This article discusses Habermas’s project of reformulating Critical Theory through a pragmatic philosophy of communication, while defending post-metaphysical reason and commitment to grounded critique. Habermas’s use of pragmatics is contrasted with Rorty, who argues for a non-foundational pragmatism that eschews the idea of science as the only site of reason and social progress. The argument moves through three stages. First, it outlines Habermas’s project of recovering critical activity with particular attention to his debt to pragmatic philosophy and the departures from earlier Critical Theory that this entailed. Second, it examines his theory of communicative action and identifies some key areas of contestation with sceptical approaches. Finally, it identifies some of the problems and limitations in Habermas’s pragmatic turn, suggesting that his quasi-transcendental critique is developed at the expense of a pragmatic commitment to grounding in embodied agency-in-the-world. It concludes that the spirit of pragmatism, rather than its detail, might help Critical Theory focus on political analysis and resistances to domination.
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