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Labour, Politics and Emancipation, Arendt and the Historical Materialist Tradition

Labour, Politics and Emancipation, Arendt and the Historical Materialist Tradition

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Published by fusionulle
This is a Ph.D. thesis. In it I examine the concept of labour as it occurs in the tradition of Historical Materialism.
The way in which labour is defined, the position it has, and the role it plays within the tradition has major consequences for the political philosophy of Historical Materialism. Chapter 1 deals with Marx, chapter 2, opening the opposition to Historical Materialism, with Hannah Arendt, who I consider to be very underestimated in terms of the social ontology that she presents in 'The Human Condition'. Chapter 3 returns to Historical Materialism with the early publications of Jürgen Habermas (particularly his 'Theory of Communicative Action'). I discuss the merits and demerits of his position. In order to round off the tradition, chapter 4 turns the current neo-Marxists Hardt, Negri and Lazzarato. Chapter 5 offers a final discussion.
Ulrich Mühe ©2010
This is a Ph.D. thesis. In it I examine the concept of labour as it occurs in the tradition of Historical Materialism.
The way in which labour is defined, the position it has, and the role it plays within the tradition has major consequences for the political philosophy of Historical Materialism. Chapter 1 deals with Marx, chapter 2, opening the opposition to Historical Materialism, with Hannah Arendt, who I consider to be very underestimated in terms of the social ontology that she presents in 'The Human Condition'. Chapter 3 returns to Historical Materialism with the early publications of Jürgen Habermas (particularly his 'Theory of Communicative Action'). I discuss the merits and demerits of his position. In order to round off the tradition, chapter 4 turns the current neo-Marxists Hardt, Negri and Lazzarato. Chapter 5 offers a final discussion.
Ulrich Mühe ©2010

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Bernard Yack (2006) has recently argued against analyses of communication that attempt to
define the constitutive elements of arguments and processes of argumentation in terms of
such formal attributes as consistency, non-contradiction, clarity, etc. Habermas’ formal
analysis of language is an example of the approach Yack attacks because due to its pragma-
tism it leads to accounts of deliberation that are guided merely by formal factors.3

As much
use as such analyses may have, for Yack they do not serve to establish the criteria for what
counts as a stronger argument. The strength of an argument sometimes depends on criteria
that formal accounts discard. Aristotle, for example, considered appeals to emotion, which
formal analyses judge to be illegitimate or even fallacious, to be some of the strongest
means of argumentation. Firstly, emotive appeals are important and telling because they are
instructive. They have at least, so to say, educational purpose.4

If a speaker is already in ad-
vance forbidden to use appeals to authority or emotion then we cannot find out why, when
and in how far such appeals may indeed be insufficient.

Arguments that no one could reasonably defend or reject particular proposals
have an important part to play in public reasoning, but as part of a practice of
persuasion, not as its precondition or regulatory principle. In other words, it
does not disrupt the relationship between speakers and listeners in public rea-
soning to complain about each other’s unreasonable behavior. But it does
threaten that relationship and the practice it sustains when we demand some
norm of reasonableness as a condition of public engagement. (Yack, 2006,
p.430)

Secondly, such appeals also display something about the engagement of the speaker with
the topic about which he is talking. If uttered sincerely and not just in order to deceive the
audience about the speaker’s emotional attachment to a certain topic, then such appeals can
indicate how much someone cares for the issue under consideration. In the choice between
one detached and one involved speaker on a particular issue, there are often good reasons

3

See for example Knops (2006) who explicitly takes his analysis to develop Habermas’ approach

further.

4

A similar argument can be found in Mill’s (1978) defence of freedom of speech, where any rejection
of arguments on merely formal grounds is dismissed because it would prevent the engagement and thus re-
flection on such arguments.

Chapter III: Habermas

160

for preferring the involved one. Important for Yack is that we should not rule out such
strategies merely for the sake of complying with a pragmatic conception of language or
formal accounts of argumentation because there are cases in which appeals to authority or
emotion are justified.

Decisions about future action, as Aristotle insists in the Nicomachean Ethics
(1139b, 1113a), draw on an inseparable mix of desire and intellect, emotion and
reason. In other words, it requires a live reason propelled by desire out into the
world rather than the dead, emotionless reason that best serves legal judgment.
(op.cit., p.432)

Note that Yack specifies ‘decisions about future action’, thus, exactly those discussions for
which Habermas endorses a rigorous straightjacket when it comes to determine the
‘stronger argument’.5

Dead reason, impartial reasoning without emotion, may be worth trying to rec-
reate when adjudicating cases. But deliberation about what serves the common
advantage requires a living reason, reasoning informed by the emotions that in-
terest us in the consequences of our decisions. Since we need to call on our
emotions to help us judge the value of competing proposals, we must be willing
to accept the risks that they will mislead us as well. (op.cit., p.433)

