Archive for the 'interpretation' Category


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.


Revisiting Debord 1:2 on contemplation

Earlier, I wrestled with this hermeneutic question:

(TSOTS-1:2-B-?) “Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation.” What does this mean?

I think that with the new concepts and theory from Lukacs, we can make a first pass at a restating of this claim.

Recall that according to (CSTANCE-RAT-HET), one must take the contemplative stance towards a fully rational, heterological system. Assuming that Debord is drawing in part of Lukacs’ theory, it would be consistent with the text to infer that Debord is talking about bourgeois conditions of life here. With the rationality of systemic thought being a given under capitalism (according to the Marxist tradition), and the hetorological tendencies of bourgeois systematization, reality is both (a) “considered partially” (because it excludes the phenomena that relate to the subject’s powers of intervention on the contents of the system, and (b) “an object of mere contemplation.”

What about the bit about “in its own general unity”?

I want to refer back to the Lukacs passage quoted here. For Lukacs, “modern rationalism” is unique in that attempts to create a system that is both fully rational and total. In the case where this system is also heterological, this is a doomed mission. But doomed or not, there is a “general unity” to the rational system that is total with the possible exception of its own subject. It is this general unity that makes the contemplative stance so pervasive and pernicious.

With that, I think I’ll hold onto this elaborated version of the Debord passage:

(TSOTS-1:2-B-v1.0) [Under the rationalism that comes with capitalism,] reality considered [heterologically and hence] partially unfolds, in its own general unity [characterized by a system that is total except for its subject], as a pseudo-world apart, an object [towards which one must take the contemplative stance].
That makes for some pretty slow progress on Debord. But I think the concepts gleaned from Lukacs will come up again–I know Habermas uses them, for example. Hopefully tackling Debord will get easier as I read through TSOTS.