The Project of Ultimate Grounding and the Appeal to Intersubjectivity in Recent Transcendental Philosophy

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Transcendental philosophy has traditionally sought to provide non-contingent grounds for (a 'rational' account of) certain aspects of cognitive, moral, and social life. Further, it has made a claim to being 'ultimately' grounded in the sense that its account of experience should provide a non-dogmatic account of its own possibility. Most current approaches to transcendental philosophy seek to do justice to these twin aspects of the project by making an 'intersubjective turn', taking the structure of dialogue or social practice rather than the 'I think' or consciousness as the locus of ultimate grounds. After examining the recent debate over transcendental arguments in order to illuminate the relations between two important versions of transcendental philosophy- the neo-Kantian version oriented toward justification of principles and the phenomenological version oriented toward clarification of meaning- this paper criticizes internally connected aspects of the intersubjective turn in K. O. Apel, Bernhard Waldenfels, and a recent 'practical' interpretation of Husserl. It is shown that the twin demands of the project can be redeemed only if ultimate grounding is seen first of all not as an epistemological or ontological question but (as Levinas suggests) as an ethical one. This requires modification of the appeal to intersubjectivity and a qualified return to the first-person perspective.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 1999

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