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Published in Praxis International 13(3), October 1993, pp. 304-22
Piet Strydom
While Habermas originally developed his theory of social evolution in the form of a
"reconstruction" of historical materialism, Giddens proposes a "deconstruction"
instead since he is of the opinion that it is not possible "to repair the shortcomings of
either evolutionary theory in general or historical materialism in particular".1 This
conviction leads him to advocate, like Touraine before him, a radical break with
evolutionary theory.2 Eder, by contrast, sees the failure of classical theories of social
evolution and their consequent discrediting of the idea of social evolution itself as an
opportunity to embark on "a renewed attempt to reformulate the theory of social
evolution".3 This requires a critical exchange with Habermas's theory of social
evolution rather than a wholesale rejection of it and at the same time a retention of
certain essential features of the Marxian approach. His intuition is that Touraine and
Giddens are able to discard evolution only because they take the claims of the
representative authors at face value rather than analyzing and criticizing the
confusions and erroneous assumptions undermining the classical formulations of the
Having elsewhere offered a general overview of the response of the younger critical
theorists to Habermas,4 I wish in this essay to attend in some detail to Eder's critique
of Habermas's theory of sociocultural evolution. Since this critique is available only
in the form of undeveloped and unconnected suggestions, comments and criticisms,
however, this requires systematization at least up to the point where it affords us an
appreciation of the developing difference between second and third generation critical
theorists and hence of the change critical theory has been undergoing during the last
decade or so.5 In nuce, this change involves a shift away from the architects of the
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communication theoretical turn in critical theory towards an emphasis on praxis, yet
without communication theory being surrendered.
In order to present the critique of Habermas's theory of sociocultural evolution in
an intelligible manner, I propose first to outline Eder's change of position in relation
to Habermas and the context within which this occurred, and then to review Eder's
general characterisation of Habermas's theory.
Eder's radical turn
As attested by at least six references to the need for a penetrating self-critique,6
Eder's thinking has undergone a profound change in the course of a decade, leading
him from being a close collaborator of Habermas on the developmental logical theory
of sociocultural evolution to becoming one of its most acute critics. An appreciation
of this radical turn is essential for understanding the critique he develops of the
eminent author.
The phases through which Eder's changing position passed can be identified
relatively clearly with reference to the different ways in which Habermas made use of
the cognitivist developmental psychology of Jean Piaget in the construction of his
theory of social evolution.7
Eder started to move away from Habermas between the late 1970s and the early
80s and brought this step to completion in the mid-80s in his book Geschichte als
Lernprozeß?8 Under the impression of Miller's theory of collective learning,9 he
developed a critique of Habermas's theory of institutionalization by showing that,
over and above individual learning at ontogenetic level, the evolution of society is
spearheaded by social learning processes which follow the logic of collective
argumentation and are located or, at least, begin at the level of the everyday practice
of life.
That Eder's argument was to the point is borne out by the fact that Habermas
subsequently felt himself compelled not only to acknowledge the critique,10 but
actually to make concessions to Miller and Eder on the necessity of extending the
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Piaget-Kohlbergian approach by the theory of collective learning in order to be able
to explain the institutionalization of new structures of consciousness.11 Even though
this point had been driven home, the argument was not yet sufficiently
comprehensive. For at this stage Eder still uncritically accepted the universal
historical and general societal applicability of Habermas's theory of social evolution.
This attachment was broken for the first time in his book, Die Vergesellschaftung der
Over and above a recapitulation of the earlier phase, Eder focuses in this work on
the distortion of the theory of social evolution resulting from the projection of the
ontogenetic model of developmental logic onto the evolution of society in general.
