With his far-ranging grasp of both theory (epistemology) and practice (ethics and social philosophy), Professor Habermas has developed a theoretical construct of social philosophy that deals with the act of communication and the formation of consensus through debate, thereby creating an image of what human society should and can be. He has had a great influence on society, both as a superb theoretician, and as a person who speaks out passionately in accordance with his own philosophy about real social issues.
Strukturwandel der Offentlichkeit. Neuwied-Berlin: Luchterhand, 1962. (trans. T. Burger, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 1989)
Erkenntnis und Interesse. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1968. (trans. J. Shapiro, Knowledge and Human Interests, Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1973)
Theorie des kommunikative Handelns. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2 vols., 1981. (trans. T. McCarthy, The Theory of Communicative Action, Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1984/1987)
Faktizitat und Geltung. Beitrage zur Diskurstheorie des Rechts und des demokratischen Rechtsstaats. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1992. (trans. W. Rehg, Between Facts and Norms, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996)
Professor Habermas has been active in two domains in modern society: theory and practice. By pioneering the synthesis of these two domains from the perspective of “communicative action,” he has envisioned the way human society should and can be, thus earning himself a place as one of Germany’s foremost modern philosophers.
Professor Habermas first became famous with the 1962 publication of his book, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. In this work, he traces the historical formation of the civic public sphere in modern European civil society; delineates its transformation into a bipolar structure comprised of specialists and the masses; and trenchantly criticizes today’s mass democracy, which has declined to a mere formality under the domination of technocrats and media conglomerates. His conceptualization of the public sphere is still being vigorously debated to this day, a testimonial to the pioneering nature and continued ascendancy of the issues he has raised.
In the 1970s, he compiled his findings in his book, The Theory of Communicative Action. In this work, he explores the strength that is found in “communicative rationality”, which allows people to achieve mutual understanding by engaging in dialogue without being controlled by violence or oppression. In doing so, he pursues the idea of consensus formation born from communication that is free from coercion and domination. Out of this concept, he went on to formulate his “discourse ethics”, which attempts to provide a foundation for the construction of universal social norms from the perspective of communication theory.
Through the establishment of discourse ethics, Professor Habermas also proposed a fusion between the world of our daily lives and social systems. In his book, Between Facts and Norms, he examines, from the perspective of discourse ethics, the value of nation-state systems based on the rule of law within a constitutional democracy. He also provides a justification theory for such a system from the standpoint of procedural legal theory and deliberative democracy.
Professor Habermas’ influence extends beyond the fields of philosophy and ethics to encompass such areas as sociology, political science and law. His influence extends to Asia especially Japan, as well as English- and French-speaking countries, and his ideas enjoy a place of prominence in discussions among scholars and journalists.
In these tumultuous times, Professor Habermas has raised the banner of “universalism”, and has not only helped to build a scholarly foundation for the ideals of individual rights, political freedom, and democracy, but has continued to speak tirelessly of positive future prospects for humanity. In this role, he has continued to energetically address actual social and political issues, thereby making a great influence on the policies that have been adopted by Germany and the rest of Europe.
For these reasons, the Inamori Foundation is pleased to present the 2004 Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy to Professor Jürgen Habermas.
Following the request “to speak about yourself,” I present a search for biographical roots of basic theoretical orientations of my work. I am focussing on four events and challenges in subsequent periods of my life — early childhood, school age, adolescence and my adult life.
(1) The human organism does not assume the specific qualities of a person until its entrance into a social space that it shares in interaction with reference-persons. Because of a deep-reaching mutual dependency of ego and alter, the human mind is shaped by the symbolic structure and content of that space. My disposition for a certain awareness of the sociality of reason and of the vulnerability of persons who are individuated only through socialization might well go back to the traumatic experience of medical interventions early in my life.
(2) Starting from the social nature of man, I have later on elaborated an intersubjectivist approach to both, a pragmatist conception of language and the moral theory of equal respect and concern for everybody. Retrospectively I discover in this orientation also a reflection of those challenges I had to cope with when I entered school. Because of my linguistic handicap, I suffered from failing attempts to communicate with teachers and classmates as well as from some teasing and exclusion.
(3) and (4) The most startling experience was the world-historical caesura of the defeat of the Nazi-regime and the new beginning of Germany in 1945. That event fortunately hit my generation in a morally sensitive age of adolescents and thus made us aware of our responsibility for both, overcoming misleading traditions of the past and fighting for a stable democratic future. The political turn of 1945 had, and still has, an impact on my different lives as a scholar, a teacher and a public intellectual. Without that experience I certainly would not have understood the role of a vital political communication and will-formation for democracy, nor the relevance of a sound public sphere for the emergence and reproduction of the only form of solidarity that can hold together a complex society of citizens who remain strangers for one another all their life.