Jurgen Habermas on Rhetoric


Student produced study guide from Foss, Foss, and Trapp
Jurgen Habermas’ Key Terms

Critical theory (246)- Used by the individual for liberation from domination, critical theory leads to society’s rational interpretation and transformation.

Self-consciousness (247)- The notion that the rational contains contradictions that the individual must see.

Ideology (247)- A system of irrational beliefs that are maintained despite their lack of validity.

Hermeneutics (248)- “Interpretative understanding,” an analysis of events and situations.

Positivism (249)- A contrast to hermeneutics, the disinterested scientific interpretation of events.

Freudian psychoanalysis (250)- Dialogue between the analyst and patient, allows analyst to reveal the unconscious structure of the dysfunctional behavior.

Self-reflection (250)- The process in which the patient recollects and reconstructs a portion of lost life history.

Emancipation (250)- Self-understanding and achievement of rational control over influences that previously dominated conduct.

Language (251)- Medium of personal understanding, the basis for Habermas’ model of rational society.

Ordinary language (251)- Language used in interaction.

Speech act (251)- The unit of language for expressing intention.

Communicative action (252)- The possibilities of a rational society that stem from the use of interactive language.

Critical theory (252)- The exploration of ways communication is enhanced or limited by social, institutional, and structural parameters.

Work (253)- Basic means by which we provide for the material aspects of existence.

Technical interest (253)- The basic attitude that allows us to exert control over the natural world.

Empirical/analytic sciences (253)- The outgrowth of our fundamental interest to control our world to provide for the basis of existence.

Instrumental rationality (253)- Means/ends thinking, associated with our fundamental interest.

Practical interest (253)- The human need to interact and work toward understanding.

Emancipatory interest (254)- Desire to move from domination to freedom.

Self-reflection (254)- Becoming conscious of limitations and distortions of knowledge.

Critical science (254)- The way individuals and societies liberate themselves from unnecessary domination.

Historical/hermeneutic science (254)- Science that deals with interpretation of meaning.

Universal pragmatics (255)- The study of the general or universal aspects of language use.

Intuitive rule consciousness (256)- Rules known to all communicators regardless of culture, language, or other situational specifics.

Competence (256)- The ability to master linguistic rules and communicate in three ways.

Speech act (256)- An utterance that accomplishes an act beyond the utterance itself.

Propositional content (256)- Basic factual sense and reference.

Illocutionary force (256)- Aspects that makes the speech act a performance.

Locution (256)- The propositional content of an utterance as its meaning.

Illocution (256)- The level of intention or action.

Constatives (257)- Speech acts that serve to assert a truth claim.

Regularities (257)- Govern the relationship between speaker and hearer.

Avowals (257)- Speech acts that correspond to the function of expression.

Presumption of comprehensibility (258)- The conformation to the grammatical rules of language, comprehensible to all bearers who have mastered these rules.

Truth (258)- Refer to actual experiences to determine the certainty of a statement.

Rightness/appropriateness (258)- Socially accepted rules in operation that bind upon all participants.

Truthfulness/sincerity (258)- Obligation to show that the stated intention behind the behavior is the actual motive operating.

Theoretic discourse (259)- Validity claims of truth where both parties are willing to suspend judgement and operate as if the statement is a hypothesis.

Practical discourse (260)- Correctness and implication of social rules for male-female relationships.

Meta-theoretical discourse (260)- Questions about the basic conceptual framework in which the arguments are grounded.

Meta-ethical discourse (260)- Realm of critical theory, structure of knowledge is examined.

General symmetry requirement (261)- Three dimensions which create the ideal speech situation.

Unrestrained discussion (261)- No constraints must exist in terms of discussion.

Unimpaired self-representation (261)- Through expression of feelings and intentions, all participants in a speech situation have equal opportunity to gain recognition.

Third symmetry (261)- Ideal speech situation, a full complement of norms and expectations.

Communicative action (262)- The interaction of at least two subjects capable of speech and action.

Domains of reality (262)- Include the external (objective) world, the individuals’ internal (subjective) world, and the communally constructed world of social realities.