In fact, he decisively radicalises the Habermasian approach to the extent that it
advances the claim of possessing universal historical and general societal validity.12
It is interesting to note that, although completely unwilling to accept Giddens's
proposal to reject the theory of social evolution out of hand,13 Eder was influenced in
his adoption of this particular critical perspective by the former's critique of the
connection made between history and evolution in social evolutionism within the
context of his sociological transformation of Marx's philosophy of praxis.14
The Theoretical Context
To appreciate Eder's radical turn and to understand the thrust and direction of his
critique of Habermas, however, it is necessary to locate it within the context of the
debate concerning the theory of evolution, especially the debate concerning
evolutionary hypotheses in German sociology during the past decade or so. Three
dimensions of this context are of particular importance: developments in
evolutionary theory in biology and related disciplines, the emergence of a neo-
Darwinistic theory of social evolution in German sociology, and the immanent
critique of Habermas's theory of social evolution.
(i) As a result of a series of theoretical advances which mitigated the most serious
objections against the idea of evolution, evolutionary thinking has experienced an
Published in Praxis International 13(3), October 1993, pp. 304-22
unexpected revival in the twentieth century, from biology through anthropology and
archaeology to sociology and philosophy. Proceeding from the provision of a micro-
biological foundation for the classical theory and the resulting new synthetic (ie
Darwinian-Mendelian) theory, evolutionary theory was progressively linked to
ecological theories and systems theories of various kinds, including nonequilibrium
thermodynamic, recursive processual, self-organisational, autopoietic, hypercyclical,
synergetic, and radical constructivist systems theories.15 These developments are
reflected in different ways in social theory, depending on the interpretive perspective
At least rhetorically, the writings of major authors such as Parsons and Luhmann
are in line with the official neo-Darwinistic interpretation which gives priority to
selection or external steering.16 Eder, on the other hand, finds support for the
general position he shares with Habermas in developments that are critical of the pan-
selectionist approach, such as epigenetics which emphasises internal structures,
learning, and the role in evolution of the organism as autonomous entity with its own
development.17 The reflexive turn implied by the concern with internal structures
and learning has had the effect of putting knowledge at the centre of attention in
evolutionary thinking. Here a basic option presents itself, however. On the one
hand, evolutionary epistemology18 seeks to explain the human mind as the result of
an evolutionary process involving the adaptation of thought through mechanisms of
falsification. On the other hand, Eder19 is convinced that it would be possible to
extricate the sociological theory of evolution from its rather week position in relation
to evolutionary epistemology only if it could be demonstrated that the knowledge
unfolding in evolutionary processes and culminating in evolutionary epistemology is
actually the outcome of societal processes.
While this first dimension of the theoretical context has a bearing more on what
Eder and Habermas have in common,20 the remaining two bring considerations into
play which explain the developing difference between them.
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(ii) Inspired by the renaissance of evolutionary theory in sociology during the 1960s
and 70s as well as by the emergence of sociobiology in the late 70s, German
sociologists like Bernhard Giesen, Michael Schmid and Christoph Lau21 embarked
on the systematic development of a Darwinistic theory of social evolution. Their aim
was not merely to provide an useful heuristic for the explanation of social change but
also to make a contribution to overcoming the fragmentation of sociology. Since
sociological evolutionary theories, according to them,22 typically appeal to Darwin
yet under the influence of either Hegel, Marx, Comte or Spencer actually take the
form of theories of general evolution which have little or nothing in common with
what they pay lip service to, these authors set out to establish the Darwinistic model
of evolution in all its clarity and to develop a sociological interpretation of it. On the
methodological premises of rationalistic action theory, they put forward a theory of
social evolution which gives pride of place to mechanisms of selection within the
scheme of variation, selection and stabilisation. From this point of view, a wide-
ranging and sometimes penetrating critique is then developed of extant versions of
evolutionary theory in sociology, including the version put forward by Habermas and
Eder in the 1970s.
Three related critical points which consistently recur in the writings of Giesen,
Schmid and Lau are of particular importance in the present context.
