Monday, 25 June 2012

Existential Communication, part 2

Thornhill usefully underlines the differences of Jaspers’ theory of communicative transcendence from Hegelian and Heideggerian theories of communication. Thornhill argues that viewed from Jaspers’ position, Heidegger’s philosophy is ‘deficient both in communication and transcendence, for it construes both speech and transcendence as everyday operations in which consciousness always produces its own unity as a system of inner-worldly meanings’. Heidegger and Jaspers alike see transcendence as ‘a moment of communicative disclosure in which the [Kantian] formal separation of the elements of reason is overcome’, and in which ‘the practical experiences of being are thoroughly reflected as a unity of lived knowledge and meaning’. For Heidegger, the unity of knowledge obtained through the transcendence of Dasein is (Thornhill notes) ‘an immanent unity, in which thinking and acting are plurally reflected as the world, and outside which there is no transcendental recourse for judgement or ethics’. Yet Jaspers argues – Thornhill sees – ‘that the practical relations of Dasein are ultimately superseded by the communicative self-reflection of individual existence in a logic of progressive transcendence’. Like Heidegger, Jaspers certainly (Thornhill writes) ‘conceives of transcendence as communicatively interpretable, and therefore embedded in worldly relations of praxis and experience’. Yet he also ‘overcomes idealism by transposing pure and practical reason into a deferred unity of knowledge, in which consciousness (as transcendence) ceaselessly interprets and experiences its own ideal forms’. This means that, contra Heidegger, Jaspers – and here Thornhill refers us to the second volume of his Philosophy – ‘states unequivocally that existential communication has its (albeit deferred) outcome in the overcoming of worldly finitude, immanence and objective plurality in a reflected totality of knowledge’.

For Jaspers, Thornhill states, speech is ‘the medium of disclosure in a transcendent(al) phenomenology, which encompasses all forms of human thought and experience, all cognitive and practical life’. Truthful speech, ‘by its own inner logic’, is for Jaspers ‘the mode of human agency which interprets the possible unity of the ideal and the practical moments in human-being’:

‘Heidegger, however, argues that language defines and constitutes the practically disclosed horizon of the world, and it thus expressly excludes all ideal components from experience. Jaspers, in contrast, claims that language always positions human consciousness in a relation (albeit existentially uncertain) to its primary ideal unity (its transcendence), and it thus permits an ideal/practical disclosure of this unity.’

In this sense, and whilst Heidegger offers a practical-linguistic critique of ‘the epistemological stasis of Kant’s transcendental reason’, Jaspers ‘remains a Kantian’; truthful speech, Jaspers’ arguments imply, ‘always derives its truth from its disclosure of a horizon in which reflection positions itself around ideas’.   

Thornhill goes on to note that, particularly as evolved later in his 1947 book Of Truth, Jaspers’ concept of communicative reason, ‘although primarily influenced by Kant, is […] also strongly indebted to Hegel’. Jaspers shares with Hegel the view that, as Thornhill writes, ‘All worldly interaction […] involves a communicative disclosure of common knowledge, in which the immediate subject/object antinomies of consciousness and self-consciousness are overcome through the shared processes of self-clarification and recognition’. Yet, Thornhill stresses, Jaspers’ Kantianism ensures that for him, Hegel’s ‘communicative phenomenology of common life’ is exceeded by transcendent(al) phenomenology, or ‘only ever a subsidiary moment in Jaspers’ philosophy of transcendent(al) unity’. Jaspers only suggests, Thornhill sees, that the ‘communicative processes of objective, social and historical recognition which Hegel elaborates in his phenomenology’, are ‘the preconditions of the higher levels of unity, which cannot be objectively formed, and which are thus conceived in Kantian terms’. ‘The modes of communication which effect the objective formation of general consciousness and spirit only constitute a mediated foundation for the subsequent establishment of higher unity in non-worldly transcendence.’  

Thornhill also emphasizes how the grounding of Jaspers’ communicative existentialism in his concept of a deferred unity of knowledge – in which consciousness (as transcendence) ceaselessly interprets and experiences its own ideal forms – enables him to think beyond the sort of formalized models of humanity posed by Weber and Kant himself. Thornhill argues that law (for Kant) and communication (for Jaspers) are ‘parallel terms in which humanity can relate itself to its humanly metaphysical substance’. Crucially, however, Thornhill sees, whilst in law ‘the possible legitimacy of human-being’ – or the transcendent source of human legitimacy – is ‘always established as an a priori unity of form’, in speech ‘this same unity is infinitely deferred, and reflexively contingent upon its local contexts and contents’.

