The Public sphere and Habermas

public sphere

“What is Enlightenment?” : The birth of modern public sphere in Habermas’s Philosophy

The concept of “public sphere” was first used by Habermas in his thesis, published in 1960 and entitled The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, in which he has shown, both historically and theoretically, the emergence of the principle of publicity. According to Habermas, Kant was the first philosophy to give to public sphere “its completed theoretical structure” in a text of political philosophy, entitled “what is Enlightenment?”.

Habermas’ Public Sphere and Political Philosophy

In the legacy of Lessing and Mendelssohn, Kant defines the Enlightenment as the “exit out of state guardianship” that is to say where the man incapable of use by itself of his reason. This condition is the heteronomous man-made. But for Kant, this minority status is not natural: the man has a reason that allows him to uncover truths. However if the reason is not cultivated, it will remain in childhood. Thus, the Enlightenment is precisely an appeal to men to become adults, giving them access to self-judgment. Nevertheless this process of emancipation from tutors is easier to conquer collectively and individually. That is why the unraveling of a people is suspended on one condition: that the public use of reason, free flow of ideas and opinions, either verbally or in writing, be erected in “sacred right of humanity “. Censorship is considered as a “spiritual despotism” which not only denies the freedom to publish or communicate ideas verbally, but also freedom of thought since, as we shall see, the reason does not rise at contact that of others. From the “some people thinking for themselves,” a ripple effect is created, the release is spread in concentric circles to reach all citizens: the process is described as “inevitable provided we give [the people ] freedom. “

Habermas: Advertising and publicity at the heart of public sphere

The notion of “publicity” involved here: Think for yourself means actually thinking aloud. The free and public exchange of views produced a public scene, a scene of intersecting glances, and where the reasons, in contact with each other, rise concomitantly. In addition, public use of reason leads to a duplication of the citizen’s role, first as an actor, second as a spectator. The figure of the “scholar” is the individual who made such use of his reason, and also means an individual endowed with reason. This universal dignity of the opinions expressed publicly shows how Kant is far from any elitist, which would give priority to know the opinion. The author gives the example of a lawyer addressing an audience, then placing it in position as an actor. But at the same time as the public facing him, he evaluates himself what he says and it is also a spectator of himself. Every man must, as a citizen, an actor in public sphere, be a journalist, but also learn to be passive, that is to say capable of observing and commenting. The private use of reason is to be made by individuals as part of “civil offices,” which should not be a public reflection, as illustrated by the example of the officer who “[ ratiocination] aloud about the appropriateness or usefulness of [an] order. ” This shows a clear separation between the stage and the views of the shares. We noted that the Enlightenment was based on the injunction to think for oneself with the aim of discovering truths, and that the public use of reason involved the interplay and exchange of views on the scene public. The conjunction of these theses, we can conclude that the Kantian conception of rationality and truth is founded on intersubjectivity, although Habermas and Apel have heard a case against Kant, accusing him of founding monological moral standards and political: “What would be the extent and accuracy of our thinking if we did not somehow in community with others with whom we communicate our thoughts and we would communicate their own! .

Habermas and Political communication

The exercise of thought should be open, susceptible of public communication. A drawing of a solitary opinion must be followed by a comparison of the latter to other opinions, what is it for a probation beneficial because it can therefore be recognized or not, as rational and worthy of be implemented. The framework of public sphere is Kantian in that there already dialogic, and therefore not monological. In this sense, advertising is to politics what “enlarged mentality” to the aesthetic: the east. Judgement policy does not require self-assemble into an imaginary audience to “think themselves in the shoes of others”, since the individual’s point of view policy and the difference in aesthetics, is concrete section of the public. Then we see clearly the relationship between sphere and the views of actions: the first is a prerequisite to another. The consequence of this is public involvement in politics, the emergence of a predominant role as necessary to “allow [the] subject to public use of their own reason and to publicly expose their ideas to the world on a better wording of [the] law, even if they are accompanied by a frank critique of that which is in force “.

Habermas and the critical citizen

The public not only has the power to legislate, but in addition, it can challenge power. It is important to note that public sphere does not eliminate conflicts Kantian because it recognizes the diversity of viewpoints, it allows them to speak together and to resolve through discussion. It is therefore not an angelic vision that would deny the conflictual inherent in any society, based on the simple fact that people are different, the “fact of pluralism” in the words of J. Rawls. The public sphere is thus precisely as the place where endless debates will be judged collectively the ideas of individuals, but also a platform from which there can be judged and controlled political power. The public acquires a new function: that of critical authority which must be exposed to power. This body is therefore the critical mediator between civil society, which means all the individuals making private use of reason, and the state. The public sphere  implies that all political power is made by and for the people. That is to say both that power emanates from the public and, secondly, in turn, that political power accountable for its decisions and justify them.

Kant and Hobbes

Moreover, we emphasized the newness of this theory, which lies in an innovation compared to contractarian. Hobbes, who thought the state of nature, there is no place where the state may show the people. He developed a theatrical metaphor in which individuals, gathered in people, are certainly the author of the state, which is the single player part, at least until the security people are not endangered. Thus, Hobbes does not place the player under the permanent control of the author, that he gives to the political structure of state power to prosecute any spectator, comment and discussion of state action. And even in the case of a breach of security of the people, he did not deliberate because the contract is automatically and spontaneously broken. Kant introduces the existence of a scene of opinions, not only guaranteed by advertising, but also necessary because it establishes the rationality of state action, placing the latter under the permanent control of the public. The proponent of freedom of expression in this completes the theatrical metaphor outlined by Hobbes: the actor now faces a spectator, embodied in the figure of the public.

Kant and Rousseau

Kant’s contribution is also important on the other side of contractualism, not absolutist, but democratic. Rousseau founded, indeed, the rule of law in the reign of the general will, but it does not in any discussions in a public sphere. It is as spontaneous, natural and unthinking: the democracy of Rousseau, the consensus of the heart takes precedence over that argument. Rousseau is wary of debates as to exclude them from the legislative process because he believes they lead to the resurgence of special interests, and they allow the emergence of demagogues who would influence the people and divert the public interest . In this contractarian, the people occupies a legislative function, but not critical. While Kant, public space is the site of a living dialectic, an adversarial process where ideas are intertwined and mutually adjusting. The context is different, however: Rousseau reflects in part a direct democracy, where all legislation from the people, while Kant, as part of what looks like a constitutional monarchy, admits that public participation power.

The novelty of Kant is also the meeting of the two functions granted to the public, legislator and critic, who has about a modern public space, that is to say Democratic.


Cite this article as: Tim, "The Public sphere and Habermas, April 15, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, April 15, 2012,

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