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TWENTIETH CENTURY PHILOSOPHY: Intellectual Heroes and Key Themes

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1 TWENTIETH CENTURY PHILOSOPHY: Intellectual Heroes and Key Themes

2 LECTURES The limits of language. Death and authenticity.
The great community. Making differences. Social hope. Communicative rationality.


What is the project of enlightenment? 2. THE COLONISATION OF THE LIFEWORLD Which concepts can serve as intellectual tools to analyse the world society? 3. TOWARDS A NEW WORLD ORDER How should the postnational constellation look like?



7 FRANKFURTER SCHULE ‘Institut für Sozialforschung’ > founded in 1924 by Felix Weil. Interdisciplinary research program. Initially: the investigation of the history of the labour movement. Later on: the investigation of the socio-economic, psychological and cultural factors to explain why people submit themselves to authoritarian regimes.

8 MAX HORKHEIMER (1895-1973) Major works: Autorität und Familie (1936).
Traditionelle und kritische Theorie (1937). Dialektik der Aufklärung [ with Adorno] (1947)

9 ERICH FROMM (1900-1980) Major works: Escape from Freedom (1945).
The Art of Loving (1956). The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973)

10 HERBERT MARCUSE (1898-1979) Major works: Eros and Civilisation (1955).
The One Dimensional Man (1964). Repressive Tolerance (1965).

11 THEODOR W. ADORNO (1903-1969) Major works:
Dialektik der Aufklärung [with Horkheimer] (1947). Philosophie der neuen Musik (1948). Minima Moralia (1951). Negative Dialektik (1966). Ästhetische Theorie (1969).

12 WALTER BENJAMIN (1892-1940) Major works:
Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (1928). Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter der technischen. Reproduzierbarkeit (1936). Das Passagenwerk (posthumous).

13 ANGELUS NOVUS “A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth hangs open, his wings are spread. This is how the angel of history must look. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage hurling it before his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.” Walter Benjamin

14 A REALISTIC UTOPIA Traditional theory > is affirmative concerning the status quo. Critical theory > articulates the discomfort about the status quo. The aim of a critical theory of the world society: to develop a theory of justice that does justice to 1) moral intuitions and 2) reality. A realistic utopia > an ideal world order that is reachable from the present. A normative theory presents intellectual tools to criticize the status quo. Empirical research is necessary to figure out what is going on in the world society. Critical theory > the combination of empirical research and normative reflections.

1. Cognitive claim: to present an adequate analysis of the world society. 2. Normative claim: to deliver a fair judgment on the society. 3. Emancipatory claim: an adequate analysis and a fair judgment should help to overcome situations of oppression and marginalization. 4. Selfreflexive claim: to be self-critical.

Empirical research to test hypotheses. hypotheses and to change situations in which people are repressed. Dichotomy between science and society. 2. Science is always a part of the society. 3. Value-free science. 3. No dichotomy between facts and values.

17 JÜRGEN HABERMAS Biographical data: 1929: Born June 18, in Düsseldorf.
: Studies philosophy, psychology, economics and literature in Göttingen, Zürich and Bonn. : Assistant of Theodor W. Adorno in Frankfurt. : Researcher and ‘Habilitant’. : Professor in philosophy in Heidelberg. : Professor philosophy and sociology in Frankfurt. : Director of the Max Planck Instituut in Starnberg. : Professor in philosophy in Frankfurt. 1994: Professor emeritus.

Student und Politik (1962). Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit (1962). Technik und Wissenschaft als ‘Ideology’ (1968). Erkenntnis und Interesse (1968). Legitimationsprobleme im Spätkapitalismus (1973). Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns (1981). Moralbewußtsein und kommunikatives Handeln (1984). Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne (1985). Nachmetaphysisches Denken(1988). Faktizität und Geltung (1992). Die Einbeziehung des Anderen (1996). Die postnationale Konstellation (1998). Wahrheit und Rechtfertigung (1999). Der gespaltene Westen (2004). Ach, Europa (2008). Zur Verfassung Europas: Ein Essay (2011).

Habermas wants to continue the project of enlightenment > emancipation via the public use of reason. Immanuel Kant > ‘What is enlightenment?’ (1784). “Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!”