The scene is set by a critique of theories of general evolution in which their usually
hidden Spencerian presuppositions are first revealed and then used as a basis for an
attack against their reputedly implausible explanatory assumptions, unitary or global
selection criteria, insensitive taxonomic or classificatory character, and the
indefensible idea of developmental trends or progress. Chief among these theories
are Luhmann's systems theoretical evolutionism, in which evolution is equivalent to
the growth of complexity, and Habermas and Eder's developmental logical theory
which recognises the role played by individuals yet remains attached to the
conception of preformed societal development.23
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Secondly, a concerted attack is launched against Habermas and Eder's
developmental logical version of the theory of social evolution. The authors identify
different category mistakes entailed by the ontogenetically based theory: an "analogy
fallacy"24 in so far as psychological arguments are used to support sociological
arguments, and sociogenesis and ontogenesis are thus equalised; and a "collectivistic
fallacy"25 in so far as categories of intentionality are problematically transferred to
social collectivities. Whatever the mistake, however, the proponents of the theory
fail to advance detailed arguments clarifying the connection between ontogenesis and
the development of worldviews; it is not sufficient to make reference to collective
learning and institutionalisation, and even less to pass over the obscure empirical
problem of the status of earlier societies within the framework of ontogenetic
stages.26 Doubt is also expressed as to whether a structural similarity could be
established between individual and sociocultural development by way of
linguistically mediated communication.27 Given these difficulties, Schmid28
proposes the "radical cure" of freeing the Habermasian theory of all developmental
logical connotations whatsoever.
Thirdly, the criticism is developed that the extant sociological theories of evolution
postulate evolutionary sequences, such as the growth of complexity or the
development of worldviews, which are not and, even worse, cannot be supported with
substantive statements. Indeed, both the theories of Habermas and Luhmann have no
empirical referent and thus do not admit of being related to factual evidence. Were
one to achieve an empirical sequential ordering, then it would be necessary to identify
an empirically locatable process of selection. The empirical vacuity of these theories
implies that they are devoid of explanatory power. And in the case of Habermas's
theory, this lack is compensated by the strategy of having recourse to theoretical
There can be no doubt about the fact that the critique advanced by Giesen, Schmid
and Lau, centering as it does around the ontogenetically based developmental nature
of the Habermasian version of the theory of social evolution, found some resonance
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among younger critical theorists, including Eder. This is clear from the attitude they
assumed towards Habermas's theory during the late 1970s and the 80s and the critique
they started to develop of it.
(iii) Eder's work can most specifically be located in the framework of contemporary
critical theory, particularly the immanent critique of Habermas' developmental logical
theory of social evolution, as represented by his own generation of critical theorists in
his own country (eg Axel Honneth, Hans Joas, Günter Frankenberg and Ulrich Rödel)
and abroad (eg Thomas McCarthy and Johann Arnason). As I have shown in detail
in an analysis published elsewhere,30 Eder's work fits firmly into this immanent
critique. The focal point of this critique is the "ontogenetic fallacy",ie the theoretical
error of projecting the developmental logical structure of the ontogenetic learning
process onto culture and society, and its theoretical consequences.
In the late 1970s, McCarthy and Arnason were the first critical theorists to suggest
that the ontogenetic developmental model may be burdened with difficulties, and
since then a systematic effort was made by Honneth and Joas, Frankenberg and
Rödel, Arnason, Miller, and Eder to work out the implications of this model and to
correct whatever errors become apparent.31 The main thrust of this immanent
critique was three-fold. First, Honneth and Joas, but particularly Miller and,
following him, Eder, clarified the problems attached to drawing conclusions from
ontogenesis in respect of the change and development of culture and collective
symbolic systems, and corrected the ontogenetic fallacy in this particular sense by the
introduction of the concept of collective learning supported by a sociological learning
theory. Next, Honneth, Frankenberg and Rödel, Arnason, and Eder exposed the
implications of the ontogenetic fallacy in its second sense of extrapolating an epoch-
transcendent theory of society and history from the model of ontogenetic
development. Finally, the younger critical theorists each in his own way embarked
on the development of a theoretical foundation to support these revisions. While
they retained in some form or another the Habermasian idea of the theoretical
significance of communication, this new departure invariably took the form of the
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philosophy or the theory of praxis, at times to the exclusion of evolution and at other
times not.32
Eder's characterisation and critique of Habermas's (and his own earlier)
ontogenetically based developmental logical theory of social evolution presupposes
the three correctives introduced between 1978 and 1988 in the course of the
immanent critique of the leading second generation critical theorist.
