Critique and Disclosure

Critique and Disclosure: Critical Theory between Past and Future

Nikolas Kompridis
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 360
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Critique and Disclosure
    Book Description:

    In Critique and Disclosure, Nikolas Kompridis argues provocatively for a richer and more time-responsive critical theory. He calls for a shift in the normative and critical emphasis of critical theory from the narrow concern with rules and procedures of Jürgen Habermas's model to a change-enabling disclosure of possibility and the enlargement of meaning. Kompridis contrasts two visions of critical theory's role and purpose in the world: one that restricts itself to the normative clarification of the procedures by which moral and political questions should be settled and an alternative rendering that conceives of itself as a possibility-disclosing practice. At the center of this resituation of critical theory is a normatively reformulated interpretation of Martin Heidegger's idea of "disclosure" or "world disclosure." In this regard Kompridis reconnects critical theory to its normative and conceptual sources in the German philosophical tradition and sets it within a romantic tradition of philosophical critique.Drawing not only on his sustained critical engagement with the thought of Habermas and Heidegger but also on the work of other philosophers including Wittgenstein, Cavell, Gadamer, and Benjamin, Kompridis argues that critical theory must, in light of modernity's time-consciousness, understand itself as fully situated in its time--in an ever-shifting and open-ended horizon of possibilities, to which it must respond by disclosing alternative ways of thinking and acting. His innovative and original argument will serve to move the debate over the future of critical studies forward--beyond simple antinomies to a consideration of, as he puts it, "what critical theory should be if it is to have a future worthy of its past."

    eISBN: 978-0-262-27742-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Key to Habermas and Heidegger Citations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. I What Is Critical Theory For …

    • 1 Crisis and Critique
      (pp. 3-8)

      How do we renew our cultural traditions, transform our social practices and political institutions, when they break down or are challenged in such a way as to preclude going on as before? For a philosophically and political diverse group of theorists from Rousseau, Hegel, and Marx to Arendt, Foucault, and Taylor this isthephilosophical and political question. The urgency of this question arises from a consciousness of crisis, of an awareness of things going, or having gone, terribly wrong. It arises from the need to rethink our commitments to certain ideals and practices, perhaps to break free of them,...

    • 2 The Problem of Beginning Anew
      (pp. 8-13)

      While there is no route back from reflectiveness, there is no clear, uncontestable route forward. “You must go on,” urges the narrator of Beckett’sThe Unnameable.11Most surely, we must go on. But if we are to “go on” reflectively rather than blindly, how do we “go on”? To where do we go on? What do we take and what do we leave behind? What of ourselves do we continue, what discontinue? Where or to what do we look for orientation? Do we look to the past? Or do we look to other forms of life? As Hilary Putnam puts...

    • 3 Modernityʹs Relation to Time
      (pp. 13-16)

      For all that separates him from Nietzsche, Habermas shares with Nietzsche the view that the urgency and inescapability of the problem of self-critically renewing our traditions and forms of life is a function of modernity’s relation to time—its “time-consciousness,” as Habermas likes to call it. The most extensive discussion of this notion appears inThe Philosophical Discourse of Modernitywhere it is positioned as one of the key features of the concept of modernity. I will be exploring the different ramifications of this idea throughout my book, but for the time being I want only to develop the normative...

    • 4 Renewing the Tradition
      (pp. 16-23)

      I have tried to make explicit the normative implications of Habermas’s account of the reflective renewal of traditions because—among other things—I want to draw upon it to evaluate Habermas’s stand toward one of his own cultural traditions—the German philosophical tradition that goes back to Kant and Hegel, especially that part of it that goes by the name of “critical theory.” The problem of renewing the German philosophical tradition is a problem that Habermas has never taken lightly, and he has treated it as conscientiously and responsibly as could be expected of anyone. No one of his generation...

    • 5 A Paradigm in Distress
      (pp. 23-30)

      For all of its theoretical ingenuity and practical implications, Habermas’s reformulation of critical theory is beset by persistent problems of its own. Although he would not entirely reject my description of these problems, he would most certainly disagree with my estimation of the threat they pose. In my view, the depth of these problems indicate just how wrong was Habermas’s expectation that the paradigm change to linguistic intersubjectivity would render “objectless” the dilemmas of the philosophy of the subject (PDM 301). Habermas accused Hegel of creating a conception of reason so “overwhelming” that it solvedtoo wellthe problem of...

