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Books

Habermas: A Very Short Introduction

by James Gordon Finlayson

Oxford University Press

This book gives a clear and readable overview of the philosophical work of Jürgen Habermas, the most influential German philosopher alive today, who has commented widely on subjects such as Marxism, the importance and effectiveness of communication, the reunification of Germany, and the European Union. Gordon Finlayson provides readers with a clear and readable overview of Habermas’s forbiddingly complex philosophy using concrete examples and accessible language. He then goes on to analyse both the theoretical underpinnings of Habermas’s social theory, and its more concrete applications in the fields of ethics, politics, and law; and concludes with an examination how Habermas’s social and political theory informs his writing on contemporary, political, and social problems.

Read this Review from Amazon.com by Derek Law (Tokyo, Japan)

Best Introduction to Habermas, July 2, 2006

“I have been reading Habermas and books about Habermas on and off since 2000. Habermas’ writings are clearly difficult, and so do most introductions to Habermas. Most introductions to Habermas follow the chronology of Habermas’ work, usually starting with the work on Public Sphere through to the tome on legal theory (Between Facts and Norms). Those introductions usually succeed in portraying Habermas as a dazzling thinker of enormous breadth, and does serve the purpose of encouraging their readers to pursue serious reading of Habermas’ difficult works.

Not this Introduction – this one is much better. The format of Very Short Introductions does not allow the traditional approach, and the author does an outstanding job in putting Habermas’ theory and its various pieces in context. As the other reviewer mentioned, the author describes Habermas’ five “research programmes” which forms an integrated whole. In one sentence, Habermas uses the pragmatic theory of meaning to develop a theory of communicative actions which forms the basis of three aspects – ethical, social and political – of his “practical” (practical as in “Critique of Practical Reasons”) theories which tries to describe both the realities and normative ideals for modern (Western) societies in the late 20th centures. After summarizing the research programmes which put Habermas’ huge corpus in context, the author proceeds to describe each of the programme in its highlights – in this the author successfully condenses Habermas’ work into simple themes and conceptual distinctions. Given the short length of the exposition, I was very positively surprised by the author’s ability to include at the end of most chapters summaries of critical views regarding Habermas’ theories (e.g. the Habermas vs. Rawls debate) – and the author clearly holds a sympathetic yet objective stand in describing both sides of the arguments.

So in summary, this book is superior to most other Introductions in that:
1. The language is simpler and clearer – not burdened by Habermas’ difficult writings
2. Covers Habermas’ programmes in logical rather than strict chronological order – which puts different aspects of Habermas’ works in context (also coverage is up to Truth and Justification, which is nearly one decade beyond the time of Between Facts and Norms)
3. Describes Habermas’ breadth but also identifies the unifying concerns of Habermas as a “practical theorist”
4. Presents both the structure and key critiques to Habermas’ theories – thereby allowing readers to prioritize which of Habermas’ works to read after this Introduction. (Realistically, who would have time to read everything Habermas wrote?)

Bravo to the author and Oxford in publishing this good work!”

Habermas and Rawls: Disputing the Political

Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy

Introduction: The Habermas Rawls Dispute—
Analysis and Reevaluation 1
JAMES GORDON FINLAYSON AND FABIAN FREYENHAGEN

I
The Habermas–Rawls Dispute

1 Reconciliation through the Public Use of Reason:
Remarks on John Rawls’s Political Liberalism 25
JÜRGEN HABERMAS

2 Reply to Habermas 46
JOHN RAWLS

3 “Reasonable” versus “True,” or the Morality of Worldviews 92
JÜRGEN HABERMAS

II
Disputing the Political

4 Justice: Transcendental not Metaphysical 117
JOSEPH HEATH

5 The Justice of Justifi cation 135
ANTHONY SIMON LADEN

6 The Justifi cation of Justice: Rawls and Habermas in Dialogue 153
RAINER FORST

7 Procedure in Substance and Substance in Procedure:
Reframing the Habermas–Rawls Debate 181
JAMES GLEDHILL

8 Habermas, Rawls and Moral Impartiality 200
CHRISTOPHER MCMAHON

9 Rawls and Habermas on the Place of Religion in the
Political Domain 224
CATHERINE AUDARD

10 Two Models of Human Rights: Extending the
Rawls–Habermas Debate 247
JEFFREY FLYNN

11 Beyond Overlapping Consensus: Rawls and Habermas
on the Limits of Cosmopolitanism 265
JIM BOHMAN

III
Afterword

12 Reply to My Critics 283
JÜRGEN HABERMAS

 

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