Theoretical / Philosophical Paper

Human Studies

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 393-406

First online:

Habermas on Understanding: Virtual Participation, Dialogue and the Universality of Truth

  • Kyung-Man KimAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Sogang University Email author 

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Although the success of Habermas’s theory of communicative action depends on his dialogical model of understanding in which a theorist is supposed to participate in the debate with the actors as a ‘virtual participant’ and seek context-transcendent truth through the exchange of speech acts, current literature on the theory of communicative action rarely touches on the difficulties it entails. In the first part of this paper, I will examine Habermas’s argument that understanding other cultural practices requires the interpreter to virtually participate in the “dialogue” with the actors as to the rationality of their cultural practice and discuss why, according to Habermas,such dialogue leads to the “context-transcendent truth”. In the second part, by using a concrete historical example, I will reconstruct a “virtual dialogue” between Habermas and Michael Polanyi as to the rationality of scientific practice and indicate why Habermas’s dialogical model of understanding based on the methodology of virtual participation cannot achieve what it professes to do.


Theory of communicative action Performative understanding Virtual participation Dialogue Universality of Truth