Postmetaphysical versus postmodern thinking : a critical appraisal of Habermas's debate with postmodernism

Cloete, Michael (2002-04)

Thesis (PhD) -- University of Stellenbosch, 2002.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Philosophy has traditionally been concerned with the question of reason and rationality, as its central focus. From the perspective of the modern metaphysical tradition, this focus has developed around the theme of subjectivity in general, and the assumption of an ahistorical transcendental subject in particular. The idea of reason was thus foundational for the articulation and validation of the notions of truth and freedom. From the perspective of modernity, reason has thus been the condition of the possibility of enlightenment, freedom and moral progress. The debate between Habermas and the representatives of postmodern thinking represents the latest chapter regarding the question of reason, its limits, and its possibilities. What makes this debate particularly challenging is that Habermas, while he defends the idea of reason against its critique by the postmodernists, is actually in agreement with them in their dismissal of the tradition of metaphysical thinking. In view of his defense of the idea of reason, however, Habermas has invariably been accused of defending an outmoded and discredited form of philosophical thinking, while his opponents have generally been hailed as progressive thinkers who have succeeded in effecting a radical break with the conceptual legacy of the metaphysical tradition. In my dissertation I argue that the exact opposite position is the case, namely, that it is Habermas, and not his postmodern opponents, who has effected a radical break with metaphysical thinking. It is his ability to transform the idea of reason, from a transcendental into a postmetaphysical concept, in terms of which the question of reason and rationality, and the related ideas of truth and knowledge, are recast in fallibilistic terms, that, in my view, represents the overcoming of metaphysics. The postmodern turn, on the other hand, in view of its reluctance to consider the question of reason from an alternative model of rationality, finds itself still trapped within a form of transcendental thinking in which it seeks to enquire into the (im)possibility of reason, in the absence of a transcendental subject. In the final analysis, I argue that it is postmetaphysical rather than postmodern thinking, that offers us a practical alternative to the problematic conception of reason, bequeathed by the tradition of metaphysical thinking.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die fenomeen van die rede en die betekenis van rasionaliteit vorm tradisioneel 'n sentrale fokus van die filosofie. Vanuit die perspektief van die moderne metafisiese tradisie het hierdie fokus ontwikkel rondom die tema van subjektiwiteit in die algemeen, en die aanname van 'n a-historiese transendentele subjek in die besonder. Die rede was dus fundamenteel vir die artikulasie en legitimering van die konsepte van waarheid en vryheid. Vanuit die perspektief van moderniteit was die rede dus die voorwaarde vir die moontlikheid van verligting, vryheid, en morele vooruitgang. Die debat tussen Habermas en die verteenwoordigers van postmoderne denke verteenwoordig die mees onlangse hoofstuk van die verhaal van die vraag na rede en rasionaliteit - die beperkings daarvan, asook die moontlikhede daarvan. Hierdie debat bied besondere uitdagings omdat Habermas, terwyl hy die idee van rede verdedig teen die kritiek van die postmoderniste, eintlik met hulle saamstem vir sover hulle die tradisie van metafisiese denke verwerp. In die lig van sy verdediging van die idee van rede, is Habermas egter voortdurend daarvan beskuldig dat hy 'n uitgediende en gediskrediteerde vorm van filosofiese denke bly voorstaan, terwyl sy opponente in die algemeen voorgehou is as progressiewe denkers wat suksesvol 'n radikale breuk gemaak het met die konseptuele erfenis van die metafisiese tradisie. In my dissertasie beweer ek dat die teenoorgestelde inderwaarheid die geval is, naamlik dat dit Habermas, en nie sy postmoderne opponente nie, is wat hierdie radikale breuk met metafisiese denke suksesvol uitgevoer het. Dit is sy verrnoe om die idee van die rede te transformeer vanaf 'n transendentale na 'n post- metafisiese konsep, in terme waarvan die vraag na rede en rasionaliteit, en die verwante idees van waarheid en kennis, omskep is in fallibilistiese beg rippe, wat, soos ek aantoon, 'n (die!) suksesvolle transendering van die metafisika bewerkstellig. Die postmoderne wending, aan die ander kant, in die lig van die traagheid daarvan om 'n alternatiewe en verruimde konsepsie van rasionaliteit te ontwikkel, bly vasgevang in 'n vorm van transendentele denke waarin dit probeer om ondersoek in te stel na die (on)moontlikheid van die rede ten aansien van die afwesigheid van 'n transendentele subjek. Uiteindelik beweer ek dat dit die post-metafisiese eerder as die postmoderne denke is wat aan ons 'n praktiese alternatief bied vir die problematiese konsep van die rede, soos ons dit qeerf het by die tradisie van metafisiese denke.

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