    • 6 Reappropriating the Idea of ʺWorld Disclosureʺ
      (pp. 30-40)

      It is my thesis that Habermas’s model of critical theory does not possess the necessary normative and conceptual resources to deal with the problematics of continuity and discontinuity, and of crisis and renewal. This set of problems requires drawing upon an idea that occupies a threatening, if not entirely alien, position vis-à-vis Habermas’s philosophical paradigm: Heidegger’s idea of “world disclosure.” I do not mean to suggest that Habermas’s model of critical theory does not possessanyresources for dealing with this set of problems, for I have already shown how he has contributed to understanding the normative implications of modernity’s...

  6. II Dependent Freedom

    • 1 Disclosure and Intersubjectivity
      (pp. 43-48)

      In two more or less complementary accounts written in the 1980s, Habermas attempted to uncover the links between Heidegger’s philosophy and Heidegger’s unrepentant engagement with National Socialism. The first of these appeared in the chapter on Heidegger inThe Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, and the second, in the essay, “Work andWeltanschauung,” published a few years later. In each of these accounts Habermas postulates aninternalconnection between Heidegger’s philosophy and his politics. InThe Philosophical Discourse of ModernityHabermas argues that the categories ofBeing and Timewere rendered fit for duty in the service of National-Socialist revolution simply...

    • 2 Freedom and Intelligibility
      (pp. 48-57)

      The consequences of the conspicuous lack of a normatively robust conception of intersubjective accountability and recognition show up in early and in later Heidegger. InBeing and Timeit shows up in Heidegger’s failure to close the normative gaps between one’s practical relation to oneself and one’s ethical relation to others. The analyses of “resoluteness” (Entschlossenheit), of the “self’s ability to-be” (Selbstseinkönnen), and of “care” (Sorge) through which Heidegger lays out Dasein’s practical relation to itself are not convincingly connected to the analyses of “being-with” (Mitsein), “being-for-another” (Miteinandersein), and “solicitude” (Fürsorge), through which Heidegger demonstrates the intersubjective conditions of Dasein’s...

    • 3 Entschlossenheit as Disclosure
      (pp. 58-71)

      To dislodge the soloistic and virtuosic residues of Heidegger’s concept of “resoluteness,” it is necessary to reinstate and clarify its status as a mode of disclosure. If taken as an instance of existentialist decisionism, the essential meaning of “resoluteness” will be missed entirely. By depicting “resoluteness” as a species of decisionism, as the “decisionism of self-assertive Dasein” (WW 198),25Habermas evinces the degree to which he has misconstrued the receptive aspect of this mode of disclosure, and misdescribed its volitional/active aspect. In this respect he has been very much misled by a Sartrean reading of Heidegger that forces the volitional...

    • 4 Recovering the Everyday
      (pp. 71-81)

      I would like now to return to the second internal connection Habermas claims to have established between Heidegger’s philosophy and his politics: the connection between the mandarinWeltanschauungand the categorial framework ofBeing and Time. The persuasiveness of this revised account depends on the cogency of Habermas’s interpretation of Heidegger’s analysis of the phenomenon ofdas Man. Unsurprisingly, what Habermas has to say about Heidegger’s analysis ofdas Manfails to convey its strengths, and misinterprets its goals. There is no indication whatsoever that Heidegger is saying something importantly new in this analysis, something that represents an advance both...

    • 5 ʺTo Make Conscious a Murky Realityʺ
      (pp. 81-86)

      The preceding considerations were meant to shift attention from Habermas’s unsuccessful attempt to establish internal links between Heidegger’s philosophy and his politics to problems within Habermas’s own philosophical project. I have tried to show that his failure convincingly to establish these internal links points to larger problems that are directly connected to the shortcomings of his response to the issues raised by the idea of disclosure. These problems show up even in Habermas’s attempt to support his claim that Heidegger’s philosophy was the victim of a “scientifically unfiltered diagnosis of crisis.” In “Work andWeltanschauung,” Habermas everywhere alludes to the...

  7. III Another Voice of Reason

    • 1 A New Orientation for the Critique of Reason
      (pp. 89-95)

      No book has publicly defined the identity of recent critical theory as much asThe Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. And none has made more apparent its difficult and uncomfortable relation to the German philosophical tradition. In many respects this text sets the terms under which the German philosophical tradition may be inherited: what may be continued, what discontinued. The question, of course, is whether the terms are rightly set, set to enable rather than thwart the renewal of critical theory. This question can also be put in the following way: Does this interpretation of critical theory make it more receptive...

