Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A new book on Habermas

The Philosophy of Habermas

Andrew Edgar


This comprehensive introduction to the thought of Jurgen Habermas covers the full range of his ideas from his early work on student politics, the public sphere and the development of Marxist theory to his current work on communicative action, ethics and law. Andrew Edgar examines Habermas's key texts in chronological order and charts and assesses the continuities and discontinuities in his thought, both in terms of subject matter and methodology. The unfulfilled potential, or unresolved challenges remaining from earlier projects are identified and the author highlights those points in Habermas's career where clear choices of direction have been made and their implications evaluated. Each chapter focuses on one or more key texts and can therefore be read as a self-standing essay on that key reading and the point that it represents in Habermas's development. However, material in each chapter also serves to identify the links between Habermas's texts and to give shape to Habermas's broader project. Some of the themes that are examined are Habermas's early reshaping of Marxist theory and practice, his characterization of critical theory, his conception of universal pragmatics, his theories of communicative action and discourse ethics, his accounts of the rationalization and colonisation of the lifeworld and his defence of the project of modernity. Edgar engages with Habermas's critics throughout and contrasts his views with the ideas of contemporaries such as Adorno, Gadamer, Foucault, Rawls, Luhmann and Rorty to give a clear sense of Habermas's place and importance in contemporary philosophy and social theory.

Andrew Edgar is Lecturer in Philosophy at Cardiff University."

publisher link
amazon link

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A new book by Habermas

Zwischen Naturalismus und Religion

"The book brings together nine recent essays and two new contributions:

Einleitung (new)

I. Die intersubjektive Verfassung des normengeleiteten Geistes

1. Öffentlicher Raum und politische Öffentlichkeit. Lebengeschichtliche Wurzeln von zwei Gedankenmotiven (2004)

2. Kommunikatives Handeln und detranszendentalisierte Vernunft (2001)

3. Zur Architektonik der Diskursdifferenzierung. Kleine Replik auf eine grosse Auseinandersetzung (2003)

II. Religiöser Pluralismus und staatsbürgerliche Solidarität

4. Vorpolitische Grundlagen des demokratischen Rechtsstaates? (2004)

5. Religion in der Öffentlichkeit. Kognitive Voraussetzungen für den ”öffentlichen Vernunftgebrach” religiöser under säkularer Bürger (new)

III. Naturalismus und Religion

6. Freiheit und Determinismus (2004)

7. ”Ich selber bin ja ein Stück Natur” – Adorno über die Naturverflochtenheit der Vernunft (2005)

8. Die Grenzen zwischen Glauben und Wissen. Zur Wirkungsgeschichte und aktuellen Beteudung von Kants Religionsphilosophie (2004)

IV. Toleranz

9. Religiöse Toleranz als Schrittmacher kultureller Rechte (2004)

10. Kulturelle Gleichbehandlung – und die Grenzen des Postmodernen Liberalismus? (2003)

11. Eine politische Verfassung für die pluralistische Weltgesellschaft? (new)"

from here

Reviews: here

The Prospect/FP Top 100 Public Intellectuals

"Who are the world's leading public intellectuals? FP and Britain’s Prospect magazine would like to know who you think makes the cut. We’ve selected our top 100, and want you to vote for your top five. If you don’t see a name that you think deserves top honors, include them as a write-in candidate. Voting closes October 10, and the results will be posted the following month."

Habermas is among topc 100 nominated by FP and Britain’s Prospect.

Vote here

link courtesy of Habermas Forum

Reclaiming the idealist heritage of critical theory

Title: Reclaiming the idealist heritage of critical theory

Abstract: Despite his overtures to analytical tradition Habermas remains philosophically steeped in the tradition of German idealism particularly Kantian and Hegelian versions of it. However the exact nature of Habermas’ relation with idealism still needs to be explored. In this paper I shall start doing exactly this by considering Habermas’ relation with Kant.