Weber’s attempt to ‘supersede Kant’s formal humanism’ through his ‘anthropological critique of Kant, transposing formal law into the lived moments of committed interpretation and charismatic politics’, is for Jaspers – Thornhill maintains – not successful. ‘Like Kant, Weber still conceives of human integrity on the basis of a realized unity of law.’ Such a realized unity of law, Jaspers intimates, reappears in what Thornhill calls the ‘anthropology of politics’ which Weber counterposes to Kant’s ‘anthropology of legality’. Because Weber’s anthropology produces ‘a doctrine of law-giving authority, which remains on the level of reified material organization’, as Jaspers suggests (in Thornhill’s words), it merely perpetuates the ‘reified juridical form’ of politics. Thornhill writes that for Jaspers, speech is ‘the form of idealism as content’: in processes of communication human truth shifts from being captured as reified form – when consciousness freezes itself in a realized unity – to being that which is spontaneously and freely produced or disclosed, when the subject places itself in an open, tolerant relation to other subjects.  Jaspers seeks to supplant the form of anthropologies with the content of an existentialism conceived as unstable, ongoing transcendental activity of interpretive speech:

‘Against this background, Jaspers’ theory of communication is not only conceived as a counter-term to theoretical anthropologies based in law, but also to theoretical anthropologies based in politics. His communicative existentialism thus proposes a way beyond the antinomies of Kantian metaphysics and Weberian sociology, towards a conception of human-being in which humanity cannot be resolved as either the form of politics or the order of law, but in which the human discloses its integrity in constant deferral and unresolved experience.’

As we have seen already, Thornhill likewise argues that Jaspers’ ongoing, experiential or communicative idealism offers a way of thinking beyond the sort of formalized model of humanity represented by Heideggerian Dasein. Jaspers, Thornhill writes, sees Heidegger as a philosopher who, ‘like Weber, Dilthey and Simmel before him, solves the reification of consciousness in Kantian idealism merely by recreating the transcendental subject as an inner-worldly objective unity of consciousness’, which ‘invariably sediments itself as a falsely realized hypostatic order’. Thornhill maintains that Jaspers’ thinking shows that, insofar as it is ‘the form of thinking in which formalized consciousness indicates, accepts and yet aestheticizes the limits of its own existence, and so remains closed to the totality of transcendence’, Heidegger’s ontology never escapes the antinomies of Kantianism, such as reflection and experience, and simply ‘sustains and exacerbates the reification of consciousness initiated by transcendental idealism’. ‘Indeed, ontology (for Jaspers) merely reorganizes the transcendental illusions of idealism as Dasein, for Dasein directly reflects an internally congruent system of apparent meanings, which, limited against other totalities, constitute the arena of human validity.’ Jaspers’ thinking, like Adorno’s, thus critiques Heidegger’s ontology as (in Thornhill’s words) ‘the metaphysic of the reified world’. Thornhill argues that Jaspers suggests that Heideggerian ontology, with its allegedly false supersession of formal idealism, implies the upholding of a formalized historical subject – a subject wherein metaphysics has simply been translocated into ‘an objectively realized, ontological unity of human reflection’:

‘Jaspers clearly shares Heidegger’s belief that idealism formalizes human existence by separating reflection from experience. However, unlike Heidegger, he also believes that the reification of thought and experience in idealism cannot be corrected via a historicization of the human subject, through which the formal/juridical relation of thought to being is replaced with a formed historical unity.’   

Whilst sharing Heidegger’s diagnosis of the idealist antinomy of (reified) thought and (reified) experience, then, Jaspers returns us to the idealist truth that – as Thornhill puts it – ‘the unity of consciousness (truth) cannot be determined or elaborated in objectivity’. Quite simply, Jaspers ‘refuses to dismantle the metaphysical superstructure at the heart of Kant’s idealism’:

‘On the contrary, the primary value of Kantianism is, he argues, that (despite its formalism) it still sustains a conception of human life and human agency, in which humanity is only fleetingly explicable as a series of decisively transcendent possibilities, which are falsified wherever they are objectified, and which are appreciable only as they are openly communicated.’

Rather than seeking to think beyond idealism, its antinomies and reifications, in practical ontology, or by posing an objectively realized, ontological unity of human reflection, Jaspers suggests that the formality of idealism can only be overcome through a hermeneutical reconstruction of Kant’s theory of consciousness itself. Jaspers thus develops his communicative idealism, ‘for which the unity of consciousness is never resolved’ (as Thornhill notes). Yet Jaspers’ hermeneutic-experiential idealism is also ‘an ideal theory of self-interpretation’ in which the transcendent(al) forms of consciousness can be ‘disclosed through particular experiences’; it is a practical (self-) hermeneutic ‘in which the ideal form of consciousness (its unity) is always engaged in interpreting itself as content’. Thornhill’s reading enables us to set the praxis of such a nonreifying, communicative idealism in contrast to that of Heidegger’s reifying, historicizing ontology.     

To be continued.

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