Seminar on Habermas & His Critics

This semester I am teaching a graduate seminar on Habermas & His Critics.  Putting the syllabus together was quite a feat, and so I want to share it with my dear readers.  Feel free to offer ideas for the next time I teach this.  And also feel free to borrow liberally for your own teaching.


Fall 2014

McAfee, Tu 2:00PM – 5:00PM

Office Hours: Bowden Hall 302, MW 10-noon and by appointment


Jürgen Habermas is easily one of the most important and influential philosophers of the past half century. The most prominent member of the second generation of Frankfurt School critical theory, he has made huge strides in contemporary intellectual thought. At the same time, Habermas may be as controversial as he is famous. A self-professed intellectual continuing “the project of the Enlightenment,” he has raised the ire of many contemporary philosophers who would just as soon dispense with the Enlightenment. Despite his critics, Habermas’s work has been enormously influential and helpful in democratic theory, the social sciences, globalization studies, aesthetics, epistemology, and philosophy of language. The purpose of this graduate seminar is two-fold: (1) to provide an opportunity to develop a comprehensive view of his work and (2) to examine how this work has touched off controversies with his contemporaries and how these controversies have been met (sometimes with an apology).


Barker, McAfee, and McIvor, eds. Democratizing Deliberation.

Dussel, Enrique Dussel: Ethics of Liberation: In the Age of Globalization and Exclusion, Duke 2013. Available as an electronic book through Emory Library’s DiscoverE catalog.

Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, ISBN (MCCA)

Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, ISBN 0-262-58102-7 (PDM)

Habermas, Between Facts and Norms, ISBN 0-262-58162-0 (BFN)

Passerin d’entreves and Benhabib, eds., Habermas and the Unfinished Project of Modernity, MIT 1997 (HUPM)

Thomassen, ed., The Derrida-Habermas Reader, Chicago 2006. (DHR)

Other readings available through course reserves (CR).

Grading: Weekly participation and short response papers. Final seminar paper.


Sept. 2 / Introduction

Sept. 9 / The Public Sphere

  • Habermas, “The Public Sphere” (CR, 6 pp)
  • Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere” (CR, 24 pp)
  • Habermas, Excerpt from TCA on system, lifeworld, and colonization thesis (TCA, Vol. 2, pp. 318-331) (CR)
  • Habermas, Between Facts and Norms, ch. 8, Civil Society and the Political Public Sphere, 329-387
  • Friedland et al., “The Networked Pubic Sphere” (CR, 22 pp)

Sept. 16 / Modernity, Temporalization, Enlightenment, and the idea of Europe

Sept. 23 / Modernity & Postmodernity I / Habermas v. Derrida on philosophical discourse

  • Habermas, “Excursus on Leveling the Genre Distinction between Philosophy and Literature,” PDM, 185-210
  • Derrida, “Is there a philosophical language?” DHR, 35-45
  • Rorty, “Habermas, Derrida, and the Functions of Philosophy,” DHR, 46-65
  • Norris, “Deconstruction, Postmodernism, and Philosophy: Habermas on Derrida,” HUPM, 97-123
  • Hoy, “Splitting the Difference: Habermas’s Critique of Derrida,” HUPM, 124-146

Sept. 30 / Modernity & Postmodernity II / Ethics & Politics

  • Bernstein, “An Allegory of Modernity/Postmodernity: Habermas and Derrida,” DHR, 71-97
  • Critchley, “Frankfurt Impromptu – Remarks on Derrida and Habermas, 98-110
  • Derrida, “Performative Powerlessness – A Response to Simon Critchley,” DHR, 111-114
  • Habermas, “How to Respond to the Ethical Question,” DHR, 115-127
  • Benhabib, “Democracy and Difference: Reflections on the Metapolitics of Lyotard and Derrida,” DHR, 128-156

Oct. 6 / Foucault & the Critique of Reason

  • Foucault, excerpts from Madness and Civilization and The Birth of the Clinic (CR)
  • Habermas, Lectures IX and X of PDM
  • Schmidt, “Habermas and Foucault,” HUPM, ch. 5, 147-171

