking that the sciences bring. Positivism brings about the false ideals of “control.” Knowledge in the recent teachings of the sciences, natural sciences in particular, are control-oriented. Oftentimes, they lack the kind of reflection that Habermas espouses even of philosophy. Habermas was particularly questioning the kind of power that scientists and experts enjoy as if none can be over them. These people become dictators of our time. This flows especially from the pragmatist’s point of view which accords to scientists and technologists the unlimited capacity to decide on which things are to be done in accordance with practical needs. The scientists and technologists are the ones oftentimes consulted regarding the performance of many things, thereby rendering them a kind of delegated freedom and influence. In this situation, Habermas says, “scientists are held accountable to no one.”13 On the other hand, Habermas also rejects Marcuse’s total abhorrence from technology. He does not agree to the thinking that “since science by virtue of its own method and concepts has projected and promoted a universe in which the domination of nature has remained linked to the domination of man – which is fatal, so science must change.14 Habermas may have disagreed with the instrumental reasoning positivism, but he also does not deny the importance of the sciences. So, he tried to strike the middle ground and says, “A scientized society could constitute itself as a rational one only to the extent that science and technology are mediated with the conduct of life through the minds of its citizens.”15 Further, Habermas says, “public, unrestricted discussion, free from domination, of the suitability and desirability of action-orienting principles and norms in the light of the socio-cultural repercussions of developing systems of purposive-rational action – such as communication at all levels of political and repoliticized decision-making processes is the only medium in which anything like rationalization is possible.”16 Habermas claims that unless we work on the realization of this kind of communication in the society, then we would be dragged to a place where we may not want to go. Scientism is forming its own ideology and we have to be careful not to succumbed to the temptation of naivety, compromise and sloth. The presence of the student wanting the democratization of the universities are already strong manifestations for Habermas to believe that there is a hope for the future. As long as we continue the search, Habermas seems to argue, we would not really be found wanting of the truth. A society, even if it is one confronted with the
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Habermas 1971:8. Hawthorn 1973: 85. 14 Habermas 1971: 86; cf. Hawthorn 1973: 85. 15 Habermas 1971: 79-80; cf. Hawthorn 1973: 85. 16 Habermas 1971: 119.
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emergence of science and technology, could still remain to be self-directed, self-guided and rational through the way of achieving reasonable consensus. HABERMAS’ LEGITIMATION CRISIS The second book for my presentation, Legitimation Crisis, continues to forward the same Habermasian call for communicative action and the establishment of a kind of consensus that can be achieved through the employment and the force of the better argument. However the difference of the second book lies on the object of the criticism. Whereas the book Towards a Rational Society was concentrating on the birthing of democratic universities and the ethical questions that accompany the evolution (revolution) of science and technology, the Legitimation Crisis is more centered on Marx’s theory or critique against societies. With the advent of capitalism especially during the 19th century, the problem of distribution has already become a major issue. Capitalism is often accused of the uneven distribution of the goods of the state, wherein most of the wealth of the world goes to the hands of the few influential ones, whereas the majority of the people share among themselves the little that is left behind. Capitalism is oftentimes blamed for the perpetuation of poverty for the continuing/widening gap between the rich and the poor. Seeing this inherent problem in a capitalistic society, Marx has reacted against the system and proposed the Dialectical materialism that we know. Reacting to the Hegelian triad, Marxism claimed that capitalism legitimizes the case of revolution because the poor are undergoing great poverty, which seemed to be ignored and neglected only by the rich people of the society. In Marx’s time then, he had reasons to legitimize his project under the question of justice for there was clearly a culture of discontent and oppression on the part of the poor. However, Habermas noted that these things are already changed. Advanced capitalism is no longer the same capitalism that was present in the time of Marx. The difference mainly lies on two areas: the concept of reward and the amount of intervention that the government may exert on the many aspects of contemporary man’s life. First difference: the rewards Habermas observes that the Marxian dichotomy between the guilty employers and the oppressed employees is already erased by the complicated system of rewards that the contemporary society has created. The creation of powerful unions within organization has afforded already the workers a strong means to negotiate their needs with the administration.17 Our current set-up of the Collective Bargaining Agreement somehow approximates the needs and even demands of the workers. Hence, the Marxian presupposition of an oppressed and denied workers no longer exists because the workers are in many senses compensated. Second difference: government intervention One of the problematic areas of capitalism’s cry for self-direction is the mistaken presupposition that a private business industry can be absolutely autonomous from the state. For quite a time in Marx’s time, economic dictators and the monopolies really had their time dictating whatever they wanted with the market. But with the progress of our human civilization, we also realize that the political set-up was also changed. Nowadays, the
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Habermas even says, “In Marxist terms, “class compromise” of a sort has become part of the structure of advanced capitalism; the real income of the dependent workers depend not only on exchange relations in the market but on the relations of political power as well.” (Thomas McCarthy, The Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989), 358)
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government is no longer deprived of control because in many ways the government already influences the affairs even of private businesses. The regulations for the taxes, pricing and many other means submits the private businesses to the controlling hands of the government. Hence, the original Marxist proposition which says that the government lacks intervention to the state is already passé. With these developments then, Habermas sees another issue that merits our attention and reflection: the question about the legitimate inequitable distribution of th18e wealth that is socially produced.19 For Habermas then, there is no longer the economic crisis present in the time of Marx, for his situation is no longer the same as ours. But what we now have is a possible legitimation crisis, how legitimate is the kind of capitalism that we do? Habermas seems to say that in the advanced capitalism, the classes are somehow dissolved, and so the target for the social transformation has also become unnamed. There is a danger of depoliticizing the public sphere because of the paraphernalia for compromise such as the growing appreciation and practice of the systems of rewards. Depoliticizing the public sphere also connoted the danger of quieting the people and falling into the temptation of compromise and indifference. Hence, for Habermas, it is important really that we should repoliticize the public sphere. It is here where Habermas puts his hope to the youth of the time (when he was writing the book). The tendency of the youth to question things again opens the door for discourse and communicative action. Habermas says, “youth becomes politically relevant in this situation not as a social class but as a critical phase in the socialization process.” Habermas does not believe that the youth could topple down an organization through a class conflict, but what he is hoping for is the positive outcome that the stimuli of protests from the youth are giving. The repoliticization of the public sphere through the protests of the youth (as mentioned in the book Towards a Rational Society) is for Habermas the “new conflict zone.” This he hopes could open a possibility for crisis that could legitimize the way we do things in our advanced capitalistic societies.

