Communication, Modernity and Democracy in Habermas and Dewey

Alone among Frankfurt School critical theorists,  Habermas has critically appropriated pragmatist motifs. Although the Habermas-Dewey connection has been generally neglected,  significant similarities as well as important differences appear in their work. Both theorists share, with Aristotle, Mead, Gadamer, and other dialogical thinkers, the view that human beings are primarily speaking and socially interacting creatures.  Dewey asserted that society exists “by… and  in communication,” praising it as “the most wonderful” of all activities “by the side of which transubstantiation pales“.  For Habermas, too, communication is a central life activity and the fulcrum of his critical theory: “The utopian perspective of reconciliation and freedom is ingrained in the conditions of communicative sociation of individuals“.

Both theorists attack positivism, technocracy, and social domination, pointing to social forces that undermine the democratic potentialities of modern society.  They also criticize the modern philosophic tradition, especially the idealist philosophy of consciousness and its  subject/object dualism.  Both call for a reconstruction of philosophy and social theory, offering intersubjective alternatives based on their theories of communication. In addition, they call for a unification of theory and practice, providing systematic critiques of speculative, quietistic, and conformist thought as well as of conservative ideologies.  Following in the footsteps of Dewey, Habermas stresses uncoerced communication with the intent of upholding the progressive aspects of liberal social and political institutions  against their critics.



About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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