Archives For Habermas

Part 1

Habermas emphasizes linguistic structure and analytical reason with regards to the pluralism of language games. What does this mean? Perhaps that languages can be translated into one another? First of all, the distance of theoretical language from normal language. Second, ordinary language grammar itself transcends the language it determines since it can be translated across languages. This second point describes a unity of word and thing, linguistic structure and world-conception.

There is a reflexive element that Habermas is driving at:

“For we become aware of the boundaries drawn for us by the grammar of ordinary language by means of the same grammar.” (p336)

“Hermeneutic experience is the corrective through which thinking reason escapes the spell of language; and it is itself linguistically constituted…To be sure, the multiplicity of languages with which linguistics is concerned also poses a question for us. But this is merely the single question: how is every language, in spite of its differences from other languages, supposed to be in a position to say everything it wants? Linguistics teaches us that every language does this in its own way. For our part, we pose the question: how does the same unity of thought and speech assert itself everywhere in the multiplicity of these ways of saying, in such a way that every written tradition can be understood?” (Gadamer, Truth and Method, in Habermas, p336)

Analytical reason: Habermas is saying that reason is transcendent over language. Hermeneutics mistrusts any mediatizing of ordinary languages and refuses to step out of their dimension. Linguistic practice has a tendency of self-transcendence embedded in it of which hermeneutics makes use.

“Languages themselves possess the potential of a reason that, while expressing itself in the particularity of a specific grammar, simultaneously reflects on its limits and negates them as particular. Although always bound up in language, reason always transcends particular languages; it lives in language only by destroying the particularities of languages through which alone it is incarnated.” (Habermas, p336)

It seems that through a complex unpacking of the nature of language interactions (conversations, translations, learning to speak at all) Habermas is driving at the need for a dialectical structure (citing Wittgenstein) and the need for conversation partners to find a common ground, a consensus in language usage. There is a conflict between Wittgenstein and Gadamer: for Gadamer the life-worlds that determine the grammar of language games are not closed forms of life (open horizons), Wittgenstein suggests a monadological language experience where understanding is limited to the virtual repetition of the training through which native speakers are socialized.

On tradition:

“Tradition, as the medium in which languages propagate themselves, takes place as translation, namely, as the bridging of distances between generations. The process of socialization, through which the individual grows into his language, is the smallest unity of the process of tradition….With the first fundamental rules of language the child learns not only the conditions of possible consensus but at the same time the conditions of possible interpretations of these rules, which permit him to overcome, and thereby also to express, distance.” (p339)

Wittgenstein sees language practice as the reproduction of fixed patterns; ‘as if socialized individuals were subsumed under a total system composed of language and activities.’ (p340) This is a positivist outlook.

Part 2

On Gadamer’s fusion of horizons:

Habermas first gives an account of Gadamer’s conception of the fusion of Horizons:

“The interpreter is a moment of the same fabric of tradition as his object. He appropriates a tradition from a horizon of expectations that is already informed by this tradition. For this reason we have, in a certain way, already understood the tradition with which we are confronted. And only for this reason is the horizon opened by the language of the interpreter not merely something subjective that distorts our interpretation. In opposition to theoretically oriented language analysis, hermeneutics insists that we learn to understand a language from the horizon of the language we already know.” (p343)

Habermas here is recognizing that Gadamer’s fundamental assumption is that humans have a set of rules, or habits, to which they conform in the knowledge building process. In a sense, a tradition of socialization (learning language, learning body language, how to relate etc).

“Hermeneutics avoids the embarrassment of a language analysis that cannot justify its own language game; for it starts with the idea that learning language games can never succeed abstractly but only from the basis of the language games that the interpreter has already mastered. Hermeneutic understanding is the interpretation of texts in the knowledge of already understood texts. It leads to new learning processes out of the horizon of already completed learning processes. It is a new step of socialisation that takes previous socialisation as its point of departure.” (p344)

Habermas seems to agree with Gadamer on the flaws of an objectivist (historicism) outlook.

