Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Jürgen Habermas is perhaps the most renowned member of the second generation of the Frankfurt School for Social Research. Like other members of the school, Habermas was strongly influenced by the work of philosophers Karl Marx and George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Habermas, however, rejects the pessimism of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, earlier members of the Frankfurt School. Instead, he conceives of his life’s project as an attempt to formulate a critical theory of society with the practical intention of helping individuals emancipate themselves from various forms of domination. To develop a critical theory of society, Habermas’s first concern was to develop systematically its philosophical underpinnings. In the early 1970’s, he began to formulate elements of a theory of language, communication, and the evolution of society, intending to build up a framework for his larger view of emancipatory action. Early in his career he had argued that the system, especially the economy, dominated the whole of society at the expense of the “lifeworld,” the immediate milieu of the individual. He also held that science in the capitalist era was being turned against human beings and impoverishing their cultural lives because of its emphasis on instrumental reason. His thinking about these issues culminated in the two volumes of The Theory of Communicative Action.