ICS Calendar Title: Paradoxes of Progress: Habermas's Theory of Communicative Action

ICS Course Code: ICS 220704 F11

Instructor: Dr. Lambert Zuidervaart, LambertZ@icscanada.edu, Office hours: Monday, 3:00-4:00 pm

Term and Year: Mondays, 12 noon- 3:00 pm, Fall 2011

Last Updated: October 3, 2011

Course Description

Contemporary struggles over globalization echo debates about modernization in the previous two centuries. Kant, Hegel, and Marx projected various paths to human progress paved by modern social forces: science and technology, capitalism, moral and cultural improvement, legal and political reform, social revolution. By 1900 Nietzsche, Weber, and others had raised doubts about these paths, and in 1944 Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment pointed out the regress in all modern progress. How should we understand philosophical theories of progress and the sociocultural changes these theories address? By what criteria should supposed improvements in society be judged? To discuss such questions, this seminar will examine Jürgen Habermas’s The Theory of Communicative Action, a central work by Germany’s leading social philosopher.

This is a research seminar in systematic philosophy. It is listed at the Institute for Christian Studies as ICS 220704 F11 and at the Toronto School of Theology as ICT5979HF. It has three learning goals:

Seminar Requirements

Each seminar participant is expected to:

•        do every required reading and join in-class discussions (10-20%)

•        make 20-minute presentations on required readings (20-30%)

•        write a research paper on a relevant topic and endorsed by the instructor (50-70%)

The approximate weights assigned for the course mark are in parentheses above.        

Required Reading (Participants should purchase the two volumes in English listed here.)

Habermas, Jürgen. The Theory of Communicative Action (1981). Trans. Thomas McCarthy. Volume One: Reason and the Rationalization of Society. Volume Two: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984, 1987. (TCA) (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: HM24 .H3313 v.1-2)

Habermas, Jürgen. Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns. 2 vols. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1981; edition suhrkamp, 1988. (TkH) (This is optional, for those who can read German.)

Recommended Reading

Zuidervaart, Lambert. Social Philosophy after Adorno. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. [ICS Library Reserve Shelf: B3199 .A34 Z84 2007)

Office Hours

Please feel free to talk to me about creating favorable conditions for your work in the seminar. I welcome spontaneous visits during my office hours. You will need to make an appointment if you want to meet at some other time.


Individual: Each seminar participant will introduce at least one required reading in class. Your introduction will last about 20 minutes, depending on the number of presenters. It will summarize the reading, identify important issues in it, and state your position on these issues. You should also hand out two typed questions for us to discuss. They will help us think about the issues the reading raises. You should explain why you ask these questions and how the reading prompts them. Please keep your presentation succinct and lively, using the blackboard, photocopied handouts, computer projector, or other equipment where appropriate. Criteria for evaluation will include organization, clarity, perceptiveness, and scope.

Group: Alternatively, if you choose to, you may team up with one or two other seminar participants to prepare a group presentation. One member of the group will serve as the group’s coordinator, in consultation with the instructor. In the three-hour session for which your group is responsible, the group will present an introduction to the assigned readings (about 50-60 minutes altogether, although it may occur in smaller segments). This introduction should provide historical context for the readings, identify important issues in the readings, state your individual or collective positions on these issues, and indicate why these issues are worth discussing. After your introduction, your group will lead the rest of us in a discussion of the readings and the issues you have raised. The group’s presentation should reflect careful thought on the topics you choose. This does not mean that everyone in your group has to agree on every point—sometimes a presentation of disagreements is more interesting. Your group should give the rest of us topics to discuss: theses you wish to try out; questions you are wondering about; your criticism of positions or arguments in the assigned readings; etc. Please keep your presentation succinct and lively, using the blackboard, photocopied handouts, computer projector, or other equipment where appropriate. Criteria for evaluation will include organization, clarity, perceptiveness, and scope.

Research Paper (due on Monday, January 30, 2012)

Format: The research paper will be typed double-spaced, include footnotes or endnotes and a bibliography, and contain approximately 4000 words; papers by doctoral students will contain approximately 5000-7000 words. A typed one-page proposal will be handed in during class on November 21. The proposal should include a brief bibliography that lists the key sources for your research. Papers are due January 30. Be sure to make consistent use of one of the following styles for format and documentation: either The MLA Style Manual or Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers (based on The Chicago Manual of Style). On the title page of your paper, please identify the style used.

