Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Habermas's swipe at Lebensphilosophie

Somewhere in the "Philosophical Discourse of Modernity" (Mmm. Modernity as a discourse. Only a discourse? Essentially a discourse? Mmm.) Habermas (as translated into English) refers scathingly to a "hoary Lebensphilosophie". Although it is becoming harder and harder for me to remember what I have read, those two words are as firmly etched onto the tablet of my mind as all those juvenile pop tunes and TV jingles which refuse to be cleansed.

"Hoary Lebensphilosophie." How can anyone be so scathing about an attempt to do justice to the experience of life in philosophy (which, I assmume, is what Lebensphilosophie is all about)? How can anyone be so mistrustful of anything that smacks of life and is obviously not a stepping back from the flux of life to a theoretically constructed (discursively constructed, if you like) point from which the flux can be judged, can be found lacking, can be regrounded and rebuilt on something more stable, on something less life-like?

What I like about Minima Moralia (Adorno's early work) is its attempt to write about morality from a very temporal experience of our historical situation. Not sure that Adorno has a Lebensphilosophie (does he?) but he sees that philosophy (if it is not to delude itself) must appreciate the fact that it is bound by a certain kind of very human and very historical kind of life. Of course Habermas knows that everything is historical, but he seems to assume that within history a shared concern for truth (or validity - let's not split hairs) will make it possible for history to overcome itself - to bracket all other considerations and redirect the previously messy and bloody business of history in a direction that everyone can see is rationally justifiable- eveyone who buys into the discourse of Reason Uber Alles, that is. But if all claims but truth must be bracketed, the result is nihilism. And nihilism effectively opens the door even wider for the most messy and bloody chapters of history.

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