Habermas pp 57-78 | Cite as

Rationality and Relativism: Habermas’s ‘Overcoming’ of Hermeneutics

  • Thomas McCarthy
Part of the Contemporary Social Theory book series


The debate between Habermas and Gadamer which took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s came to a provisional close on Habermas’s side with a series of promissory notes.1 While he agreed with Gadamer on the necessity for a sinnverstehenden access to social reality, he insisted nevertheless that the interpretation of meaningful phenomena need not, indeed could not, be restricted to the type of dialogic understanding characteristic of the hermeneutic approach. He held out instead the possibility of a theoretically grounded analysis of symbolically structured objects and events which, by drawing on systematically generalised empirical knowledge, would reduce the context-dependency of understanding and leave room for both quasi-causal explanation and critique. The types of theoretical-empirical knowledge in question, he suggested, included (i) a general theory of communication which would reconstruct the ‘universal-pragmatic infrastructure’ of speech and action; (ii) a general theory of socialisation in the form of a theory of the acquisition of communicative competence; (iii) a theory of social systems which would make it possible to grasp objective meaning connections going beyond what is subjectively intended or expressly articulated in cultural traditions; and (iv) a theory of social evolution which would make possible a theoretical reconstruction of the historical situations of the interpreter (or critic) and his or her object.


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Notes and References

  1. 3.
    H.-G. Gadamer, Truth and Method ( New York: Seabury, 1975 ) pp. 263–4.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    See Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton University Press, 1979).Google Scholar
  3. 25.
    J. Habermas, Zur Logik der Sozialwissenschaften ( Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1970 ) pp. 121–2.Google Scholar
  4. 33.
    John C. Gibbs, ‘Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Judgment: a Constructive Critique’, Harvard Educational Review, 47 (1977) p. 55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Limited 1982

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  • Thomas McCarthy

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