I’ve been thinking about the Visker reading, which isn’t on the syllabus but was the piece I did my critical abstract assignment on.
Basically, Visker points out a number of criticisms of the genealogy approach, the most important one being Habermas’s idea that you cannot critique reason using reason. Visker’s solution is to limit genealogy to only a select few cases, where exposure of the origins of the social system in question would destroy the underpinnings of that social system – at least as it is currently conceived.
I don’t know how I feel about that, to be honest. For some reason, when I read Visker’s piece, I felt like this whole debate about genealogy is something that would only stand up in a “philosophical” classroom, and not in the real world. Sure, there are good arguments for such a critique, but they seem to be missing the crucial point that in practice, the genetic fallacy is often not a fallacy at all. This makes genealogy a more widely applicable critical technique than Visker thinks.
Now I know that this stance isn’t one that is commonly accepted in philosophy, but doesn’t how something start affect how it develops? I mean, let us assume we buy the argument that the success of feminism in the West was due in large part to the need for cheap labour following a world war in which the male workforce was greatly reduced. In other words, feminism was a justification for introducing a source of cheap labour into the market.
Now I’m not a historian, so I don’t know how valid such a case would be, or if it’s even possible to determine what the “most important factor” for a given historical development is. But my point is that, if we were to assume that this were true, wouldn’t that change our view of the feminist movement? After all, we ourselves are creatures of historical circumstance. Us “moderns” might have no doubt that the results of the feminist movement were positive, but that’s an opinion that we have due to all these historical processes that were set in motion before we were even born, and set the stage for how we think about social issues today.
In other words, the “genetic fallacy” is largely bogus in practice because even our contemporary “logic” is not in any way universal or divorced from historical developments. There is no way to perform a historically-independent analysis of phenomena, and so there is always the possibility of challenging the existence of a “genetic fallacy” by pointing out that that fallacy only occurs if you analyse concepts through contemporary modes of reasoning, which are themselves not universal.
Going back to the feminism example, there are many arguments we could use to support the positive effects of the feminist movement, but those arguments will likely be based on modern notions of gender equality. And those notions were only developed as a result of feminism, which in turn (according to our hypothetical example) were inspired by corporate interests. How are we then to accuse a critic of feminism using the above argument, of committing the genetic fallacy, in a way that’s independent of those developments?
And it goes even deeper than that. If we can question the genetic fallacy, then what of all the other “fallacies” that we’ve been taught in philosophy? Why shouldn’t might equal right, for instance? Maybe at the end of the day, philosophy – though it tries to question issues at the most fundamental level – nevertheless falls prey to that universal limitation of academic disciplines: that they are at base a group of scholars who have agreed not to question certain fundamentally-held assumptions.