Habermas and the Reconstruction of Critical Theory

  • Rick Roderick
Part of the Theoretical Traditions in the Social Sciences book series (TTSS)


Habermas’s initial formulation of the basis of critical theory in Knowledge and Human Interests became the object of extensive discussion and detailed criticisms.1 Habermas responded by critically rethinking his position. This process was carried forward in debates with leading exponents of critical rationalism (Albert), systems theory (Luhmann) and philosophical hermeneutics (Gadamer).2 These discussions and debates tended to focus on Habermas’s concept of reason and the attempt to justify critical theory and link it to practice that depended upon it. A brief discussion of the central criticisms raised against the early Habermas on these issues will clarify some of the basic reasons for the major revisions in his later work. This discussion will also serve as an introduction to the later Habermas’s reformulation of the basis of critical theory in a concept of ‘communicative rationality’ developed through various stages of his communication theory.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes and References

  1. 1.
    See Fred R. Dallmayr, ‘Critical Theory Criticised: Habermas’ Knowledge and Human Interests and its Aftermath’, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, vol. 2 (1972), pp.211–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Theodor W. Adorno et al., Der Positivismusstreit in der deutschen Soziologie (Berlin, 1969);Google Scholar
  3. Jürgen Habermas and Niklas Luhmann, Theorie der Gesellschaft oder Sozialtechnologie: Was leistet die Systemforschung? (Frankfurt, 1971);Google Scholar
  4. Karl-Otto Apel et al., Hermeneutik und Ideologiekritik (Frankfurt, 1971).Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    See Garbis Kotian, Metacritique (Cambridge, 1980).Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    Karl-Otto Apel, ‘Wissenschaft als Emanzipation? Eine Kritische Wurdigung der Wissenchaftskonzeption der “Kritischen Theorie”’, in Zeitschrift fur allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie, vol. 1 (1970), pp. 173–95,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. reprinted in Materialien zu Habermas’ ‘Erkenntnis und Interesse’, ed. W. Dallmayr (Frankfurt, 1974), pp.341–2.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Apel, ‘Wissenschaft als Emanzipaion?’, pp.341–2.Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    Jürgen Habermas, Knowledge, and Human Interests (Boston, 1971), pp.62–3.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    See Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophie Manuscripts of 1844 (New York, 1964) p.142.Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    Habermas, Knowledge, p.55.Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    Ibid, appendix, pp.314–5.Google Scholar
  13. 10.
    See Thomas McCarthy, The Critical Theory of Jürgen Habermas (Cambridge, Mass., 1978) pp. 109–10;Google Scholar
  14. and Hans-Georg Gadamer, ‘Replik’, in K.-O. Apel et al., Hermeneutik und Ideologiekritik, pp.283–317.Google Scholar
  15. 11.
    Dietrich Bohler, ‘Zur Geltung des emanzipatorischen Interesses’, in Materialien zu Habermas’ ‘Erkenntnis und Interesse’, pp.351–61.Google Scholar
  16. 12.
    McCarthy, Habermas, p. 111.Google Scholar
  17. 13.
    Habermas, Knowledge, p.135.Google Scholar
  18. 14.
    Ibid, p.35, 39.Google Scholar
  19. 15.
    Michael Theunissen, Gesellschaft und Geschichte: Zur Kritik der Kritischen Theorie (Berlin, 1969).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 16.
    Theunissen, Gesellschaft, p.13.Google Scholar
  21. 17.
    Gadamer, ‘Replik’, pp.294–5.Google Scholar
  22. 18.
    Hans Joachim Giegel, ‘Reflexion und Emanzipation’, in K.-O. Apel et al., Hermeneutik und Ideologiekritik, pp.278–9.Google Scholar
  23. 19.
    On labour and interaction, see Goran Therborn, ‘Jürgen Habermas: A New Eclecticism’, New Left Review, vol. 67 (1971), pp.69–83.Google Scholar
  24. On the theory of truth, see McCarthy, Habermas, p.203.Google Scholar
  25. 20.
    Habermas, ‘Postscript to Knowledge and Human Interests, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, vol. 3 (1975) p. 182.Google Scholar
  26. 21.
    McCarthy, Habermas, p. 101.Google Scholar
  27. 22.
    Jürgen Habermas, Theory and Practice (Boston, 1973), pp.33–40.Google Scholar
  28. 23.
    McCarthy, Habermas, p.272.Google Scholar
  29. 24.
    See Marcuse’s critique of the philosophy of language, in Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (Boston, 1964) pp. 170–99.Google Scholar
  30. 25.
    Habermas, Zur Logik der Sozialwissenschaften, in Philosophiche Rundschcau, vol. 14 (Tubingen, 1967), p.220.Google Scholar
  31. 26.
    Habermas, Knowledge, p.317.Google Scholar
  32. 27.
