January 20, 2008

Habermas presents himself as a new Kant

Religion in the public sphere, Secularism: Anti-secularism posted by Hans Joas
More than most other great systematic thinkers of our time, Jürgen Habermas has for decades consistently expressed his views on the burning issues of the day, finding inspiration for his philosophical work in contemporary realities. SSRC Home SSRC Blogs Blog Home
Habermas is concerned to overcome secularist ideologies – but these have never been unambiguously dominant and overcoming them does not, therefore, represent the transition to a new form of society. Habermas also persists in distinguishing religious convictions from “other ethical orientations and world views, that is, worldly ‘conceptions of the good’” by asserting that the former evade “unconditional discursive exploration”. I believe this to be a remnant of secularist self-misunderstanding. Worldly conceptions of the good are also anchored in biographical and historical experiences. These can certainly be explicated, but human beings cannot simply detach themselves from their perceived evident nature. Autobiographical retrospects, including the one in this volume, generally make this very clear.
In these writings, Habermas presents himself as a new Kant (however much he might keep his distance from him in relation to specific issues) – a Kant of communicative reason and of the post-Darwin era. It is no coincidence that the study of Kant’s philosophy of religion is the most brilliant in the volume. Habermas also adopts the stance towards religion characteristic of the moralist Kant in its multiple manifestations. The more technical sections of the volume – examinations of thinkers associated with Habermas in various ways such as Adorno, Apel, McCarthy and Menke – demonstrate the enormous aspirations of this philosophy.
And the closing chapter, in which Habermas joins in the debates on reform of the UN, is consciously reminiscent of Kant’s reflections on perpetual peace, presented as a draft agreement. Habermas no longer expounds his erstwhile faith in the motivating force of morality as such; and he has also overcome his exclusive concentration on the law, which was an attempt to make up for this lack. But as with Kant, the fascination exerted by religion remains tightly fenced in by morality. The call for a productive dialogue between believers and non-believers has, however, rarely been made with such eloquence and concision. [Translated by Alex Skinner.] This entry was posted on Thursday, January 17th, 2008 at 10:00 am and is filed under Religion in the public sphere, Secularism.

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