Characterisation of Habermas's Theory
Evolutionary theory in contemporary sociology, to begin with, can in Eder's view
be divided into two basic types.33 The first assumes the form of a naturalistic
theory which proceeds from the assumption that social evolution is continuous with
the evolution of animal sociality and hence regards the evolution of society as an
extension of the evolution of nature. The opposite category is filled by a culturalistic
theory, based on the assumption of an anthropological break, according to which
social evolution follows its own peculiar cultural logic, driven by specifically human
learning processes, well beyond the logic of natural evolution. While Luhmann's
functionalistic theory of social evolution corresponds to the former description,
Habermas's rationalistic theory of social evolution is exemplary of the latter type.
What systems theory is to the functionalist version, competence theory is to the
rationalistic one.
Eder's own position fits into the second category, of course, but what he finds
striking from his new perspective is the fact, made clear by their protracted debate,34
that Habermas's theoretical construction is exactly complementary to that of
Luhmann.35 Whereas Luhmann reduces culture to the status of a covariable of
society which contributes to the autopoietic ability of society, Habermas insists on the
autonomy of culture and, by extension, of the lifeworld. They thus represent two
competing developmental logics between which one is able to choose only on the
basis of a normative prejudgement - a prejudgement, it should be noted, which either
way neutralizes the problem of evolution by teleologically dissolving it. In the case
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of the systems theoretically conceived developmental logic, evolution is identified
with structural differentiation. The competence theoretical developmental logic, by
contrast, dissolves evolution by identifying it with rationalisation based on stage-
bound ontogenetic development. The specificity of Habermas's culturalistic theory
of social evolution, however, rests on his normativistic reconstruction of historical
materialism which gives primacy to moral evolution.36
In order to pinpoint the most basic limitation of Habermas's theory, however, Eder
focuses on what is accorded the role of motive force of evolution.37 In the case of
its functionalistic counterpart, differentiation qua social evolution is regarded as being
driven by an implicit compulsion towards autopoiesis. In the rationalistic theory, in
turn, the motor of rationalisation qua social evolution is located in an implicit
pressure towards learning. It is significant that both Habermas and Luhmann make
the question of whether learning or autopoiesis actually occurs dependent on an
investigation of the particular historical conditions, while leaving the fact that it takes
place at all unaccounted for. The theoretical frameworks of both authors thus exhibit
a lacuna to the extent that they have been constructed in such a way that the social
presuppositions of human-specific learning processes and of the autopoiesis of social
systems are excluded. It is in order to theorize this gap that Eder finds it necessary to
have recourse to the ideas of two influential contemporary social theorists, Bourdieu
and Touraine. The names of Giddens and Miller must also be mentioned in this
With the assistance of a distinction Bourdieu introduced in connection with his
theory of practice, first, Eder is able to establish that the theoretical position of
Habermas, like that of Luhmann, is exhausted by a focus on the opus operatum in the
sense of the effects of evolutionary changes (ie rationalisation and differentiation) to
the exclusion of the modus operandi in the sense of the mechanisms of evolution.38
The latter he interprets in terms of the contributions of a number of social theorists.
First there are the comparable attempts of Touraine and, less importantly, Giddens to
compensate the unhistorical nature of evolutionary theories by the introduction of a
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sociological concept of history and praxis. The mechanisms of social evolution thus
include social praxis or collective practices in Touraine's sense of the production of
society and in Giddens's sense of the practical structuration of social relations.39
Although at first sight very different from the positions of Touraine and Giddens, the
learning theoretical approach of Miller in similar vein seeks, according to Eder, to
emphasize the historicity of social processes by conceiving of history sociologically
in terms of collective learning.40 Collective learning is thus another major
mechanism of social evolution. Even though Touraine and particularly Giddens
exhibit an anti-evolutionary animus, and even though Miller tends to screen out
evolution by his clearly circumscribed ontogenetic focus, all these authors elaborate
on the historical, cognitive, conflictual, collective practices through which society is
produced and thus, in effect, help to clarify the mechanisms of social evolution.41
Against this background it becomes apparent that Habermas, like Luhmann who
overlooks the process of the production of society preceding the autopoiesis of
systems, neglects to analyse the social praxis underlying societal learning processes.