Central question: “why mankind, instead of entering into a truly human condition, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism”. Main object of criticism: instrumental reason. Three forms of domination: 1. The domination of one’s self. 2. The domination of other individuals. 3. The domination of outward nature. Central thesis: enlightenment turns against itself. Mythology and enlightenment have the same roots: survival, self-preservation and fear.

21 MASS DECEPTION > Features of the culture industry:
1. Standardization. 2. Pseudo- individualization. 3. Profit-oriented. The production of goods that are consumable. Culture as a mean to defend the status quo.

22 A NEW PERSPECTIVE Habermas aim > to renew critical theory.
Deficits of the old critical theory: 1. One-sided pessimistic view of modern societies. 2. The subject-object model of classical metaphysics. 3. An underdeveloped normative theory. Claim: a theory of communicative action can generate a new perspective on modern societies.


Habermas’ theory of communicative action integrates the knowledge of two disciplines: philosophy and sociology. Central topic of philosophy > reason (Vernunft). Central topic of sociology > the issue of social order: how to coordinate the actions of the members of a society in order to get a reasonable form of social cohesion? On the cross-road of both disciplines: what frustrates a reasonable (i.e. rational) coordination of actions?

Elements of Habermas’ theory of communicative action: 1. A theory of rationality. 2. A theory of communicative action that can be used for a theory of the modern society. 3. A critical sketch of the process of rationalization. 4. A concept of society that integrates system theory and action theory.

Three types of relations: 1. The relation to the objective world of things: subject <> object. 2. The relation to the social world based upon norms: subject <> other subjects. 3. The relation to the subjective world of thought, feelings and images: subject <> to itself. Philosophy delivers a theory of rationality that illuminates these relations. Intellectual strategy: the reconstruction of the tacit knowledge actors need in order to coordinate their actions with others.

27 TYPES OF RATIONALITY In general: rationality is the disposition of an individual that can communicate and act. Instrumental rationality > something is mainly seen as a mean to attain a goal in an efficient and effective way. Strategic rationality > someone is mainly seen as a mean to attain a goal in an efficient and effective way. Communicative rationality > two or more subjects want to attain mutual understanding.

Communicative action > the interaction of at least two persons who are in search of mutual understanding about a specific situation in order to make plans and coordinate their actions. Three worlds: the objective world, the social world and the subjective world. The three worlds correspond to three validity claims which are inherent to communicative actions.

29 VALIDITY CLAIMS When ego says something to alter he or she implicitly or explicitly makes three claims: 1. Propositional truth > ego claims that what he or she says about a state of affairs is the truth. 2. Normative rightness > ego claims that the norms he or she thins are underlying his or her relation with alter are right. 3. Subjective truthfulness > ego claims that he or she seriously means what is said (sincerity). The three validity claims are inherent to communicative action. Alter can challenge ego on these claims > possibility of criticism.

Language > a medium for coordinating actions (but not the only medium). The coordination of actions can be based upon: 1. Communicative action > the coordination of actions is inherently consensual and actors mobilise the potentials for rationality. 2. Strategic actions > to achieve individual goals in an efficient and effective way.

What does it mean when Habermas claims that the coordination of actions is inherently consensual? Not that a consensus is the goal! Habermas distinguishes ‘Verständigung’ (mutual understanding) and ‘Einverständnis’ (subjects agree that X is p, or that Y should be the case). Two subjects can agree that they disagree (consenus-in-the-dissensus).

32 RATIONALISATION Rationalisation refers to
- the differentiation of several spheres (science and technology, law and morality, and art). - disenchantment of the world > secularization. - the rise of instrumental and strategic rationality. - the emergence of a bureaucratic state. - the rise of communicative rationality. Paradigm shift is necessary from teleological action to communicative action. From the subject-object model to the model of intersubjectivity.

33 LEARNING PROCESSES The reconstruction of the development of individuals and societies. The development of individuals and societies can be seen as learning processes. Individual level > the development of competences. Societal level > the transformation of different types of societies.

Two perspectives: 1. The perspective of the actor. 2. The perspective of the observer. Lifeworld: the unquestioned background resources that enable actors to interpret the surrounding world and to coordinate their actions. Reproduction of the lifeworld > communicative actions. System: the coordination of actions is based upon nonlinguistic media: money (market) and power (state). Reproduction of the system > strategic actions.

