Omnis determinatio est negatio: On Habermas, Myth, and Truth

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Abstract

With his monumental genealogy of Western philosophy Jürgen Habermas delivers an achievement that is worthy of great praise. In carefully constructed arguments he presents in detail the close connection between, and the mutual indebtedness of, religion and philosophy as they developed in the West for more than two millennia. With regard to the current state of affairs he acknowledges that we should continue to engage with subjects such as purpose, meaningfulness, and how to behave. He proposes that where religion is withdrawing, philosophy should take its place. In spite of its great merits, there are some fundamental shortcomings in the overall image Habermas wishes to convey. By suggesting that Western religion and philosophy have been the major driving forces not only of cognitive but also of ethical progress, he underestimates the moral value of pre-Socratic and other holistic world views that radically differ from the idiosyncratic Western one. For example, he perceives Homer’s mythological thinking as nothing but a primitive state of mind against which the ethical and intellectual progress of later developments could come to the fore. This paper proposes that we should give much more weight to the difference between the ‘cognitive’ and the ‘ethical’ than Habermas does. In principle, as a form of argumentative reasoning, philosophy belongs to the (cognitive) domain of truth. As such, it is not a suitable successor to religion. On the other hand, provided they operate primarily within their own domain – which is the domain of meaningfulness –, religion (in whatever form), literature and the arts, ancient myth, friendship, love, and humour may still be best equipped to sharpen our sense of justice and help us deal with feelings of moral disorientation and fragmentation.
Translated title of the contributionOmnis determinatio est negatio: On Habermas, Myth, and Truth
Original languageDutch
Pages (from-to)235-248
Number of pages14
JournalAlgemeen Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Wijsbegeerte
Volume113
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

Keywords

  • Axial age
  • mythology
  • religion
  • rationalism
  • ethics
  • Platonic art theory
  • domain of truth
  • domain of meaningfulness

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