The concept rationality in the work of Jurgen Habermas

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This study attempts to answer the question of how Habermas "re-thinks" or "reformulates" the concept of rationality and rationalization processes. The method is analytical. The early, later and most recent works of Habermas are analysed with the aim of showing that he approaches the c6ncept of rationality from an unusual perspective which has not been discussed in the secondary literature. Namely, the perspective of human agency and communicative judgment which is gleaned from the work of Arendt. Arendt's reconstruction of the Aristotelian concepts of "praxis" and "poiesis" is central to the concept of human agency in the work of Habermas. Habermas, like Arendt, distinguishes between action as a making process and action as a communicative process. Throughout his work he attempts to relate these two aspects of human agency to the concepts of rationality, knowledge, and autonomy. Arendt's reconstruction of Kant's concept of reflective judgement is fundamental to Habermas' most recent argument for grounding the concept of rationality in general. Here Habermas links Arendt's concept of communicative judgement, men/women's capacity for saying "Yes/No" with the accompanying reasons, to universal validity claims which are recognized and redeemed through dialogue between at least two subjects. Another closely related theme which is internal to the concept of human agency and which permeates the fabric of Habermas' work is Arendt's concept of plurality. The concept of plurality is fundamental to the concept of intersubjective recognition and consensus formation in Habermas' work. I show how Habermas uses the concept of intersubjectivity to clarify his concept of practical rationality in his later work and how intersubjective recognition is central to his most recent argument for grounding the concept of rationality in general. Habermas moves beyond the work of Arendt in his efforts to appropriate and re-formulate the Enlightenment concept of reason in the light of the works of Marx, Freud, Weber, Horkheimer, Adorno, and Lukacs. The concept of reflection is revised from the viewpoint of reflective, communicative judgement. The concept of rationality is distinguished from the attitudes which actors adopt in apprehending their world. Piaget's decentration thesis is shown to be central to the concept of communicative rationality.

Bibliography: pages 256-266.