Existence and the communicatively competent self

Philosophy and Social Criticism 25 (3):93-120 (1999)
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Most readers of Habermas would not classify him as an existential thinker. The view of Habermas as a philosopher in German Idealist and Critical traditions from Kant to Hegel and Marx to the Frankfurt School prevails among Continental as much as among analytic philosophers. And the mainstream Anglo-American reception of his work and politics is shaped by the approaches of formal analysis rather than those of existential and social phenomenology or even current American pragmatism. One may argue that both these readings eclipse richer existential dimensions of a thinker who challenges the notorious methodological and political splits among analytic, Continental and pragmatist orientations. I argue that Habermas’ critical relation to Heidegger’s a historical history of Being and his misguided political career cannot explain a competing narrative of his own affirmative appropriation of existential-ethical dimensions of thought and activism. Second, if one sets in the foreground this competing narrative, there emerges a weak thesis, whether or not a plausible complementarity between the communications critical social theory and concrete existential categories can be established. Third, one may inquire further into a stronger thesis whether or not this link must be developed in order to render Habermas’ own theory of a communicatively competent self sufficiently concrete and critical



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