Life-world (264)- The taken-for-granted universe of daily social activity.

Systems (264)- Structural features of life, governed by non-linguistic media.

Traditional societies (265)- High degree of consensus among members, life-world and systems are coherent and unquestioned.

Modernity (265)- Differentiation of society into objective, subjective, and social spheres; allows for greater diversity in responding to various dimensions of society.

Jurgen Habermas’ Study Objectives

* To review the various disciplines Habermas used to formulate his own theory of communication.
* To discuss the differences between the theories of hermeneutics and positivism.
* To establish a commonality between psychoanalysis and critical theory, and its application to society.
* To learn the fundamentals of work, interaction, and power with respect to human knowledge.
* An understanding of Habermas’ universal pragmatics and speech acts, and the levels of validity claims and discourse.
* To comprehend Habermas’ theory of communicative action and the application of the domains of reality.
* To contrast traditional societies and modernity.

Jurgen Habermas – Chapter Outline

I. Sources of Habermas’ Thought (244)

A. Habermas’ work creates a theory of communication that leads to the self-emancipation of the people.

B. Not content to rely on a single academic tradition, Habermas took parts of major philosophical traditions to create his own themes.

C. Marxism (245)

1. Human growth depends on production/work.

a. Under capitalism, products are made for profit and control the nature of human labor.

b. The control of society by the process of production is accepted due to the illusionary beliefs of the society. Once these false idealogies are dispelled, societal change occurs.

2. Marxist thought served as a starting point for Habermas, although he did not accept all of Marx’s ideas.

D. Critical Theory (246)

1. Critical theory is the subjective tool the individual uses to liberate himself from unnecessary domination.

a. Critical theory leads to a more rational society.

b. Revealing the contradictions in society leads to society’s interpretation and transformation.

2. The three fundamental tenets of critical theory:

a. Society must move toward rationality, and away from domination.

i. The theorists feared that technology will dominate over human values.

ii. Self-consciousness deems that one cannot be rational if one cannot see the evils and irrationality of the world.

b. There is the need for the unity of theory and practice in developing a critical theory.

c. The third tenet is the critique of ideology.

i. Idealogy is a system of irrational beliefs that are maintained despite their lack of validity.

ii. Critical theory shows the irrationality of these systems, thus transforming society toward reason.

E. Hermeneutics (248)

1. Hermeneutics, “interpretative understanding,” was originally a method to interpret Biblical texts, in both the original and contemporary meanings.

2. Hermeneutics has now ranged beyond the analysis of literary texts, and is applicable to all situations and events that are subject to interpretation.

F. Positivism (249)

1. Positivism is a direct contrast to hermeneutics.

a. Positivism is the disinterested scientific interpretation of experience.

b. Positivism separates the interpreter from the object of study.

2. Auguste Comte linked knowledge with science, leading to the following tenets.

a. The scientific method is superior for investigating the realm of natural sciences and the human realm.

b. Scientific method is testable, and fails to take into account emotions that cannot be tested empirically.

c. Positivism is the objective discovery of generalizations that may explain and predict behavior.

G. Freudian Psychoanalysis (250)

1. Freudian Psychoanalysis is a model to use as a starting point for a critical theory of society, and allows for self-reflection.

2. Through psychoanalysis, the dialogue allows the analyst to reveal the unconscious structure of the patient’s dysfunctional behavior.

3. Exposing the motivational basis of behavior allows the patient to see self-deceptions through the process of self-reflection.

4. Habermas sees parallels between psychoanalysis and the critical theory he envisions for society.

a. The effort to uncover the unconscious sources of behaviors is similar to critical theory.

b. The efforts of critical thoughts is to uncover the limitations in society, which is similar to psychoanalysis.

5. Emancipation is the underlying goal of psychoanalysis.

a. Emancipation implies self-understanding and rational control.

b. Emancipatory aims are realized only through language.

H. Philosophy of Language (251)

1. Philosophy of Language relies on the analysis of features of language.

2. Habermas finds two approaches to language particularly interesting.

a. The first approach is ordinary language.

i. The way language used in interaction is more important source of meaning than the way the words stand for the things they represent.

ii. The speech act expresses the speaker’s intentions.

b. The second approach is in terms of generative or transformational grammar.

i. This approach emphasizes the rules used to generate sentences.

