Beginning without foundations

We have to bear in mind that philosophical thought, which has surrendered the relation to totality, also loses its self-sufficiency. To the goal of formally analyzing the conditions of rationality, we can tie neither ontological hopes for substantive theories of nature, history, society, and so forth, nor transcendental-philosophical hopes for an aprioristic reconstruction of the equipment of the nonempirical species subject, of consciousness in general. All attempts at discovering ultimate foundations … have broken down. In this situation, the way is opening to a new constellation in the relationship of philosophy and the sciences. (TOCA, 2)

In Habermas’ introduction to The Theory of Communicative Action, he pronounces that an old conception of philosophy has failed. Under this conception, the philosophy is intellectually primary. It provides the grounds on and means with which we can build an ontological or transcendental theory; this latter theory in turn provides the grounds and means for natural and social sciences. All knowledge stems from basic philosophical knowledge.

When this foundationalist approach fails, as Habermas claims it has, how can we recover? One option is that we declare the entire project of the search for truth to be a failure. This is skepticism or nihilism.

But for the purposes of the inquiry of this blog, let us proceed instead with a more hopeful course. Rather than denying ourselves access to the world for lack of grounds, we can instead be more risky and promiscuous in our choice of grounds. We can tentatively hold the claims from a wide variety of sources–philosophy, psychology, social theory, methodologies of every stripe–as unproblematic, and see where the force of their arguments takes us. If a starting point leads to a contradiction or is confronted with a compelling argument against it, then we can always revise our position on the fly.

Of course, this fallibilist and anti-foundationalist methodology applies to itself.

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