Emancipation and Illusion: Rationality and Gender in Habermas's Theory of Modernity

Emancipation and Illusion: Rationality and Gender in Habermas's Theory of Modernity

Emancipation and Illusion: Rationality and Gender in Habermas's Theory of Modernity

Emancipation and Illusion: Rationality and Gender in Habermas's Theory of Modernity

Synopsis

An analysis of the problems of rationality and gender in Habermasian theory.

In this comprehensive analysis of Jurgen Habermas's philosophy and social theory, Marie Fleming takes strong issue with Habermas over his understanding of rationality and the lifeworld, emancipation, history, and gender. Throughout the book she focuses attention on the various ways in which an idea of emancipation motivates and shapes his universalist theory and how it persists over several major changes in methodology. Her critique of Habermas begins from the view that universalism has to include a vision of gender equality, and she asks why Habermas, despite deeply held concerns about equality and inclusiveness, repeatedly and systematically relegates matters of gender to secondary status in his social and moral theory. She extends her critique to a range of issues in his theory of rationality and examines what she views as his very problematical claims about truthfulness, art, and bourgeois intimacy.

The point of Fleming's critique of Habermas is not to dispute universalism, but to build on the key universalist principles of inclusiveness and equality. She is not persuaded by the view, shared by both sympathizers of Habermas and his postmodern critics, that to be for or against Habermas is to be for or against universalism. Her intention rather is to show that Habermas's theory of modernity is so structured that it cannot achieve its universalist aims. Contending that his theor

Excerpt

Habermas places Horkheimer and Adorno in a skeptical strand of modernity stemming from Nietzsche and reaching forward into postmodernism. He sees them entangled in the paradoxes of a radical critique of reason and, generally, making the kind of mistakes that would eventually lead postmodernists to abandon modernity altogether. But he also tries to rescue the older generation of critical theorists from too complete an identification with postmodernism. He maintains that despite their affinity for Nietzsche's aesthetic theories, Horkheimer and Adorno did not follow Nietzsche all the way to a conflation of validity and power and that they continued to believe in modernity's redemptive potentials, even if they could only express that belief through performative contradiction. Here we see Habermas drawing the line between a modernity that stands for universalist values and a postmodernity that turns away from enlightenment thinking. Horkheimer and Adorno might come close to the line, but in the end, Habermas insists, they never cross it into postmodernity. Nonetheless, there is still a problem for critical theory, as envisioned by Habermas. He maintains that Horkheimer and Adorno Dialectic of Enlightenment is inherently subversive of enlightenment thinking, so that while they might refuse to give up on the enlightenment, that refusal can only take the shape of an (ungrounded) belief in the aesthetic or expressive aspects of human existence. They cannot tell us why we should hold that belief. According to Habermas, an expanded concept of rationality can provide a reasoned basis for modernity, so that there is no longer any need to circle about, with Horkheimer and Adorno, in performative contradiction.

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