Jürgen Habermas: biography of this German philosopher

Jürgen Habermas is one of the best known and most influential living philosophers. He is the main representative of the second generation of the Frankfurt School and his life is characterized by a critique of society, deep in advanced capitalism.

His reflection on how language is a fundamental tool in the construction and maintenance of society, notably reinforced by the idea of ​​public opinion, is one of the most relevant in the field of the philosophy of language.

Below we will see in depth the life of this philosopher through a biography of Jürgen Habermas in which we will know his career, his works, the awards he has won and reflected.

    Brief biography of Jürgen Habermas

    Below we will take a closer look at the life of this great thinker, who despite his advanced age is still very active today in philosophical circles and the specialized media in the field.

    first years

    Jürgen Habermas was born in Düsseldorf, Germany on June 18, 1929, In a Protestant family. His grandfather was the director of the seminary in Gummersbach, the village where the family lived. His father, Ernst Habermas, was executive director of the Cologne Chamber of Commerce and Industry and, according to Jürgen himself, was a Nazi sympathizer. He would continue to reside in Gummersbach until he graduated from the gymnasium (German high school).

    His childhood was hard, because from birth he had to deal with a pale palate, which made it difficult to speak, which is why other children showed rejection. Although he had twice undergone corrective surgery, this flaw would mark him, making him reflect on the importance of communication from an early age. Furthermore, in his childhood and adolescence he will witness social changes in Germany, A time when the Nazi Party would take control of German society.

    University education and Frankfurt school

    But hard times have passed and, after World War II, Habermas was able to study at the universities of Göttingen (1949-1950), Zurich (1950-1951) and Bonn (1951-1954).. In each of them he would learn history, psychology, German literature, economics and philosophy, obtaining his doctorate in the latter discipline in 1954. He would present his thesis “Das Absolute und die Geschichte. Von der Zwiespältigkeit in Schellings Denken “(The Absolute and History: Differences in Schelling’s Thought).

    In 1953 he published his first article, a critique of Heidegger’s work “Introduction to metaphysics”, entitled “Mit Heidegger gegen Heidegger denken” (Thinking with Heidegger against Heidegger), being particularly harsh against Heidegger’s on nationalism . In the following years, he also published other press articles.

    In 1955 was invited by Theodor Adorno to be part of the reopening of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt. He would come into contact here with empirical social research, reorienting his studies towards a critical theory of society and alternating with the Frankfurt school.

    From there until 1959 he was Adorno’s assistant and, over time, would become the main representative of the second generation of the Frankfurt school, and become a figurehead of “critical theory”, a philosophical current advocated by this school. This current will fascinate the youth of the student movements of the 1960s.

    Years of teaching

    Between 1964 and 1971 he worked as a professor at the University of Frankfurt, and it was during this period, more precisely in 1968, that he obtained great interest and international projection thanks to the publication of his book ” Knowledge and interest “.

    After his chair in Frankfurt, he worked as a professor of philosophy in Heidelberg. Between 1971 and 1980 he was director of the Max Planck Institute in Stamberg. In 1983 he obtained the chair of philosophy and sociology at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, University in which it would remain until its retirement in 1994 and happening to have recognition like emeritus professor.

    Today he is still very active as a teacher, having degrees as “Permanent Visiting Professor” at Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois) and “Theodor Heuss Professor” at New School (New York). He also receives numerous interviews and, although he is only 91 years old, he does not stop intervening on many aspects of the philosophy of the 21st century.


    In 1986 he received the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the highest distinction offered on German territory in the field of research. In 2001 he received the prestigious German Booksellers Prize for Peace and in 2003 he had the honor of receiving the Prince of Asturias of Social Sciences. later he received the Holberg Prize for his contributions to philosophy and sociology.

