I.8 Conceptual Architecture of Social Science according to Habermas.


In the wealth of his publications Habermas has made many  important contributions to a fundamental renewal of the con­ceptual architecture[1] and the set of basic concepts guiding  social scientific research (Van Doorne 1982).  My focus here will be only on this fundamental conceptual frame of reference ,  that is, on a part of Habermas’s work. However, I consider it to be of crucial importance for his researchprogram as a whole, although this might get lost of sight due to the fact that Habermas since a good number of years has moved into the direction of  rather ‘applied’ research with regard to law, democracy and discourse ethics within  the contemporary tension-laden setting of state and society.

His conception concerning the selected topic has undergone a number of  changes  over the years. In my presentation I will forego these chan­ges. Therefore I articulate Habermas’s position in these matters as it stands since the mid-seventies, unchanged, in my opinion, as to its basic characteristics. I am in  substantial agreement with Habermas’s  project concerning the foundations of a theory of society. Nevertheless, it is my (critical) reception and  reconstruction of Habermas’s project, and  I hope that they may prove to be a fruitful extension of his project as well.

In the first section I will introduce sketchily the major aspects of Habermas’s view concerning the conceptual architecture of social scientific research, because it is otherwise impossible to determine the level of analysis on which the articulation of the set of basic concepts is situated . Then I will present in a provisional way the set of basic concepts which, according to Habermas,  are required to ensure the plausibility and the relevance of social scientific research. In the following, short section , I will in general terms indicate how the means of a specific mathematical model of interaction offer the possibility to define the basic concepts of Habermas’s theory of society in an unambiguous manner and how their structural coherence can be articulated.

1. Conceptual architecture and basic concepts

The conceptual architecture of Habermas’ theory of society[3]  

In Habermas’s view, scientific work always has to fulfill a double function: first, to generate testable and relevant empirical knowledge for the approach of problems that arise in our coping with the complex reality of everyday life and that cannot be handled within the limits of everyday practice[4]. And, second, to theoretically justify the plausibility and explanatory power of the presuppositions and assumptions that determine the process of scientific knowledge acquisition (see Van Doorne (1982: 82-96) and Van Doorne, Vromen (1989: 98-102). It is necessary to distinguish care­fully between these two functions of social scientific re­search. Each requires its own kind of discourse with the application of specific rules and criteria for the validi­ty of arguments brought forward[5]. For example, in economics with regard to the sector of business activities, , an investigation of transaction costs in a specific case, requi­res different concepts and assumpti­ons then game-theoretic modeling and analysis of its implications and results. I will call the first kind of discourse the empirical-scien­tific form of con­cept- and theory-formation, and the second the recon­struc­tive-scientific form[6] . Ac­cor­ding to Haber­mas, the two forms of concept- and theo­ry-formati­on are not self-contained, they have to be conside­red as mutual­ly depen­dent approaches, stylized[7] into different directions given predominant preoccupations and they are of equal importance for a scienti­fic discipline that claims to be a social scien­ce.

Closely related with this issue of the double-sidedness of scientific work is the question: how to con­ceptua­lize the relationship between these two main forms of theo­retical­ly steered activi­ties. And the fur­ther unavoida­ble question: how to conceptualize the relati­onship of each of these two scien­tific approaches with the every­day social reality we are living in. It is this reality that itself is characterized by complex features selectively put into focus by each of the two scientific approaches. These questions are matters of architecture, and  with Habermas I consider their articulation and the development of an adapted conceptual framework as part of a (general) theory of society.

The main subject of Habermas’s theory of society is communication, that is in my understanding[8], specifically social interaction, between humans ,  first of all, interactions between persons. But, as we will see the concept social interaction comprises as well interactions between action-domains, pertaining to a particular society or  to society at large. Against this background scientific work is seen as a specialized form of social interaction within the specific societal domain of science. In what follows  I limit myself to a reconstruction of the conceptual framework of Habermas’s general theory of society with regard to the social sciences and their relation with society at large .

Habermas defends the view that defining empirical research-objects in the social sciences presupposes practical common knowledge (a ‘know-how’) about the characte­ristic structure of social interactions in everyday situations. The object-definition guiding the selective approach 0f research transforms an everyday social problem into a scientific problem. The transformation has two sides: it is an abstracting move with regard to a host of particularities relevant in everyday practices, as well as a selective, discipline-specific approach, commanded (however implicitly) by general assumptions about what is constitutive for social interactions and about what makes them work. In Habermas’s view these assumptions themselves have to be justified. This can only be done through a theoretical reconstruction of the ‘know how’ about what constitutes social interaction and about how it works, always implied in every non-arbitrary definition of a scientific object. Of course, a theoretical reconstruction of this kind has to apply  to the interactions involved in the empirical-scientific transformation of societal problems as well as to the interactions involved in theoretical reconstruction itself. Thus, the two main forms of scientific interactions within the domain of science, the empirical and the reconstructive, have to be measured against the (recon­structed) structural features of the pre­sup­posed practical common knowled­ge or know-how (‘Vorverständnis’ in German)[9].

