David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Philosophy Research Archives 8:339-365 (1982)
Since the early seventies, when English translations of Jürgen Habermas’ principal works became available to English-speaking scholars, there has been a virtual “Habermas explosion” of research papers, dissertations and books. Informative and penetrating discussions already exist discussing Habermas’ encounter with positivism and his relationship to the “Frankfurt school.” There are however few detailed discussions of the theoretical relationships between Habermas’ project of a critical theory of society and Hegel’s system. We attempt to correct this previous omission in the following paper.The central thesis of Jürgen Habermas’ Knowledge and Human Interests is that theoretical discourse is fundamentally tied to human experience. Habermas wishes to show that all theoretical statements about the world have their genesis in the experience of everyday life and practices. His particular understanding of this approach to the question of the possibility of knowledge has its origins in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. The Phenomenology defines the development of knowledge in terms of a science of experience and must therefore constitute the main text in locating the philosophical parameters of Habermas’ thought. Our paper is an exercise in hermeneutics addressed to this task.In rejecting both Hegel’s philosophy of identity and Marx’s ontology of nature, Habermas has forced himself into a position where he must elaborate exactly how knowledge is possible at all. That is, the question which he confronts concerns the underlying basis of human experience. Hegel and Marx in Habermas’ opinion, were both unsuccessful in developing an adequate account of human life precisely because they tended to give an absolute basis to the the structure of the world. Knowledge itself, was considered as knowledge of something which existed beyond the scope of human control. Habermas attempts to overcome these difficulties by developing an explicitly ontological account of man through his theory of cognitive interests. Thus the process of reflection is ‘guided’ by certain cognitive interests. These interests perform the same function in Habermas’ system as does the notion of Geist in Hegel’s or Nature in Marx’s. They determine the conditions by which ‘knowledge’ can be generated and thus constitute the grounds upon which our world-view is constituted
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