II. Habermas’ Approach to Communication (252)

A. Habermas attempts to illustrate how a theory of communication pervades every level of society.

1. The four stages of Habermas’ theory of communication are; human knowledge, universal pragmatics, communicative action, and critical theory.

2. At each level, Habermas’ interest lies in discovering rationality based on language and distortions that the impede realization of reality.

B. Human Knowledge (252)

1. Humans have three basic orientations/interests; work, interaction, and power.

2. These interests stem from our biological nature.

a. We all work with our environment.

b. We interact with others in social settings.

c. Our social settings contain power relations.

3. The three interests are “quasi transcendental.”

a. The term transcendental refers to the basic conceptual experience underlying human activity.

b. Quasi suggests that these experiences are fundamental necessities of human activity.

4. Work entails the means by which we provide the material aspects of existence .

a. Technical interest is the basic knowing that allows us to control the natural world.

b. This information is then systemized in the cognitive empirical/analytic science.

i. This science is fundamental in controlling the world.

ii. Controlling our world allows for the basics of existence.

c. Instrumental rationality is our type of means/ends thinking.

5. We maintain interaction through the use of symbols.

a. This interaction is practical interest, the need to move toward mutual understanding through practical reasoning.

b. The formal mode of knowing is realized in the historical/hermeneutic sciences, or those that deal with interpreting meaning.

6. All humans must deal with domination and power in social groups.

a. We all have an interest in emancipation from unnecessary power and control.

b. Unnecessary power takes the form of distorted communication or idealogies.

i. We are unconscious of these ideologies.

ii. Consciousness of these ideologies through self-reflection will lead toward freedom.

c. The desire for this freedom is the emancipatory interest.

d. This interest is formalized in the critical sciences, or critical theory, which concerns itself with the process individuals use to liberate themselves from unnecessary forms of control.

7. Habermas believes that a one-dimensional approach for understanding the world is incomplete, as no domain of humanity is free of values.

8. Habermas turns to the speech-act theory to explain social evaluation, and provide direction for how society may change and the people may attain emancipation from domination.

C. Universal Pragmatics (255)

1. Universal pragmatics is the study of general and universal aspects of language.

2. The task of universal pragmatics is to identify and reconstruct conditions of possible understanding.

3. This study is based on three fundamental assumptions.

a. Speakers are competent to use sentences in speech acts; we know how to communicate our intentions.

b. Our competence is based on “intuitive rule consciousness”- universal rules known by all communicators, regardless of language, culture, and other specific situations.

c. The aim is to discover this universal system of rules.

4. Habermas describes competence as the ability to master linguistic rules and communicate in a way that-

a. The truth claim of an utterance is shared by both the speaker and listener.

b. The hearer is led to understand and accept the speaker’s intention.

c. The speaker adapts to the listener’s world view.

5. A speech act is an utterance that accomplishes an act or does something beyond the utterance itself.

a. A speech act has two dimensions.

i. Propositional content is the factual sense and reference.

ii. Illocutionary force is the aspect that makes it a performance.

b. Habermas criticizes Austin’s approach in analyzing the twofold nature of speech acts.

i. Austin felt that locution and illocution were two separate entities.

ii. Habermas stated that all speech acts contain these two dimensions.

c. There are three major types of speech acts.

i. Constatives are speech acts that assert a truth claim.

ii. Regulatives govern or regulate in some way the relationship between speaker and hearer.

iii. Avowals refer to the speech acts that correspond to the functions of expression- to the disclosure of wishes, feelings, and intentions.

D. Validity Claims (258)

1. Habermas uses validity claims to connect speech acts to rationality.

2. There are four types of validity claims.

a. Every utterance must fulfill the presumption of comprehensibility; the conformation to the grammatical rules of a language.

b. Truth contains the offer to refer to actual experiences to determine the certainty of a statement.

c. The rightness or appropriateness are the socially accepted rules in operation that are binding on all participants.

d. The truthfulness or sincerity is the obligation to show that the stated intention behind the behavior is the actual motive operating.

