Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Jürgen Habermas and Communicative Rationality

Jürgen Habermas (born 18 June 1929)
Author: Wolfram Huke
On June 18, 1929, German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas was born. Widely recognized as one of the world's leading intellectuals, Habermas is perhaps best known for his theories on communicative rationality and the public sphere.

Jürgen Habermas grew up during World War II and was highly influenced by the post-war period and especially the Nuremberg Trials, during which he was exposed to the depth of Germany's moral and political failure under National Socialism. During his time as a graduate student, Habermas noticed that most German philosophers had failed to understand nor to criticize National Socialism. His negative experience regarding the relation between politics and philosophy motivated his further research on the pragmatic and democratic traditions. Also in this period, Habermas met Karl-Otto Apel for the first time, who influenced his philosophical thoughts significantly. He first received great media attention through his critical review on Heidegger's "Introduction to Metaphysics“. In 1954, Habermas finished his dissertation on the conflict between the absolute and history in Schelling's thought and started a journalism career at the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" and several other newspapers.

Shortly after however, Habermas received a scholarship and started working for Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno and was highly influenced in his thoughts on Marxism by the German American philosopher, sociologist, and political theorist Herbert Marcuse. Still, Habermas gained first serious public attention by the scientific community with the 1962 publication if his habilitation "Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere". Habermas was appointed professor for sociology and philosophy at the University of Frankfurt in 1964, where he published his work "Knowledge and Human Interests", in which he first attempts to provide a systematic framework for an interdisciplinary critical social theory.

In the early 1970s, Habermas moved to Munich where he became along with Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker the co-director of the Max-Planck-Institut. He received the Theodor-W.-Adorno-Prize in 1980 and published his masterpiece "The Theory of Communicative Action" one year later. The two volume work contains critical studies of the theories of rationality that informed the classical sociologies of Weber, Durkheim, Parsons, and neo-Marxist critical theory. The two volumes are "Reason and the Rationalization of Society", which establishes a concept of communicative rationality, and "Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason", which creates the two level concept of society and lays out the critical theory for modernity. The work has inspired many responses by social theorists and philosophers, and in 1998 the International Sociological Association listed this work as the eighth most important sociological book of the 20th century. In Volume 2, Habermas introduces a definition of the process of communicative rationality: this is communication that is "oriented to achieving, sustaining and reviewing consensus – and indeed a consensus that rests on the intersubjective recognition of criticisable validity claims". The result of the theory is a conception of reason that Habermas sees as doing justice to the most important trends in twentieth century philosophy, while escaping the relativism which characterizes postmodernism, and also providing necessary standards for critical evaluation. Habermas' theory has been criticized for being utopian and idealistic by Foucalut and Caloun. Further scientists, such as Cohen and Fraser, criticized that the theory was blind to issues of gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality, and that it ignored the role of conflict, contest, and exclusion in the historical constitution of the public sphere.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture by Jürgen Habermas on 'Myth and Ritual'

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