It is true that Habermas rejects certain basic assumptions of the idealist tradition emanating from Kant. He wants to detranscendentalise Kant’s conception of transcendental subjectivity and his notion of noumenal realm. However detranscendentalisation should not be seen as a rejection of Kant’s notion of transcendental subjectivity and noumenal as such. Habermas wants to salvage the transcending powers of reason and essence of Kant’s noumenal realm even after a thoroughgoing detranscendentalisation. Habermas terms his strategy to achieve just this ‘transcendence from within and into this world.’ Transcendence from within combines a rejection of the idealist positing of otherworldly realms with a reassertion of the idealist insight about the transcending powers of reason.

In this paper I shall not argue the case for reclaiming the idealist heritage of critical theory in any direct and grand fashion. I shall rather focus on an issue that is concrete, specific and limited in scope. I shall argue my case by proving the existence of two typically Kantian (and idealist) motives in Habermas’ work:

a) Habermas’ reassertion of Kant’s belief that rational causality is totally different from natural causality.

b) Habermas’ reassertion of Kant’s belief that in order to prove rational causality one needs to show the possibility of transcending innerworldly realm.

I shall argue however that Habermas defends the above Kantian themes without presupposing Kant’s otherworldly realm. This differentiates as well as relates Habermas’ work with that of Kant. I hope this will provide a model for considering the question of the relationship between crucial theory and idealism in general in a more balanced way which pays equal attention to the differences as well as similarities, ruptures as well as continuities.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Presentation of Jürgen Habermas

Presentation of Jürgen Habermas
By Kaarlo Tuori

Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929) belongs to those contemporary Master Thinkers who cannot be unequivocally located within the customary division of academic disciplines. His works cover a broad field of human and social sciences: philosophy, ethics, social theory and sociology, political theory, law and legal theory. In addition, he has actively participated in German and, especially since the 1990s, European debates on issues which he himself defines as ethico-political.

Habermas is the leading second-generation representative of the Frankfurt school of critical theory. His background in critical theory accounts for one of the main uniting themes in his voluminous oeuvre : the elaboration, justification and application of a critical yardstick for assessing modern society. The perspective of critical theory has also provided direction for his more philosophically-oriented work, which follows the programme of reconstructing rationally the presuppositions of human communication and action and where the concept of rationality occupies a prominent position.

In his Habilitation thesis, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962; Eng. ed. 1989), Habermas criticised modern society for not keeping the promises it had raised with the ideas of the liberal or bourgeois public sphere and the Rechtsstaat . His analysis ended with the pessimistic conclusion that the ideas of the liberal public sphere, general law and the bourgeois Rechtsstaat had lost their social foundation.

Habermas’ ‘linguistic turn’, which can be dated to the late 1960s and early 1970s, led to the universalisation of the normative criterion, to its detachment from the structures of modern society. The ideal speech situation, which, according to Habermas, is anticipated in all human linguistic communication and which has an anthropological basis in the human communicative capacity, could easily be interpreted as a universally valid norm of social criticism, as well as a justification of and a model for a society based on freedom and equality.

However, Habermas soon rejected the idea that the ideal speech situation could be understood as defining the ultimate aim of social emancipation. He had learned from his discussion partner Niklas Luhmann that social evolution manifested a constant growth in the systemic complexity of society. Therefore the transparency which would be required by the ideal speech situation, interpreted as an all-embracing organisational principle for society, could not function as the critical yardstick of social theory.

In his The Theory of Communicative Action (1981; Eng. ed. 1984/89), Habermas introduced the social theoretical distinction between the life-world ( Lebenswelt ) and the System. He based this distinction on the differentiation of social action into communicative and strategic action, as well as on the corresponding differentiation of the social and the systemic integration of society. Habermas’ diagnosis of the problems plaguing contemporary society is known as the thesis of the colonisation of the life-world. The danger consists of systemic mechanisms invading the life-world, of money and administrative power replacing mutual solidarity and linguistically-mediated understanding as the integrative mechanisms of the life-world.