3. There are three communicative options possible when a validity claim is questioned.

a. One or both participants may withdraw.

b. The problem can be resolved by further communicative action.

c. The participant can move to one of Habermas’ four levels of discourse for resolution, which lies beyond everyday communication.

i. Theoretic discourse deals with validity claims of truth where both parties are willing to suspend judgement and to operate instead as if the statement is a hypothesis and may or may not be valid.

ii. Practical discourse deals with the correctness of social rules and the implication of those rules for male-female relationships.

iii. Meta-theoretical discourse deals with questions about the basic conceptual framework or field in which the arguments are grounded.

iv. Meta-ethical discourse is the realm of critical theory, where the structure of knowledge itself is examined.

4. The general symmetry requirement is the three dimensions among the partners in interaction which create the ideal speech situation.

a. The first dimension is unrestrained discussion which requires that no constraints must exist in terms of discussion.

b. Second is the unimpaired self-representation which means that all participants in a speech situation have an equal opportunity to gain individual recognition by expressing their attitudes, feelings, motives, and intentions.

c. The third symmetry is that an ideal speech situation is that of a full complement of norms and expectations.

E. Communicative Action (262)

1. Communicative action is the interaction of at least two subjects capable of speech and action.

a. Communicative action establishes interpersonal relations.

b. It seeks to reach an understanding about the situation and the subjects’ plans of action in order to coordinate their actions by way of agreement.

2. Moving from speech acts to issues of interaction, Habermas adds three dimensions to his model.

a. The external, or objective world, consists of facts.

i. The speaker treats the object of discussion as having an independent existence.

ii. Communicators operating within their mode relate to other persons as means or obstacles to their aims.

b. The social world of interaction with others is characterized by the relationships recognized by members of a society.

i. The speech acts shown in this domain are directed toward the conformation of behavior to shared norms and values.

ii. The validity claims in this domain are rightness and appropriateness.

c. The individual’s internal, or subjective world, consists of the “totality of experiences to which only one individual has privileged access”

(Habermas qtd. in FFT 263).

i. Self-presentation and the projection of a public image is the principle aim of this communication action.

ii. The validity claim of this domain is concerned with truthfulness and sincerity.

d. The fourth domain which transcends the other three is the domain of communicative rationality or communicative action.

i. This domain occurs when two or more persons use language expressly to reach voluntary agreement for the sake of cooperation.

ii. Language functions as a medium in the communicative mode when speakers and hearers simultaneously refer to things in the objective, social, and subjective worlds.

F. Critical Theory (264)

1. Habermas discusses the “life-world,” the taken for granted universe of daily social activity.

a. The “life-world” consists of knowledge, traditions, and customs that are unconsciously passed down through generations.

b. This can also be considered the background consensus of everyday life.

2. Habermas distinguishes the life-world from social “systems.”

a. Life-world is the domain of social integration, as language is the dominant medium.

b. Speakers and listeners reach an understanding about something in the objective, social, or subjective world.

c. Societies also consist of “systems,” the structural features of life governed by non- linguistic media.

i. Habermas discusses two media in particular; money and power.

ii. These media exert control over society and hinder the life-world.

d. The life-world exists in opposition to the system.

e. Habermas contrasts traditional societies with modernity by using the life-world and systems orientations.

i. Traditional societies experience a high degree of consensus among members, and life-world and systems are coherent and unquestioned by all participants.

ii. Modernity is characterized by the differentiation of society into the objective, social, and subjective spheres.

f. Habermas believes that modernity exhibits a greater degree of rationality than traditional societies because of its complexity and diversity.

III. Responses to Habermas (266)

A. Habermas has been commended for penetrating many fields of thought, creating discussion among the disciplines and offering new ways in which to view society.

B. The breadth of Habermas’ work has come under fire as well.

1. Many feel that Habermas does not provide detail to the degree expected by his readers.

a. His range of interpretations is too broad for such a lack of detail.

b. Scholars also believe that Habermas has not fully completed his discussion of what is needed for a rational, autonomous society.