Prepared by: JOEL C. SAGUT JURGEN HABERMAS PROF. MICHAEL VASCO

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McCarthy 1989: 385. Cf. McCarthy 1989: 358.
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LEGITIMATION CRISIS Part I: A Social Scientific Concept of Crisis Chapter 1: System and the Life-world Chapter 2: Some Constituents of Social Systems Chapter 3: Illustration of Social Principles of Organization Chapter 4: System Crisis Elucidated Through the Example of Liberal Capitalist Crisis Cycle Part II: Crisis Tendencies in Advanced Capitalism Chapter 1: A descriptive model of advanced capitalism Chapter 2: Problems resulting from Advanced-Capitalist Growth Chapter 3: Classification of Possible Crisis-Tendencies Chapter 4: Theorems of Economic Crisis Chapter 5: Theorems of Rationality Crisis Chapter 6: Theorems of Legitimation Crisis (68) Chapter 7: Theorems of Motivation Crisis Part III: On the Logic of Legitimation Problems Chapter 1: Max Weber’s Concept of Legitimation Chapter 2: The Relation of Practical Questions to Truth Chapter 3: The Model of Suppression of Generalizable Interests Chapter 4: The end of the Individual? (117) Chapter 5: Complexity and Democracy (131) TOWARDS A RATIONAL SOCIETY 1 2 3 4 The University in a Democracy: Democratization of University Student Protest in the Federal Republic of Germany The Movement in Germany: A Critical Analysis Technical Progress and the Social Life-World

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The Scientization of Politics and Public Opinion Technology and Science as “Ideology”

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