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Jürgen Habermas' communicative theory : a theory leading to liberation or domination?

Authors Leung, Joanna Wai Sze
Issue Date 1997
Summary Jurgen Habermas, as a member of the Frankfurt School which criticizes the modern technical society, shares its concerns with the problem of the domination of technical value over human value. Social interests are decided by ideology, without public participation. However, neither the early Frankfurt School members nor others who criticized modernization provide a clear direction to emancipation. By incorporating a linguistic turn into the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School, Habermas attempts to find liberation in language and communication. He maintains that it is by communicative action that a human society can develop from an authoritative one to an open one. When human beings communicate, they experience a process of rational argumentation and consensus formation. The negative side of modernity is due only to the asymmetrical development of instrumental action over communicative action. Human beings should pursue fulfillment in the ideal speech situation, where competent speakers are free to speak and to make social decisions by consensus. However, a competent speaker, as understood by Habermas, is difficult to find. This is because his communicative theory makes a very strong moral requirements of speakers. Also, Habermas requires a social interpreter to unveil the original meaning of our ideology-distorted language. The questions of who are the eligible speaker and interpreter appear insoluble. In addition, Habermas has ignored the important fact about language and communication: people speak differently. Differences are associated with people's speech styles, ethical wants and positions in social power relations. Habermas' ignorance of these differences reveals his over-emphasis on the idea of the rational self as the ultimate foundation of truth. This over-emphasis makes him overlook the dimension of intersubjective relations between speakers in the communication situation. The author suggests that, though Habermas' communicative theory is positive in suggesting a way which respects individual rights to speak and aims to settle social disputes in a non-coercive manner, his theory is oblivious to the varieties and particularities of communicative situations and the identities of speakers. Further in-depth hermeneutical understanding of these areas will help to make his communicative theory more comprehensive in explaining liberation and domination, and save his theory from becoming another coercive doctrine.
Note Thesis (M.Phil.)--Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, 1997
Language English
Format Thesis
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