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German Thought


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Unjust Legality: A Critique of Habermas's Philosophy of Law by James L. Marsh (New Critical Theory: Rowman & Littlefield) is an interpretation and critique of Habermas's philosophy of law in his "Between Facts and Norms". The main point is that, while Habermas is insightful in laying out a new conceptual and methodological foundation for the philosophy of law, the book is flawed by a fundamental contradiction: that between the notion of a democracy ruled by law and capitalism. Because capitalism is essentially undemocratic both in its internal economic workings and its intended, structural effect on culture and politics, it must adversely affect the most important institutions in western democratic society, the legislature, judiciary, state administration, and public sphere. As a result, instead of a nation effectively "of, by, and for the people," there exists one that is essentially "of, by, and for capital."

Jurgen Habermas by Martin Joseph Matustik (Rowman & Littlefield) (Hardcover) This philosophical-political profile offers the first of its kind intellectual reconstruction of Habermas' defining existential and historical situations, his generational profile and interventions, his impact on as well as the discontents that his life work generates in others. Written as a lively dramatic engagement with major themes of Habermas' adult life in postwar Germany, the entire study occupies a unique place between the standard genres of a biography and a theoretical commentary on the oeuvre. In this work the reader is taken on a journey with Habermas through the 20th-century intellectual and political history from the defeat of Nazism, to the Cold War restoration of the '50s, the student movement of the '60s, the historical revisions of the '70s and '80s, the hope of the post-Wall era after 1989, all the way to the controversies surrounding the allied wars of intervention against Iraq and Serbia in the 1990s. Both beginning and advanced readers of 20th century socio-political thought gain greater insight into the existential, political, and philosophical influences that proved to be formative of Habermas' writing and activism in the public sphere. The first part of the study emphasizes the unfolding, linear view of Habermas' postwar history, punctuated by the major existential and political situations of his young adult life from 1945 to 2000. The second part returns to the same time-span in order to reconstruct Habermas' mature post-Wall intellectual profile in contrast to the profiles of the preceding generation of 1945 and the later protesting generation of 1968. The third part examines the tremendous Habermas-effect exercised on 20th-century thought and public policy. The concluding chapters discuss critically the lasting place as well as the limits of Habermas' achievement in contribution to a development of new critical theory. The book is enhanced by an introduction that provides a historical and conceptual background to the major themes discussed, twelve helpful thematic tables and figures, and a glossary of foreign terms.


Rationality and Gender in Habermas’s Theory of Modernity

by Marie Fleming

Penn State University Press

$14.95, paper, 243 pages, notes, bibliography, index




In this comprehensive analysis of Jurgen Habermas’s philosophy and social theory, Marie Fleming takes strong issue with Habermas over his understanding of rationality and the lifeworld, emancipation, history, and gender. Throughout the book she focuses attention on the various ways in which an idea of emancipation motivates and shapes his universalist theory and how it persists over several major stages in methodology. Her critique of Habermas begins from the view that universalism has to include a vision of gender equality, and she asks why Habermas, despite deeply held concerns about equality and inclusiveness, repeatedly and systematically relegates matters of gender to secondary status in his social and moral theory. She extends her critique to a range of issues in his theory of rationality and examines what she views as his very problematical claims about truthfulness, art, and bourgeois intimacy.

The point of Fleming’s critique of Habermas is not to dispute universalism, but to build on the key universalist principles of inclusiveness and equality. She is not persuaded by the view, shared by both sympathizers of Habermas and his postmodern critics, that to be for or against Habermas is to be for or against universalism. Her intention rather is to show that Habermas’s theory of modernity is so structured that it cannot achieve its universalist aims. Contending that his theory is not universalist enough, she claims that universalism has to be reconceived as a radical, critical, and historical project.

Pt. 1. Rationality
1. Critique of Reason
2. The Emancipatory Interest
3. Objectivity and Universality
Pt. 2. Gender
4. The Problem of Gender
5. Gender and Communication
6. The Lifeworld Concept
Pt. 3. Communicative Action
7. Truthfulness
8. Art
9. Intimacy
Selected Bibliography


