The Nature of Political Theory

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4 The Nature of Political Theory

and immortality. This form of metaphysical foundation not only speaks of the reality
behind appearances, but also offers the initiate the very essence of reality through
which some form of perfection of knowledge and practice can be attained. Another
way of putting this would be that there are degrees of truth and reality, and to rise
in the grasp of that scale of forms and degrees of truth requires a certain type of
character and virtue.^1 The grasp of metaphysical foundations thus moves apace with
the development of human virtue and character.
Finally, there is also a transcendent element to this comprehensive understanding of
foundations. The sense of transcendence, which most antagonizes anti-metaphysical
writing, is the idea that foundational metaphysical resources lie outside the empirical,
factual, or experiential realm altogether, namely in some form of luminous trans-
cendent reality. The sole concern is therefore to identify certain rich suprasensible or
transcendental foundations. Thus, the transcendent non-empirical foundation helps
us to account for the world being one way rather than another. The divine craftsman
of Plato’sTimaeus, the unmoved mover of Aristotle, the neo-Platonic demiurge,
the Augustinian God, or the HegelianGeist. This is the view from a transcendental
nowhere—a god’s eye view,sub specie aeternitatis, from the rim of the world, spec-
tating on human doing. It explains ‘how’ the world is (as it is), rather than the ‘that’
of the world. It is worth noting, however, that this notion of foundation does not
necessarily imply any religious principle—it can be a wholly-secularized concept.
The second sense of foundationalism is the immanent conception. The basic idea
is that one can gain access to a universal foundation without recourse to any compre-
hensive rich metaphysical claims. The essential claim is that there are certain concepts,
which are absolutely self-justifying. In other words, the concept itself contains the
resources for its own universal justification and presence. The task is to reconstruct
and show these deep internal or immanent justifications. The argument can there-
fore drag itself up by its own foundational bootlaces—autopoietically. A virtuous
circle of reasoning therefore takes place that studiously avoids using the terminology
of metaphysics or foundationalism: in fact, it often claims to be anti-metaphysical.
This idea is most prevalent in the various forms of twentieth century neo-Kantian
constructivism. More recent forms of the immanent argument concentrate on what
is implicit in reason, action, discourse, or communication.
For Jürgen Habermas, for example, genuine philosophical thought ‘originates in
reflection on the reason embodied in cognition, speech, and action’ (Habermas
1984: 1). Habermas has been concerned to reconstruct the universal conditions,
which are presupposed in all reasonable communicative action. Habermas is trying
essentially to develop a universalistic foundation from what isimmanentin human
rationality and dialogue. However, this is not a foundational structure in the sense
of a ‘first philosophy’—it no longer claims to be the final arbiter. It cannot there-
fore assign the various positions of the sciences as an overall adjudicator. Philosophy
is more fallibilist, interacting with the various natural and human sciences. How-
ever, immanent within all communicative action there is a type of interaction that
is orientated to reaching understanding. Habermas keeps this distinct from what he
calls ‘nonsocial instrumental action’ and ‘social strategic action’. This fundamental

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