35 COLONISATION A critical view based on the integration of normative and empirical inquiry. The problem of modern societies > the colonisation of the lifeworld by the imperatives of different systems (the state or the market). The colonisation of the lifeworld > money and power displace the communicative coordination of actions where that should not be the case (example: universities governed by market strategies).


The validity claims that are inherent to communicative action can be the focus of discourses. Rationality > presumption that good reasons can be given to justify validity claims in the face of criticism. Discourse > an inclusive critical discussion that is free from pressures and in which actors treat each other as equals in order to reach mutual understanding on matters of common concern. Theoretical discourse > the truth of propositions. Practical discourse > the rightness of norms.

Democracy > citizens author laws to which they are subject. The law should be the subject to the deliberation of citizens. Public sphere > important for the public opinion-formation about (new) laws and issues that are in the common interest of citizens. A discourse theory of deliberative democracy. Aim: to show how the model of ideal discourses can be linked to real institutional contexts.

Contra positivism (only interested in facts). Contra moralism (only interested in values). Focus on deliberation > to come to a decision on the basis of a debate of all the interested parties instead of a decision on the basis of a command. Discourse principle > a rule of action or decision is justified only if all those affected by the rule or decision could accept it in a discourse.

40 LAW AND POLITICS Central question: how to get a normative account of legitimate law? The answer is based upon a link between the discourse theory and the character of modern legal systems. One cannot have a stable society if citizens don’t perceive the law as legitimate. The legitimation of law > citizens understand themselves as the authors of the laws they have to obey. A system of rights guarantees a minimum set of normative conditions for a legitimate political order.

Habermas pleas for a deliberative democracy. Conditions for a deliberative democracy: 1. The absence of exclusion or power distortion. 2. Egalitarian reciprocity > minorities must not, in virtue of their membership status, be entitled to lesser degrees of civil, political, social and cultural rights than the majority. 3. Voluntary self-ascription > an individual’s group membership must permit the most extensive forms of self-ascription and self-identification possible. 4. Freedom of exit and association.

42 COSMOPOLITANISM A just cosmopolitan political order should be based on international public law. The emergence of international public law and a transnational civil society (NGOs). The creation of opportunities for political participation at a transnational level. Postnational democracy > self-determination through legislation is also an important criterion of democracy at the transnational level. At a transnational level governance can only be indirectly democratic.

43 WORLD DOMESTIC POLICY The focus of Habermas > a world domestic policy without world government (‘eine Weltinnenpolitik ohne Weltregierung’). World government > the danger of despotism. A world domestic policy based upon a multi-level governance approach: 1. Supranational level > the reformation of the United Nations in the direction of an agent that should have the power to control the fulfilment of democratically legitimized decisions concerning peace, security and human rights. 2. Transnational level > multinational companies, non- governmental organisations and international organisations and regional regimes (for instance the EU) that are responsible for the implementation of a powerful economic and environmental policy. 3. National level > citizens give expression to their political autonomy by critique towards those who represent them.

International law should regulate the relations between actors who operate on the three levels. The constitutionalization of international law is a necessary condition for a democratically legitimized world domestic policy. The current international law is still state-centric, and should be transformed in a cosmopolitan law (Kant > Weltbürgerrecht) that guarantees the fulfilment of human rights.

45 EUROPEAN IDENTITY Habermas raises two important questions:
1. Do we need a European identity? 2. Is the construction of a European identity possible? Two answer this question it is important to make a difference between different forms of integration: 1. Cultural integration. 2. Social integration. 3. Political integration. Not a cultural, but a social and political integration are important for the construction of a European identity? Discussions about the European identity should be linked to the debate about a new world order.

Habermas delivers arguments to get beyond the real-existing euro centrism. Jeremy Rifkin distinguishes the American Dream from the European Dream. American Dream > individual freedom, hard work, personal success, and financial independence. European Dream > quality of life, community, peaceful coexistence, and the enjoyment of leisure. To what extent is Rifkin’s (West?) European Dream the dream of all human beings? A cosmopolitan Europe > a Europe that sees itself as the mean to establish democracy and human rights worldwide.

47 RECOMMENDED 1. Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action.
2. Jürgen Habermas, The Divided West. 3. Rolf Wiggershaus, The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theory and Political Significance.

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