Habermas on Communicative Action and Rationality

  • Rick Roderick
Part of the Theoretical Traditions in the Social Sciences book series (TTSS)


Habermas’s complex and far-ranging work, Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns (1981, two volumes), addresses four major themes: (i) the theory of rationality; (ii) the theory of communicative action; (iii) the dialectic of social rationalisation; (iv) the critique of functional reason.1 In what follows, I will attempt a summary of the main lines of argument developed for the first three of the above themes. In particular, I will focus on the two themes that are of central importance for Habermas’s attempt to provide a normative foundation for critical social theory: communicative action and rationality. For this purpose, I will draw not only upon Habermas’s magnum opus (volume one published in English translation), but also upon recent (1980–3) articles and interviews which serve to clarify or support important elements in my account.2 After providing an account of this fourth (and latest) stage in the development of Habermas’s communication theory of society, I will raise critical issues concerning the theory as a whole. These issues will be addressed in Chapter 5, where I conclude by discussing Habermas and the prospects of critical theory.


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, vol. 1, Reason and the Rationalisation of Society (1984) has appeared in English translation. I will refer to this volume as Communicative Action hereafter.Google Scholar
  2. The original 2-volume German edition (1981) will be referred to as Kommunikativen Handelns 1 or 2. To my knowledge, two reviews of the book have appeared in English: David M. Rasmussen, ‘Communicative Action and Philosophy: Reflections on Habermas’s Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns’, Philosophy and Social Criticism, vol. 9 (1982), pp.3–28;Google Scholar
  3. and a review by Johannes Berger, translated and published in Telos, vol. 57 (1983), pp. 194–205.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    See ‘The Dialectics of Rationalization’, an interview with Jürgen Habermas by Axel Honneth, Eberhard Knodler-Bunte and Arno Widmann, Telos, vol. 49 (1981), pp.5–31;Google Scholar
  5. Jürgen Habermas, ‘New Social Movements’ (a translation of part of the last chapter of Kommunikativen Handelns (2), Telos, vol. 49 (1981), pp.33–7;Google Scholar
  6. Habermas ‘Reply’ from Critical Debates (1982).Google Scholar
  7. 3.
    Habermas, Communicative Action, pp.1–2.Google Scholar
  8. 4.
    Ibid, p.2.Google Scholar
  9. 5.
    Ibid, pp.2–3Google Scholar
  10. 6.
    Jürgen Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests (Boston, 1971), p.63.Google Scholar
  11. 7.
    Habermas, Legitimation Crisis (Boston, 1975), p. 159.Google Scholar
  12. 8.
    Habermas, Communicative Action, p.285.Google Scholar
  13. 9.
    Jürgen Habermas, ‘Reply to my Critics’, in Thompson and Held (eds) Habermas: Critical Debates (Cambridge, Mass, 1982), p.266.Google Scholar
  14. 10.
    Habermas, Communicative Action, p.99–101.Google Scholar
  15. 11.
    Ibid, p.328–32.Google Scholar
  16. 12.
    Habermas, ‘Reply’, p.269.Google Scholar
  17. 13.
    Habermas, Communicative Action, pp.8–9.Google Scholar
  18. 14.
    Ibid, p.9.Google Scholar
  19. 15.
    Ibid, p. 10.Google Scholar
  20. 16.
    Ibid, p. 10.Google Scholar
  21. 17.
    Habermas, ‘Dialectics of Rationalisation’, p. 16.Google Scholar
  22. 18.
    Habermas, Communicative Action, p. 18.Google Scholar
  23. 19.
    Ibid, p.42.Google Scholar
  24. 20.
    Ibid, p.23.Google Scholar
  25. 21.
    Ibid, p.43.Google Scholar
  26. 22.
    Ibid, p.44.Google Scholar
  27. 23.
    Ibid, p.45.Google Scholar
  28. 24.
    Ibid, p.53.Google Scholar
  29. 25.
    Ibid, p.57.Google Scholar
  30. 26.
    Ibid, p.55.Google Scholar
  31. 27.
    Ibid, p.58.Google Scholar
  32. 28.
    Ibid, p.66.Google Scholar
  33. 29.
    Ibid, p.66–7.Google Scholar
  34. 30.
    Habermas, Communicative Action, p.69. McCarthy translates ‘Dezentrierung’ as ‘decentration’, although Piaget’s concept is generally rendered in English as ‘decentring’. For Piaget’s own understanding of the concept, see Jean Piaget and Barbel Inhelder, The Psychology of the Child (New York, 1969), pp.94–8.Google Scholar
  35. 31.
    Habermas, Communicative Action, pp.68–72.Google Scholar
  36. 32.
    Habermas, ‘Dialectics of Rationalization’, p. 16. See Habermas, Communicative Action, pp.70–1.Google Scholar
  37. 33.
    Habermas, ‘Dialectics of Rationalization’, p. 18. On the distinction between ‘lifeworld’ and ‘system’, see Habermas, Kommunikativen Handelns (2), pp. 173–293. Habermas summarises this account in ‘Reply’, pp. 278–81.Google Scholar
  38. 34.
    Habermas, Communicative Action, pp.71–2.Google Scholar
  39. 35.
    Ibid, p.72.Google Scholar
  40. 36.
    Ibid, p.73.Google Scholar
  41. 37.
    Ibid, p. 144.Google Scholar
  42. 38.
    Ibid, p. 144.Google Scholar
  43. 39.
    Habermas, ‘Reply’, p.230.Google Scholar
  44. 40.
    Ibid, p.253.Google Scholar
  45. 41.
    Ibid, p.253.Google Scholar
  46. 42.
    Rasmussen, ‘Reflections’, p. 12.Google Scholar
  47. 43.
    Habermas, Kommunikativen Handelns (2), p.214.Google Scholar
  48. 44.
    Ibid, p.216.Google Scholar
  49. 45.
    Ibid, p.215.Google Scholar
  50. 46.
    See Rasmussen, ‘Reflections’, pp. 12–13.Google Scholar
  51. 47.
    Habermas, ‘Dialectics of Rationalization’, p.18.Google Scholar
  52. 48.
    Habermas, ‘Reply’, p.279.Google Scholar
  53. 49.
    See Habermas, ‘Reply’, pp.280–1 and Kommunikativen Handelns (2), pp.489–547.Google Scholar
  54. 50.
    Habermas, ‘Reply’, p.280.Google Scholar
  55. 51.
    Ibid, p.281.Google Scholar
  56. 52.
    James Schmidt, ‘Jürgen Habermas and the Difficulties of Enlightenment’, Social Research, vol. 19, p. 18.Google Scholar
  57. 53.
    Habermas, ‘Dialectics of Rationalization’, pp. 18–19.Google Scholar
  58. 54.
    Habermas, ‘New Social Movements’, p.33.Google Scholar
  59. 55.
    Ibid, p.33–35.Google Scholar
  60. 56.
    Ibid, pp.34–35.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Rick Roderick 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rick Roderick
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyDuke UniversityUK

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