“From the perspective of hermeneutic self-reflection, the phenomenological and linguistic foundations of interpretive sociology move to the side of historicism. Like the latter, they succumb to objectivism, since they claim for the phenomenological observer and the language analyst a purely theoretical attitude. But both are connected with their object domain through communication experience alone and cannot, therefore, lay claim to the role of uninvolved spectators.” (p344)


“What Habermas will eventually try to show is that we become rational by conforming to the true nature of language. The objectivity of reason is restored but in the form of communicative reason. But in his first major work, Knowledge and Human Interests, this idea, though present, is not developed. Here his defense of reason against the pessimism of his predecessors in the Frankfurt school takes the form of a defense of reflection. The enemy of reason is what he calls positivism, by which he understands the view that only genuine knowledge is scientific knowledge. The claim that scientific knowledge is the only knowledge is not itself a scientific claim. It is scientism. Positivism is a refusal to reflect, because to make this identification excludes the possibility of asking how knowledge is possible.” (p163)

So the overarching philosophical question becomes ‘how is knowledge possible?’ (epistemology). This is one key area of the philosophy of Kant. Habermas has taken to linguistics to investigate, adopting structuralism as the foundation of understanding all conscious phenomena. For perspective, it is important to remember here the presence of Habermas’ Marxist interests, and Derrida’s critique of structuralism, that structuralism is not radical but merely a substitute for epistemology and other schools of philosophy. That is, structuralism makes the claim that there is no center to understanding, but structuralism itself becomes the new center.

“For a critical philosopher any adequate conception of knowledge must take account of the ‘subjective conditions of the objectivity of possible knowledge’. We can in a sense form the idea of a mode of knowledge that is not ‘ours’ but we associate a meaning with this idea only to the extent that we can derive it as a limiting concept from a kind of knowledge that is possible ‘for us’.” (p165)

Habermas promotes reflection on two cognitive models of knowledge: knowledge as an instrument, and knowledge as a medium. This brings to light a series of implicit presuppositions of the Kantian critique of knowledge which should be rejected:

1) a normative concept of science
2) the assumption of a complete, fixed, knowing subject
3) the separation of theoretical and practical reason

For Habermas reason is intrinsically practical. This is shown through his focus on linguistics. Our engagement in language games is where reason arises and finds form.

Where does Marx fit in?

Habermas is reacting to scientism and positivism. He is trying to reinstate epistemology, in order that these ‘isms’ do not claim authority over knowledge and the understanding of how knowledge is possible. This is a philosophical goal I believe most serious thinkers should be sympathetic to, in that science has proven itself to be fallible, just as any political system, and via the philosophy of Kuhn, also social and cultural in its paradigmatic operations. It is an illusion to take a ‘scientistic’ approach.

“Marx follows the strategy of detaching the exposition of consciousness in its manifestations from the framework of the philosophy of identity (the identity of thought and being, subject and object). Whereas for Hegel mind or spirit (Geist) is the absolute ground of nature, for Marx it is the other way around. This is not, Habermas claims, coarse materialism. Hegel’s phenomenology is given a materialist interpretation in the sense that the changing forms of consciousness are seen as the reflection of changes in modes of material production. The phenomeno-logical construction of the dialectically unfolding forms of consciousness is reinterpreted by Marx as ‘an encoded representation of the self-production of the species’.” (p166)

Materialism in Marx can be seen as having an equivalent in Habermas’ ordinary language communication. Interestingly, Habermas recognizes Marx’s positivism in approaching ideology as itself a science, in the order of the natural sciences. He does not however take the same view on psychoanalysis. An appropriate area for discussion opens up here with regard to Popper who argues the pseudo-scientific status of psych-analysis and non-scientific status of ideology.

Habermas and Gadamer

“If Gadamer’s account of the conditions of the possibility of understanding is correct, then it is not clear that such a project is even possible. Critical theory as Habermas understands it depends on our being able to give a rational grounding of certain norms. The linguistic, cultural, and historical dependence of all our thought and knowledge, which Gadamer’s hermeneutics seems to imply, would apparently rule out the possibility of such a rational grounding.” (p173)

Habermas enthusiastically endorses certain aspects of Gadamer’s philosophy:

linguisticality of tradition
situatedness of understanding
the in principle translatability of every natural language into every other
the self-reflexive character of ordinary language

“What Habermas does oppose is what he calls the ontological self-understanding of Gadamer’s hermeneutics. This is the claim of hermeneutics to universality, which as we shall see he links to the idea that it is not possible to go behind the understanding of ordinary language.” (p173)

Habermas claims that Gadamer’s hermeneutics is a form of ‘idealism of linguisticality’, that it is unable to deal with the phenomenon of ‘systematically distorted communication’, and, finally, that it does not allow for the rational criticism of tradition. (p173)

“Habermas accepts that ordinary language is a kind of meta-institution on which all social institutions are dependent. This is because social institutions depend on social actions and social actions are constituted in ordinary language communication. However, it is also the case, he thinks, that language is part of a complex that is constituted cojointly by language, labor, and power.” (p174)