2. Habermas has caught the ire of feminist scholars, who assert that he writes with a male bias. 3. Many suggest that his style is too dense, and his writing is much too ambiguous.

Supplementary Readings

Bohman, James F. “Emancipation and Rhetoric: The Perlocations and Illocations of the Social Critic.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 21 (1988): 185-204.

This article examines the importance of the distinction between analyzing both idealogy and rhetoric. Particularly, it focuses on analyzing the aspect of rhetoric which changes beliefs that are engaged by the social critic. The author first examines the criticisms of Habermas’ distinction of perlocutions and illocutions. The author argues that there are overlapping, non-trivial features common to both speech acts.

Burleson, Brant R., and Susan L. Kline. “Habermas’ Theory of Communication: A Critical Explication.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 65 (Dec.1979): 412-28.

This article provides a critical exposition of Habermas’ theory of communicative competence. Throughout the authors’ explication of Habermas’ critical theory, the language of Habermas is clarified, and the problematic aspects and ambiguities of the theory are explored. The concluding section considers some of the implications of Habermas’ theory for speech communication study.

Habermas, Jurgen. The Theory of Communicative Action: Reason and the Rationalization of Society. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984.

Habermas deals with his notion of combining hermeneutic and empirical sciences as a base for his critical theory. He relates how Alfred Schutz believed that the social world has particular meanings for those living in it, and that the people have interpreted the world with a series of constructs. The social scientist must find a model of the individual to observe the results of activity and refer these results to the subjective meaning held by the actor. The terms in the scientific model must be related to the pretheoretical concepts understood by the people, thus providing the consistency of the constructs of both the social scientist and experience of social reality.

Habermas, Jurgen. The Theory of Communicative Action: Reason and the Rationalization of Society. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984.

Habermas talks about the subjective world and explains that it is justified in that we are dealing with an abstract concept that is not common. He goes on to explain that the concept of the subjective world has a status similar to that of its complementary concepts. It can be seen from the fact that it can be analyzed with reference to an additional validity claim. The principle aim of this kind of communicative action is self-presentation.

Habermas, Jurgen. Towards a Rational Society: Student Protest, Science, and Politics. Boston: Beacon Press, 1970.

In the mid-1960’s West German universities were expanding at an alarming rate. Two Berlin faculties introduced a limit to the amount of time a student could study at the university, a practice that created the students’ outrage and protest. Habermas gained considerable fame during these protests, and served as the spokesperson for the radicalization of society within the student ranks. These times produced a great effect on Habermas’ work.

Hawes, Leonard C. “Universal Pragmatics.” Philosophy and Rhetoric. 16 (1983): 130-36.

This article reviews Habermas’ Communication and the Evolution of Society. Hawes comments on the five features of Habermas’ work that he feels to be underdeveloped. Hawes continues by stating that Habermas’ theory is a beginning for the structuring of universal grammatical discourse, but holds that the theory is in much need of further work and research.

Held, David. Introduction To Critical Theory: Horkheimer to Habermas. Berkely: University of California Press, 1980.

Habermas’ theory of self-consciousness is emphasized as the author relates Habermas to Weber. It is stated that subjective reason must be traced to the modes of life which existed prior to the rise of industrial capitalism, which led to an undermining of traditional world views. The fear of means/ends rationality as becoming a form of domination is also expanded upon. The process in which rationalization is organized accounts for the “irrationality” of the rational world. The author states that critical reasoning and autonomous thinking are being eroded, and that capitalist production and domination “threatens the spirit and even the material survival of mankind.”

Roberts, Patricia. “Habermas’ Varieties of Communicative Action; Controversy Without Combat.” Journal of Advanced Composition. VII (Fall 1991): 409-24.

Roberts begins with a brief story of two students who are writing papers to please a teacher, but who fail to have any argumentive consistency. She moves to explain Habermas’ theory of communication and then returns to the work of the students. Looking at the papers through Habermas’ point of view, she reaches the conclusion that the students must change their perceptions and use Habermas’ theory to improve their insight on the matter.


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