The Theory of Communicative Action could not give a convincing answer to the crucial question how the life-world could protect itself against the imperialism of the System, how the threat of the colonisation of the life-world could be warded off. Habermas did express his confidence in the resistance of the life-world structures, which were continuously reproduced by communicative action; to support his optimism, he appealed to, for example, the experience of the new social movements. However, it remained largely open as to how the potential implicit in the structures of the life-world could be channelled into a countervailing force to the System.

After The Theory of Communicative Action Habermas turned his attention to moral and legal theory. He made a major contribution to the theory of discourse ethics ( Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action , 1983, Eng. ed. 1990). He soon realized the need to complement the discussion of modern society’s moral structures with a legal-theoretical approach. In its legal-theoretical chapters, Between Facts and Norms (1992, Eng. ed. 1996) provides a discourse-theoretical account of modern law. It also proposes a solution to the problem The Theory of Communicative Action had left open. Now the law – democratic law-making procedures and the communicative power engendered through them - is assigned the task of disciplining the System. Between Facts and Norms in a way returns to the themes of Habermas’ Habilitation thesis. The democratic Rechtsstaat is there to contain the exercise of administrative power, and its basic principles, along with fundamental human-rights principles, also provide the critical social theory of modern society with normative yardsticks.

In political theory, Between Facts and Norms elaborated the notion of deliberative democracy. In his subsequent writings, Habermas’ focus has been on the trans-national level. He has made important contributions to the on-going discussion on the possibilities and forms of trans-national constitutionalism, democratic Rechtsstaat and deliberative democracy, while also continuing his more philosophical explorations. In addition to being an exceptionally versatile academic writer, he is also an outstanding example of a modern intellectual who is conscious of his specific responsibilities in the public discourses forming the core of deliberative democracy.

View interview with Jürgen Habermas

View interview with Jürgen Habermas (5 min.)

Holberg International Memorial Prize 2005 for Habermas

The Board of the Ludvig Holberg Memorial Fund
has decided to award
the Holberg International Memorial Prize 2005
Professor Jürgen Habermas

The Board of the Ludvig Holberg Memorial Fund award the prize on the basis of the recommendation of an academic committee composed of outstanding researchers from the above mentioned academic fields.

Citation of the Holberg Prize Academic Committee:

“Jürgen Habermas has developed path-breaking theories of discourse and communicative action and thereby provided new perspectives on law and democracy.

His research is thematically wide ranging and has had exceptional interdisciplinary impact. Habermas has significantly contributed to the understanding of rationality, ethics, legitimation, critical public discussion, modernity, the post-national society and European integration. His intellectual breakthrough was The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962; Eng. ed. 1989), which, by combining empirical and theoretical research from a number of disciplines, constituted an original contribution to democratic theory. In his opus magnum The Theory of Communicative Action (1981; Eng. ed. 1984/89) he provides a new foundation for critical social theory and discusses the possibility of public discourse among free and equal citizens. The discourse theory of law and deliberative democracy is outlined in Between Facts and Norms (1992; Eng. ed. 1996). His conception of democracy is further elaborated in articles addressing contemporary issues such as the multicultural society, nationalism and globalization (collected in The Inclusion of the Other (1996; Eng. ed. 1998) and The Postnational Constellation (1998; Eng. ed. 2001)). Lately, Habermas has among other things worked on foundational problems in ethics and philosophy.

Habermas has had extraordinary international influence in a great number of disciplines.”
thanks to Gary for the link.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Language, structure of communicative action and interruption of teleology

Habermas makes it clear that both communicative action and strategic action has “a teleological structure” (OPC: 203). It means both actors in the communicative actions and strategic actions have ‘intentions’ and ‘ends’.* However intentions of actors in communicative actions are supervened on the structures of communication as against strategic actions where intentions of actors are the determining factor. The teleological structure of action is interrupted in communicative action:

“. . . communicative and strategic action do not differ primarily in terms of the attitudes of the actors but rather with respect to structural characteristics . . . in communicative action, the structure of the use of language oriented toward reaching understanding is superimposed on the fundamental teleological structure of action and subjects the actors to precisely such constraints as compel them to adopt a pefromative attitude . . . .” (OPC: 204-205, emphasis added).

