Recovering Ethical Life: Jürgen Habermas and the Future of Critical Theory
Jurgen Habermas' construction of a critical social theory of society grounded in communicative reason is one of the very few real philosophical inventions of recent times that demands and repays extended engagement. In this elaborate and sympathetic study which places Habermas' project in the context of critical theory as a whole past and future, J. M. Bernstein argues that despite its undoubted achievements, it contributes to the very problems of ethical dislocation and meaninglessness it aims to diagnose and remedy. Bernstein further argues that the precise character of the failures of Habermas' program demonstrate the necessity for a return to the first generation critical theory of Adorno. Reading across nearly the whole range of Habermas' corpus, "Recovering Ethical Life" traces the development of the theory of communicative reason from its inception in "Knowledge and Human Interests" through its elaboration in "The Theory of Communicative Action" and into its defense against postmodernism in "The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity," In separate chapters Habermas' readings of Freud, Durkheim amd Mead, Adorno and Foucault, Castoriadis and Taylor are critically examined. The focus of Bernstein's analyses, however, is always problem centered and thematic rather than textual psychoanalytic theory as an account of self knowledge, the competing claims of ethical identity and moral reason, the place of judgment in practical reason, and the debate between philosophies of language based communities versus those oriented towards world-disclosure. Critical theory is unique among current philosophies in engaging with the problems of social injustice and nihilism by siding withan abstract moral reason that forfeits the processes of intersubjective recognition it intended to salvage. Even in the fine grain of Habermas' account of performative contradictions and the new theory of discourses of application, Bernstein perceives a squandering of the resources of an ethical life in need of transfiguration.
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abstract acceptance acknowledge action Adorno aesthetic analysis appear application argument attempt autonomy become beliefs causality Chapter claims cognitive communicative communicative action conceive conception concern concrete consensus consequence constitutive critical theory critique culture demands dependent desire determinate dialectic discourse distinction domination equally ethical existing experience fact fate follows force fundamental further ground Habermas Habermas's hence human idea ideal identity individual interest interpretation involves issue judgment justice language lifeworld linguistic logic Marxism meaning moral narrative natural norms object operation original particular persons perspective philosophy political position possible practices praxis present Press principle problem procedure production provides question rationality reason recognition reference reflective relation requires respect reveals rules sense separation situation social society speech sphere structure theoretical thought tion tradition truth understanding universal validity