Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mendieta, Eduardo. Review of David Ingram, HABERMAS. NDPR (February 2011).

Ingram, David.  Habermas: Introduction and Analysis.  Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2010.

David Ingram is no neophyte to either Habermas or Frankfurt School Critical Theory. A very good argument can be made, in fact, that Ingram belongs to what has been called 'Third Generation Critical Theory.' His 1987 book, Habermas and the Dialectic of Reason, was indispensable for a new generation of scholars trying to make sense of Habermas' two-volume Theory of Communicative Action (1981) and his Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (1984). Over the last two decades, in addition to editing volumes of the key writings by Frankfurt School critical theorists, he has written a series of books on democracy, rights, globalization, and cosmopolitanism that have traced a distinctive contribution to a more radical understanding of deliberative democracy. Such a sustained engagement with Habermas' work, in particular, and Critical Theory, in general, explains why this book is not simply an introduction.

In fact, more than an "introduction and analysis," it can be said that it is also an immanently critical assessment of Habermas' transformation of Critical Theory. In this sense, in as much as Critical Theory is a tradition whose major task is the immanent critique of reason, Ingram's book is also a contribution to the Critical Theory tradition. Ingram's book is without question the most comprehensive presentation of Habermas' corpus to date. The book is made up of eleven dense yet also clear chapters on different aspects of Habermas' thinking. Ingram is right to claim that at the heart of Habermas' system is his conception of universal pragmatics (p. 72). Universal pragmatics is the caldron in which the linguist turn of early twentieth-century philosophy was melted with action theory and functional systems analysis to provide us with a thoroughly linguistic understanding of reason. At the heart of universal pragmatics is Habermas' analysis of speech acts and the different validity claims that are raised in their performance. The chapters in which Ingram explains and reconstructs Habermas' analysis of the linguistic character of human rationality are surely some of the best I have read, not simply for how comprehensive they are but also because they do not shy away from explicit discussion of objections and problems that Habermas has either failed to address or has subsequently addressed. . . .


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