    • 2 The Metacritique of Disclosure
      (pp. 95-99)

      The proposed new orientation for the critique of reason is not, however, what is most significantly new about Habermas’s intervention inThe Philosophical Discourse of Modernity; what is most significantly new is to be found in the second argument of the lectures, providing the real key to the philosophical drama enacted in it. This second, largely unsuccessful argument, is a response to the multifaceted challenge posed by Heidegger’s notion of world disclosure, renewed with considerable success in Michel Foucault’s genealogical and archaeological inquiries, Jacques Derrida’s deconstructive enterprise, Cornelius Castoriadis’s revamped praxis philosophy, Richard Rorty’s neo-pragmatism, and Charles Taylor’s ontological critique...

    • 3 Invoking the ʺOtherʺ of Reason
      (pp. 99-107)

      The two arguments that compriseThe Philosophical Discourse of Modernitywere meant mutually to reinforce one another. By expanding the meaning of reason, the first argument is supposed to undercut critiques of reason that seek to convict modern reason as inherently exclusive, generating an “other of reason” by what it excludes. Although Habermas’s first argument succeeds in showing that reason is not inherently exclusive, his own model of communicative reason fails to meet its own standards for a nonexclusionary alternative to “instrumental” or “subject-centered” reason. Habermas did manage to enlarge the meaning of reason by expanding the bases of intersubjective...

    • 4 The Aestheticizing Strategy
      (pp. 107-111)

      From Nietzsche through Heidegger to Derrida, Habermas discerns a series of increasingly radical attempts to aestheticize language, everyday practice, and philosophy by assimilating them to the world-opening, world-transforming power of practices of disclosure. Such an assimilation would collapse the difference between logic and rhetoric, between normal and “poetic” language, between problem-solving and meaning-creation, and between the everyday and the “extraordinary” (das Außeralltägliche); it would prejudice and rhetorically overdetermine everyday communicative practice (constituted by the Yes and No positions that agents take in relation to criticizable validity claims), and, it would allow the actioncoordination function of language to disappear behind its...

    • 5 The Extraordinary Everyday
      (pp. 112-116)

      Habermas’s philosophical attitude toward the everyday reflects the general redirection of Western culture’s attention from otherworldly to innerworldly concerns in the wake of the Reformation. We can speak here of an inversion of cultural priority culminating in an “affirmation of ordinary life”—in a “hallowing of life not as something which takes place only at the limits, but as a change which can penetrate the full extent of mundane life.”17This new orientation to the everyday found its way into philosophy with the primacy accorded to practical reason by Kant, and with the various ways the primacy of practice was...

    • 6 World-Disclosing Arguments?
      (pp. 116-125)

      The aestheticizing response to world disclosure was not only meant to immunize the everyday against the extraordinary, it was also designed to prevent the contamination of an ascetically procedural conception of philosophy. For Habermas, the “postmetaphysical” turn in modern philosophy, in part, a consequence of the spectacular success of modern science, requires a commitment to procedural rationality: it requires trusting solely in the rationality of procedures (PT 35) and mistrusting the metaphysical need to limn the rational structure of the world, to identify reason with nature or with history.

      Rationality (Rationalität) is reduced to something formal insofar as the rationality...

    • 7 The Debunking Strategy
      (pp. 125-132)

      As with the aestheticizing strategy, the debunking strategy is a response to the skeptical implications of disclosure, focusing largely on attempts by disclosure theorists to explain historical and cultural change in terms of ontological change. The primary skeptical worry arises from the way in which change of meaning and belief threaten to outrun validity (justification) and undermine agency. The primary targets of Habermas’s debunking strategy are Heidegger’sSeinsgeschichtenand Foucault’s genealogies, influential models of “critical history” (in Nietzsche’s sense) that track the formation and transformation of ontological frameworks, worldviews, cultural paradigms, and epistēmes. These critical histories track changes in “what...

    • 8 The Annexing Strategy
      (pp. 133-139)

      Of the three strategies shaping Habermas’ argument, only the annexing strategy engages constructively with the phenomenon of disclosure, treating the challenge it poses as an occasion to demonstrate the capaciousness and flexibility of communicative reason. Habermas goes so far as to offer a positive, if underdeveloped, proposal for linking disclosure to learning processes in terms of a “reciprocal interaction” (Wechselwirkung) or “mutual interplay” (Zusammenspiel) between meaning and validity, disclosure and truth. I will refer to this as thereciprocal interactionthesis. The most remarkable feature of this thesis is just how much it implicitly concedes to the notion of disclosure,...

