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Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:25

Jürgen Habermas

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habermas-pJürgen Habermas  (1929- )


Jurgen Habermas was a member of the so-called second generation of Critical Theorists. He was a member of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt when it returned there from New York after the Second World War. He was born in Dusseldorf in 1929. He came from a wealthy family. His father was the Director of the Cologne Chamber of Industry. When the War ended in 1945, Habermas was 16 years old and his conceptions of social and moral philosophy were dramatically shaped by the Nuremburg War crimes Trials. He realised early that German philosophy had failed to stem the gross excesses of the Nazi regime and that the instrumental rationality of the Third Reich besides being morally abhorrent, also signalled the failure of rationalism itself within the German tradition. He studied at the universities of Göttingen (1949-50), Zürich (1950-51), and Bonn (1951-54) and earned a doctorate in philosophy from Bonn in 1954 with a dissertation entitled, The absolute and history: on ambivalence in Schelling's thought. During this period, in 1953, he had become interested in Heidegger's existentialism, and queried an earlier publication of Heidegger 's that supported National Socialism. He never received a reply, and this convinced him that German philosophy had, at its very moment of truth, failed to articulate the dangers and evils of fascism. It was at this point, that he turned his attentions instead, to that branch of Western philosophy emanating from the Anglo-American cultuure.


Following this, in 1956, he studied philosophy and sociology under Horkheimer and Adorno at the Frankfurt Institute for Social Studies, now repatriated from New York His dissertation caused a rift between his two supervisors, and Habermas (who also felt that the Institute's disdain for modern and popular culture had rendered it ineffective) left to complete his habilitation in Political Science at the University of Marburg. It was his habilitation that first brought him to public awareness. habilitation,  Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (English ed., 1989), a detailed social history of the development of the bourgeois public sphere from its origins in the 18th century salons up to its transformation through the influence of capital-driven mass media. In 1964, at the suggestion of Adorno, he returned to Frankfurt to accept Horkheimer' s chair in philosophy and sociology.

His attention turned increasingly to the media in its role a cultural and social instrument and to different forms of rationality embodied therein. His primary focus was becoming clear - the nature and formation of the public sphere and its capacity for social transformation through a structural analysis of its effects. Two of his earliest books Toward a Rational Society (1970) and Theory and Practice (1973) begin to reveal this focus. In the former, he attempts to link his emerging conceptions of rationality with the student protest movements of the 1960s and their confrontation with the Establishment knowledge systems of advanced capitalism. We can witness his conceptions begin to crystalise in Knowledge and Human Interests (1971) where his understanding of the different forms of rationality becomes clear. These theories were later to influence Giroux and others in the field of Critical Education Theory as a means of unpacking the repressive potential of institutionalised and repressive knowledge systems. In this work he articulates for the first time the nature of scientific rationality as ideological. In Knowledge and Human Interests we can see the beginnings of a methodologically pluralistic approach to critical social theory. This would be articulated further in his later writings. In particular, it was becoming clear to Habermas that the creation of a space for unrestrained public dialogue held out the greatest hope for future peace and equity. The rest of his life's work is devoted to explicating this goal. This explanation finds its clearest voice in his Communication and the Evolution of Society (1976) and his later Theory of Communicative Action (1981)

Here he describes the nature of the necessary public sphere where democratic communitive action might thrive. He noted that as routinised political parties and interest groups substitute for participatory democracy, society is increasingly administered at a level remote from input of citizens. As a result, boundaries between public and private, the individual and society, the system and the lifeworld are deteriorating. Democratic public life only thrives where institutions enable citizens to debate matters of public importance.

What lies behind all of this, is a serious questioning of the issue of truth. Habermas holds that the truth of a proposition does not necessarily depend upon its objective validity in scientific terms, but upon the agreed or consensual experience of the truth speakers. This is not to suggest that truth has no basis in fact, but that facts themselves are part of the discursive field of the public sphere and are dependent upon issues of cultural and personal experience. What is crucial for Habermas is not the factualness of a given statement in objective terms, but the ability of the truth sayers to recognise the collective validities of the differing realities of particvipants in the disrursive space.

"This discursive theory of democracy requires a political community which can collectively define its political will and implement it as policy at the level of the legislative system. This political system requires an activist public sphere, where matters of common interest and political issues can be discussed, and the force of public opinion can influence the decision-making process." (Wikipedia )

For an extensive analysis of Habermas' theories click here.

For a terrific, fully comprehensive and clear overview of Habermas' entire corpus of work click here 

Read 1860 times Last modified on Thursday, 09 May 2013 09:52

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