Approach: The paper will state, explain, and defend your position on one question, puzzle, or problem pertaining to theories of social progress in contemporary philosophy. To accomplish this you will need to examine what other philosophers have said on your topic. Rather than simply report what others say, however, you should use their writings to develop your own position. In general, the more specific your focus, the stronger your paper will be.

Exceptions: Exceptions to the recommended approach should be discussed with the instructor well before the paper’s due date. For example, you may wish to explore the implications of a controversy in contemporary theology or political science or literary theory for a philosophical approach to the topics considered in class. This might be acceptable, but only after we have discussed your proposal.

Evaluation: I shall assess your paper according to four criteria, each of which has similar weight: research, writing, reasoning, and scope. A paper that has been properly researched will demonstrate familiarity with relevant sources and will make strategic use of these sources. A well-written paper will be free from errors of spelling, punctuation, and grammar; it will be clear, concise, imaginative, and persuasive; and it will use gender-inclusive language. A well-reasoned paper will use valid and sound arguments; it will also be open and fair to alternative positions—not one-sided or small-minded. A paper with sufficient scope will be thorough, and it will probe beneath the surface of its subject matter.

Policies on Course Work: According to ICS policy, the due date for course papers falls between the third and the sixth week after the semester’s end. I have set the paper’s due date near the end that period. (Since this occurs after the deadline at U of T for the submission of grades, U of T students will need to complete petitions for extensions.)

ICS policy gives the instructor discretion to refuse extensions for late work by ICS Junior Members, and also to penalize late work. I have five reasons to resist granting extensions beyond the stated due date:

  1. Unlike fine wines, seminar papers rarely improve with age.
  2. It is fairer to all seminar participants for everyone to observe the same deadline.
  3. Late papers impede finishing other course work and completing your degree program.
  4. I lose motivation to grade papers the longer it takes to receive them, and that could have  a negative impact on how your paper is evaluated.
  5. Grading late papers disrupts my work as an instructor and research scholar.

So aim to get your paper in on time, and talk with me right away if you are running stuck.



Required Readings


September 12

N. A.


September 19

TCA 1, vii-xliv, 1-22 (TkH 1, 3-44)


September 26

TCA 1, 22-74 (TkH 1, 44-113)


October 03

TCA 1, 75-141 (TkH 1, 114-203)

2 JMs:

October 17

TCA 1, 143-215 (TkH 1, 205-298)

2 JMs:

October 31

TCA 1, 216-271 (TkH 1, 299-366)

2 JMs:

November 07

TCA 1, 273-337 (TkH 1, 367-450)

2 JMs:

November 14

TCA 1, 339-399 (TkH 1, 451-534)

2 JMs:

November 21

TCA 2, 1-62 (TkH 2, 9-97)

2 JMs:

November 28

TCA 2, 62-126 (TkH 2, 97-192)

2 JMs:

December 05

TCA 2, 126-197 (TkH 2, 192-293)

2 JMs:

December 12

TCA 2, 301-356 (TkH 2, 445-522)


December ??

TCA 2, 356-403 (TkH 2, 522-593)


Notes: JM = Junior Member. Abbreviations of book titles stem from the list of readings. The numbers indicate pagination, not section numbers. Readings in parentheses are optional and are provided for those who want to check the original texts in German. There are no class sessions on October 10 and 31, because of Thanksgiving and the Reading Recess. We will make up one of these sessions. Remember, your one-page paper proposal is due in class on November 21.

Selected Bibliography

Note: The following list contains mostly primary and secondary sources on Habermas, with a few other works of historical importance or of contemporary interest.

