Archive for March, 2008


Rationality, for Habermas

If we seek the grammatical subjects that go with the predicate expression “rational,” two candidates come to the fore: persons, who have knowledge, can be more or less rational, as can symbolic expressions–linguistic and nonlinguistic, communication or non-communicative actions–that embody knowledge. We can call men and women, children and adults, ministers and bus conductors “rational,” but not animals or lilac bushes, mountains, streets, or chairs. We can call apologies, delays, surgical interventions, declarations of war, repairs, construction plans or conference decisions “irrational,” but not a storm, and accident, a lottery win, or an illness. (TOCA, 8 )

A few observations on this passage:

First, Habermas appears to be adopted at least preliminarily the methodology of linguistic analysis that we would expect to find in analytic philosophy. I’m personally skeptical about the power of this methodology, but reading ahead I have been impressed with Habermas’ use of it. More on this later, for now I would just like to point it out.

Second, what a headache keeping all these definitions is going to be! We already have one definition of the predicate “rational,” which is Lukacs’ predicate that he uses, a predicate whose “grammatical subject” is limited to systems. Now, at the very least, we have a new predicate that applies only to persons for which we use the same word. Let’s introduce this in a new definition, which we will have to leave undetermined for the moment.

(DFN-RATIONAL-PERSON-?) For given person, it is possible that that person is a rational person. What does that mean?

In addition, Habermas claims that there is another use of “rational” which applies to “symbolic expressions.” I think that my parsing here takes “linguistic and nonlinguistic, communication or non-communicative actions” to be in apposition to “symbolic expression,” hence defining it. And the former phrase pretty clearly logically reduces to “actions.” So “symbolic expressions” is just a fancy way of saying “actions.” Let’s propose the following (blank) definition:

(DFN-RATIONAL-ACTION-?) For given action, it is possible that that person is a rational action. What does that mean?

I think that in the future, I will disambiguate when necessary between these three predicates by subscripting them to note the category of their subjects. So, “rationals“, “rationalp“, and “rationala“, refer to the predicates relating to systems, persons, and actions, respectively.


Know-how and language

Let’s look in more depth at the relationship between knowledge and language.  Although we have accepted (maybe only tentatively) that beliefs can be expressed as linguistic statements (see (TOCA-8-A)), we have found this compelling largely because the following appear to hold

(T&W-1) When one has a belief, one is related in a certain way (the relation of believing) to a proposition.
(T&W-3) Propositions have structure that parallels the logical structure of the sentences.

Presumably, what we mean when we say that beliefs can be expressed as linguistic statements is that for a belief B, and a proposition related to that belief PB, B can be expressed by the linguistic statement SB only when SB reflects the logical structure of PB (and when the words of SB reflect the proper concepts which constitute PB).

This all makes sense when we are talking about knowledge-that.  But we have already pointed out that know-how does not seem to have the same connection with language as knowledge-that.  In particular, there don’t appear to be sentences that correspond with our “belief-hows.”

Why might this be? If the above reasoning about knowledge-that is correct, then I think the best explanation would be this: knowledge-how is not related to propositions in the same way as knowledge-that.