Habermas preserves the empiricist emphasis on the centrality of "experience" for any viable account of knowledge and rationality, while he problematises its understanding of “experience” itself. For this he turns to such pragmatism and (most notably) Heidegger. In his short piece on Dewey he writes the following important lines:
“In The Quest for Certainty, Dewey criticizes the empiricist “spectator model of knowledge,” according to which elementary sensations provide a firm basis for experiences. In fact, experiences are gained only in interaction with a reality against which behavioral expectations may run aground. For this reason reality is disclosed not through the receptivity of sense, but rather in a context of projecting and performing actions that succeed or fail. Objects are not “conceived” independently of the controlled outcome of deliberately performed actions. Therein lies the significance of scientific experiments.” (in Habermas and Pragmatism, p. 231).
Though Habermas in turn criticises pragmatists like Dewey for the narrowness of their concept of action and hence experience he credits them for paving the way for overcoming a narrow conception of experience derived from the empiricist tradition. In the above quote the key is Habermas’ rejection of the “sensory” model of experience. For Habermas our related with reality is move “involved” and hence our notion of experience more “embedded” than what the empiricist tradition would like us to believe.
In fact it can be argued that Habermas’ real inspiration and model in this regard is not pragmatists but Heidegger, as the following two quotes make it clear. Speaking of Apel and himself Habermas writes:
“Our early familiarity with, and learning towards, philosophical anthropology and the analytic of Dasein in Being and Time (Heidegger and analysis of “being in the world” in particular) had prepared us for a pragmatist epistemology.” (Habermas and Pragmatism, p. 227).
It is interesting to note that Habermas singles out “being in the world” as the most important element of Heidegger’s analysis. In is Discourse of Modernity in his extended discussion of Heidegger Habermas equates his own notion of lifeworld with that of ‘being in the world.” In this context it is worthwhile to recall Joachin Renn’s following remarks on Habemras’ strategy of “integrating the ‘good parts’ of his opponents’ thoeorizing into his own approach”:
“Thus, Heidegger, for instance, who serves as the central opponent with regard to hermentucial overemphasis of the linguistic function of world disclosure . . . provides the notion of ‘being in the world,’ which Habermas adopts to re-describe the concept of Lebenswelt (Husserl) as the resource of pragmatic relation to the world.” ("One World is Enough" p. 489).
In his Dewey essay mentioned above Habermas’ wrote about Heidegger that:
“Heidegger, too, drew tacitly upon the insights of pragmatism in Being and Time, in the analyses of “equipment,” the “ready-to-hand,” and “context of involvement.” With the concept of “being in the world,” Heidegger also participated in the anti-Platonic thrust of pragmatism.” (Habermas and Pragmatism, p. 231).
It is interesting to note that among contemporary "pragmatists" Brandom has returned to Heidegger’s analysis of the exactly those concepts of Heidegger’s Being and Time which Habermas has emphasised as central for his concerns (see Robert Brandom, “ Heidegger’s Categories in Being and Time” The Monist 66, no 3 (1983), pp. 387-409, also reproduced in A companion to Heidegger, pp. 214-232).
For Habermas, in order to overcome bald naturalism it is necessary to overcome a narrow empiricist conception of experience.