According to Habermas, it is a fundamental precondition for social relevance to safeguard the interconnection[10] of  the two forms of theory formation with everyday social interactions and with each other. As will be shown in chapter I-8 , it is possible to fulfill this requirement in terms of conformity of the conceptual structure of the to be differentiated contexts of social interaction, each of which, as we will see in chapter I-7, requires its own language. My interpretation and elaboration of Habermas’s concept leads to the following schema (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Interdependent  contexts of social interaction

Figure 1 offers an overview of three contexts of social interaction relevant for the domain of social science. They result from the distinction of scientific interaction from and against everyday interaction in the first place, and from the further distinction, with regard to the scien­tific interaction-domain itself, of the two existing main contexts of scientific research: empirical research and reconstructive research. I share Habermas’s conviction that diffe­rentia­tion in theory-formation goes astray without complemen­tary efforts at inte­gration. In the scheme this conviction is expressed by the introduction of two perspectives of analysis, not only a differen­tiating perspec­tive, but  an integrative perspec­tive as well, regarding respectively each of the two main contexts of scientific interac­tion. These short notes about the conceptual architecture of Haber­mas’s approach allow to indicate that the conceptual framework for a general theory of society he has developed, is a form of reconstructive-scientific theorizing and modeling. It is develo­ped from the integration perspective on the highest level of abstraction[11].

The basic categorical framework of a theory of society

Not only the architecture of Habermas researchprogram has undergone significant changes. This is also the case with the categorical framework.[13] Habermas has been de­ve­loping for the purpose of his theory of society[14]. What I am after is the reconstruction of what Habermas in his theory of society considers to be the set of basic concepts and their interdependent framework that is necessary and sufficient to understand and explain the constitutive features of a social interaction situation and the performance of social interactions. Habermas is in search of an explanatory model for the social sciences. It should be emphasized in advance that such a  model can not refer directly to concrete phenomena of  social interaction. It is a reconstruction of the general structural conditions which have to be fulfilled if we want to speak of social interaction. The analyses of the­se general structural conditions and their modeling in terms of a conceptual framework take place, as already noted, within the con­text  of reconstructive-theoretical research. In several publications Haber­mas has been working on it. In chapter I-7  I will follow closely the representative parts of Habermas’s early writings on this topic. For now I just mention the set of basic concepts that Habermas has proposed in his first attempts to develop ‘a formal pragmatics’ (1975-a, pp.13 and following; 1975-b, p. 332 and in parti­cular pp.337-3

With regard to the structure of the interaction-field of man, Habermas distinguishes four action sectors: (1a) external nature, (2a) internal human nature, (3a) society and (4a) the sector of language. With respect to the action competences in tune with these four action sectors he states that an actor should be able to (1b) act goaldirected, to (2b) self-expression, to (3b) communicative action and to (4b) language use. Concerning the reality relations which interconnect the different action sectors and the different action competences Habermas distinguishes (1c) the relation of objectivity, (2c) the relation of subjectivi­ty, (3c) the relation of normativity and (4c) the relation of intersubjectivity. Finally, taking into account the implicit validity claims that actors mutually bring forward, Habermas distinguishes four claims: (1d) a claim to truth, (2d) a claim to  veracity, (3d) a claim to rightness and (4d) a claim to comprehensibility. These intuitively made distinctions are not proposed in terms of acquired insight, but as basic presuppositions which we need, according to Habermas, in order to be able to account for our thin­king, acting and speaking. The meaning-, action- and reality-values of those distinctions still have to be made plausible in an empirically controled manner.

Figure 2: the general action system[15]

2. On the need for modelling the structural categories

I have assumed in  my dissertation (Van Doorne (1982)) that the set of catego­ries presented in Figure 2 is adequate for the definition of the structural features of social interaction as such. I will argue in favor of this assumption , and I will do so by making use of mathematical means. Given the complexity of Habermas’s con­cept,  it is difficult  to get a clear picture of the structural coherence of  the in figure 2 enumerated basic categories.  Almost twenty years ago I came across a model used  by the mathemati­cal economist Ruys in his inaugural lecture on rational behavi­or[16]. In discus­sing it with him I surmised that the characte­ristic features of the model were interpreta­ble in terms of the coherence of the reality relations at the center of Habermas’s concept. Ever since I have been wor­king to really find out whether the axioms defining the formal interaction model could be interpreted such, that I could match his (tripolar) mathemati­cal model of interacti­on structures with the con­ceptual struc­tures of Habermas’s theory of social inter­action. With the help of the mathematical tools offered by the model I have been able to identify and to recon­struct, by modeling them, the set of reality relations (objectivity, normativity, sub­jectivity and intersub­jectivity ) as the conceptu­al core of Haber­mas’s theory of so­cie­ty. And only by doing so, I could make a reconstruction of the implicit rules according to which Habermas has been defining all the structural components put together in the schema of Figure 2.  And I could specify in what way and in what sense (according to his concept) they are contribu­ting to the construction of social reali­ty. In this respect, and in this sense only, my interpretation and reconstruction of Habermas’s theory of society is ‘preconditioned’ by the mathematical model used.  I leave the discussion of my reconstruction to chapter I.11 .