Habermas, Ratzinger and the Kantian divide

Over the last week I have been struggling to understand the basic architecture of German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, perhaps the most famous philosopher of his generation. While by no means do I claim a organic understanding of his work, but Summary Jurgen Habermas which summarizes his position and approach to modernity, via reason and rationalization, and democracy and politics. It is mostly based on the Theory of Communicative Action (click here to download) and “Three normative models of democracy” (click here) The questions at the end of the paper are a good exercise in comprehension, and if you have answers, please post them in the comments section.

Why is any of this important to faith and how relevant is it to the environment. Well, it is important to Catholics and the current situation of philosophy and intellectual exchange because Habermas had an interesting dialogue with Cardinal Ratzinger in 2004 about secularization, modernity and the relationship of faith and reason. You can read about their discussion in a book called “The Dialectics of Secularization: On reason and religion”, by Ignatius Press. Habermas is interesting because (among other things) he sees that reason and communication can be great motors of authentic social and political development, and Habermas lives to these standards. He is a philosopher who is open and changes his positions as he is influenced by other peoples better arguments. As you can see in my paper, Habermas finds some difficulties to make his theory of democracy and communication actually work; such as multiculturalism, the ethical self understanding of nations and cultures, religious pluralism in democratic societies – which all point to the very foundations of Habermas’ work: Kant. The Kantian understanding of morals and epistemology effectively limits Habermas’ thinking and ability to engage in any form of metaphysics and greater commitments to truth.

In a famous speech in Mexico, Cardinal Ratzinger, effectively pointed this out, coming from a different direction: theology. Nonetheless he engages in similar issues as Habermas starting from Marxism (in its Catholic version as liberation theology), through politics, post-metaphysics and concluding in Kant’s limitations for philosophy and theology, all in the context of modern relativism. This is a must read classic, find it here. This text explains why all this is relevant to the environment as well. Without a commitment to Truth which Kant prevents, an intellectual approach such as Reconciliation can never be connected to its deepest roots, as revealed by God in Christ and understood theologically. As Ratzinger says, philosophy and reason must open up in order to engage theology and connect human reason to what is searches for.

8 thoughts on “Habermas, Ratzinger and the Kantian divide

  1. Basically, Habermas wants the non-religious people to do a little more than they have been doing up to now for the religious people to feel at home in the modern State.

    This State, Habermas says, is bound by law to grant religious freedom for all, but has trouble allowing everyone to express his beliefs without upsetting others.

    Habermas says that there is an imbalance or an asymmetry in the way the modern State expects the religious people to shut up about their beliefs for instance in public debates about abortion, euthanasia, marriage.

    1. Sorry I only “approved” your comment now, and responded so late. Thanks for the comment.

      Yes, I agree with what you say. And while Ratzinger precisely dialogues with Habermas because of what he advocates for, making the religious feel at home in the modern state, he will also say that this is inadequate or insufficient. Because when an exchange as Habermas proposes really begins to take place between the religious and the secular, the “metaphysical baggage” will necessarily challenge the value relativism of the secular world, and vice-cersa. And if participants are willing to communicate as Habermas proposes, seriously, and friendly conflict is inevitable. As pluralism extends, this tension will become increasingly more visible, I think.

      This video is an interesting example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAMx5yomJXg

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