The Cambridge Companion to Habermas Paperback – Sep 30 2005
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"...an excellent tool for advanced students of Habermas, and it raises crucial questions that are relevant for anyone concerned with the theoretical and practical problems of democracy....The book clearly shows not only the profound contributions Habermas makes to democratic theory, but also some serious problems in his work and the extent to which his massive theoretical apparatus still needs to be discussed in relation to concrete social and political issues." American Political Science Review
"...White has compiled here an excellent set of essays, especially on Habermas's most recent reflections on discource theory." Choice
"...a good introduction to the impact of Habermas' theories of democracy, law, social criticism, and ethics for those who are not familiar with Habermas' work, his dense writing style, and the three-century tradition of continental thought upon which he relies....with its select bibliography and straightforward, non-technical articles, this volume should provide a possible point of entry to the variety of English-language debates surrounding Habermas' theories of politics and morality." Christopher F. Zurn, Canadian Philosophical Review
"This is a wonderful collection." David A. Freeman, The European Studies Journal
In examining the historical and intellectual contexts out of which Habermas' work emerged, this volume offers an overview of his main ideas, including his relationship to Marx and the Frankfurt School of critical theory, as well as his unique contributions to the philosophy of social science.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Let us take the pasage cited by Mr. Chalquist. From his review, I had the impression that the author simply dropped that sentence out of the blue. But when I discovered the relevant passage on page 274, I found it situated within a discussion that begins on the previous page regarding the "tension between the comprehensible and the incomprehensible," a tension that the authors claim is embodied most clearly in Kant's Critique of Judgment. Anybody with a passing familiarity with Kant will recognize immediately how apropos this claim is. And those who are unfamiliar with Kant--well, is it not the duty of a good introduction to lead readers to the great works that have set the agenda for later philosophers and thinkers? I know some readers do not believe so. They believe that the task of a good introduction is to present profound insights in easily digestible form so that they can be spared hard thinking: fortune cookie wisdom, wisdom for dummies. I wonder if these readers know what the word "bowdlerize" means. As far as I am concerned, Stanley Rosen has articulated what ought to be the guiding principle for anyone who undertakes the daunting and noble task of writing an introductory work of philosophy: An oversimplified account is no account at all.
By that standard, this Companion does a decent, and at times even a good, job. The authors generally display a great deal of familiarity with Habermas and do a nice job of presenting his position concisely and without too much distortion, though obviously some glossing over of subtleties is inescapable in the format of the short essay. The Strong and Sposito chapter, from which Mr. Chalquist lifted his example of bad writing, is actually one of the best chapters in the book. I describe it briefly to show up the virtues of this collection. The chapter points out that according to Habermas, rationality is a "moral social concept" (263), that rationality is tied to the fact that we speak to one another (in neo-Kantian terms, that human beings are situated in the space of reasons), and that this speaking to one another implies a "we." But the act of speaking, precisely as an act, is an embodied act--which is to say, when we speak, we do not speak to everyone all at once, if only because we do not all share the same language. This means that the "we" is at least immediately circumscribed by the "others" to whom we are not speaking. Given the link between reason and the "we," the "other" to the "we" is thus at the same time the "other" of reason. And from here the authors build their critique of Habermas.
I should perhaps add that I rate this book solely on the basis of its worth as an initial guide to Habermas. I do not rate it on the basis of its intrinsic philosophical worth. I am not a sympathizer of Habermas' philosophical project. I believe that what is right about it has almost all been said, and said better, by others, especially by Kant and Hegel, and that what is new about it is almost all wrong. The contributors to this volume, in contrast, are all sympathetic critics, to varying degrees. They disagree with Habermas at the margins, but not at the core. I could put this simply by saying that they are all moderns for whom their modernity is not a problem.
