Habermas, Jürgen

Habermas, Jürgen yûrˈgən häˈbûrmäs [key], 1929–, German philosopher. He is a professor at the Univ. of Frankfurt (emeritus since 1994) and is the best-known contemporary proponent of critical theory, which is a social theory with Marxist roots developed in the 1930s by the Frankfurt School. In the spirit of his Frankfurt School predecessors, Habermas has criticized modern industrial societies for excessive emphasis on instrumental action, i.e., on doing whatever is necessary to attain given ends. This emphasis, he argues, has prevented them from appreciating the importance of communicative action, which is understanding and coming to agreement with others. Habermas has also constructed a theory of “discourse ethics” according to which moral judgments would have validity if agreed to by agents in an ideal speech situation. His works include Knowledge and Human Interests (1968, tr. 1971), Theory of Communicative Action (2 vol. 1981, tr. 1981–84), and Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (1983, tr. 1989).

See M. G. Specter, Habermas: An Intellectual Biography (2010); D. Rasmussen, Reading Habermas (1990); G. Finlayson, Habermas: A Very Short Introduction (2005); D. Ingram, Habermas: Introduction and Analysis (2010).

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