For Gadamer, the linguistic component of this complex determines the material practice of life. For Habermas, these extra linguistic factors, power and labor, are equally determinate in the outcome of the material practice of life. The communicative power of language is affected by such ‘real’ factors: modes of production and relations of power. Language is at once the fabric of social consensus and mutual understanding, and, a medium for social domination and power. Gadamer refutes this by observing that power is acknowledged through social consensus. Also, Gadamer cites power and means of production as sources of prejudice and therefore proper objects of hermeneutic reflection. This concedes to Habermas that theses extra linguistic factors are present, whilst maintaining a hierarchical order of the structure of hermeneutic philosophy. He prevents it becoming materialist. For Gadamer, labor and power do not fall outside language and tradition (remembering that tradition is not fixed, but is mutable via each generation).

Habermas argues that there is ‘distorted communication’ when language is used ideologically. There is surface meaning (intended meaning) and ‘true’ meaning. This requires critique, which once done, will reveal ‘true’ meaning. Gadamer points out that there is a false assumption that only intended meaning can be understood. The experience of meaning, for Gadamer, has a broader scope than this. Habermas strengthens his argument by introducing psychoanalysis and critique of ideology. These two fields of criticism reveal systematically distorted communication. This is heavily explored in Habermas’ essay ‘On Hermeneutic’s Claim to Universality.”

At this stage in this narrative of Habermas vs. Gadamer it is clear that Habermas is making a valid point on the nature of language and its relation to the material and social experience of people. However, by invoking psychoanalysis, Habermas takes a mis-step that can be highlighted by Popper’s critique of psychanalysis: namely, that psychoanalysis is purely speculative and creates an invalid power-relation between researcher/philosopher/scientist and participant (remembering that it may yield results in the case of psychotic patients and doctors, but this is not a model for the rest of the world).

“Habermas follows Alfred Lorenzer, who treats psychoanalysis as a form of linguistic analysis. The neurotic’s symptomatic expressions are seen as belonging to a deformed language game that has been privatized and split off from the public language game. By tracing the private language game back to a childhood trauma the analyst seeks to draw up a lexicon whereby expressions in the private language can be translated into expressions in the public language. A meaning which had previously been inaccessible to public communication but which determined the neurotic behavior is now made accessible.” (p176)

To use this psychoanalytic process as a comparison to hermeneutic inquiry is to compare an individual engaged in ordinary language games to a neurotic or psychotic, coupled with placing the academic researcher in a position of power akin to that of the doctor to neurotic patient. This is a contradiction to Habermas’ foundational critique’s of positivism and its form of scientism.

“Hermeneutic understanding we have seen is essentially dialogical in character. The aim of dialogue is reaching an understanding, an agreement, about a subject-matter (Sache). It is clear that the form of communication which takes place between analyst and patient is not that of a dialogue between equals, but a contrived mode of discourse which ‘fulfills experimental conditions’. But the main reason why such a case is supposed to call into question hermeneutics’ claim to universality is that it shows that the meaning of the systematically distorted expressions can only be understood by showing how the systematic distortion comes about. And this requires a theoretical framework which goes beyond hermeneutic understanding. It shows that we are able to transcend the dialogue that, according to Gadamer, we are.” (p176)

The analyst in this argument is as context dependent as anything or anyone else and therefore has no validity as an objective observer of the language games of ordinary people. This is a contradiction to the rejection of positivism.

Habermas promotes an ideal to get around this: the existence of a counterfactual community in which communication is unlimited and free of force. This is essentially positivist. Habermas’ determination to critique prejudice has ironically illuminated the intense presence of his own prejudice. For Gadamer this is fine as prejudice is part of hermeneutic inquiry; it is the state of existence. Habermas does a lot of work to find a position in which he can legitimately critique and deconstruct tradition but finds himself the subject of Gadamer’s reasoning that all understanding is theory-laden and prejudiced.

Philosophy of science is going to be an invaluable tool in analyzing this argument as it is hermeneutics claim (as represented by Gadamer) to universality that Habermas points out leaves no room for criticism in the social or natural sciences. If we are subject to our horizons of prejudice and preconception, how can science or social science critique? Gadamer claims that this state of being is not normative, it just simply is. To what extent would Popper or Kuhn, or even Einstein, agree?

Part 1

Habermas starts out by grouping hermeneutics (the art of understanding) with linguistic communication.

