Rick Roderick on Habermas - The Fragile Dignity of Humanity [full length]

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This video is 5th in the 8-part video lecture series, The Self Under Siege: Philosophy in the Twentieth Century (1993). Lecture notes: I. Habermas is perhaps the last important defender of a kind of rationalism that attempts to save the contributions of modernity, while recognizing its distortions and pathologies. He will attempt to disentangle enlightenment in myth in the name of human emancipation free from unnecessary constraints. II. Habermas begins his project with a distinction between labor (as analyzed by Marx) and interaction. The first is based on production, the second on communication. The first is monological, the second dialogical. Freud serves as the model for the study of distorted forms of speech and action upon which a critical theory of society can take its start. III. But to criticize distorted communication, a model of undistorted communication is required. Habermas seeks to develop an argument that the human species has a fundamental interest in undistorted communication that is built into the very structure of language. IV. Undistorted communication must meet four conditions; the symmetry condition (everyone has an equal chance to talk and listen); the sincerity condition (everyone discloses what they believe to be true); the normative condition (everyone attempts to say what is right morally). V. Such communication would make a free society possible in which the only force a free person must recognize is "the unforced force of the better argument". This is not just an elitist notion, since "in a process of enlightenment there can only be participants". VI. Undistorted speech and action opens us up to the concept of communicative rationality that acts as a counter concept to merely instrumental rationality as criticized by Marcuse. For Habermas, we should seek a balance between instrumental and critical reason, between science and the ethical and the aesthetic dimensions that have been unbalanced by power and money, state and economy. VII. The fragile self is caught between these abstract systems of control in its struggle for autonomy and meaning. Habermas' project for emancipation holds out the hope that a measure of the dignity of humanity can be rescued from the one-sided development of modernity through the power of solidarity and reason. VIII. Habermas' project is ongoing, and includes activity in the public sphere where alone the promise of a reasoned consensus based on undistorted communication might be fulfilled. For more information, see

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