Thus in a sense it is right to say that in communicative action language suspends the teleological structure of action (even if only momentarily) and actors in fact dwell in language and its unique causality which is quite distinct from the causality of action:

“As long as language is used only as a medium for transmitting information, action coordination proceed through the mutual influence that actors exert on each other in a purposive-rational manner. On the other hand, as soon as the illocutionary forces of speech acts take on an action-coordinating role, language itself supplies the primary source of social interaction. Only in this case should one speak of “communicative action.” In such action, actors in the roles of speaker and hearer attempts to negotiate interpretations of the situation at hand to harmonize their respective plans with one another through the unrestrained pursuit of illocutionary goals. Naturally, the binding energies of language can be mobilized to coordinate action plans only if the participants suspend the objectivating attitude of an observer, along with the immediate orientation to personal success, in favor of the performaitve attitude of a speaker who wants to reach an understanding with a second person about something in the world.” (BFN: 18, emphasis in italics mine, in bold by Habermas).

The unique of causality of reason emerges from within only when actors are ‘delivered’ to language itself. Language interrupts the natural causality and makes possible the emergence of the causality of reason as long as we remain delivered to the language itself.

* “My critics have on occasion overlooked the fact that both models of action attribute to the actors a capacity for setting goals and goal-directed action, as an interest in executing their own plans of actions.” (OPC: 203, emphasis retained).

Friday, September 16, 2005

Critical Theory

I had not noticed the entry on Critical theory in Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy before. Thanks to Gary for the pointer. It should be a good read as James Bohman is a leading Habermas scholar in the English speaking philosophical world. His Ph.D. dissertation on Habermas was highly praised, among others by Habermas himself, at the time.

I am adding critical theory resources section on the sidebar.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Honneth interview

"Probably no election campaign in the last 20 years was as dominated – below the surface – by social questions as the one now coming to an end", says Axel Honneth, director of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, in an interview with Harry Nutt. "The problem is that none of the parties has a concept of social justice complex enough to bring equal opportunities, work-dependency, generational discrimination and ecological considerations together in a rational and comprehendable framework. Almost all the parties are still operating with one-dimensional concepts of justice that concentrate for example on performance, equal opportunities or need, instead of taking the step to a multi-dimensional concept that is indispensable for the future. Much more intellectual work remains to be done here, over and above what party theoreticians can point to today."

from here

Honneth interview here

Ein mehrdimensionaler Gerechtigkeitsbegriff ist unverzichtbar

Für den Philosophen Axel Honneth haben allein die Grünen die intellektuellen Ressourcen, um den gegenwärtigen Strukturwandel der Politik zu begreifen

The Future of Critical Theory: 2nd and slightly revised Call For Papers


The Future of Critical Theory
(A Postgraduate Conference)
17-18 November 2005
University of Melbourne

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:
John Rundell (Director of the Ashworth Program in Social Theory) Jean-Philippe Deranty (Macquarie University) Dieter Freundlieb (Griffith University)

The Ashworth Program in Social Theory and The Social Theory Postgraduate Association (University of Melbourne) are inaugurating an annual conference for Australian postgraduates researching in what may broadly be regarded as the tradition of "Critical Theory" For this to occur, we are organising a first conference on the theme of the "The Future of Critical Theory" which we hope will be the first in a series. The conference will be held on the 17th to 18th of November 2005. We are inviting papers from Melbourne and interstate based postgraduate students in any discipline and asking them to reflect on the state of Critical Theory: its past, its present and its future.

