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Jurgen Habermas

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Jurgen Habermas

Jurgen Habermas

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Best Known For:

  • A philosopher in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism.
  • His theory on the concepts of “communicative rationality” and the “public sphere.”
  • His work on the concept of modernity.

Birth:

Jurgen Habermas was born June 18, 1929. He is still living.

Early Life:

Habermas was born in Dusseldorf, Germany and grew up in the postwar era. He was in his early teens during World War II and was profoundly affected by the war. He had served in the Hitler Youth and had been sent to defend the western front during the final months of the war. Following the Nuremberg Trials, Habermas had a political awakening in which he realized the depth of Germany’s moral and political failure. This realization had a lasting impact on his philosophy in which he was strongly against such politically criminal behavior.

Education:

Habermas studied at the University of Gottingen and the University of Bonn. He earned a doctorate degree in philosophy from the University of Bonn in 1954 with a dissertation written on the conflict between the absolute and history in Schelling’s thought. He then went on to study philosophy and sociology at the Institute for Social Research under critical theorists Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno.

Early Career:

In 1961, Habermas became a private lecturer in Marburg. The following year he accepted the position of “extraordinary professor” of philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. That same year, Habermas gained serious public attention in Germany for his first book Structural Transformation and the Public Sphere in which he detailed the social history of the development of the bourgeois public sphere. His political interests subsequently led him to conduct a series of philosophical studies and critical-social analyses that eventually appeared in his books Toward a Rational Society (1970) and Theory and Practice (1973).

Career and Retirement:

In 1964, Habermas became the chair of philosophy and sociology at the University of Frankfurt am Main. He remained there until 1971 in which he accepted a directorship at the Max Planck Institute in Starnberg. In 1983, Habermas returned to the University of Frankfurt and remained there until he retired in 1994.

Throughout his career, Habermas embraced the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, which views contemporary Western society as maintaining a problematic conception of rationality that is destructive in its impulse toward domination. His primary contribution to philosophy, however, is the development of a theory of rationality, a common element seen throughout his work. Habermas believes that the ability to use logic and analysis, or rationality, goes beyond the strategic calculation of how to achieve a certain goal. He stresses the importance of having an “ideal speech situation” in which people are able to raise moral and political concerns and defend them by rationality alone. This concept of the ideal speech situation was discussed and elaborated on in his 1981 book The Theory of Communicative Action.

Habermas has gained a great deal of respect as a teacher and mentor for many theorists in political sociology, social theory, and social philosophy. Since his retirement from teaching he has continued to be an active thinker and writer. He is currently ranked as one of the most influential philosophers in the world and is a prominent figure in Germany as a public intellectual, often commenting on controversial issue of the day in German newspapers. In 2007, Habermas was listed as the 7th most-cited author in the humanities by The Higher Times Education Guide.

Major Publications:
  • Structural Transformation and the Public Sphere (1962)
  • Theory and Practice (1963)
  • Knowledge and Human Interests (1968)
  • Towards a Rational Society (1970)
  • Legitimation Crisis (1973)
  • Communication and the Evolution of Society (1979)

References

Jurgen Habermas - Biography. (2010). The European Graduate School. http://www.egs.edu/library/juergen-habermas/biography/

Johnson, A. (1995). The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers.

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