New Philosophy

Jürgen Habermas

What are Jürgen Habermas’ main ideas?

Habermas’ major works include The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962), Theory and Practice (1963), On the Logic of the Social Sciences (1967), Knowledge and Human Interest (1967), Toward a Rational Society (1967), Technology and Science as Ideology (1968), The Theory of Communicative Action (1981), On the Pragmatics of Communication (1992), The Postnational Constellation (1998), Old Europe, New Europe, Core Europe (2005), The Divided West (2006), and with Joseph Ratzinger The Dialectics of Secularization (2007).

Habermas’ (1929–) quest has been to find a normative or prescriptive basis for social criticism. As a graduate student, he identified the importance of the public sphere of political discourse in the eighteenth century, which did not endure. In his early work, he rejected positivism, Marxism, and the psychoanalytic tradition for their failures to provide a normative foundation. His own goals were liberatory, and he thought that modernity could best be criticized from communicative rationality, or progressive discourse, as opposed to merely instrumental or goal-oriented rationality.

Habermas has held that formal “pragmatics” is necessary to clarify the implicit rules that determine who participates in official and institutional discourse. In criticizing these rules, Habermas’ conclusion is that such discourse is biased toward bureaucracy and technology or mastery of nature, which is not limited to capitalism. The correction lies in an ongoing dialectic or public discussion, with the ideal of obtaining the agreement of all interested groups. This pluralistic dialectic is itself an ideal speech situation. Habermas’ ideal speech situation is understood by many to be a revival of Enlightenment rationality.


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