Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Towards Reconciling Two Heroes: Habermas and Hegel

Topics: Meta-Philosophy
Keywords: discourse ethics, Habermas, Hegel, history, normativity


I describe my engagement with Habermas’s ideas, and sketch a way of reading of Hegel that I take to be consonant with the deepest lessons I have learned from Habermas. I read Hegel as having a social, linguistic theory of normativity, and an exclusively retrospective conception of progress and the sense in which history exhibits teleological normativity.

Part One

I first heard Jürgen Habermas’s name more than 30 years ago, in the Spring of 1979, when I had just arrived at the University of Pittsburgh as a new Assistant Professor. Those who know my Doktorvater Richard Rorty will not be surprised to hear that, although his own masterpiece Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature had just appeared, rather than talking about that, at the time he was much more interested in passing on his enthusiasm for Habermas’s book Knowledge and Human Interests. Following his recommendation, I read that work—with mounting excitement. It did wonderful, original things with lines of thought I had always been interested in, but had never seen how to integrate with my central interest in the nature of language and its role in our lives. It was able to do so in part by offering a reading of huge swathes of the philosophical tradition since Kant. The ambition and sheer power of the work exhilarated and inspired me then—as they still do today. More than anything else, I think it was the invigorating prospect of a new way of thinking about how philosophy of language could legitimately be thought of as “first philosophy” that caught my imagination.


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