Baynes, Kenneth. The Normative Grounds of Social Criticism: Kant, Rawls, and Habermas. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992. (Robarts Library: JC578 .B39 1992 )

Benhabib, Seyla. Critique, Norm, and Utopia: A Study of the Foundations of Critical Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: B809.3 B46 1986)

Benhabib, Seyla, and Fred Dallmayr, eds. The Communicative Ethics Controversy. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990. (Trinity College Library: P94 .C573 1990)

Benjamin, Walter. “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” Illuminations, pp. 253-64. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books, c1968. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: HM101 .B46 1985a)

Bernstein, J. M. Recovering Ethical Life: Jürgen Habermas and the Future of Critical Theory. London and New York: Routledge, 1995. (Robarts Library: B3258 .H324 B37 1995X)

Bernstein, Richard, ed. Habermas and Modernism. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985. (Robarts Library: B3258 .H324 H3 1985)

Calhoun, Craig, ed. Habermas and the Public Sphere. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992. (Robarts Library: HM24 .H322 1992)

Chambers, Simone. Reasonable Democracy: Jürgen Habermas and the Politics of Discourse. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996. (Robarts Library: JA76 .C479 1996X)

Cohen, Jean L., and Arato, Andrew. Civil Society and Political Theory. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: JC336 .C65 1992)

Cook, Deborah. Adorno, Habermas, and the Search for a Rational Society. New York: Routledge, 2004. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: HM467 .C66 2004)

Cooke, Maeve. Language and Reason: A Study of Habermas’s Pragmatics. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: B3258 .H324 C66 1994)

Cooke, Maeve. Re-Presenting the Good Society. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2006. (Robarts Library: HM585 .C663 2006X)

Dews, Peter, ed. Autonomy and Solidarity: Interviews with Jürgen Habermas. Rev., enl. ed. London: Verso, 1992. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: B3258 .H324 A5 1992)

Dews, Peter, ed. Habermas: A Critical Reader. Oxford; Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1999. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: B3258 .H324 H195 1999 ; Robarts Library: B3258 .H324 H195 1999)

Edgar, Andrew. Habermas: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge, 2006. (Robarts Library: HM479 .H32 E34 2006  and is available as an e-book through the UTL system)

Edgar, Andrew. The Philosophy of Habermas. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005. (Trinity College Library: B3258 .H324 E34 2005)

Ferrara, Alessandro. Reflective Authenticity: Rethinking the Project of Modernity. New York: Routledge, 1998. (Robarts Library: B105 .A8 F477 1998 and is available as an e-book through the UTL system)

Finlayson, James Gordon. Habermas: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. (Robarts Library: B3258 .H324 F554 2005  and is available through the UTL system)

Fleming, Marie. Emancipation and Illusion: Rationality and Gender in Habermas’s Theory of Modernity. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997. (Robarts Library: B3258 .H324 F585 1997X)

Fraser, Nancy. Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse, and Gender in Contemporary Social Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: HM24 .F732 1989)

Geuss, Raymond. The Idea of a Critical Theory: Habermas and the Frankfurt School. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981. (Robarts Library: HM24 .G44 )

Goudzwaard, Bob. Capitalism and Progress: A Diagnosis of Western Society. Trans. and ed. Josina Van Nuis Zylstra. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1979. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: HB501 .G62713 1979)

Gutiérrez, Gustavo. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics and Salvation. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1973. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: BT738 .G8613)

Habermas, Jürgen. Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy (1992). Trans. William Rehg. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: K372 .H3313 1996)

Habermas, Jürgen. Communication and the Evolution of Society (1976). Trans. Thomas McCarthy. Boston: Beacon Press, 1979. (Victoria University, Pratt Library: HM106 .H313)

Habermas, Jürgen. The Future of Human Nature. Malden, MA: Polity, 2003. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: B3258 .H323 Z6213 2003 ; Robarts Library: B3258 .H323 Z6213 2003)

Habermas, Jürgen. The Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory (1996). Ed. Ciaran Cronin and Pablo De Greiff. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: JA68 .H2313 2000 ; Trinity College Library: JA68 .H2313 1998 and is also available as an e-book in the UTL system)

Habermas, Jürgen. Knowledge and Human Interests (1968). Trans. J. J. Shapiro. Boston: Beacon Press, 1972. (Robarts Library: BD163 .H2213 1971)

Habermas, Jürgen. Legitimation Crisis (1973). Trans. Thomas McCarthy. Boston: Beacon Press, 1975. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: HC45 .H213 1975)

