I give the German sociologist and philosopher Jurgen Habermas full marks for raising openly the issue of The Future of Human Nature (his recent book). Indeed, leaving gene editing or modification to casual market preferences is dangerous, but do we trust officials or anyone else to regulate it for us? Where I don’t go with Habermas is when he said as long ago as the 1960s that consumption of mass media – then newspapers and TV – is atomistic and isolated. Even then, and before, the readerships and listeners tended to form partisan blocs (providing different markets for particular media operators) despite their physical separation. With the social media of today that is all the more extreme and even the physical separation of users may not apply, especially with children or use at work.

Mass and social media are an excellent example of social realities, frequently observed by Habermas himself, that show how social communication is all too often not a matter of rational debate and openness to good arguments. It has been said that Habermas maintained his theory about the necessity of ‘communicative action’ in the sense of openness to criticism and exchange, despite social realities like the mass media, as being a transcendent reality, inherent in communication – perhaps in a way analogous to the old Catholic idea of Natural Law.

To say the least after millennia of ideas built up on religious faith, Habermas is not the first person to develop transcendental arguments. Yet I plead that transcendental arguments based on claiming a transcendent reality are bad arguments, simply because they beg all the questions. Unless you can convert people who don’t believe the transcendent reality exists (or has any relevance for us?) to a faith beyond proof you are nowhere. Ironically, Habermas can then be forced into trying to shut down rational debate himself by appealing to an unchallengeable position.

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