Dear Terry and colleagues,
(...) , there cannot be interminable regress of this displacement to
establish these norms. At some point normativity requires ontological
grounding where the grounded normative relation is the preservation of
the systemic physical properties that produce the norm-preserving
I have problems with the words "ontological" and "physical" here,
whereas I agree with the need of grounding the normative. Among human
beings, this grounding of subjective normativity can be found in
intersubjectivity. Whereas the subjective remains cogitans (in doubt),
the intersubjective can be considered as cogitatum (the thing about
which one remains in doubt).
For Descartes this cogitatum is the Other of the Cogito. The Cogito
knows itself to be incomplete, and to be distinguished from what
transcends it, the Transcendental or, in Descartes' terminology, God.
(This is the ontological proof of God's presence. Kant showed that this
proof does not hold: God cannot be proven to exist.) Husserl (1929)
steps in on this point in the Cartesian Meditations: the cogitatum which
transcends us is intersubjectivity. It is not physical. The physical is
res extensa, whereas this remains res cogitans. It cannot be retrieved,
but one has reflexive access to it.
Interestingly, this philosophy provides Luhmann's point of departure.
The intersubjective can be operationalized as (interhuman)
communication. The codes in the communication can relatively be
stabilized. One can use the metaphor of eigenvectors of a communication
matrix. They remain our constructs, but they guide the communication.
(Luhmann uses "eigenvalues", but that is a misunderstanding.) Using
Parsons' idea of symbolic generalization of the codes of communication,
one can continue this metaphor and consider other than the first
eigenvector as "functional differentiations" which enable the
communication to process more complexity. The model is derived from the
Trias Politica: problems can be solved in one of the branches or the
other. The normativity of the judiciary is different from the
normativity of the legislative branch, but they both ground the
normativity that guides us.
The sciences are then a way of communication; namely, scholarly
communication about rationalized expectations. Scholarly communication
is different from, for example, political communication. An agent
("consciousness" in Luhmann's terminology) recombines reflexively and
has to integrate because of one's contingency. The transcendental
grounding is in the communication; it remains uncertain. Fortunately,
because this implies that it can be reconstructed (by us albeit not as
A non-human does not know oneself to be contingent. Lots of things
follow from this; for example, that the non-human does not have access
to our intersubjectivity as systems of expectations.
Professor emeritus, University of Amsterdam
Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR)
Associate Faculty, SPRU, <http://www.sussex.ac.uk/spru/>University of
Guest Professor Zhejiang Univ. <http://www.zju.edu.cn/english/>,
Hangzhou; Visiting Professor, ISTIC,
Visiting Fellow, Birkbeck <http://www.bbk.ac.uk/>, University of London;
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