January 24, 2006

Jürgen Habermas, Sri Aurobindo and Beyond

Ananta Kumar Giri Knowledge and Human Liberation: European Journal of Social Theory 7(1): 85–103 MADRAS INSTITUTE OF DEVELOPMENT STUDIES, CHENNAI, INDIA
In his Knowledge and Human Interest, published more than three decades ago, Habermas emphasizes the significance of self-reflection in knowledge. But at this stage, self-reflection for him seems primarily to emerge from the psychoanalytic situation of dialogue between the doctor and patient, though traces of its origin in mutually validating pragmatics of communication are already visible here. In his later works, self-reflection has a broader base of origin and nurturance, namely in our participation in processes of moral argumentation and public sphere. But this practice of knowledge can be deepened by Sri Aurobindo’s (1992) concept of yoga of integral knowledge.
For Sri Aurobindo, the yoga of integral knowledge enables one to have a deeper ‘self-awareness’, ‘self-consciousness’ and ‘self-realization’, to discover, know and realize the transcendental dimension in self, society and nature, and the inherent connectedness between self, other and the world. This dialogue also touches the very core of ontology and epistemology in thinking about and practices of knowledge. In Habermasian knowledge and human interest, knowledge mainly consists of knowledge of self and society but despite the Habermasian distinction between ego-identity and self-identity, Habermas does not discuss the transcendental dimension of self. He does touch upon knowledge of nature through the category of sciences but this knowledge here is mainly one of technical control.

A dialogue between Habermas and Aurobindo not only can broaden the ontology of knowledge but can also help us realize that the distinction between ontology and epistemology, as it has been valorized in modernity, needs to be transcended by embodying what can be called an ontological epis-temology of participation, taking its cue from recent transformations in both epistemological and ontological imaginations such as ‘virtue epistemology’ and ‘weak ontology’. But here a Habermasian mode needs to be ready for a foundational border crossing as, despite his critique of positivism, Habermas works within a modernist epistemological privileging in his conception and method of knowledge and his denial of ontology.
Even though this denial has to some extent to do with Habermas’s understandable fight with the ghost of Heidegger, he seems now to turn this into a new orthodoxy, thereby showing how critical theory is incapable of critiquing its very foundational presuppositions such as valorization of rational argumentations, performative competence, validity claims and linguistic intersubjectivity instead of emotional intersubjectivity (Craib, 1998). But the problem of dualism and instrumentalism does not vanish by being part of communicative action, and knowledge as human liberation, not only as human interest, calls for the development of non-dual and non-instrumental modes of relationships which are not automatically guaranteed, even when we shift from positivism to a Habermasian communicative rationality (see Bhaskar, 2002).

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