Both their theories lack a sociologically substantive concept of praxis and, by
extension, of history.42 This deficiency explains why Habermas, like Luhmann, is
incapable of coming up in his theory of social evolution with anything more than
unspecific, epoch-transcendent, taxonomic conceptualizations and classifications
which have the effect of discrediting the idea of evolution itself in the social sciences.
Beyond this general characterization and assessment, Eder puts forward a
profusion of largely undeveloped and unconnected critical perspectives, both directly
and indirectly, on Habermas's theory of social evolution. It is now necessary to
provide an initial systematization of these critical perspectives.
Critique of Habermas
In a general sense, the culturalistic nature of Habermas's theory of social evolution
goes back to the fact that he proceeds from the assumption of an anthropological
break rather than of a continuity between social and natural evolution and thus
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conceives of the evolution of society as following its own peculiar cultural logic
which is driven by human-specific learning processes. Its specific character,
however, it obtains from the peculiar manner in which Habermas moralises or, rather,
normativistically dissolves historical materialism. Eder raises objections against this
culturalistic conception of the theory of social evolution in so far as Habermas lends it
an ontogenetic, a structuralist and finally a normativistic sense at the more specific of
these levels.
In the following pages, I concentrate in turn on these three critical points.
1) The central notion of the ontogenetic conceptual strategy, to begin with, is that of
a process of the formation of progressively more inclusive structures relevant to the
solution of problems, the stage-bound deployment of which exhibits a developmental
logic and the retardation or accelleration of which is attributable to developmental
dynamics. Already in 1985, Eder43 pointed out as against Habermas that the
transferral of this essentially psychological idea to the sociocultural domain has
pernicious consequences for the integrity of the social dimension. Since the
psychological approach cuts thought and knowledge adrift from their social basis, the
connection between learning processes and social structures is torn asunder, with the
result that the structures of knowledge appear as a priori properties of the solitary
individual. The separation of developmental logic, which is identified with the
individual, and developmental dynamics, which is ascribed to the social environment,
leads to a cognitive idealism for which the social dimension is nothing but a stimulus
for the immanent development of learning processes. Habermas's tendency towards
social reductionism becomes sharply focused when one considers that this
psychologically inspired approach of his proceeds from the assumption, which
Eder44 finds unacceptable, that society is the result of adaptation to the
developmental logic and dynamics of psychic systems. But there is also an
objectionable biologistic connotation to this position.45 The ontogenetic or, more
specifically, the competence theoretical conceptualization of the theory of social
evolution consists of depicting society as the embodiment of action competences, but
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since the problem of the transition from action to society cannot be solved within this
theoretical framework, Habermas falls back on the biological notion of the
phenotypic manifestation or embodiment of genotypic characteristics, with the result
that the emergent properties of society are shifted onto the systemic dimension.
To avoid the unacceptable implications of the ontogenetic conception of cultural
logic, Eder in his earlier work proposed that the theory of collective learning be
introduced to bridge the various divisions and get rid of all cognitive idealism. More
importantly still, he now insists that social evolution does not have its own
autonomous cultural logic but must rather be regarded as forming part of society
itself.46 The theory of collective learning must thus be built into the theory of praxis
in the sense of the theory of the self-production of society, as he calls it with
Touraine.47 This latter theory not only takes the place of the psychological
approach, but, due to the fact that praxis mediates between individual and society, at
the same time also obviates the need to have recourse to biological concepts.
