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Definition: Habermas, Jürgen from Key Terms in Literary Theory

German-born philosopher (1929-) associated with the Frankfurt School, who worked with Adorno, Horkheimer, Gadamer, and Ricoeur in developing philosophical hermeneutics. He is known particularly for his concepts of “communicative rationality” and the public sphere. Major works translated into English include The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962), Toward a Rational Society (1967), Technology and Science as Ideology (1968), Knowledge and Human Interests (1971), Communication and the Evolution of Society (1976), The Theory of Communicative Action (1981), The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (1985), Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy (1992), The Inclusion of the Other (1996), The Postnational Constellation (1998), and Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays (2008).


Summary Article: Habermas, Jürgen
from Political Philosophy A-Z

German philosopher and sociologist, a student of Theodore Adorno. Habermas can perhaps be thought of as a second generation member of the Frankfurt School, particularly in his earlier career. But this was a two-edged legacy: Habermas took on the Marxist influence of the Frankfurt school particularly in his work on the ‘legitamation crisis’ of the late twentieth century: political legitimacy rather than production was the site of the Marxist theory of crisis. In other theoretical work Habermas looks for a unity of rationally acceptable emancipatory discourses that can transcend academic specialisation and theoretical relativism

In The Theory of Communicative Action ([1981] 1984) Habermas outlines the idea of an ‘ideal speech-situation’ in which progress can be made towards the truth by means of rational argumentation under conditions of autonomy. The speech act account of criteria for truth gives rise to discussion of and endorsement of some form of deliberative democracy in Habermas’s work. This is further extended in his major work Between Facts and Norms (1996) and within his debate with Rawls over the development of Rawls’s views into political liberalism.

See autonomy; deliberative democracy; Frankfurt school

Further reading
  • Habermas, Jürgen (1986), The Theory of Communicative Action, Cambridge: Polity.
  • Habermas, Jürgen (1996), Between Facts and Norms, Cambridge: Polity.
  • © Jon Pike, 2007

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