    • 9 The Test of Disclosure
      (pp. 139-146)

      The entire thrust of the argument against disclosure can be compressed into the claim that “meaning cannot absorb (verzehren) validity’ (PDM 320; trans. altered). But this claim amounts to much less than Habermas thinks it does. There is a completely uncontroversial sense in which it is true—which is to say, a sense in which it is trivially true. It adds nothing to the reciprocal interaction thesis. On the other hand, and here we move onto much more contested terrain, validity cannot absorb meaning. This claim is entirely consistent with the reciprocal interaction thesis. Alerting to the dangers of a...

  8. IV The Business of Philosophy

    • 1 Philosophy: Overburdened or Shortchanged?
      (pp. 149-154)

      As the discussion of world-disclosing argument in part III, chapter 6, made clear, the answer to the question of what counts as a philosophical argument more or less defines what philosophy is—what it does, what its business is. Therefore a great deal is at stake in the answer we give: if the answer is too broad, it is hard to see what is distinctive to philosophy; on the other hand, if it is too narrow, the definition of philosophy becomes sectarian, exclusive.¹ The procedural conception to which Habermas subscribes commits the second error, restricting philosophy to a definition of...

    • 2 Guardian of Rationality? Defender of the Lifeworld?
      (pp. 154-166)

      The rather baseless worry that playing a world-disclosing role would overburden philosophy turns out to be part of another unstated worry—namely that philosophy would thereby sacrifice its cultural authority. For Habermas, philosophy’s cultural authority is conditional upon the success with which philosophy is able to (1) assimilate itself to the procedures of the empirical sciences, trusting solely in procedural rationality, and (2) honor its obligations as “the guardian of rationality” (MC 19). Understandably Habermas takes it for granted that the cultural authority of science is the appropriate model of cultural authority for philosophy to emulate. So it comes as...

    • 3 Philosophyʹs Virtue: Knowing When to Speak
      (pp. 166-170)

      Habermas’s intervention in the genetic engineering debate reveals the limitations of his conception of philosophy. As proposed, the interpreter role is inapt, for we will surely not close the gap between expert culture and everyday life by creating another class of experts. Moreover, if the lifeworld is in need of orientation, so isphilosophy, since just as much as everyday practices, philosophy depends on the resources of “a cultural tradition that ranges across the whole spectrum [of cognitive, practical, and aesthetic rationality], not just the fruits of science and technology.” When such cultural traditions are themselves in crisis or disoriented,...

    • 4 Cultural Authority
      (pp. 170-176)

      What cultural authority can philosophy enjoy when it identifies itself with the humanities rather than with the sciences? Perhaps the more appropriate question is whether philosophy should even seek to speak with the voice of “authority.” If it is to enter into a relationship of reciprocal elucidation with the lifeworld, a relationship based on genuine cooperation, it must give up its aspiration to cultural authority in favor of a more modest aspiration: to play a vital role in clarifying and criticizing everyday life and practices in partnership with those whose life and practices they are. Such an aspiration is entirely...

    • 5 Philosophyʹs Kind of Writing
      (pp. 176-180)

      A comparison between Habermas and Putnam on whether, and to what extent, philosophy is a kind of writing, or is its writing, proves instructive, particularly since Putnam is a philosopher who in many respects is close to Habermas in temperament and style—much closer, say, than Cavell or Derrida. Here is Putnam: “If I agree with Derrida on anything it is this: that philosophy is writing, and that it must learn now to be a writing whose authority is always to be won anew, not inherited or awarded because it is philosophy. Philosophy is, after all, one of the humanities...

    • 6 Two Kinds of Fallibilism
      (pp. 180-184)

      Recall that Habermas attaches great importance throughoutThe Philosophical Discourse of Modernityto the phenomenon of modernity’s relation to time, acknowledging that the “vitality” of the philosophical discourse of modernity “has had to be constantly renewed” by world-disclosing cultural interpretations that once again open up the horizon of possibility (PDM 13). Now a procedural conception can hardly make sense of, let alone engage in, this kind of endeavour. It seems that the commitment to a procedural conception of philosophy excludes asdistinctivelyphilosophical, the very activity most necessary for renewing the vitality of the philosophical discourse of modernity. For philosophy...

