Philosophy & social criticism

Abstract

This book offers an excellent analysis of Habermas’s theory of communicative action. It has two distinct but complementary focuses. In the first part, the conception of communicative rationality at the basis of Habermas’s theory of action is confronted with the conception of instrumental rationality that is predominant in the social sciences: rational choice theory. The main focus of this analysis is to evaluate the plausibility of one central claim of Habermas’s theory, namely, that communicative rationality is irreducible to instrumental rationality and thus constitutes a necessary element of a general theory of rationality. Although Heath’s analysis confirms the correctness of Habermas’s claim, it does so on the basis of a command of decision and game theory, the sophistication of which goes well beyond anything that Habermas himself (and most of his commentators) have so far actually provided. This is undoubtedly one of the most important achievements of the book. For it offers the so far missing argumentative step from the intuitiveness of Habermas’s irreducibility claim to a careful demonstration of what it is exactly about linguistic communication that cannot be modeled instrumentally. Moreover, this careful demonstration includes a very interesting and equally sophisticated analysis of the implications of Habermas’s theory for the philosophy of language, which so far has received too little attention by most of Habermas’s commentators.

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