In the context of Habermas's theory of social evolution, however, the ontogenetic
model does not remain confined to the sociocultural dimension, but is extended to
society as a whole and in general on the universal historical plane. Over and above
committing the ontogenetic fallacy48 in that he draws a conclusion from ontogenesis
in respect of the change and development of culture or collective symbolic systems
which can be accounted for only with reference to collective learning processes,
therefore, he compounds this error by transferring the ontogenetic model to the level
of the evolution of societies. Irrespective of the qualified manner in which Habermas
presents it, the three major stages of ontogenetic development - cognitively
speaking: pre-operational, concrete operational and formal operational; normatively
speaking: preconventional, conventional and post-conventional - essentially
correspond to the three universal historical stages of the evolution of society -
primitive, traditional and modern society based on the structural principles of kinship,
domination and global forms of intercourse respectively. It is against this theoretical
strategy that Eder49 objects so vehemently when he insists that Habermas falls foul
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of the ontogenetic fallacy in trying to solve the problem of the direction of social
evolution by means of the application of Piaget-Kohlbergian developmental logic.
This objection is reinforced by the criticism that Habermas makes the question of the
classification of societies in general at the universal historical level the central
problem of the theory of social evolution.50 In Eder's own view, by contrast, the
central issue is rather the degree of social practical rationality as exhibited by the
relation between the appropriation of nature and collective learning processes. This
means that Habermas is correct in emphasizing the significance of morality in social
evolution, but that he does not radically enough free evolution from universal
history.51 Morality is located much more subtely within social evolution than
Habermas gives to understand.
The structuralist and normativistic connotations of Habermas's theory of social
evolution are closely related to the ontogenetic sense.
2) Although all evolutionary theories can be said to be structural theories, including
those of Habermas and Eder himself, Eder understands Habermas's theory as being a
structural theory in a particular sense which is open to criticism. Habermas's theory
is one in which social evolution is conceived in terms of an ontogenetically based
cultural logic, emphasizing stage-bound cultural structures with a universalistic
character rather than structures which are at one and the same time the outcome,
medium and object of praxis. This implies that it is a structuralist theory of a certain
type, ie a theory of structures on the level of social order from which must be
distinguisehed very sharply a theory of structure formation on the level of the
production of society. Against this background, two of Eder's more specific critical
points become intelligible.
The first criticism is that Habermas's theory of social evolution is a structural
theory of what has been learnt, whereas the theory of social evolution should more
correctly be given the form of a structural theory of the practical utilization of what
has been learnt.52 Eder denies that the theory of social evolution could be exhausted
by a reconstruction of the logic of the development of the structures of knowledge
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systems and moral representations acquired by a society, since the crucial question
that follows in the wake of the introduction of the sociologically substantive concepts
of praxis and history is that of the manner in which what has thus been learnt is being
drawn upon and used in the organization of society. The second criticism of
Habermas's peculiar structuralist bent amounts to the thesis that in the context of his
theory of social evolution he presents structural models of social formations or
societies instead of structural models of social praxis.53 Against the background of
the Marxist concept of modes of production as well as influential analyses of the
exchange of women, hierarchy and the social contract, Habermas54 developed the
theoretically central concept of societal organizational principle which is exemplified
by kinship in tribal societies, domination in traditional societies and global forms of
intercourse (eg communication and the market) in modern societies respectively. In
Eder's view, these structural models pertain to the societal context of social praxis and
thus leave the structure of social praxis as such unaccounted for. The logic of this
conceptual strategy thus leads to social evolution being regarded as a matter of the
classification and historical concatenation of crystallized forms of social order. But
far from being a theory of the evolution of societies or social formations, the
specificity of the social evolutionary perspective resides in treating praxis not as a
result of structural models of society but rather as the mechanism of the production
and reproduction of such forms. Since structural models of praxis thus occupy the
center of attention, social evolution is conceived in relation to the change of the
generative and utilization contexts of historically given social orders. The basic
question here is how, for what purpose and by whom the knowledge and moral
representations established by collective learning in a given society are employed.55
3) As regards the normativistic feature of Habermas's ontogenetically based
structuralist theory of social evolution, finally, it is necessary to have in mind the
nature of the developmental logical stages he reads into culture. With Piaget and
Kohlberg, he broadly assumes three ontogenetic stages, the final and most important