Habermas, Jürgen. Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (1983). Trans. Christian Lenhardt and Shierry Weber Nicholsen. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990. (Trinity College Library: B3258 .H323 M6713 1990)

Habermas, Jürgen. On the Pragmatics of Communication. Ed. Maeve Cooke. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998. (Robarts Library: B831.5 .H33 1998  and is also available as an e-book through the UTL system)

Habermas, Jürgen. On the Pragmatics of Social Interaction: Preliminary Studies in the Theory of Communicative Action (1995). Trans. Barbara Fultner. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: B3253 .H323 V613 2001)

Habermas, Jürgen. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures (1985). Trans. Frederick Lawrence. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: B3258 .H323 P5513 1987)

Habermas, Jürgen. The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays (1998). Trans. Max Pensky. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001. (St. Michael's College Library: JC311 .H32 2001)

Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (1962). Trans. Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: HM24 .H2713 1989)

Habermas, Jürgen. Time of Transitions. Ed. and trans. Ciaran Cronin and Max Pensky. Cambridge: Polity, 2006. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: D862 .H33 2008 ; St. Michael's College Library: D862 .H33 2006)

Habermas, Jürgen, et al. An Awareness of What Is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age. Trans. Ciaran Cronin. Cambridge: Polity, 2010. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: BT50 .H33 2010 ; St. Michael's College Library: BT50 .H33 2010)

Hahn, Lewis Edwin, ed. Perspectives on Habermas. Chicago, Ill.: Open Court, 2000. (Robarts Library: B3258 .H324 P48 2000)

Hegel, G. W. F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1821). Ed. Allen W. Wood. Trans. H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: K230 .H43 G7813 1991)

Honneth, Axel, and Hans Joas, eds. Communicative Action: Essays on Jürgen Habermas’s “The Theory of Communicative Action”. Trans. Jeremy Gaines and Doris L. Jones. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991. (Robarts Library: HM24 .H323 K6513 1991)

Honneth, Axel, et al., eds. Philosophical Interventions in the Unfinished Project of Enlightenment. Trans. William Rehg. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992. (Robarts Library: B29 .P46315 1992)

Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. Ed. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2002. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: B3279 .H8473 P513 2002)

Ingram, David. Habermas: Introduction and Analysis. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010. (Robarts Library: B3258 .H234 I55 2010X)

Kant, Immanuel. Political Writings. Ed. Hans Reiss. Trans. H. B. Nisbet. 2d enl. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. (Robarts Library: JC181 .K29513 1991)

McCarthy, Thomas. The Critical Theory of Jürgen Habermas. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1978. (Robarts Library: B3258 .H324 M32)

Meehan, Johanna, ed. Feminists Read Habermas: Gendering the Subject of Discourse. New York and London: Routledge, 1995.(Robarts Library: HQ1190 .F464 1995X)

Morris, Martin. Rethinking the Communicative Turn: Adorno, Habermas, and the Problem of Communicative Freedom. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001. (Robarts Library: HM585 .M67 2001X)

Outhwaite, William. Habermas: A Critical Introduction. 2nd ed. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2009. (Robarts Library: B3258 .H324 O88 2009X)

Owen, David S. Between Reason and History: Habermas and the Idea of Progress. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002. (Robarts: HM891 .O94 2002X)

Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. Interviewed by Giovanna Borradori. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: HV6432.7 H32 2003)

Rehg, William. Insight and Solidarity: A Study in the Discourse Ethics of Jürgen Habermas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. (Regis College Library: B3258 .H324 R445 1994)

Specter, Matthew G. Habermas: An Intellectual Biography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. (St. Michael's College Library: B3258 .H324 S66 2010)

Swindal, James. Reflection Revisited: Jürgen Habermas’s Discursive Theory of Truth. New York: Fordham University Press, 1999. (Robarts Library: B3258 .H324 S95 1999X)

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Until Justice and Peace Embrace. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1983. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: BT738 .W56)

Zuidervaart, Lambert. Social Philosophy after Adorno. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: B3199 .A34 Z84 2007)

Zuidervaart, Lambert. Art in Public: Politics, Economics, and a Democratic Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. (ICS Library Reserve Shelf: NX720 .Z85 2011)