    See John Searle, ‘Chomsky’s Revolution in Linguistics’, in On Noam Chomsky: Critical Essays (Garden City, New York, 1974), pp.2–33.Google Scholar
  33. 28.
    See John Lyons, Semantics, 2 vols (Cambridge, 1977), pp.409–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 29.
    Jürgen Habermas, ‘Towards a Theory of Communicative Competence’, Inquiry, vol. 13 (1970), p.363.Google Scholar
  35. 30.
    Ibid, p.363.Google Scholar
  36. 31.
    Ibid, p.363.Google Scholar
  37. 32.
    Ibid, p.364.Google Scholar
  38. 33.
    Ibid, p.365.Google Scholar
  39. 34.
    Ibid, p.366.Google Scholar
  40. 35.
    Ibid, pp.366–7.Google Scholar
  41. 36.
    Ibid, p.367.Google Scholar
  42. 37.
    Ibid, pp.368–70.Google Scholar
  43. 38.
    Ibid, p.370–2.Google Scholar
  44. 39.
    Ibid, p.372.Google Scholar
  45. 40.
    See Jürgen Habermas, ‘On Systematically Distorted Communication’, Inquiry, vol. 13 (1970), pp.205–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 41.
    Habermas, ‘Communicative Competence’, p.372.Google Scholar
  47. 42.
    Ibid, p.372.Google Scholar
  48. 43.
    Ibid, p.362.Google Scholar
  49. 44.
    Searle, ‘Chomsky’s Revolution’, p.30.Google Scholar
  50. 45.
    See Lyons, Semantics, pp.573–91.Google Scholar
  51. 46.
    John Searle, Speech Acts (Cambridge, 1969), p.4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 47.
    Habermas, ‘Communicative Competence’, p.367.Google Scholar
  53. 48.
    Habermas, ‘Wahrheitstheorin’, in Wirklichkeit und Reflexion: Walter Schulz zum 60 (Neske, 1973), pp.211–65.Google Scholar
  54. See pages 258–9 for an account of ‘the ideal speech situation’ as ‘counterfactual’.Google Scholar
  55. 49.
    Ibid, pp.214–15.Google Scholar
  56. 50.
    Einlosung may be translated as either ‘vindication’ or ‘redemption’. In the context of critical theory, the term ‘redemption’ is associated with the work of Walter Benjamin. See Jürgen Habermas, ‘Consciousness-raising or Redemptive Criticism — The Contemporaneity of Walter Benjamin’, New German Critique, vol. 17 (1979), pp.30–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. 51.
    Habermas, ‘Wahrheitstheorin’, p.240.Google Scholar
  58. 52.
    Ibid, pp.252–60.Google Scholar
  59. 53.
    Ibid, pp.211–219.Google Scholar
  60. 54.
    Ibid, pp.215–16.Google Scholar
  61. 55.
    Ibid, pp.216–17.Google Scholar
  62. 56.
    Ibid, pp.219–31.Google Scholar
  63. 57.
    Ibid, p.218.Google Scholar
  64. 58.
    Ibid, pp.239–40.Google Scholar
  65. 59.
    Ibid, p.265.Google Scholar
  66. 60.
    David Held, Introduction to Critical Theory (Berkeley, 1980), p.396.Google Scholar
  67. 61.
    Alvin Gouldner, The Idea of Ideology and Technology (New York, 1976), pp. 138–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. 62.
    Raymond Geuss, The Dialectic of a Critical Theory (Cambridge, 1981), pp.66–7.Google Scholar
  69. 63.
    Richard J. Bernstein, The Restructuring of Social and Political Theory (New York, 1976), pp.223–5.Google Scholar
  70. 64.
    Habermas, ‘Wahrheitstheorin’, p.259.Google Scholar
  71. 65.
    Richard Bernstein makes the intriguing observation that: Although based on contemporary philosophy of language and theoretical linguistics, Habermas’s argument exhibits some striking parallels with the one that Socrates develops in the Phaedrus. Socrates too is concerned with the conditions for speech, and argues that the analysis of speech is oriented to the idea of truth — even when speech is intended to deceive. Further, the analysis of truth leads to the analysis of the conditions for ideal speech — the type of discourse characteristic of true philosophic friends. There is even a parallel with the four validity claims that Habermas specifies; when Socrates analyses the requirements for speech, he emphasises the importance of each of these features. Socrates’ argument is intended to show that all speech — even the deceptive speech of Lysias — presupposes and anticipates ideal speech. And just as Habermas’ line of argument leads him to recognise the reciprocal relation between ideal speech, which is essentially dialogue, and the ideal form of life, so the primary practical problem for Socrates becomes one of construction or reconstructing a polis in which such ideal speech can be realised. (Bernstein, Restructuring, pp.262–3.)Google Scholar
  72. 66.
