Habermas, Jürgen

(1929– )
   One of the great thinkers of the 20th century, Jürgen Habermas is viewed by many as the leading light in the second generation of the Frankfurt School. Far from an orthodox Marxist, Habermas may best be described as influenced by Karl Marx rather than a disciple of Marxism; he has criticized it as much as he has drawn on it. His philosophy has gradually moved further and further away from Marx and toward an outlook based on hermeneutic and linguistic philosophy with a focus on the communicative interaction between human beings. In this he has moved beyond the school of Western Marxism in which his work could once be located.
   Born in Düsseldorf, Germany, Habermas studied philosophy, history, psychology and German literature at the University of Göttingen, and then in Zurich and Bonn, where he obtained a doctorate in 1954. He then worked as a journalist from 1954 to 1956, before working as Theodor Adorno’s assistant at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt from 1956 to 1959. A brief period as a professor of philosophy at Heidelberg was followed by a return to Frankfurt in 1964 as a professor of philosophy and sociology. In 1971 Habermas left Frankfurt to become the director of the newly formed Max Planck Institute for the study of the Conditions of Life in the Scientific- Technical World at Sturnberg, Bavaria.
   A prolific writer, Habermas has produced a number of very influential works including: Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962), Theory and Practice (1963), Knowledge and Human Interests (1968), Toward a Rational Society (1970), Legitimization Crisis (1973), Communication and the Evolution of Society (1979), Theory of Communicative Action (1981), and The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (1985). In these and other works he explores a number of themes including how the Enlightenment turned from a source of emancipation to one of barbarism and enslavement, and, linked to this, the role of science and technology in society and the conditions necessary in society for rational discussion. For Habermas science has developed a purely instrumentalist form, no longer freeing human beings from ignorance and superstition, but instead becoming a form of tyranny treating human beings as objects for manipulation, as something less than human. He develops this argument into a general critique of modernity and in particular of positivism, including Marxism’s positivist and determinist tendencies in this critique. Habermas does not wish to reject the achievements of modernity and rationality, and of science and technology, but he does reject the instrumentalist rationality that has taken hold, and the ideological role of science based on its supposed value-free status. Habermas turns toward a more hermeneutic-inspired view of knowledge, and seeks to outline the conditions for “domination-free communication” between human beings. For Habermas, liberation must go beyond the Marxist emphasis on mastery of nature and an abolition of the division of labor, and requires the elimination of all obstacles to rational communication, not all of which are located in the process of production.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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