Oct. 14 / FALL BREAK

Oct. 21 / The Foucault-Habermas “Debate”

  • Foucault, “Critical Theory/Intellectual History,” Critique and Power: Recasting the Foucault/Habermas Debate, ed. Michael Kelly (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994) 124–25 (CR)
  • Habermas, “Taking Aim at the Heart of the Present,” Critique and Power: Recasting the Foucault/Habermas Debate, ed. Michael Kelly (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994) (CR)
  • Allen, “Discourse, Power, and Subjectivation: The Foucault/ Habermas Debate Reconsidered,” Philosophical Forum 2009 (CR)
  • Koopman, “Revising Foucault: the history and critique of modernity,” Philosophy & Social Criticism, June 2010 36: 545-565

Oct. 27 / Discourse Ethics / Dussel on Habermas

  • Habermas, “Discourse Ethics” in MCCA (63pp)
  • Dussel, The Ethics of Liberation, excerpts (CR)
  • Sorenson, “Dussel’s Critique of Discourse Ethics as Critique of Ideology,” Public Reason 2010 (16 pp) (CR)
  • Dussel, “The Architectonic of the Ethics of Liberation,” Philosophy & Social Criticism (36pp) (CR)

Nov. 4 / Psychoanalysis & the Unconscious

  • Eric Fromm, “Marxism, Psychoanalysis, and Reality.”
  • Habermas, excerpts from Knowledge and Human Interests
  • Castoriadis, excerpts from The Imaginary Institution of Society (CR)
  • Habermas, excursus on Castoriadis, PDM, 327-335
  • Whitebook, “Intersubjectivity and the Monadic Core of the Psyche: Habermas and Castoriadis on the Unconscious,” HUPM, 172-193

Nov. 11 / Identity & Difference: Rights, Tolerance and Political Space

  • Honig, “Dear Rights, Live Futures: On Habermas’s Attempt to Reconcile Constitutionalism and Democracy, DHR, 161-175
  • Thomassen, “’A Bizarre, Even Opaque Practice’: Habermas on Constitutionalism and Democracy,” DHR, 176-194
  • Habermas, “Religious Tolerance – The Pacemaker for Cultural Rights,” DHR, 195-207
  • Derrida, “Hostipitality,” DHR, 208-230
  • Morris, “Between Deliberation and Deconstruction: The Condition of Post-National Democracy,” DHR, 231-253

Nov. 18 / Deliberative Democracy I / Gilligan, Kohlberg, the Good & the Right

  • Gilligan, excerpt TBD
  • Habermas, “Moral Consciousness & Communicative Action,” MCCA, 116-194
  • BFN excerpt TBD

Nov. 25 / Deliberative Democracy II / Consensus, Dissensus, & Differends

  • Lyotard, The Differend: Phrsases in Dispute, excerpt TBD
  • Habermas, “Three Models of Democracy”
  • Ziarek, An Ethics of Dissensus, ch. 3 (CR)
  • Young, “Communication and the Other,” from Intersecting Voices (CR)

Dec. 2 / Deliberative Democracy III

  • Readings from Democratizing Deliberation (Young, Mansbridge, McAfee, Drizek)

Dec. 9 / Beyond the Nation-State: Europe, Cosmopolitanism, and International Law

  • Derrida & de Cauter, “For a Justice to Come: An Interview with Jacques Derrida, DHR, 259-269
  • Habermas and Derrida, “February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe, DHR, 270-277
  • Matustik, Between Hope and Terror: Habermas and Derrida Plead for the Im/Possible, DHR, 278-296
  • Derrida, “Honesty of Thought,” DHR, 300-306
  • Habermas, “A Last Farewell: Derrida’s Enlightening Impact,” DHR, 307-308

December 19, noon, seminar papers due

Other Resources

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Habermas:

The Habermas Forum – good site for recent texts

Essay by Doug Kellner on Habermas

Blog post on Derrida and Habermas’s reconciliation

James Schmidt’s blog posts on the Foucault-Habermas debate-that-never-was: (this is the first of several posts)

Book on communicative ethics controversy

Intro (pdf) of Calhoun’s edited volume on the public sphere

IEP entry on the Frankfurt School


By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.

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