Apel on Bartley

This criticism of Bartley comes from Karl-Otto Apel in a collection titled "After Philosophy: End or transformation" eds K Barnes at al MIT press circa 1988. (the revised edition of Bartley's "Retreat" is cited, though there is no attention to Bartley's theory of metacontexts or his powerful appendix on logical strength).

He addresses the problem: critical rationalism versus foundationalism. His criticism is directed towards Bartley and Popper, and also towards Hans Albert who has been Popper's strong right arm in Germany.

Albert, following Popper, has formulated the problem of foundations in terms of a 'trilemma' between:

1. a regress in search of a foundation.

2. a logical circle, by invoking supports that have themselves been shown to need support.

3. breaking off at a particular point by an arbitrary suspension of the principle of sufficient reason.

He sets out to subject critical rationalism to a 'metacritical examination', "I shall investigate whether - and if so, in what sense - the principle of foundations or justifying reasons can be replaced by the principle of criticism, or whether some kind of philosophical foundation is not itself presupposed by the principle of intersubjectively valid criticism".

[By the way, this is a 40 page paper so I am going to focus sharply on the main points]

He does not want to defend classical rationalism or classical empiricism because these are restricted to the "evidential consciousness" of the subject.

"The goal of Popper and his followers, viz. intersubjectively valid statements, seems to me to be the proper methodological aim of the scientific-philosophical search for truth. I completely agree with Popper and Albert that the 'evidence' of convictions...is not sufficient for the
truth of statements".

He proceeds to address the issue "Does the principle of fallibilism contradict the presuppositions of indubitable evidence?"

He notes that Peirce introduced fallibilism into the philosophy of science.

He is also prepared to concede the principle of fallibilism, in some sense, to logic and mathematics [this is weird, logic and maths can be regarded as tautologous systems where the question of fallibilism in the empirical senses does not apply]. BUT he goes on "I would like to claim - in a sense to be described later, that evidence in the sense of indubitable certainty is methodologically indispensable for the empirical sciences".

He refers to Wittgenstein "On Certainty" and quotes "The game of doubt itself presupposes certainty". 

He writes "In other words, doubt - and thereby criticism in Popper's and Albert's sense - is not explicable as a meaningful language game without in principle presupposing at the same time indubitable certainty"... with further attributions to Wittgenstein .

"In light of the kind of arguments about the meaningfulness of doubt that Peirce and Wittgenstein advanced, numerous imprudent or exaggerated claims of Bartley's and Albert's 'pancritical rationalism' prove to be untenable...In fact, the language of the critical rationalists suggests, not infrequently, the misunderstanding of an anarchic criticism for criticisms
sake, a critical reason without standards of criticism". [this from a tradition where the practioners regard Popper as a positivist!]

[No standards of criticism? Note the four forms of criticism that Bartley has advocated - evidence, check on problem, logic and comparison with other theories - also add a fifth, check on metaphysics]

Apel is not happy with Albert's statement of fallibilism "which does not allow any dogma...with regard to every possible stage" [of an argument]. He asks, how can this be reconciled with arguments from Peirce and Wittgenstein "according to which every doubt and criticism must in principle be justified through what is presupposed as indubitable evidence?...This is
the case because every language game stands or falls (according to an insight of Wittgenstein later taken up by Thomas Kuhn in his analysis of scientific revolutions) with paradigmatic evidence".

Is this the fusion of justification with criticism, which Bartley identified as the key assumption that needs to be called into question?

What kind of argument does Apel produce to back up his idea of 'paradigmatic evidence' that is beyond criticism? What examples does he provide of paradigmatic statements or theories that we cannot (in principle) call into question?

He is prepared to accept a kind of limited fallibilism, due to the failure of classical rationalism and empiricism to deliver justified beliefs, but he considers that in light of the fact that sentences can only be justified by sentences (ad infinitum) "then it is inexplicable that criticism always presupposes possible justification by evidence".

This appears to be the return of the "infinite regress versus dogmatism" that may be circumvented by non-justificationism.

Apel, as a kind of justificationist, takes a different tack. He suggests that the dilemma can be resolved on the assumption that evidential consciousness and intersubjective validity of statements are, on the one hand, irreducible aspects of the truth, and, on the other, "peculiarly
interwoven with each other in language games".

After some more talk about language games he admits that it is not yet clear how the mediation (strictly speaking, the transcendental-pragmatic mediation) between the philosophy of consciousness and analytic philosophy of language yields an argument in favour of philosophical foundations. [so where is his argument going then?]

At this point we are advised to recall that there is a language game in which the scope of all language games can be discussed with a claim to universal validity.

For Popper, however "it is indisputable that he can justify has claim to replace the postulate of sufficient reason by means of a principle of crititicism only by making a universal a priori validity claim in philosophical argumentation". He points out that this involves the prospect
of a new problem of justification, [which is indeed the case if we or Popper
or Bartley ever made any such universal a priori validity claim].

He seems to insist on a domain of "empirically revisable language game paradigms" as distinct from a more fundamental domain of philosophical foundations which have priority over the principle of permanent criticism.

He then proceeds to some more discussion of philosophical foundations via transcendental-pragmatic reflection on the conditions of possibility of the intersubjectivity of philosophical argumentation.

He states that the Kantian project of completing a system of pure reason cannot be sustained "our task is rather that of progressively opening up transcendental horizons, which grow wider with the expansion of the human knowledge that we are questioning". This is a promising locution (reminiscent of the 'expanding universe' of knowledge which is a corollory of pancritical rationalism and the non-authoritarian theory of knowledge) but it does not appear to be supported by any testimony from people such as Nobel prizewinners or just ordinarily good scientists who have found this particular epistemology to be an aid to their thinking.

Finally Apel wraps up with a restatement of his basic point - "any choice that could be understood as meaningful already presupposes the transcendental language game as a condition of possibility".

The key to all this seems to be the notion of transcendence. Does this mean "beyond criticism" or simply "not yet subjected to criticism" (and so unconsciously assumed)?

The notion of transcendence seems to work as a kind of block to further investigation or criticism. How can this be sustained?

We may accept that a language of some kind is a precondition of any kind of communication, or indeed for discursive thinking. Further we may accept that at any moment we are making unconscious assumptions, conscious assumptions that we have not yet subjected to criticism, assumptions that we know are false (but have no better ones to work with), and even assumptions that we do not have time to criticise (because it is way past our bedtime). These considerations may work as pragmatic limits to criticism, however they do not represent logical limits to criticism. And that is the point of critical rationalism, or Bartley's twist on it.

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