Editor Stephen White said in his Introduction to this 1995 book, “[Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno] had been among the founders of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt. The institute members carried out a wide range of philosophical and social investigations sharply critical of the economics, politics, and culture of Western societies. Although they considered themselves to be on the left politically, their attachment to Marxism became looser and looser, especially as the character of Stalin’s regime in the Soviet Union became increasingly apparent. Horkheimer coined the term ‘critical theory’ in the 1930s to describe their stance. As originally conceived, critical theory would have the role of giving new life to ideals of reason and freedom by revealing their false embodiment in scientism, capitalism, the ‘culture industry,’ and bourgeois Western political institutions.” (Pg. 4)
He continues, “Habermas’s philosophical journey begins with a departure from the positions of Horkheimer and Adorno’s later years, but it is a departure that Habermas has always felt better retains the spirit of the Frankfurt School’s prewar period… Many readers of The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity are perplexed at the intensity and relentlessness of Habermas’s attack on his opponents. Adding to the perplexity is the fact that one of the hallmarks of his career has been an extraordinary openness to critical discussions.” (Pg. 5)
Nancy Love quotes Habermas and observes, “These passages… provide clues that help explain Habermas’s continued commitment to socialism. Socialism is not dead, nor will it rise again. In response to recent events, Habermas suggests a different, less dialectical, approach to resurrection… ‘socialism-as-critique’ remains a source of hope… For Habermas socialism is to be sustained as a ‘discourse-in-exile.’ What’s left of Marx in this in the tradition of Jewish mysticism.” (Pg. 46)
Max Pensky states, “For Habermas, universalism is the only formal criterion of the RIGHTNESS or justice of collective norms that is available, and hence the ONLY recourse that modern societies have for opening up a sphere in which particular questions of the good life can even be addressed. In this sense ‘universalism’ means something like the basic shared mentality that allows individuals to conceive of themselves as CITIZENS of a democratic state, one in which citizenship consists of a constellation of interlocking duties and rights that together form an abstract level of popular sovereignty subsisting below… the spectrum of particularistic kinds of identity operating within a diverse society.” (Pg. 70)
John Dryzek begins his essay with the statement, “Critical theory is often dismissed … by empirically inclined social scientists as an obscure, speculative, and unscientific philosophical enterprise… It must be admitted that there are often good reasons why these social scientists should scorn the efforts of their more philosophically inclined colleagues. But here I shall argue that the critical theory of Jürgen Habermas stands out from most of what now passes for political and social theory in its ability to engage empirical social science in fruitful dialogue.” (Pg. 97) Later, he adds, “State administrators are probably not going to be too keen on a style of analysis that thoroughly questions their own authority and competence, and this perhaps explains why critical policy analysis is mostly a project of academics, rather than policy analysts actually working in public bureaucracies.” (Pg. 110)
This is a very helpful volume for understanding Habermas’s often difficult-to-follow thought. It will be of great value both to “newbies” as well as experienced readers of Habermas’s books.
In reply to the 1-star review, I do think there is some need to clarify the intended audience for these tomes. The "Cambridge Companion" is not a "Beginner's Guide" to Habermas. Such materials do exist: James Finlayson has written a "Very Short Introduction" to Habermas," David Held has written an excellent introduction to critical theory called "Horkheimer to Habermas."
This books is really most appropriate for undergrads working on a thesis project or for graduate students thinking about doing serious work on Habermas. It is really a "mid-level" book, suitable for students who are interested enough by some aspect of Habermas work and would liked to get a view of the whole in order to conduct further research. If you read these books in that context, they are really quite good. And the scholars who contribute to them get to speak more broadly about the themes of each thinker than they would in the carefully worded and meticulously nuanced pieces they contribute to journals. It really helps you connect with the living thinker beneath the concepts. That said - and the reason for my 3-star review - I think this particular volume doesn't quite offer that breadth as well as others in the series. The individual pieces are typically good, but they actually *do* read a bit like journal articles.
Anyway, wait a few years - the great Habermas will have passed, Professor White will have edited another great edition, and the entries in the volume will probably look a bit different as we continue to absorb this great thinkers' works.
I've read a lot of philosophy, but even I had a hard time getting through this book, and I didn't learn much about Habermas. I do not accept the justification that complex philosophical matters require bad writing. Prose loaded with twenty-cent words and pompous jargon is not only a poor start for the struggling student, but an unwitting comment on the writer's capacity for the kind of pompous intellectualizing that drives students and seekers OUT of philosophy.
With the exception of essayists Nancy Love and Simone Chambers, most of the contributors to this troublesome tome need to go back to Strunk and White, William Zinsser, and basic English composition to learn how NOT to write sentences like this one:
"The insight of the metacritique of pure reason is that the comprehensiveness of a system of reason cannot be predicated on comprehensiveness itself, and that a certain amount of incomprehensibility is necessary to make 'systematic' or 'complete comprehension' possible."
Setting aside the question of how many times can we work "compre-" into an incomprehensible phrasing, in plain English it means--I think--that a thought system's clarity doesn't guarantee the scope of its applicability. Why the hell not say so, and in a way that doesn't unconsciously make an irony of itself?
One expects this sort of thing in a journal, but for beginners it's useless and discouraging.
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