Possible topics for discussion include:
1. The "criticalness" of Critical Theory.
2. The legacy of the Frankfurt School (from Horkheimer, Adorno to Habermas and Honneth):
Generational interconnections, contemporary resonances.
3. Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity: what place does the 'subject' have in critical theory?
4. Developments in French critical theory -- Adumbrations of a French-German dialogue 5. Philosophy and Critical Theory 6. The politics and/or ethics of Critical Theory 7. The roots of Critical Theory: Marxism, Romanticism, Literature.
8. Dialogues with fields outside of Critical Theory that may be seen to provoke, supplement it or directly challenge it.
9. We also intend to devote sessions specific to these thinkers:
Niklas Luhmann, Axel Honneth, Theodor Adorno, Manfred Frank, Agnes Heller, Walter Benjamin, Alain Badiou and Cornelius Castoriadis.

Submission details:
Title and 250-300 word abstract for papers of 20 minutes reading time.
Submissions should also include the following information:
Speaker's Name, Phone Number, Postal address, Email address, University Affiliation.
Submissions can be sent by e-mail to by 30th September 2005.
For enquiries, email

Conference Web site: here

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

transcendence from within as proving causality of reason from within

The significance of the illocutionary component of speech acts for Habermas is not just that through them one can best elucidate the fact that utterances are “speech actions.” The significance of the performative component of speech acts is more central than this for Habermas. The significance of the illocutionary component for Habermas lies rather in the “peculiarly generative power of speech acts”:

“It is to this generative power that I trace the fact that a speech act can succeed or fail. . . . [] the generative power (of a speech act) consists in the fact that the speaker, in performing a speech act, can influence the hearer in such a way that the latter can take up an interpersonal relation with her.” (OPC: 56-57, emphasis added).

The word “influence” in the above quote is absolutely crucial for Habermas. Habermas takes “influence” here in non causal sense. Influence for him here is rational and not causal. A part of Habermas’ project of theory of communicative action, formal pragmatics and theory of meaning is to show that this causality of reason can be explained without any reference to Kant’s otherworldly realm of intelligibility.

The above difference between rational influence and causal influence is the basis for Habermas distinction between 'perlocutionary effects' and 'illocutionary success,' (which in turn is the basis for Habermas' crucial distinction between communicative action and strategic action).

"Perlocutionary effects, like the successful results of teleological actions generally, may be described as states in the world brought about through intervention in the world. By contrast, illocutionary successes are achieved at the level of interpersonal relations on which participants in communication to come to an understanding with one another about something in the world. In this sense, they are not innerworldly but extramundane. At most, successful illocutionary acts occur within the lifeworld to which the participants in communication belong and that forms the background for their processes of reaching understanding. They cannot be intended under the description of causally produced effects" (OPC: 127).

The fact that the above crucial distinction is related to Habermas' effort to prove the Kantian notion of causality of reason from within normally goes unnoticed in Habermas scholarship. Charles Nussbaum is the only Habermas scholar I know of who has paid some attention to this.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Language and transcendence from within

"As long as language is used only as a medium for transmitting information, action coordination proceed through the mutual influence that actors exert on each other in a purposive-rational manner. On the other hand, as soon as the illocutionary forces of speech acts take on an action-coordinating role, language itself supplies the primary source of social interaction. Only in this case should one speak of “communicative action.” In such action, actors in the roles of speaker and hearer attempts to negotiate interpretations of the situation at hand to harmonize their respective plans with one another through the unrestrained pursuit of illocutionary goals. Naturally, the binding energies of language can be mobilized to coordinate action plans only if the participants suspend the objectivating attitude of an observer, along with the immediate orientation to personal success, in favor of the performaitve attitude of a speaker who wants to reach an understanding with a second person about something in the world." (BFN: 18, emphasis in italics mine, in bold by Habermas).

