Thursday, January 4, 2018

Deflating Modernity (Part 1) Looking at conditions of possibility

boooo: the lurking ghost of Modernity is watching

Modernity ... an accepted, codified convention.-- Octavio Paz  

aLfRedO tRifF

Modernity (from hereon) is a peculiar, unfathomable, entity.

When did M really start? Is it still enduring? Is it abstract, concrete? If abstract, what are its properties? If concrete, how is it bounded?

What I'd like to do here is explore M's conditions of possibility, particularly from within critical theory.

A respected theorist who has made a career writing about M is Jurgen Habermas. In the mid 1980s Habermas published a series of 12 lectures titled The Philosophical Discourse of ModernityBorrowing from Weber, Durkheim and Herbert Mead's theories Habermas delivers this definition:
The concept of modernization1 is a bundle of processes that are cumulative and mutually reinforcing: to the (a) formation of capital and the mobilization of resources, to the (b) development of forces of production and the increase in the productivity of labor, to the establishment of (c) centralized political power and the formation of national identities, to the proliferation of rights of political participation, (e) of urban forms of life and of formal schooling, to the secularization of norms and so on (added letters are mine). 
For Habermas, this "bundle of processes" (let's call it Brefers to something concrete, out there in the world.

The problem of causal explanation in the Human Sciences has been addressed by numerous theorists. In Explanation and Understanding Von Wright makes the point that hermeneutic explanation is not causal in the nomic sense of "a spark making a barrel of gunpowder explode." Instead we have a quasi-causal explanation, that is, parts of the "bundle of processes" are presented as a possible causes, part to whole, which may occur as series of probabilities, which amount to a narrative (Habermas doesn't acknowledge this method since his approach is hermeneutic). Historic analysis cannot be grasped using laws of nature and lawlike uniformities, which brings the methodological difference between Natural and Human Sciences. Whereas the natural sciences explain phenomena in terms of cause and effect the human sciences, tries to understand relations between part and whole.

Wilhelm Dilthey's contribution to Hermeneutics established how Erlebnis or "lived experience" necessarily refers to other structurally related experiences that ground it. But Dilthey was aware of the problem of circularity in his method (Hermeneutischer Zirkel) whereby one's understanding of "lived experience" is already determined by the one's prior understanding one's experience.

With this in mind, let's analyze Habermas' historic explanation. His definition takes this form:

Modernity = def A bundle of processes that are cumulative and mutually reinforcing: to the (a) formation of capital and the mobilization of resources to the (b) development of forces, etc...

The relation definiendum  definiens is a strong one. It means that the left hand side and the right hand side of "______ = def ______" are exchangeable. In our discussion B is a necessary and a sufficient condition for M.

I- Let's address M's sufficiency.

To show that B is not sufficient for M we would need to show that P can refer to moments other than M.

Θ  B is not a sufficient condition for M.

(a) Formation of capital

"Formation of capital" cannot refer exclusively to modern capital, if "capital" means wealth, whether physical assets or currency. It's a fact that the formation of capital is not unique to M.

(b) Development of forces of production

Is "development of forces of production" unique to M?

Marx uses forces of production to refer to the means of labor (physical such as machinery, land, etc) + labor power (a normalized category to describe the production of goods and services). Unless the category is redundant to describe its own present, it can refer to instances other than M.

(c) Centralized political power

Centralized political power is not a phenomenon unique to M. Does not Menes, the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh credited by classical tradition with having united Upper and Lower Egypt (and founder of the first dynasty) counts as an example of (c)? I don't see why not.

(d) Formation of national identities

With (d) we have a looping problem. The received idea (in Modern History) is that "nation" is already a modern development. Can we find an example of "nation" before M? Professor Anthony D. Smith thinks so. 2

(e) Urban forms of life and of formal schooling... secularization of norms and so on.

Let's take the former: Urban forms of life are not necessarily modern. 

The latter: Schooling harks back to the Hellenistic Period.

When one causally explains, one must be able to refute possible counterfactuals

Coming back to Θ above: B is not a sufficient condition for M.


II- Let's address M's necessity.

If B a necessary condition for M, M cannot exist without B. See that all we need is to find is one instance where M happens without B. Let's imagine a different bundle of processes B' which brings forth M. If this is possible then,

Ω  B is not a necessary condition for M.

The Habermasian is visibly annoyed. She will not conceive of Ω.

But she could: There is B' (a different set of processes than the one Habermas mentions) which brings about M. That proves that M can exist without B.  B' is possible. B' being possible means that, counterfactually, B is not a necessary condition to bring forth M.

The Habermasian is begging the question on her initial point: "M cannot exist without B" because that's the way it is.

Let's ask a different question: Is true?

The Habermasian should accept that B doesn't have to be true to imply M. But actually any "bundle of processes" whether true or false, unproblematically implies M

Is the Habermasian still smiling?

Imagine B to be a discrete set of phenomena and M a cluster event. The theorist now tries to connect and M, but he merely presents B as causing M without a detailed analysis of such purported connection. The fallacy lies in assuming that a "bundle of processes" described as "cummulative and mutually reinforcing" automatically renders M.     

Here are three inferential errors: 

1- the ad hoc reduction of to B, without a serious counterfactual analysis,3 2- assuming that B explains M and 3- assuming that B causes M. 4 

Next post: Hegel's axiomatics and the metaphysical grounding of M.

1 For Habermas M and "modernization" are isomorphic to each other, with "modernization" becoming the economic side of the coin. From Habermas' neo-Marxist perspective, M plays the superstructure part of the two.  2 In his well-known Antiquity of Nations Professor Anthony Smith critiques the received modern idea of nation as a modern development: "A nation is a type of community that is based on the idea that people perceive a given territory as belonging to them, rightly or wrongly." The second characteristic is that it's a community of myth, memory, and symbol. "This is what the members of a nation share in common, to a greater or lesser degree: myths, memories, symbols, traditions, which differ from those of other nations." Thirdly, the members of those nations have forged a distinctive public culture, "which includes rituals and ceremonies and public codes of conduct; a political culture of symbols, flags, anthems, stamps, coins, and so on, that mark out this nation from another nation." Finally, members tend to observe common customs and laws. To establish definite causation we need to counterfactualize particulars in order to distinguish whether a given event does not occur at all from ones at which it occurs but is somewhat unlike (the way it actually was). Is not Habermas begging the whole question of M?

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