Ken Wilber, along with many others, calls him "the world's foremost living philosopher and social theorist." And with good reason. Jurgen Habermas, is the greatest philosopher of the late twentieth century. So, why have you probably never heard of him? Well, Habermas is a specialist in a world that no longer honors his speciality. Philosophers, once the leading thinkers and writers of human endeavor, are now reduced to academic mental masterbation. This is both symptomatic of our society's ills and a reflection of its rational poverty. So it goes.
I have been a avid reader and follower of Jurgen Habermas' work since 1986. What initially caught my eye about him was his concept of "intersubjectivity." Here, according to Habermas, "ego stands in an interpersonal relationship, which allows him or her to relate to him-or herself as a participant in the interaction from the perspective of the other." Huh? Well, at the time I first read this, I had been working with various methods of meditation and other Eastern techniques for addressing life and fellow beings in a meaningful way. For me, Habermas offered the first geniunely RATIONAL means by which to do this. His teachings fundamentally influenced my life.
Habermas taught for many years at the University of Frankfurt. He developed a "Critical Theory" of modern society that is, for me, an inspiration and has tremendous social potential, especially in today's "everything for ME" kind of world, a world where when some one talks about "human rights," they inevitably mean "individual rights." The idea of the "Group" or a "collective" sense of responsibility has become subserviant to the idea of a set of Individuals thriving more or less chaotically within loose social bonds and obligations. (This last is my opinion, not necessarily Habermas'.)
At the same time, as we all coast along pursuing our often disassociated ends with minimal responsibilities, our alleged personal freedoms are, according to Habermas, in many cases illusionary as our private "lifeworlds" have been "colonized" by vast "systems" that prevade modern life. Corporate systems, government systems, scientific systems, academic systems, religious systems all take on a life of their own in the modern world. They leave many of us wondering where the resulting human shallowness and mindless cultural obedience to systems upon which no individual has genuine control will lead.
Habermas addresses these issues in his writings. But this is just the start. He goes on to suggest how individuals can begin to geniunely interact in the modern world. Through his "Theory of Communicative Action," his brilliant "Discourse Ethics," and numerous other writings, Habermas offers meaningful solutions to the so-called "post-modern reality."
In the months ahead I will flesh out some of his positions, as best I understand them, in layman's terms. In the meantime, feel free to explore on your on and learn more about a man who will be ranked in philosophical history alongside the greatest thinkers of all time.
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The Jurgen Habermas Web Resource
Introduction to Habermas's Discourse Ethics
Dear Habermas: A Journal of Postmodern Thought