The unique of causality of reason emerges from within only when we deliver ourselves to language itself. Language interrupts the natural causality and makes possible the emergence of the causality of reason as long as we remain delivered to the language itself.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Peirce

"Almost all the papers in this fine collection will reward careful reading and clearly 'comprehensiveness' is not a reasonable demand to put on such a collection. Nevertheless, there does seem to be at least one obvious lacuna, which could have been easily addressed. In most general terms Peirce clearly thought of himself as rethinking the Kantian project of exploring the conditions of possibility of science, and in virtue of this has played an important role in contemporary German philosophy. The work of Jürgen Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel are primary cases in point, and through them other young German philosophers have become interested in Peirce's version of pragmatism. It would have been good if something that provided a window into this problematic had been included."

full here

Rethinking Critical Theory

International Journal of Philosophical Studies has published an special issue on critical theory and its future. Here is the details of contributions with their abstracts:

Suffering Injustice: Misrecognition as Moral Injury in Critical Theory

J.M. Bernstein
A1 New School for Social Research, New York, USA

It is the persistence of social suffering in a world in which it could be eliminated that for Adorno is the source of the need for critical reflection, for philosophy. Philosophy continues and gains its cultural place because an as yet unbridgeable abyss separates the social potential for the relief of unnecessary human suffering and its emphatic continuance. Philosophy now is the culturally bound repository for the systematic acknowledgement and articulation of the meaning of the expanse of human suffering within technologically advanced societies that are already committed to liberal ideals of freedom and equality.

Disclosing Possibility: The Past and Future of Critical Theory1

Nikolas Kompridis
A1 York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

In this paper I indicate the reasons why critical theory needs an alternative conception of critique, and then I sketch out what such an alternative should be. The conception of critique I develop involves a time‐responsive redisclosure of the world capable of disclosing new or previously unnoticed possibilities, possibilities in light of which agents can change their self‐understanding and their practices, and change their orientation to the future and the past.

We, Heirs of Enlightenment: Critical Theory, Democracy and Social Science

James Bohman

A1 St Louis University, St Louis, Missouri, USA

My goal here is to come to terms with the Enlightenment as the horizon of critical social science. First, I consider in more detail the understanding of the Enlightenment in Critical Theory, particularly in its conception of the sociality of reason. Second, I develop an account of freedom in terms of human powers, along the lines of recent capability conceptions that link freedom to the development of human powers, including the power to interpret and create norms. Finally, I show the ways in which the social sciences can be moral sciences in the Enlightenment sense. This account provides us with a coherent Enlightenment standard by which to judge institutions as promoting development, understood in terms of the capabilities necessary for freedom. The relevant social science in this area might include the robust generalization that there has never been a famine in a democratic society.

Avoiding Authoritarianism: On the Problem of Justification in Contemporary Critical Social Theory

Maeve Cooke
A1 University College Dublin, Ireland

Critical social theories look critically at the ways in which particular social arrangements hinder human flourishing, with a view to bringing about social change for the better. In this they are guided by the idea of a good society in which the identified social impediments to human flourishing would once and for all have been removed. The question of how these guiding ideas of the good life can be justified as valid across socio‐cultural contexts and historical epochs is the most fundamental difficulty facing critical social theories today. This problem of justification, which can be traced back to certain key shifts in the modern Western social imaginary, calls on contemporary theories to negotiate the tensions between the idea of context‐transcendent validity and their own anti‐authoritarian impulses. Habermas makes an important contribution towards resolving the problem, but takes a number of wrong turnings.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Realism after the linguistic-pragmatic turn*

"Reading Wahrheit und Rechtfertigung (1999) and more specifically what Jürgen Habermas writes in the "Introduction" to his recent book, not yet published in English[2], I will try to explain his answer to the epistemological problem of realism: how can we conciliate both the postulate of a world that is independent of our descriptions, a single objective world, and the philosophy of language discovery according to which we have no direct access, non-mediated by language, to "naked" reality. Habermas wants to hold on to the moment of unconditionality that is part of the correspondence idea of truth, while retaining an internal relation between truth and justifiability: his aim is to work out a theory of truth that is inherently pragmatic yet retains the idea of an unconditional truth claim."

full here

Related resources:
One World is Enough
Truth, Knowledge and Reality
Hilary Putnam on the Problem of Representation and "Internal" Realism.
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