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Jürgen Habermas

WithJoyce Appleby, Elizabeth Covington, David Hoyt, Michael Latham, Allison Sneider

An exact contemporary of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, Jürgen Habermas, born in 1929, has played a similar role as a public intellectual in his native Germany. Linking dense philosophical learning to public discussions of higher education and civic life in his writings and speeches, Habermas made his profound commitment to democracy most evident in the student movements of the 1960s. Throughout his career he has argued against positivist definitions of knowledge and spoken publicly on behalf of a theory of knowledge built upon social practice. His best known work, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, did not appear in an American translation until 1989, twenty-seven years after its German publication. In it Habermas argued for the importance of deliberative politics and analyzed the corrupting impact of mass communication upon them. It is this recommitment to the Enlightenment goal of bringing reason to bear upon public issues which has made Habermas a counterweight to postmodernist views about knowledge and power. His position is exemplified in the selection here, “Philosophy as Stand-in and Interpreter."