    He holds an honorary doctorate from several international universities, including Jerusalem, Buenos Aires, Hamburg, Northwestern University Evanston, Utrecht, Tel Aviv, Athens and the New School for Social Research in New York. In addition, he has the privilege of being a member of the German Academy of Language and Poetry.

      her works

      The main works published by Jürgen Habermas are: History and criticism of public opinion (1962), Theory and practice (1963), The logic of social sciences (1967) Knowledge and interest (1968), Science and technology as ideology (1968 ), Culture and Criticism (1973), The Crisis of Rationality in Evolved Capitalism (1973), The Reconstruction of Historical Materialism (1976), Theory of Communicative Action (1981), Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (1983) and the philosophical discourse of modernity (1985).

      philosophical thought

      Habermas’ thought inherits from Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s “dialectic of illustration”, With whom he shared a philosophical and sociological project of a moral reflection on the development of advanced capitalism. Habermas proposed an unorthodox Marxism, which abandons the idea of ​​an exclusively productivist organization of society and which, according to him, would be at the origin of the impoverishment of the vital sphere.

      Although it falls within the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, its work adopts divergent profiles from those of its professors. Habermas tries to find the contact between the theoretical and the practicalFaced with the alleged neutrality of scientific knowledge, always wrongly considered as undoubtedly positive and synonymous with progress. According to the philosopher, an objectivity foreign to values ​​and interests is not possible, since they are based on a purely instrumental reason.

      The thought of Emmanuel Kant and Karl Marx plays a leading role in his work. One of the characteristics of Kant’s thought is to see that there is a close link between the philosophy of reason, which is very ambitious in normative terms, and an empirical theory of society. However, he will make an important critique of Karl Marx, who, in his opinion, reduces human praxis to a technique, in the sense that Marx attaches fundamental importance to work as the axis of society, ignoring a fundamental aspect. By Habermas: language-mediated interaction.

      For Habermas and unlike Marx, social change must take place in a symbolic domain, In the field of communication and understanding between subjects. For Habermas, there were three crises: the crisis of theological or metaphysical philosophies, the crisis of the legitimation of the contemporary state and the crisis of legal positivism. To overcome it, he proposes the theory of communicative action, with Kant’s own foundations, in which he does not propose to impose a law, but to propose a theory of universal aspiration.

      Although Habermas uses the philosophical concept of reason, using it explicitly in terms of the philosophy of language, he does so to develop a social theory. His first major work History and Critique of Public Opinion (1962) an analysis of the structural transformation of the public sphere, criticizing the idea of ​​public opinion and rediscovering a vision democratic of this concept. He seeks to distinguish between manipulated public opinion and critical public opinion.

      It should be noted that Habermas has been very often misunderstood in Germany. To go further, some of its positions have been confirmed and exaggerated by extremist movements, being an example the case of the “Red Army Group” which was inspired, in part by the social criticism directed by Habermas. Ironically, Habermas has since 1967 repeatedly denounced what he called left-wing fascism, that is, social and pro-progress movements, but with a fascist air.

      In 1968 he made a critique of positivism and its technique in Science and technique as ideology, In which he raised a series of questions on possible forms of coexistence between advanced industrial societies and democratic regimes. Its main objective was, as its main objective, to remember that freedom and justice are the indisputable pillars of common democratic values.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Habermas, J. (1962): History and criticism of public opinion. Gustavo Gili, Barcelona, ​​1981. ISBN 978-84-252-2015-9
      • Habermas, J. (1963): Theory and Practice; Theory and practise. Studies in social philosophy. Tecnos, Madrid, 1987. ISBN 978-84-309-1423-4
      • Habermas, J. (1967): The logic of the social sciences. Tecnos, Madrid. ISBN 978-84-309-4522-1
      • Habermas, J. (1968): Knowledge and interest. Taurus, Madrid, 1981. ISBN 978-84-306-1163-8
      • Habermas, J. (1968): Science and technology as ideology. Tecnos, Madrid, 1984. ISBN 978-84-309-4520-79
      • Habermas, J. (1971): Philosophical-political profiles. Bull, Madrid, 1984. ISBN 84-306-1249-1
      • Habermas, J. (1973): Problems of legitimation in late capitalism. Amorrortu, Buenos Aires, 1975. ISBN 978-84-376-1753-4.

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