Let’s fast forward a little in our series on German philosophy to discover one of the most influential thinkers of the modern age- Jürgen Habermas.
His philosophy blends Marx with American pragmatism, theories of development with the psychoanalysis of Freud- a breathtaking cocktail of ideas. Determined to address. His predominant theme is the reconciliation of modernity with its divisive nature.
Dare say Science & Technology again!
Habermas’ school of thought critiques the way in which, the Enlightenment movement and its successors, have made science and technology an ideology, while they were actually supposed to be tools that could destroy ideologies. Technology for example, has been independent of science for a very long time, given that technology or the technique of making something dates back to millions of years while science itself is may be only as old as mathematics and hence at best a few millennia old. Despite this, at the end of the 20th century science and technology have become interdependent. Politicians speak of the two in the same breath.
Scientific-technological progress governs the evolution of the social system and is closely linked with development policies. Before making any decision, politicians consult experts. While democracy implies citizens deciding together their common future, it is more and more in the hands of technocrats. In short, science and technology have become “an ideology”. Those who dare to refuse are considered “backward” or “unrealistic”.
Habermas tries to demystify this new domination of technology and bring the political debate back in the hands of “ordinary” citizens.
Society and the State
According to Habermas, one can create two theories to understand society and politics.
There is the theory of the state: whose aim is to make sure that legitimate power is distinguished from the arbitrary.
And there is the theory of society which encompasses difficulties, gaps, problems and contradictions in society. Habermas believes that the act itself of proposing a theory of society produces effects in the social field. For example, highlighting structures of domination produces effects on the society and causes changes.
A Well Lived-in Society
When you take a closer look at it, Society presents itself to us as both a lived world and as a system: Let’s explain this!
The lived world is the world in which the action of the members of a given society takes place. In the lived world the action of any member is viewed from the point of view of the one who acts.
The system is society observed from the outside. Each activity is then seen as a function in the conservation of the system and this point of view makes it necessary to disregard the intention and the will of the actors. Only the effects of the action count.
Both aspects of society matter. In the lived world, actions are coordinated by their orientation and by communication.In the system, actions are coordinated by their consequence.Social integration is integration into the lived world. Systemic integration is integration into the system.
It take’s a good beer to understand Society
The Interaction of Society and the Lived World is illustrated by a story: imagine an old mason who asks a young mason to go and get him some beer for the lunch break.
The situation brings into play three realms of reality:
The objective domain: which can be described by cognitive and instrumental propositions. “The drinking outlet is far or near” (cognitive proposition), “we can go there on foot or by car (instrumental proposition). In this domain, we are in the order of the facts.
The social domain: these are the norms to which the participants adhere, the framework of their relationship. For example, the authority of the older mason over the younger, which makes him ask him to get a beer.
The subjective domain: the personality and the tastes of each one- so in this case what beer would the older mason like and what would the younger one like to buy for him?
Each proposition claims a universal validity which makes it understandable and debatable by the interlocutors. In the interaction, the three areas are always linked. If the young mason goes for the beer, it is because he agrees to the idea of the older man casking him to buy the beer and he has no objection to it.
The agreement mobilizes all three aspects. The definition of the situation must be common to the participants, otherwise the situation must be redefined through negotiation and discussion. This is what Habermas calls communicative action.
Get groovy to communicative action.
This concept of negotiation and discussion, according to Habermas, coordinates social interactions by coordinating orientations and not just their effects. There are rounds of negotiation or renegotiation of the situation.The lived world is distinguished from the situation, because the lived world constitutes both background knowledge and a horizon. Any situation is a division within the lived world. The lived world can never be seen fully. Basically, it constitutes a diffuse background against which we are opposed.The lived world is the whole constituted by culture and language and, more exactly, a reserve of knowledge organized by language. The importance of language in organizing the lived world is unsurpassed. Language is what makes action and communication possible, enabling comprehension.
If we return to the example of our two masons, the lived world consists of a perception of the social hierarchy of workers in society. For tradition, the old man has authority, and as long as the tradition is accepted, the agreement is implied. There is therefore no communicative action.
Communicative action only intervenes in the event of disagreement. Everyone will look for arguments in the lived world and communicative action renews the tradition. We extend, perpetuate the tradition even if we reinterpret it. By speaking, one can make the world of meaning live and endure. If society regulates itself less and less by communicative action but by money and power, then what makes sense will fail to be perpetuated.
Act like a democracy
When once chooses to get down to acting in society you have two choices:
You either go for strategic action to convince the other through influence (think political propaganda). Or you go for communicative action where you try to understand the situation, build mutual agreement and accord.
Thus, for comprehension to be possible, a sensible discourse is needed which expresses neither intimidation nor threat and capable of being accepted by everyone as valid. What emerges here is the democratic model of consensus prescribed by communicative reason when it is applied to the political domain. To develop this ethic of consensus, Habermas proposes a process of decentralization (integrating the point of view of others) and of structuring (differentiation of aspects. reality that allows us to grasp their relationships). This leads to rationality in the lived world, where one starts looking at nature, person and society as different entities. At the system level, rationality is achieved through money and power. The intercommunication is bypassed by money (When one pays for a service and therefore has no longer a reason to discuss). We gain speed and efficiency but to the detriment of communication. As in intercommunication, it is no longer a question of seeking the truth but of acting on empirical motivations (greed, fear or hope of increasing power, etc.)
Managing the Modern Democracy
There is democracy when political life is organized in such a way that the recipients of the law can at the same time consider themselves as its authors. The State is the voluntary association of free and equal citizens who regulate their life in common in a legitimate way.
For Habermas, we need a new way of understanding democracy that takes into account the complexity of the societies present, for example the role of the media. The media are certainly a power that must be controlled but also allow simultaneous communication of a multitude of people who do not know each other. The political space must be able to integrate marginal voices, be receptive to the private lived world. Thus, communicative action and the search for consensus through negotiation at the state level, becomes the need of the hour!