Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Habermas's Critical Theory : Rationality, Reflexivity and Its Limits

Jürgen Habermas, one of the forerunners of critical theory in the second generation of the Frankfurt School, criticizes his seniors, Adorno and Horkheimer that their critique of modernity leads to a cultural pessimism, which blind the "unfulfilled potential of Western Modernity" because of their attachment to the philosophy of consciousness that fails to distinguish between two types of rationalization: instrumental rationality and communicative rationality. (Ray, 1993: 11-12) Habermas believes that modernization and rationalization involves not only purposive rationality but also communicative rationality which is oriented towards consensus that can be the basis of critique and progress.
However, to my impression, it is questionable if Habermas's critical theory is fully critical. To be sure, Habermas's theory has been criticized by many theorists including post-colonial theorists and feminists (interestingly, one of their critical article was titled "What is Critical about Critical Theory?" (Fraser, 1985)). Indeed Habermas's theory tends to attach to western notion of rationality, and neglect so-called "politics of difference" which draws attention to the categories of "the other." This is because Habermas's theory is based on the notion of rationality, which presuppose an agreement or consensus, and rule-following. It looks like a significant departure from the conventional Marxism which emphasizes conflicts between different social factions [classes] to a kind of socio-pathological approach which originated from the Durkheimian tradition and has developed through Parsonsian functionalism. As a result, whereas Habermas's theory has an implicit theory of "communicative reflexivity," he also lacks a significant portion of the notion of reflexivity which is struggling against others or, more importantly, which is both critical and hermeneutic in that while in the given context, it thinks beyond the given contexts. The problem of Habermas's theory of communicative rationality is not only that it neglects the context, but also that it fails to show how to transcend the context in spite of his effort because he fails to see the coexisting another contexts of action; actors does not fully share their contexts. The purpose of this paper is to clarify and reconstruct a Habermasian theory of communicative reflexivity and then to point to its limits.

full here

Habermas and Critical Thinking

Ben Endres
Columbia University

"In this paper, I propose to examine some of the implications of Jürgen Habermas's discourse ethics for critical thinking. Since the argument that Habermas presents is complex and multi-dimensional, I will not be able to confront its entirety. Instead, I will briefly summarize the argument and then examine the implications of his standards for reason and communication for education and critical thinking. Critical thinking is also a broad topic with conflicting interpretations. Therefore, I will ground my use of critical thinking in a conception similar to that of Richard Paul's account, which I will also summarize briefly. Given this background, I will argue that Habermas's theory directly confronts the central problem in characterizing critical thinking. The problematic tension in his theory - between the acceptance of profound social differences, and the attempt to ground moral reasoning in universal principles - is also a challenge for critical thinking. Critical thought must be characterized in a way that allows for different subject matter and different methods without sacrificing its usefulness for particular disciplines and diverse learners. I argue that although the requirements that Habermas places on reasoning may need to be broadened to incorporate different kinds of thought, his theory demonstrates the epistemological and ethical need for a general commitment on the part of the thinker to reflect critically on personal and social beliefs."

full here

Community of difference: Habermas and the problems of pluralism (Juergen Habermas)

Mark Green Thames, The University of Texas at Dallas


Jürgen Habermas is a German philosopher and sociologist whose thought has moved steadily over the decades to theorize just and moral societies in democratic, constitutional states within a cosmopolitan world order. He attempts to ground all social relations in the human universals of communications. I examine his works in order to show how his theory could be strengthened by jettisoning unnecessary and unhelpful commitments to antimetaphysical and impersonal concepts. I argue that he cannot effectively provide moral-ethical guidance in a situation of worldview pluralism without metaphysical resources. In particular, I argue, first, that his discourse morality in fact implies a universal communicative ethics. Second, his theory of communicative action and his discourse morality together presuppose a certain sort of person as a communicative actor. I compare this with John Searle's conscious self. Third, I think that Habermas inadequately addresses worldview pluralism as a result of these problems and of his commitment to political approaches. This last calls for more comment. The specifics of Habermas's difficulties with pluralism flow from these self-imposed constraints; thus, he fails to find a legitimation for existing metaphysical and religious worldviews, despite his avowed need for them, and so cannot properly welcome their differences; similarly, he fails to acknowledge his own system's implied worldview, and its implied ethical standards for evaluating worldviews, and so struggles to set appropriate boundaries to civil society; moreover, his resulting political-legal approach to developing solidarity and managing difference is unlikely to produce even the broadest sort of cosmopolitan community. I offer John Hick's philosophy of religious pluralism as an example of an alternative approach to problems of worldview pluralism. I hope that a philosophy of communicative action which follows these recommendations will better be able to explain human commonality, ground human community, acknowledge differences, issue needed basic moral-ethical judgments, and affirm personhood and humanity unequivocally. This dissertation is an effort to modify Habermas's philosophy of communicative action accordingly.