I am a newbie in philosophy.

I've just started reading "The philosophy book" that is a broad introduction about the main philosophers.

I found interesting the article on Richard Rorty, so I started to read "Rorty and his critics".

At page 2 it says

Although I think Habermas is absolutely right that we need to socialize and linguistic the notion of 'reason' by viewing it as communicative, I also think that we should go further: we need to naturalize reason by dropping his claim that "a moment of unconditionality is built into factual processes of mutual understanding".

I don't understand what "to naturalize reason" mean.

I found an article on "Naturalized Epistemology" at "Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy", but I don't understand it is the same thing.

  • 1
    Could you quote the whole passage? (It concerns his reply to Habermas, if I remember correctly)
    – DBK
    Sep 17, 2013 at 17:35
  • Yes, you are right, it concerns his reply to Habermas. I've just added the whole passage.
    – Robbo
    Sep 18, 2013 at 19:51

1 Answer 1


In general, "naturalizing" X, for philosophers, meaning looking at how the processes of X occur in nature, and developing a theory of it based on those observations rather than reasoning about it in the abstract. Quine's endorsement of "naturalized epistemology" was therefore an effort to refocus philosophical analyses of knowledge towards how knowledge is actually produced in the world (i.e. in nature). This would move epistemology away from the study of what kinds of reasons for believing a sentence offer adequate justification for it. It would move epistemology towards the study of human psychology (and how individuals acquire knowledge) and natural science (and thus how we collectively acquire knowledge).

Not being a Habermas expert, I don't know whether more is built into his phrase "moment of unconditionality" but I strongly suspect that "naturalizing reason" here means looking at how human beings in fact from evidence to conclusions, and indeed replacing logic with that. I suspect that "dropping the moment of unconditionality" means removing the abstraction from the analysis of reason, and shifting it towards reasoning as it actually occurs, embedded in real conditions.

Now, in both cases, there are serious questions about whether a naturalized inquiry could ever replace a traditional one, even as it seems right that there is a danger in analyzing processes entirely from the armchair, without engaging with how they happen in in fact. But the process of integrating those two approaches has indeed characterized a good deal of Anglophone philosophy over the past couple decades. But, I think that's what Habermas's critic is saying above.

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