All in all, we find here a much richer concept of discussion, particularly one which does not
hide the speaker behind ‘impartial reasons’ but brings him out. Even though no one can
hide his/her uniqueness completely (even if someone was to present something as impar-
tial as a scientific theory or mathematical theorem), Yack’s proposal emphasises this feature
when most accounts of reasoning still attempt to prevent it. Yack therefore implicitly ac-
knowledges that communication and coordination of future action is not merely a transfer-
ral of information, but that in every such instance the actor reveals himself in his action.
The individual element is not denied but recognised as a valuable part of arguments. The

5

Note also that Aristotle’s and Arendt’s account of politics and public deliberation differs from
Habermas’: for Habermas, in typical Franfurtian but also postmodern style, the realm of politics is beset with
power, it almost seems to be its telos. For Aristotle and Arendt public deliberation and politics is not aimed at
power but at recognising different points of view. The aim of public deliberation is not to endorse only my
view and criticise that of others, but simply to allow differing views to be heard so that it can be realised that
there are such differing views. “Decisive is not to turn arguments around or claims on their head, but that
one gained the ability to really see the issue from various points of view. Politically that means that one is able
to occupy the many points from which the same issue can be viewed, revealing its various aspects.” (Arendt,
2005, p.96f., translation U.M.). It is clear to Arendt that “every issue has as many sides and can appear in as
many perspectives as there are people involved in it.” (p.96). cf. Disch (1994, p. 42ff.)

Two examples of the missing of uniqueness in Habermas’ account

161

intrusion of ‘partial reasons’ and ‘informal arguments’, etc., which most theorists try to pre-
vent
, is here acknowledged as something valuable.
The reason why it proves so hard for the defenders of formal accounts of argumentation to
extinguish all partial reasons and/or informal arguments is that it is an inevitable part of an
acting person that she reveals herself (and that includes subjectivity) in every act. Whenever
one attempts to purify a statement from all traces of partiality one separates it from the
person who said it and the context in which it was uttered. In this case, however, state-
ments become either increasingly meaningless or unintelligible.6

‘Purified’ approaches to
argumentation (i.e. the attempt to give formal guidelines for successful arguments) leave
out the person, it leaves out who speaks. As Yack points out, such approaches have only a
very limited use and often prevent, or rule out, appeals that we should better include. An
Aristotelian understanding of deliberation, such as Yack endorses, does not exclude such
appeals.
A formal analysis of argumentation, which follows from Habermas’ pragmatic account of
communication, does not do justice to deliberation as it is experienced and practiced. Pub-
lic reasoning

[…] relies heavily on appeals to character and emotion as well as the giving of
reasons. In short, Aristotle places rhetoric, the art of identifying and using “the
available means of persuasion” (Rhetoric 1355b), at the heart of political delib-
eration. That makes the Aristotelian model of public reasoning much more fa-
miliar than its currently popular counterparts, much closer to the actual practice
of political deliberation in our world as well as his. But it also distances his
model from recent theories of deliberation, theories that are designed to correct
the deficiencies of the past and present practice of democracy. (op.cit., p.417f.)

Thus, according to Yack, attempts to ‘purify’ or ‘de-personalise’ communication actually
weakens public deliberation and thus have the opposite effect of what was intended since
these attempts actually deprive us of strategies we often use in arguments. For my pur-
poses, critiques such as Yack’s point towards the inadequacy of pragmatic and formalised
accounts of communication because they ‘de-personalise’ it to an extent that does not co-
here with the entirety of features that play a role in it.
In other words, formal accounts of deliberation actually neglect features that have their justi-
fied use. In this case, a pragmatic account of communication such as Habermas’ is not ex-

6

In the case of action such an attempt becomes even worse. We may be able to deal with a statement
all on its own (although in order to understand it we would have to know more about the social environ-
ment), but actions cannot be conceived without an actor. Action and uniqueness cannot be separated.

Chapter III: Habermas

162

haustive, as claimed above. It does not account for those features of communication that
lie outside the propositional content of utterances. Even more, since according to formal
approaches all strength, meaning and extent of communication is located solely in the pro-
positional content, any features that lie outside this boundary are judged as disturbing influ-
ences that are to be avoided. According accounts will thus attempt to eliminate this disturb-
ing factor. Ultimately that means that the speaker himself stands outside of what he says.
Evidence for this exclusion of the speaker is the castigation of partial reasons as an intru-
sion, threat and distraction on what is said. In short, if we conceive of communication as
nothing else than the transferral of information then anything apart from the information is
an intrusion that is to be avoided. Yet, such purification of communication does not do
justice to our daily experience, in which every act of communication conveys so much
more than merely what is being said. This ‘more’ includes such features as the relation be-
tween a person’s utterance and the person herself, her involvement with a particular issue,
but also the kind of person she is and which is so difficult to put into words. It is the sense
of the person that we, as the ones spoken to, get yet which the speaker herself is unaware
of. Hence Arendt refers to the image of the daimōn that appears to everyone else yet not the
person herself. To shrink all communication merely to the propositional content of utter-
ances is to remove the speaker from what he is saying and therefore to remove the who
from the what. Yet without the context in which something is said and without the mention
of who said it, the meaning of statements often evaporates. With the exclusion of the who
we also loose our grip on the what. It turns out that the uniqueness of persons has a vital
role to play, just as Arendt argues.

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