of which is essentially an anticipation or projection of fully developed cognitive
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structures. These structures represent the principle of mutual understanding,
agreement and cooperation, or practical reason for short, which is absolutely crucial
for the humane and rational organization of society. In keeping with his assumption
that social evolution is borne by the logical development of cognitive, particularly
moral, representations, Habermas scans ethical systems as an indicator of the
practical rationality characteristic of a society and of its evolution. In view of the
fact that the principle of practical reason as conceived by Habermas could as yet not
be evolutionarily stabilized so as to exert a transformative influence on the
characteristic practical irrationality of modern society, however, Eder56 points out
that Habermas is engaged in the construction of ideal stages of social evolution or,
rather, the mere postulation of social evolutionary potentialities to the exclusion of all
attempts to identify real processes of social evolution and their peculiar structural
elements. His theory of social evolution is not a theory of historical evolutionary
processes but a normative theory about counterfactually conceived possible
evolutionary processes and, as such, a utopian counter-model opposed to the reality of
the evolution of modern society. In addition, Eder insists that, since learning
processes do not guarantee practical reason in that there typically is a marked
discrepancy between what is acquired in learning processes and what actually
becomes evolutionarily effective, it is possible to glean practical reason in a society
neither from its everyday lifeworld nor from its institutions and even less from its
ethical system.57 All such sociocultural bearers of practical reason harbour only
effects of social praxis. The conclusion is thus that a theory that is concerned with
the evolution of practical reason is required instead to focus on the social praxis that
serves as the vehicle of practical reason, which as a rule includes the praxis of
cultural, political and social movements.
Eder's critique of the normativistic implications of Habermas's theory of
sociocultural evolution extends to a critique of what might be called the latter's neo-
Kantian apriorism, ie his assumption of the aprioristic conditions of practical
reason.58 Characteristic of the apriorism of the eighteenth and nineteenth century
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was the commitment to something objective outside society, a so-called "metasocial
guarantee", "metadiscourse" or "grand narrative",59 as the secure foundation of
practical reason. Eder is convinced that Habermas's ontogenetically informed and
cognitivistically grounded concept of developmental logic represents nothing less
than a contemporary variant of this tradition of apriorism.60 This theoretical basis
allows him to devise an aprioristic and thus pre-sociological concept of practical
reason beyond society. It is given the form of the standard and goal of social
evolution. According to this position, ethical forms of morality represent the
criterion of evolutionary advancement.61 At the same time, social evolution is
reduced to being nothing more and nothing less than the realization of this objective
standard beyond society. As against this view, Eder62 locates practical reason and
its social evolution within the confines of society itself and, with some reference to
Gidden's concept of the "duality of structure",63 advances the claim that ethical forms
of morality, like any other cognitive structures, are not the standard and goal but
rather the outcome and means or medium of social evolution. Eder64 regards as
abortive also Habermas's attempt to avoid the theoretical problems associated with
apriorism by means of the introduction of the quasi-sociological conception of
practical reason as the result of discourse in the sense of communication disburdened
of the pressures of action.65 The fact that discourse of this kind historically enjoyed
only a precarious existence in the educated sections of the bourgeoisie during the
early modern period and proved helpless against practical irrationality in the
subsequent years, is sufficient to his mind to underline that the establishment of the
conditions of practical reason is much more difficult than the apriorism Habermas
inherited from the bourgeois Enlightenment would have us believe.
The criticism that Habermas's normativistic apriorism leads to a rationalistic
position which subverts the theory of social evolution by transposing the telos of
moral learning processes into its criterion and goal is a serious one taken on its own.
But when it is reinforced by being traced back to a basic confusion of development
and evolution it is difficult to see how he could possibly defend his developmental
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logical theory of sociocultural evolution against the onslaught from the point of view
of the theory of the social evolution of practical reason. While noting the tendency
of classical theories of evolution to lump various distinct dimensions together, what
is called the "phylocultural complex"66 which dominated not only the work of Freud
but also of Piaget, Eder substantively touches on this most basic difficulty of
Habermas's theory of social evolution on at least two occasions. By way of the first
argument,67 he points out that social evolution is the recapitulation or repetition
neither of the ontogenetic acquisition of cognitive competences on the part of the
individual nor of the constitution of knowledge systems and moral representations by
collective learning processes. From this point of view, he directs the critique of a
"confusion of levels" against the argument in favour of an ontogenetic heuristics or of
an isomorphy - Habermas speaks of "homology"68 - of ontogenesis and evolution.