    McCarthy. Habermas, p.326.Google Scholar
  73. 67.
    Jürgen Habermas, ‘What is Universal Pragmatics?’ in Communication and the Evolution of Society (Boston, 1979), p.1.Google Scholar
  74. 68.
    Ibid, p.2.Google Scholar
  75. 69.
    Ibid, p.3.Google Scholar
  76. 70.
    Ibid, p.5.Google Scholar
  77. 71.
    Ibid, p.6.Google Scholar
  78. 72.
    Ibid, p.26.Google Scholar
  79. 73.
    See J. L. Austin, How To Do Things with Words (Cambridge, 1962).Google Scholar
  80. 74.
    See John Searle, Speech Acts (Cambridge, 1969).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. 75.
    Lyons, Semantics, p.735.Google Scholar
  82. 76.
    Habermas, ‘Universal Pragmatics’, p.38–9.Google Scholar
  83. 77.
    See P. F. Strawson, Logics-Linguistic Papers (New York, 1971), pp. 149–69.Google Scholar
  84. 78.
    Habermas, ‘Universal Pragmatics’, p.40.Google Scholar
  85. 79.
    Ibid, pp.41–2.Google Scholar
  86. 80.
    See L. J. Cohen, ‘Do Illocutionary Forces Exist?’, Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 14 (1964), pp.118–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. 81.
    Habermas, ‘Universal Pragmatics’, p.45.Google Scholar
  88. 82.
    Ibid, p.46.Google Scholar
  89. 83.
    Ibid, p.49.Google Scholar
  90. 84.
    Ibid, pp.51–2.Google Scholar
  91. 85.
    Ibid, p.53.Google Scholar
  92. 86.
    Ibid, p.54.Google Scholar
  93. 87.
    Ibid, pp.57–8.Google Scholar
  94. 88.
    Ibid, p.59.Google Scholar
  95. 89.
    Ibid, p.61.Google Scholar
  96. 90.
    Ibid, pp.62–3.Google Scholar
  97. 91.
    Ibid, pp.65–7.Google Scholar
  98. 92.
    Ibid, pp.58, 68.Google Scholar
  99. 93.
    Y. Bar-Hillel, ‘On Habermas’s Hermeneutic Philosophy of Language’, Synthese, vol. 26 (1973), p.11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. 94.
    Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society, p.209.Google Scholar
  101. 95.
    McCarthy, Habermas, p.25.Google Scholar
  102. 96.
    See Lyons, Semantics, pp.778–86.Google Scholar
  103. 97.
    See John B. Thompson, ‘Universal Pragmatics’, in J. B. Thompson and D. Held (eds) Habermas: Critical Debates, pp. 127–128. Thompson points out that the volume of essays usually cited by Habermas (Universals of Language, edited by Greenburg (Cambridge, 1963)) has been severely and convincingly criticised.Google Scholar
  104. 98.
    Jürgen Habermas, Zur Rekonstruktion des Historischen Materialismus (Frankfurt, 1976). Four chapters of this work are translated in Communication and the Evolution of Society. A fifth, ‘History and Evolution’, is translated in Telos, vol. 39 (1979), pp.5–45.Google Scholar
  105. 99.
    Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society, p. 120.Google Scholar
  106. 100.
    Ibid, p.98.Google Scholar
  107. 101.
    Ibid, p.123.Google Scholar
  108. 102.
    Habermas, Zur Rekonstruktion, p.235.Google Scholar
  109. 103.
    Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society, pp. 121–2.Google Scholar
  110. 104.
    Ibid, pp. 164–5.Google Scholar
  111. 105.
    Jürgen Habermas, Legitimation Crisis (Boston, 1975).Google Scholar
  112. 106.
    See Held, Critical Theory, p.287; and Habermas, Legitmation Crisis, p.49.Google Scholar
  113. 107.
    Habermas, Legitimation Crisis, p.113.Google Scholar
  114. 108.
    Ibid, pp.110–13.Google Scholar
  115. 109.
    For example, see Michael Schmid, ‘Habermas’s Theory of Social Evolution’, in Thompson and Held (eds) Habermas:. Critical Debates, pp. 162–80;Google Scholar
  116. and J. P. Arnason, ‘J. Habermas, Zur Rekonstruktion des Historischen Materialismus’, Telos, vol. 39 (1979), pp.201–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  117. 110.
    See McCarthy’s discussion of these research projects: Thomas McCarthy, ‘Rationality and Relativism’, in Critical Debates, pp.69–75.Google Scholar
  118. 111.
    For example, see Habermas’s comments concerning the historical contextuality of sociological concepts in Zur Logik, pp. 121–2.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Rick Roderick 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rick Roderick
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyDuke UniversityUK

Personalised recommendations