- Paperback: 457 pages
- Publisher: Beacon Press (March 1, 1985)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 080701401X
- ISBN-13: 978-0807014011
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #469,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume 2: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason
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One of the broadest, most comprehensive, elaborate and intensely theoretical works in social theory. Social theory and philosophy may never be the same again. --Philosophy and Social Criticism
From the Back Cover
Jurgen Habermas opens volume 2 with a brilliant reinterpretation of Mead and Durkheim and then develops his own approach to society, combining two hitherto competing paradigms, 'system' and 'lifeworld.' The strength of this combination is then demonstrated in a detailed critique of Parsons's theory of social systems.
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See review for the two volumes: The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume 1: Reason and the Rationalization of Society (The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol1)
He begins by stating, “In the Marxist reception of Weber’s theory of rationalization… the rationalization of society was always thought of as a reification of consciousness. As I have argued in Volume 1, the paradoxes to which this conceptual strategy leads show that rationalization cannot be dealt with adequately within the conceptual frame of the philosophy of consciousness. In Volume 2 I will take up the problematic of reification once again and reformulate it in terms of, on the one hand, communicative action and, on the other, the formation of subsystems via steering media.” (Pg. 1)
He states, “Neither imperatives nor announcements appear with claims that aim at rationally motivated consensus and point to criticism or grounding. They … need, if they are to have any effect, to be externally connected with the hearer’s empirical motives… The regulation of action via norms can thus be viewed as the solution to a problem that arises when the coordination of action via signal language no longer functions.” (Pg. 31)
He explains, “My guiding idea is that, on the one hand, the dynamics of development are steered by imperatives issuing from problems of self-maintenance, that is, problems of materially reproducing the lifeworld; but that, on the other hand, the societal development draws upon structural POSSIBILITIES and is subject to structural LIMITATIONS that, with the rationalization of the lifeworld, undergo systematic change in dependence upon corresponding learning processes. Thus the systems-theoretical perspective is relativized by the fact that the rationalization of the lifeworld leads to a directional variation of the structural patterns defining the maintenance of the system.” (Pg. 148)
He argues, “From the perspective of action conceived as value-regulated purposive activity, we cannot explain how culture, society, and personality hang together. That concept does not yield the complementary concept of an intersubjectively shared world. Without the brackets of a lifeworld centered on communicative action, culture, society, and personality fall apart.” (Pg. 225)
He suggests, “There are a number of reasons for going back to Marx, or more precisely, to the interpretation of Marx stemming from Western Marxism’s reception of Weber. On the one hand, the dynamics of class opposition might explain the inner dynamics of bureaucratization---the hypertrophic growth of media-steered subsystems, resulting in the encroachment of administrative and monetary steering mechanisms upon the lifeworld. On the other hand, the reification of communicatively structured domains of actions does not, in the first instance, produce effects distributed in any class-specific manner.” (Pg. 332)
He concludes with the statement, “The theory of modernity that I have here sketched in broad strokes permits us to recognize the following: In modern societies there is such an expansion of the scope of contingency for interaction loosed from normative contexts that the inner logic of communicative action ‘becomes practically true’ in the deinstitutionalized forms of intercourse of the familial private sphere as well as in a public sphere stamped by the mass media. At the same time, the systemic imperatives of autonomous subsystems penetrate into the lifeworld and, through monetarization and bureaucratization, force an assimilation of communicative action to formally organized domains of action---even in areas where the action-coordinating mechanism of reaching understanding is functionally necessary. It may be that this provocative threat, this challenge that places the symbolic structures of the lifeworld as a whole in question, can account for any they have become accessible to us.” (Pg. 403)
This 2-book series is important reading for anyone studying Habermas or the Frankfurt School.
* Habermas' theory is meant to be an advance beyond previous critical theories. He argues that their focus on consciousness philosophy (broadly speaking, an individualist approach to social theory, which assumes that individuals are the primary bearers of meaning) leads them into all sorts of problems. But his interpretations of those previous critical theories are, not to put too fine a point on it, appalling. He misreads Hegel; he misreads Marx to such a great extent that one might almost believe he'd never even read *Capital*; and his take on earlier critical theorists is more or less limited to Horkheimer's 'Eclipse of Reason.' Habermas' main criticism of Adorno is that Adorno seeks a solution to the problems of modern societies in a kind of irrationalist mysticism. It is no surprise that almost all of his evidence for this is taken from books *about*, rather than *by* Adorno. (Good rebuttals of Habermas' readings of Hegel and Marx can be found in Pippin's 'Idealism as Modernism,' and Postone's 'Time, Labor and Social Domination' respectively.)
* For Habermas, the main problem with previous critical theories is that they don't seem to be grounded. Habermas sees a strict dichotomy here. Either you ground your theory by taking on a universalist perspective, or you lapse into relativism. Because critical theory has tended to avoid universalism, it must be relativistic. This is tied to his failure to understand Hegel's work. Hegel shows that the dichotomy between universalism and relativism is flawed; that something can be grounding without being universal. On this approach, critical theory is right to find its foundation only in an immanent critique of the present, without a universalist standpoint.
* Habermas claims to find his universalist standpoint in language. He argues that any any speech act assumes the possibility of rational agreement, and that this can be a basis of a critical theory. Language becomes the inalienable repository of freedom and reconciliation. This is where Habermas' rejection of 'consciousness philosophy' hurts him most. Why is it that language can remain more or less pure? He has no answer for this question. 'Consciousness philosophy,' of course, would argue that since language is bound up with consciousness; and since consciousness somewhat obviously cannot remain 'pure' in an impure world; then language itself cannot remain pure, and cannot be the universal standpoint Habermas seeks.
* Finally, Habermas tries to combine two sociological approaches: systems theory and action theory. He never asks, however, if these theories themselves might be reflections of actual social problems which cannot be merely 'combined' at the theoretical level. A critical theory will show the problems with these theories, and explain how to move past them. Habermas does not do this, because he accepts Daniel Bell's thesis of 'end of ideology.' Theories are now just different standpoints from which we view the same content, not reflections of that content itself. Again, a bit more 'consciousness philosophy' would have led Habermas to see that this separation of form and content - which he sees as a key moment of modernism - is theoretically untenable.
* On a somewhat more obvious level, this was a theory designed for a welfare-state world. This world collapsed just as these volumes were being published in German. Habermas himself said, in an interview around the time they were being published, that this work assumed such a welfare state world ("The Dialectics of Rationalization," in 'Telos'). The disappearance of that world made it clear that 'power' was no more than a handmaiden to 'money.' The best recent work of critical theory, Postone's book mentioned above, makes this argument very well.
That's all substantive stuff. On a less high-falutin' level, this book is horrifically written, spends far too much time summarizing previous sociological theories, and shows a frankly bizarre addiction to unnecessary, quasi-scholastic hair-splitting. For those interested in critical theory, I recommend reading the 'intermediate reflections' and 'concluding reflections.' Otherwise, it's like reading a freshman-comp paper written by a staggering genius.
If you cannot see the importance and meaning of the books and important difference between two volumes, it is better to question your own "dasein" in academic field. Good luck..