Leiter today links to a review of Mathew Specter’s intellectual biography of Habermas. In the process of reporting the news, Leiter can’t help but interject that Specter ‘overstates, as is common, Habermas’s philosophical importance….’
The first commenter on the thread points out that Leiter provides no evidence for his judgment. Of course he doesn’t. As I’ve noted before, Leiter sees evidence as overrated (like Habermas’s philosophical significance). As is common, when he makes a contentious claim and someone asks him to back up said claim, his typical response is something like ‘[d]emands for evidence can be made in all directions….’ I don’t think I need to point out the problem with such a dodgy rhetorical move. It’s curious that instead of providing some substantive backup for his comment, Leiter cites a Raymond Geuss’s book The Idea of a Critical Theory, which dates back to 1981. Leiter likes this book because it apparently ‘demolished the early Habermas’. The curious thing about citing this book, rather than providing his own reasons, is that it cuts against the norm of Anglo-American criticism, which tends to downplay the enduring import of older texts (like Geuss’s) in favor of more recent work. Which is to say, is there no recent work on the early Habermas that tries to answer Geuss’s criticism? Is it true, as Leiter claims, that the later work on communicative ethics does not resolve the early problems that plagued Habermas? (I’m not a critical theorist, so these are actual questions.)
Leiter’s post effectively reduces Habermas’s philosophical importance to his status as a public intellectual. His rhetoric effectively claims that no one will be capable of establishing Habermas’s place in the philosophical canon. Dreams of this sort were laid to rest in 1981.