“Understanding of meaning focuses on the semantic content of speech, but also on the meaning contained in written forms of expression or in non-linguistic symbol systems, so far as such meanings can, in principle, be ‘recovered’ in speech.” (p294)

“Philosophical hermeneutics is a different matter: it is not an art but a critique – that is, it brings to consciousness in a reflective attitude experiences which we have of language in the exercise of our communicative competence and thus in the course of social interaction with others through language.” (p294)

Habermas is separating out a natural hermeneutical capability we as humans have, which is linguistic, from a philosophical hermeneutics which is critical, and also an extension, or clearer, second tier philosophical hermeneutics that is an inquiry into the structures of colloquial communication.

A fundamental assumption in philosophical hermeneutics is that natural language is sufficient to clarify the meaning of any configuration of symbols. We can translate from any language into any other.

Here he makes a comment on history, worth making a note of:

“We can place the objectifications of the most remote period and the most alien culture in understandable relationship to the familiar (that is, previously understood) context of our own surroundings.” (p294)

With regards to cultural distance:

“The inter-subjectivity of colloquial understanding is in principle as limitless as it is fragmentary: limitless, because it can be enlarged at will; fragmentary, because it can never be exhaustively constructed. That is as much true of contemporary communication within a socio-culturally homogeneous language community as it is of communication which takes place over the distance between different classes, cultures and time periods.” (p295)

Habermas is very wordy in his description of the reflexive nature of language and its potential and ability to permit ad hoc stipulation and commentary on individual statements:

“For every natural language is its own meta-language.” (p295)

Next comes the observation that such freedom of movement in language is dependent upon linguistic tradition itself, and so language competence is dependent upon a context which has been dogmatically transmitted and implicitly pre-established. This has clear links to Heidegger and developments in linguistic philosophy, and soon follows with mention of understanding being unavoidably biased. Here the Gadamer debate hones into view:

“in the process of learning, he merely forms a new preconception, which in turn becomes the reigning preconception at the next hermeneutical step. That is the meaning of Gadamer’s statement: ‘effective historical consciousness is inescapably more existence than it is consciousness.'” (p296)

Here the Heideggerian foundation can be detected in acknowledging that subjectivity is the natural state of consciousness, therefore existence. Habermas will undoubtedly employ logic and language to reason against this ‘outcome’ of investigating understanding, but his own ideological frameworks must always be kept in view. To what extent does a Marxist/materialist outlook hold validity if we accept the proposition of subjective existence?

Habermas argues that in the reverse order communication, convincing and persuading, colloquial language also shapes and alters attitudes which inform behavior. (p296) This is a structuralist argument and one can see a conflict arising with unescapable subjectivity. For if subjectivity is shaped by language, then subjectivity can be changed if language is changed. There is also an argument about the social framework of society here regarding decisions that are made about normal behavior, standards etc. Such decisions are arrived at via convincing speech:

“[…] practical questions can be decided only through dialogue and therefore remain bound to the context of the colloquial language.” (p296)

Habermas next turns to the individuals capacity to influence a ‘corporate’ body of men, and the obverse of this power, the powerlessness of the subject vis-a-vis familiar language games:

“[…] the grammar of language games must become a constituent part of the personality structure.” (p297)

Language games are a clear reference to Ludwig Wittgenstein.

The next element of consideration for the speech/language experience is actions and gestural forms of communication. Skillful speech has power over practical consciousness due to the fact that a natural language cannot be adequately grasped as a system of rules for semantically meaningful expressions. It is dependent on its context i.e. body language:

“The rhetorical experience thus teaches us to see the connection between language and praxis.” (p297)

Language and behavior interpret each other reciprocally.

“The grammar of language games, understood as a complete life-praxis, governs not only the combination of symbols but the interpretation of linguistic symbols through actions and expressions.” (p297)

This reciprocal power relationship between language and praxis will be the site of Habermas’ critique of Gadamer’s dialogic approach to knowledge (my conjecture at this early stage in reading).

How is hermeneutics different from linguistics?

“Reflexivity and objectivity are as fundamental to language as creativity and the integral relationship between language and life praxis.” (p297)

Hermeneutics means to investigate the structures of natural language, and engage in a ‘reflective use of communicative competence.’ Linguistics is limited to ‘linguistic competence’, as distinct from communicative competence. This linguistic competence refers to the ability of an ideal speaker who has full command of the abstract rule system of a natural language. (Chomsky) Linguistics is concerned purely with langue (the deep structure that produces our ideas), whereas hermeneutics takes into account the dimension in which langue is transformed into parole (a specific instance of speech or writing).