  9. V Alternative Sources of Normativity

    • 1 Disclosure, Change, and the New
      (pp. 187-199)

      Throughout my critical analyses of both Habermas and Heidegger, I have been exploring alternative sources of normativity in light of which we may re-envision the project of critical theory. In what follows I would like to bring more sharply into focus how these alternative sources of normativity can redefine the practice of critical theory once it is liberated from an altogether confining proceduralism and from an unjustifiably narrow interpretation of the German philosophical tradition. Envisioning a richer and more pluralistic critical theory, I will elaborate in greater detail how we can rethink our notions of reason, agency, and change as...

    • 2 Receptivity, Not Passivity
      (pp. 199-210)

      Now if any philosophical outlook can be said to be fatalistic, it is Heidegger’s. Unfortunately, Heidegger’s putative “fatalism” has too often served as the distorting lens through which we have read his writings on disclosure and the problem of beginning anew. Certainly this reading is essential to the success of the debunking strategy, portraying Heidegger’s ontological analyses as laying the groundwork for a passive submission to mysterious, anonymous powers. “The propositionally contentless speech about Being has … the illocutionary sense of demanding resignation to fate. Its practical-political side consists in the perlocutionary effect of a diffuse readiness to obey in...

    • 3 Self-Decentering
      (pp. 210-223)

      What can Emerson’s remarks on “our mode of illumination” contribute to understanding the nature of such moral and cognitive failures? When we place them within a broader and more encompassing “struggle for recognition,” we see that what is taking place is a struggle for a different kind of reception, and that entails a re-cognizing of the other. Such a struggle will not only involve a struggle between oneself and another. The act of re-cognizing the other will also involve a struggle with oneself, a struggle in which one’s own self-understanding, one’s prior commitments and justifications as well as the language/s...

    • 4 The Possibility-Disclosing Role of Reason
      (pp. 223-242)

      I have been arguing that the various shortcomings of Habermas’s metacritique of disclosure expose not only the narrowness of a conception of reason that makes reason more or less identical with the rationality of procedures but also the shortcomings of a model of critical theory that draws its normativity from this single source. It follows therefore that the possibility of renewing critical theory will depend—once again—on the possibility of an enlarged and pluralistic conception of reason. And that latter possibility depends on the availability of alternative sources of normativity upon which this enlarged and pluralistic conception can draw....

  10. VI … in Times of Need?

    • 1 An Aversion to Critique and the Exhaustion of Utopian Energies
      (pp. 245-254)

      It is self-evident that the times in which we live have become inhospitable to the practice of critique—especially to self-critique.¹ Closely observed, all models of social and cultural criticism, regardless of normative or methodological orientation, bear the marks of this inhospitality. What I am speaking of is a dimly perceived process of self-restriction and accommodation, at once the outward adjustment to new conditions and an unrecognized expression of normative despair. In short: resignation to the contracting space of possibilities; resignation to the thought that our possibilities might be exhausted, that the future may no longer be open to us,...

    • 2 Disclosure as (Intimate) Critique
      (pp. 254-262)

      In the face of such inhospitable circumstances, the very circumstances in which the need for critique is greatest, the question naturally arises as to whether critique is still possible. Just what is critique capable of, practically speaking, when it is as dependent on the openness of the future and on cultural self-confidence as our other practices? If it is to remain a viable cultural practice, we need to reconceive its role, making it more responsive to these new circumstances. It is my thesis that the possibility of practically effective critique depends on the success with which it can meet the...

    • 3 Critical Theoryʹs Time
      (pp. 263-274)

      Unlike models of critique based on the ideal of truth (including the ideal of total unmasking), a model of critique based on the disclosure of possibility is, for that very reason, in a position actually to respond to the problems of self-confidence (self-reassurance), skepticism, and the exhaustion of utopian energies. As a possibility-disclosing practice, critique neither requires nor must suppose a determinate utopia, for that would turn it into a possibility-foreclosing practice. To reiterate, the relation of critique to “utopia” is both indeterminate and necessary, enjoining it to prevent the foreclosure of possibility, to keep the possibility of a different...

    • 4 Suppressed Romanticism (Inheritance without Testament)
      (pp. 274-280)

      What is critical theory for in times of need? This question, each half of which frames the first and last part of my book, obviously evokes the line from Hölderlin’s poem “Brod und Wein,” “what are poets for in times of need?” Just as obviously it evokes Heidegger’s essay on Hölderlin, for which this line serves as its title. Above all, however, it is meant to evoke the romantic insight into the connection between the consciousness of crisis and the possibility of transformation—an insight articulated in what is arguably the first “romantic” text of the critical theory tradition, “The...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 281-318)
  12. Index
    (pp. 319-338)