Jurgen Habermas: A Very Short Introduction
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by: Gordon Finlayson
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Habermas is possibly the most renowned living German philosopher. This volume aims to give a clear and readable overview of his philosophical work. It analyzes both the theoretical underpinnings of Habermas's social theory, and its more concrete applications in the fields of ethics, politics, and law. Finally, it examines how Habermas's social and political theory informs his writing on real, current political and social problems. The author explores Habermas's influence on a wide variety of fields--including philosophy, political and social theory, cultural studies, sociology, and literary studies. He uses a problem-based approach to explain how Habermas's ideas can be applied to actual social and political situations. The book also includes a glossary of technical terms to further acquaint the reader with Habermas's philosophy. Unlike other writing on Habermas, this Introduction is accessibly written and explains his intellectual framework and technical vocabulary, rather than simply
Most introductory books on Habermas follow the chronology of Habermas' work, usually starting with the work on Public Sphere through to the tome on legal theory (Between Facts and Norms). Those introductions usually succeed in portraying Habermas as a dazzling thinker of enormous breadth, and does serve the purpose of encouraging their readers to pursue serious reading of Habermas' difficult works.
But not this book, which is much better. The format of this book does not allow the traditional approach, and the author does a superb job in putting Habermas' theory and its various pieces in context. As the other reviewer mentioned, the author describes Habermas' five "research programs" which forms an integrated whole. In one sentence, Habermas uses the pragmatic theory of meaning to develop a theory of communicative actions which forms the basis of three aspects -- ethical, social and political -- of his "practical" (practical as in "Critique of Practical Reasons") theories which tries to describe both the realities and normative ideals for modern (Western) societies in the late 20th centures. After summarizing the research programs which put Habermas' huge corpus in context, the author proceeds to describe each of the programme in its highlights -- in this the author successfully condenses Habermas' work into simple themes and conceptual distinctions. Given the short length of the exposition, The author does a superb job by creeatig summaries, in most chapters, of critical views regarding Habermas' theories (e.g. the Habermas vs. Rawls debate) - and the author clearly holds a sympathetic yet objective stand in describing both sides of the arguments.
So in summary, this book is superior to most other Introductions in that:
1. The language is simpler and clearer -- not burdened by Habermas' difficult writings
2. Covers Habermas' programmes in logical rather than strict chronological order - which puts different aspects of Habermas' works in context (also coverage is up to Truth and Justification, which is nearly one decade beyond the time of Between Facts and Norms)
3. Describes Habermas' breadth but also identifies the unifying concerns of Habermas as a "practical theorist"
4. Presents both the structure and key critiques to Habermas' theories -- thereby allowing readers to prioritize which of Habermas' works to read after this Introduction. (Realistically, who would have time to read everything Habermas wrote?)
Jrgen Habermas on Wikipedia