“Further, the goal of linguistics is a reconstruction of the rule system which underlies the production of all the various grammatically correct and semantically meaningful elements of a natural language, whereas hermeneutics reflects on the principle experiences of a communicatively competent speaker (whose linguistic competence is tacitly presupposed).” (p298)

Hermeneutics brings to light for the knowledge seeker his inherent freedoms and dependencies with regards to language. However, philosophical hermeneutics cannot define communicative competence. This is the task of linguistics. This means, according to Habermas, that the subjectivity of the speaker remains fundamentally untouched in the field of hermeneutics.

Two ways in which hermeneutics is significant:

1) “Hermeneutical consciousness demolishes the objectivistic self-conception of the traditional human sciences. Given the bond between the interpreting scholar and the hermeneutical situation from which he starts, it follows that impartiality of understanding cannot be secured by abstraction from preconceived ideas, but alone through reflection on the effective historical relationship in which the knowing subject always stands to its object.” (p298)

2) “hermeneutical consciousness calls to the attention of the social sciences problems which arise from the symbolic ‘fore-structuring’ of their investigation field.” Essentially, all observation is theory laden and must be treated as such with regard to the scientific method. (p299)

3) “[…] natural language always plays the role of an ‘ultimate’ metalanguage for all theories expressed in formal language […]” This explains the epistemological rank of colloquial language in the research process.

4) “[…] the translation of momentous scientific information into the language of the social world at large.”

This is a new territory for hermeneutics argues Habermas:

“Hermeneutical consciousness originates in reflection on our activity within natural language, while the interpretation of the sciences for the world at large must mediate between natural language and monlogical language systems.” (p300) By monological language systems Habermas is referring to sciences characteristic ability to produce knowledge and make statements about things by proceeding via controlled observation, where the ‘mirror’ (reflection) of human speech needs no attention.

Habermas questions the validity of hermeneutics claim to universality:

“Is it possible to have an understanding of colloquial configurations of symbols themselves that is not bound by the hermeneutical presuppositions of context-dependent processes of understanding, that in this sense cheats the natural language of its role as ultimate meta-language? Since hermeneutical understanding must always proceed ad hoc and cannot be developed into a scientific method (can at most reach the level of an art through discipline and training), this question is equivalent to asking whether there can be a theory appropriate to the structure of natural languages which provides the basis for a methodologically ensured understanding of meaning.” (p301)

Habermas suggests two avenues of inquiry to find an answer to this problem: 1) the application of hermeneutical understanding is limited by undertakings of explanation by psychoanalysis and critique of ideologies (in so far as it involves collective behavior), and 2) the search for a universal theory of linguistics, which amounts to the reconstruction of a rule system which would adequately define universal linguistic competence. Of the first, the primary suggestion is that the subject who expresses himself is unaware of his own intentions:

“A theory of colloquial communication, consequently, must first open the way to pathologically buried meaning. If the claim to produce such a theory were to prove valid, an explanatory understanding were then possible which would be able to pass beyond the limits of hermeneutical understanding of meaning.” (p301)

Of the second, the goal is to assign a structural description from the theoretical language unequivocally to every element of natural language. The structural descriptions expressed in the theoretical language would be able to take the place of hermeneutical understanding of meaning. (p301)

This comes into direct contact with the philosophy of science, through which both ideas are basically refuted. First of all, Popper’s assertion that both psychoanalysis and political criticism (such as Marxism) are pseudo-sciences due to their mutable/adjustable natures. Secondly, that science (whether you be a realist or anti-realist) is in a state of change, paradigm and constant falsification. This is the character of science and in so being is unsuitable as the basis of a system of structural descriptions to be applied to natural language.

Habermas asserts that psychoanalysis is a critical science. On this I invoke Karl Popper and simply disagree. These are not good options to replace universal hermeneutics as they appear as attempts to assert control and systemization over the language game, rather than artful engagement with it. It seems that Habermas seeks to replace the problem of subjectivity and structure of language as a dominant force, with a system of analysis, which in turn equals a system of analysis control.

Part 2

Habermas invokes the concept of pseudo-communication – where unintelligibility results from a faulty organization of speech itself (as opposed to disturbances which might appear in psychotics, outside of normal speech). In pseudocommunication disruptions of speech are not noticed by parties involved. hermeneutics does not put a universal criterion at our disposal which would tell us when we are caught up in the false consciousness of a pseudo-normal understanding. Following this point comes an analysis of Freud who thoroughly explored systematically displaced communication, of which the dream is the normative phenomena. Freud extends this from conception of systematically distorted communication to the hidden pathology of entire social systems. What follows is a complex account of Freudian speech analysis. It has to be said that this needss to be treated with caution considering Habermas’ claim that it is a critical science.

