A Critical Evaluation of Kantian Themes in Habermas’s Critical Theory

  • Philip Anthony O'Hanlon

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This dissertation provides a critical evaluation of Kantian themes in the work of Jurgen Habermas. This is done by drawing largely on the thought of Hegel and Adorno. The basis for the critique is the conviction that Kant does not provide the best model for critical theory and that Kant’s thought is limited in its critical potential. Conversely, Hegel and Adorno provide a much better guide. Prior to Habermas, the critical theory of the Frankfurt School was largely Hegelian in inspiration and form. This was most evident in the commitments to dialectics and to historicity. Habermas transformed critical theory in such a manner as to take it further away from its roots in Hegel and closer to Kant. He reads Hegel in a particular way, associating dialectics with absolutist tendencies, or in the case of Adorno, with aporia and fatalism. These “misreadings” lead him to reject dialectical logic and to jettison a thicker conception of critique opened up by Hegel’s critique of Kantian formalism, and Adorno’s continuation of it. As a result, Habermas retreats into formalism and reduces the utopian potential of critical theory to a proceduralist account of justice. This account not only loses the perspective provided by the Hegelian conception of reconciliation, understood as the overcoming of human suffering in the broadest sense, it also reiterates many of the dilemmas of Kantian thought, most obviously, the inability to connect theory and practice, a connection that forms the basis of any credible critical theory. Some recent attempts to develop the Habermassian paradigm are considered and, despite being seen to correct some of Habermas’s more obvious shortcomings, are found wanting. The dissertation ends by contesting Habermas’s reading of the Hegelian tradition in critical theory and by providing an account of why that tradition needs to be recovered.
    Date of AwardDec 2009
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Queen's University Belfast
    SupervisorShane O'Neill (Supervisor)

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