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Jurgen Habermas

Jürgen Habermas (born June 18, 1929 in Düsseldorf, Germany) is a philosopher and social theorist[?] who is probably the most important heir to Kant today -- not that he is strictly speaking a "Kantian," as a critical theorist he has been heavily influenced by the Hegelian tradition--but rather in the more general sense that he believes that through reason we can understand the world and achieve enlightenment.

Habermas burst onto the German intellectual scene in the 1950s with an influential critique of the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. He studied philosophy and sociology under the critical theorists Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno at the Institute for Social Research[?] at the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe university in Frankfurt am Main before becoming professor of philosophy at the university of Heidelberg and then at Frankfurt.

Habermas accepted the position of Director of the Max Planck Institute in Starnberg (near Munich) in 1971, and worked there until 1983, two years after the publication of his magnum opus, The Theory of Communicative Action. Habermas then returned to his chair at Frankfurt and the directorship of the Institute for Social Research. After retiring from Frankfurt in 1993, Habermas has continued to publish at an astonishing clip, and there are no signs of his slowing down anytime soon.

Habermas's main aim has been to construct a non-oppressive and inclusive universalist moral framework. The framework rests on the conviction that all speech acts[?] have an inherent telos[?]--the goal of mutual understanding. Habermas built the framework out of the speech-act philosophy of J.L Austin, the theories of child development of Jean Piaget, and the discourse ethics of his Heidelberg colleague Karl-Otto Apel[?].

Habermas is unusually ecumenical for a Continental thinker, and has often appropriated and praised the work of Anglo-American schools of thought, most notably Oxford philosophy[?], pragmatism, and (more critically) the structural functionalism[?] of Talcott Parsons.

Within sociology, Habermas's major contribution include a critique from a Kantian communicative standpoint of the differentiation-based theory of social systems[?] developed by Niklas Luhmann, a student of Parsons. His defence of modern society and civil society has been a source of inspiration to others, and considered a major alternative to postmodernism. He has also offered an influential analysis of late capitalism.

Habermas is famous as a teacher and mentor. Among his most prominent students have been the political sociologist Claus Offe (professor at Humboldt University in Berlin), the sociological theorist Hans Joas (professor at the Free University of Berlin[?] and at the University of Chicago), the theorist of societal evolution Klaus Eder, and the social philosopher Axel Honneth (the current director of the Institute for Social Research).

Habermas is famous as a public intellectual as well as a scholar, and has used the popular press to attack neoconservative historians who have tried to relativize or lessen the importance of the Holocaust. He is perhaps most famous outside of Germany for his conceptualization of the public sphere[?].

Major works:

  • The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere
  • On the Logic of the Social Sciences
  • Knowledge and Human Interests
  • Theory and Practice
  • Towards a Rational Society
  • Legitimation Crisis
  • Communication and the Evolution of Society
  • The Theory of Communicative Action
  • Philosophical-Political Profiles
  • The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity
  • The New Conservatism
  • Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action
  • Postmetaphysical Thinking
  • Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy
  • On the Pragmatics of Social Interaction
  • The Inclusion of the Other
  • The Postnational Constellation

The best interpretation in English of Habermas's work is still Thomas McCarthy's The Critical Theory of Jürgen Habermas (MIT Press, 1978).

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