Part 3

“Indeed, the implicit knowledge of the determinants of systematically distorted communication, which is presupposed by the depth-hermeneutical use of communicative competence, is enough to call into question the ontological self-conception of hermeneutics which Gadamer explicates, following Heidegger.” (p313)

Hermeneutics (via Gadamer) is context-dependent. It is supported by tradition and develops constantly a new preconception.

Quote Gadamer in Habermas:

“Is the phenomenon of understanding adequately defined if I say: understanding means avoiding misunderstanding? Does not, in truth, every misunderstanding presuppose the existence of something like a standing agreement?” (p313)

“Gadamer, if i am correct, is of the opinion that the hermeneutical elucidation of unintelligible or misunderstood expression must always refer back to a prior consensus which has been reliably worked out in the dialogue of a convergent tradition. This tradition, however, is objective for us, in the sense that it cannot be confronted with a claim to the truth on principle. The inherently prejudiced nature of understanding renders it impossible – indeed, makes it seem pointless – to place in jeopardy the factually worked out consensus which underlies, as the case may be, our misconception or lack of comprehension. Hermeneutically, we are obliged to have reference to concrete pre-understandings which, ultimately, can be traced back to the process of socialization, to the mastery and absorption into common contexts of tradition. None of the contexts involved is off-limits to criticism as a matter of principle, but none of them can be called into question abstractly. That would be possible only if we could look at a consensus produced through mutual understanding from the sidelines, as it were, and could subject it, behind the backs of the participants, to renewed demands for legitimation. But we can make demands of this sort to the face of the participants only by entering into a converstaion with them. In so doing, we resubmit ourselves to the hermeneutical obligation of accepting for the time being – as a standing agreement – whatever consensus the resumed conversation may lead to as its resolution. The attempt to cast doubt, abstractly, on this agreement – which is, of course, contingent – as a false consciousness is pointless, since we cannot transcend the conversation which we are. From this, Gadamer infers the ontological precedence of linguistic tradition over criticism of all sorts: we can, it follows, bring criticism to bear only on given individual traditions, since we ourselves are part of the encompassing traditional context of a language.” (p313)

This is where psychoanalysis can serve to undermine Gadamer’s proposition: that is, if the consensus is worked out in pseudo-communication, on a set of miscommunication. Also, the conversation that ‘we are’ implies an experienced reality of a communication distorted by force:

“The enlightenment demands that reason be established as the principle of unconstrained communication.” (p314)

The conversation that we are is also a nexus of force and for that very reason not a conversation.

“Gadamer has used hermeneutical insight into the prejudicial structure of understanding to rehabilitate prejudice. He sees no antithesis between authority and reason. The authority of tradition, he says, does not prevail blindly but through the reflective acknowledgement of those who, standing within the tradition, interpret it and continue its development through application.” (p316)

Gadamer’s response to Habermas:

“Granted, authority exercises force in countless forms….But this view of the obedience rendered to authority can never explain why it should express itself in power structures and not in the disorder which characterizes the exercise of force alone. As I see it, then, there are compelling reasons for viewing acknowledgement as the determining factor in true authority relationships….One need only study representative instances of the loss or decline of authority to see what authority is and whence it derives it life. Not from dogmatic force, but from dogmatic acknowledgement. What, however, is dogmatic acknowledgement, if not this: that one concedes to authority a superiority in knowledge and judgment.” (p316)

Habermas’ main point of contention is to question the use of force in establishing authority. He argues that Gadamer presupposes that acknowledgement and agreement in which authority is grounded is brought about without force. He goes further to suggest that force “achieves permanence through precisely the objective illusion of freedom from force which characterizes a pseudocommunicative agreement.” (p316)

Once again, if psychoanalysis can be argued to be invalid as a critical science and therefore speculative, this whole argument becomes speculative. What of Gadamer though? To what extent does the use of force matter in the establishment of social consensus (if there is force)?? And what of the illusion of freedom? Surely there are tangible qualities of freedom regardless of pseudo-communication.


Habermas, J., “Hermeneutics and the Social Sciences”, in The Hermeneutics Reader, K. Mueller-Vollmer ed., Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1986, 293-319