Jurgen Habermas’s philosophy and social theory draws a line between modernity and postmodernity. That line is reproduced, over and over, in Habermas’s own writings, in those of his keenest supporters, and also in those of his more skeptical readers, and it is drawn at least equally clearly in the texts of his postmodern critics. Everyone, from Habermas himself, to his sympathizers, to the postmodernists, seems to agree on one thing, namely, that Habermas stands for the universalizing tendency of modernity, and that to be for or against Habermas is to be for or against universalism. In this book I refuse to draw a line between modernity and postmodernity, and my criticisms of Habermas are not arguments against universalism. On the contrary, from my feminist perspective, Habermas theory is not universalist enough. I contend rather that universalism has to include a vision of gender equality, and what I seek to explain is how and why his theory of communicative action does not allow for the articulation of such a vision. Why, for example, does he include feminism in the list of heterogeneous and "particularistic" social movements, environmental groups, antinuclear protests, tax revolts, and so on, that have sporadically made themselves felt in Western societies in the latter part of the twentieth century? How can he suggest that feminism belongs to the grand ``universalistic" tradition of bourgeois-socialist liberation movements and still maintain that feminism is a "new" social movement reflecting late-twentieth-century particularistic aspirations? Does he continue to develop a moral theory that denies moral status to issues of gender, despite concerns raised by feminist theorists? Why does he view his class-based model of the public sphere of modernity, which he worked out over three decades ago, as basically correct, despite the evidence for the differential basis of women’s exclusion from the public sphere?

Habermas’s treatment of gender presents difficulties because he says little about gender and assumes, wrongly, that gender has nothing to do with the rationality problematic. It also presents difficulties because, despite his androcentrism, in some important respects his views are not incompatible with feminist insights. For example, he still stands by his early view that there is a constitutive connection between knowledge and human interests and that a reflexive understanding of that connection requires a fundamental change of perspective in theory of knowledge. That view was developed in the 1960s, when he rejected the Cartesian model of the disembodied subject and envisioned a community of knowers whose physical survival, relations with one another, and "human" development depended on their ability to gain different types of knowledge: the theoretical knowledge needed for efficient intervention into the natural world, the moral-practical knowledge needed to establish relations between persons, and the "emancipatory" knowledge needed to overcome social and psychological structures of power and repression. Habermas’s work on knowledge and human interests was also an argument against a positivistic conception of knowledge. He maintained that analytic philosophy of science had reduced to a sort of half-knowledge the historical-hermeneutic disciplines and the "emancipatory" knowledge produced through Marxian social theory and Freudian psychoanalysis. He expressed these criticisms within and against the tradition’s assumptions, and his initial strategy was to expand the theory of knowledge to preclude the privileging of science. While he did not dispute science’s claim to produce valid knowledge, he argued that science, and philosophy of science, had taken scientific norms as the basis not for one type of knowledge, but knowledge itself.

The epistemological approach Habermas took to the question of knowledge and human interests was useful in constructing a powerful (internal) critique of philosophy of science, but he became convinced that epistemology could not take us very far beyond critique. He decided that solutions to the dilemmas he described could only be found through a radical reconceptualization of epistemological issues, and he was particularly attentive to the need to rethink the model of subjectivity at the core of epistemology. In his theory of communicative action he offers a model of intersubjectivity as a way of generating understanding about how we acquire knowledge of all kinds—knowledge of the natural world, but also of each other and of the self. This reconceptualization of his work on knowledge and human interests has been so radical that Habermas’s later theory is generally understood as having left his earlier work in epistemology behind altogether. This is an exaggeration, as I shall show, but the point I want to make here is that he continues to be motivated, in his later as in his earlier work, by strong resistance to the Eurocentric privileging of scientific rationality in whatever terms that privilege is expressed—whether the terms are social-economic, political, cultural, or philosophical. His resistance to a dominant scientific rationality is conspicuously present in his attempt, in the theory of communicative action, to expand the concept of rationality to include relations between persons and relations with oneself.

MARIE FLEMING is Professor of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario. She is the author of The Geography of Freedom.


A Study of Habermas’s Pragmatics

by Maeve Cooke

Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought

MIT Press

$15.00, paper, 207 pages, notes, bibliography, index


Readers of Jurgen Habermas's Theory of Communicative Action and his later social theory know that the idea of communicative rationality is central to his version of critical theory. Language and Reason opens up new territory for social theorists by providing the first general introduction to Habermas's program of formal pragmatics: his reconstruction of the universal principles of possible understanding that, he argues, are already operative in everyday communicative practices. Philosophers of language will discover surprising and fruitful connections between Habermas's account of language and validity (especially his theory of meaning) and their own concerns. This book provides a general introduction to Habermas's reconstruction of the universal principles of understanding and reason that are claimed to operate in everyday communicative practices. It explains how Habermas's writings on language and validity become a basis for communicative rationality, a concept which is central to his version of critical theory.

Maeve Cooke is Senior Lecturer in the Department of German at University College, Dublin.

Major titles in English by Jurgen Habermas include:

The Theory of Communicative Action: Reason and the Rationalization of Society, Volume 1) Published by Farrar Straus & Giroux.

The Theory of Communicative Action: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason, Volume 2, Thomas McCarthy (Translator) Published by Beacon Press.

Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy (Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought), William Rehg (translator). Published by MIT Press

Justification and Application: Remarks on Discourse Ethics (Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought), Ciaran Cronin (translator). Published by MIT Press

Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought) by Jurgen Habermas, Jurgen Habermans, translator). Published by MIT Press


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