Habermas’s obsessive triading chimes with my own triad OCD. From Finlayson’s Very Short Introduction:

On Habermas’s account, modernization is a process comprising several related developments… First, there was a massive growth in knowledge, particularly in the natural sciences, from the 17th century onwards. Medieval science, an unreliable method of attributing supposedly explanatory properties to substances on the basis of piecemeal observations, was largely based on the authority of Aristotle. Gradually, this gave way to a more systematic approach that married precise techniques of measurement with mathematical theory formation, and a new method of formulating and testing predictive hypotheses. So successful did the new sciences turn out to be that their rise to prominence led (over several centuries and in combination with other factors) to the decline of the authority of the Aristotelian tradition, to the waning of the authority of the Church, and to their eventual replacement by the epistemic authority of natural science and reason. In its turn, Habermas contends (following Max Weber), this massive increase in technically useful knowledge led to the separating out of three distinct spheres of value.

It comes as no surprise that there turn out to be three distinct value spheres. For the differentiation of the value spheres takes place in the wake of the transfer of epistemic and practical authority from religious traditions to validity, and according to Habermas there are three distinct kinds of validity.

In turn, these three dimensions of validity correlate one to one with the three spheres of discourse: theoretical, moral, and aesthetic. … The view is that as religious world views collapse in the wake of rationalization, the problems this hands down are taken up and resolved within one of the three domains of knowledge: the natural sciences, morality/law, and the arts. Learning processes continue and knowledge deepens, but henceforth always within a single domain.

The consequences are twofold. Modernity brings about a vast increase in the amount and depth of specialized knowledge, but this knowledge becomes, in the same process, detached from its moorings in everyday life, and floats free from ‘the stream of tradition which naturally progresses in the hermeneutic of everyday life’… The gap between what we know, and how we live, widens.


  • The validity claim to truth, which addresses the theoretical value sphere falls within the knowledge domain of science.
  • The validity claim to rightness, which addresses the moral-legal value sphere falls within the knowledge domain of morality and law.
  • The validity claim to truthfulness, which addresses the aesthetic-expressive value sphere falls within the knowledge domain of art.

Truthfulness belongs to the domain of art? That seems to strain art beyond its proper limits, but worse (if I’m getting this right) it neglects an element of experience Nietzsche emphasized and called intellectual conscience.

What do I understand truthfulness to be? It is taking seriously the question of what one really experiences as true — including what one really believes — and refusing to confuse belief with what one can successfully argue.

A person can state a scientifically-established fact, or make a sound legal argument, and see no flaws in the fact or the argument, yet, somehow, for mysterious reasons, remain unpersuaded.

Many technically-minded objective people are proud to disregard their subjective sense of persuadedness, and then valorize this act of self-suppression as submission to reason.

But to Nietzsche — and to me — this is spiritual self-mutilation, and what it amounts to is not submission to reason, but rather to explicit language. It is alienation from the wordless. Submission to explicit language cuts one off, not only from art or natural beauty, but from all direct intuition of reality, including, I’m afraid, the reality of other people.

For this reason an underdeveloped intellectual conscience weakens the moral conscience. One can be talked into all kinds of abhorrent bullshit if one thinks only with words.


What initially made me fall in love with my wife was that she made direct appeals to my intellectual conscience. I don’t think anyone had ever engaged me that way before she did, and it shocked me. She made me see that sometimes I was not expressing a genuine belief but rather logically explaining away what I believed at the core of my being.

Since then, I’ve realized that only people with functioning intellectual consciences can be taken seriously as philosophers. If you habitually ignore your intellectual conscience or have such a weak intellectual conscience that it doesn’t register, nothing will really be at stake in your conceptual talk — philosophy will just be a diversion, a momentary vacation from the everyday.

I want the everyday to change, to become more vital, vivid, valuable and charged with significance. For that to happen we must genuinely adopt new beliefs.

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