chapter  9
12 Pages

Learning Democratic Reason: The Adult Education Project of Jürgen Habermas


One reason why Habermas has been so lauded in American intellectual circles is for his focus on understanding and creating the conditions for democracy. Adult learning has a crucial role in this effort since Habermas’ hope for regenerating democracy resides in adults’ capacity to learn; in particular, to learn how to resist the decline in social solidarity by recognizing and expanding the democratic processes inherent in human communication. Adult learning, for Habermas, is contemporaneous with existence, a naturally occurring phenomenon that can only be prevented by some act of suppression conducted by an external force. In many ways the most intriguing phenomenon for him is not how adult learning happens but how it doesn’t happen! If learning is such an omnipresent part of adulthood, then the problem that needs explaining is why it isn’t everywhere. To quote a typically Habermasian turn of phrase “not learning, but not-learning is the phenomenon that calls for explanation” (Habermas 1975, 15).