Thursday, June 11, 2009

Giri engages Jurgen Habermas and Sri Aurobindo in a thought dialog

Knowledge and Human Liberation - Excerpts from Ananta Kumar Giri Annotated by Debashish Banerji
from Science, Culture and Integral Yoga™ by Debashish
This is an annotated introduction to the first chapter of a recent book Knowledge and Human Liberation by Ananta Kumar Giri of the Madras Institute of Development Studies.

The essay tries to engage Jurgen Habermas and Sri Aurobindo in a thought dialog. The potency of Jurgen Habermas (1929 - ) in a postmodern era has sustained itself due to the questions of human liberty, equality, ethics and understanding he has prioritized over those of knowledge, identity or experience. Habermas’ most powerful contribution to contemporary thought has been in the theorization of the “public sphere.” In elaborating its implications, Habermas focuses on what he calls “communicative reason.” Communicative rationality, according to him, is "oriented to achieving, sustaining and reviewing consensus - and indeed a consensus that rests on the intersubjective recognition of criticisable validity claims.”

This discipline of intersubjective practice restores the lifeworld from its fragmentation under ideological or economic (commodified) alien consolidations. Thus Habermas’ communicative speech acts operate under an implicit faith in Human universality and its inevitable collective experience as social and individual knowledge, a continuation of the Enlightenment ideal. A discplined intersubjective praxis of creative communication can very well be seen as a part of the social realization of an integral spiritual ideal in a plural field.

Usually this has not been clearly described or prioritized by scholars and practitioners of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Non-Dualism, the emphasis having been directed towards the articulation of a universal (integral) Psychology, in terms taken from Sri Aurobindo’s own writing. But such denotative asocial descriptions have tended to subjugate phenomenological variety and social/cultural/personal experience. As a consequence, the danger of a totalitarian epistemology in the name (nomos) of Integral Theory has asserted itself with its own institutional disciplinary agents, who have increasingly tended to police out (violently if necessary, as the contemporary controversy related to the recent biography, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, alarmingly and overwhelmingly demonstrates) all subjective interpretation of the way to this goal, and thus to the possibility of a plural realization of the Integral Yoga.

Against this background, the comparative and cross-cultural dialog between Habermas and Sri Aurobindo initiated by Ananta Giri is a salutary intervention. Using each to critique the limits and possibilities of the other, Giri shows how the rational assumptions of knowledge in the Enlightenment ideal lead to aporia which have been amply documented by postmodern thinkers, but which receive a higher validation through the transcendental ontology and praxis of Sri Aurobindo; just as the susceptibility to ontotheological abstraction and totalism of Sri Aurobindo’s phenomenology and praxis when reduced to an Integral Psychology, Integral Theory or Integral Religion can be safeguarded for a plural space through disciplines of intersubjective communication as developed by Habermas.

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