Jürgen Habermas, the contemporary German philosopher and social theorist, formulates what are arguably his most important ideas in his theory of communicative action. This account of social action features communication as an integral component and attempts to provide a normative grounding for social and critical theory. Habermas can be considered a second-generation member of the Frankfurt School of social thought, but he differs from such thinkers as Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno with his reflective defense of enlightenment themes. While his two-volume work The Theory of Communicative Action covers many topics, this entry will focus on those components most relevant to accounts of communicative activity and their normative assessment.

Habermas’s theory of communicative action aims to provide a normative basis for social theory and the critique of particular forms of social organization. Instead of selecting norms based on social theories such as Marxism or abandoning any sort of covering norms, as many in postmodern strains of thought do, Habermas wants to continue the project of enlightenment and identify universal notions of truth and freedom. Instead of grounding these in nature or human nature, Habermas places these firmly in the intersubjective action that takes place in certain communicative encounters.

Littlejohn, Stephen W and Karen A.Floss. (2009). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory.USA:SAGE.654

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