German, b: 18 June 1929, Dusseldorf. Cat: Post-Marxist critical theorist. Ints: Social philosophy; hermeneutics; modernist (emancipatory) thought; communication (speech-act) theory; historical and socio-political criticism. Educ: 1954, doctorate, University of Bonn; 1961, second doctorate (Habilitation), University of Mainz. Infls: Hegel, Kant, Marxist philosophy, Schelling, Fichte, Dilthey, Weber, Adorno, Horkheimer, Lukács, Searle and Anglo-American linguistic philosophy. Appts: 1954, Adorno's assistant, University of Frankfurt's Institute for Social Research; 1961, professorship, University of Heidelberg; 1964, taught philosophy and sociology at Frankfurt; 1971-84, Director of the Max Planck Institute, Starnburg; 1984, Professor of History of Philosophy, University of Frankfurt.
Jürgen Habermas is the most notable and independent-minded successor to the Frankfurt School of Philosophy, which attempted to retrieve Marxism from Stalinist orthodoxy and remould it into an incisive form of ideological and cultural criticism. Habermas has extended that concern into a broad preoccupation with those cultural and political factors which distort and disrupt the assumed openness of human communication. His distinctive contribution to contemporary European thought is his thesis that perfectible structures of reasoning and cumulatively liberating insights into truth are tangibly accessible as they are embedded within our ordinary communicative practices: they are neither grounded in nor reflections of an alleged external reality, but are to be found within the socially constructed discourses which constitute our 'life-world'.
Habermas's thought ranges through an incisive attack upon positivism and Popperian notions of rationality, an attempt to revitalize Marxism as a culturally critical tool, a critique of the conservative foundations of Gadamerian hermeneutics and a stalwart defence of the enlightening capacities of modernist thought against the critical onslaught of French deconstruction. His thinking is not so much marked by distinct transitions as by a continuous bringing forward of one or other of a cluster of themes that bind his overall position together. These include an intense resistance to scientific, political and philosophical attempts to monopolize knowledge and truth, a passionate commitment to open and undistorted communication as a means to truth and the conviction that vigilant criticism of untruth offers the only route to an intellectually open and politically unrepressive society.
Habermas acquired the basis of his conception of emancipatory truth from his initial deep involvement with the Frankfurt School. Marx's teleological framework commences with an abstract notion of mankind as apotentia containing