His own answer to this difficulty consists of a strict separation of the theory of
learning and the theory of social evolution. Secondly,69 Eder argues that the
premature identification of moral learning processes and social evolution has side-
tracked Habermas into taking the emergence of ethicized forms of morality as the
criterion of the highest level of evolutionary advancement. Before elaborating on the
undesirable consequences of this, it is interesting to note that, in keeping with the
above-mentioned complementarity of their respective theories of social evolution,
Habermas's confusion of development and evolution as a result of the fallacious
overextension of the ontogenetic model is only the counterpart of the category
mistake Luhmann commits when he equally fallaciously advances the claim that the
theory of the structural differentiation of social systems possesses universal historical
Habermas's developmental logical theory of sociocultural evolution does not only
entail untenable homological assumptions and unfortunate consequences such as
temporally and spatially compressive and distortive schematisms and classifications,
but Eder70 discovers also unsavoury implications such as an "evolution theoretic
myth" and, to be sure, grave ideological overtones. In accordance with the
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phylocultural complex which dominated evolutionary thought at the turn of the
century, classical theorists such as Hobhouse and his successor Ginsberg earlier in
the present century identified evolutionary trends which were presented as indicating
progress on an universal historical and general societal scale.71 Habermas acutely
sees through these trends as being nothing but assumptions about learning processes
which lead to increased individuation, the generalization of moral rules and the
increasing abstractness of moral judgements, but, as his discussion of the so-called
"normative import of modernity"72 shows, he continues the practice of his
predecessors of falsely applying those assumptions.73 Modernity is depicted as the
telos of moral evolution - or this is the implication, at least, as long as moral
development is stretched over an universal historical and general societal framework.
To the extent that Habermas holds to the conception of moral evolution as
culminating in modernity, Eder accuses him of entertaining an evolutionary
theoretical myth.74 Indeed, in so far as this involves the uncritical adoption of the
self-description of modern society75 and hence the employment of an affirmative
concept of social evolution, he regards Habermas's theory as possessing definite
ideological overtones.76 The key question here is whether a society, when it claims
to possess a higher form of morality than another, does not in effect advance a power
claim. Or more precisely: When a society tries to monopolize universalistic
morality, claiming that it and it alone has achieved such a morality, is it not then
engaging in an attempt to obtain a better position for itself in relation to other
societies? Eder77 takes questions such as these to be indicative of the social
function of morality, something which is too often overlooked in sociological
analyses of morality. In the case of Habermas, he sees this oversight as eventuating
in a transformation of The Dialectic of Enlightenment into a theory of the unilinear
progress of reason which is not entirely free from connections with the ideology of
modern society.78 What must be appreciated if these undesirable consequences are
to be avoided is the fact that, far from culminating in modernity, moral development
takes place in all societies: modern, traditional and simple.79 And that this is not a
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matter of rejecting the theory of social evolution but rather one of stating it in a more
differentiated way, is apparent from the circumstance that it requires, first, that social
evolution be sharply distinguished from learning processes and the developments
associated with them, and, secondly, that social evolution be retrieved from the web
of universal history in which it got stuck virtually from the start - all with a view to
focusing on the contexts of the utilization of the knowledge and moral representations
made available by collective learning processes.
The evolutionary theoretical myth according to which modernity is the telos of
moral evolution, however, has also another side.80 The account of moral evolution
as progressing through stages marked by primitive, traditional and modern society
respectively, proceeds from an assumption which with a single blow discloses and
debunks the particular use Habermas makes of the functionalist or systems theoretical
component in his overall theoretical construction. The very description of moral
evolution makes plain that this model owes much to the idea of increasing complexity
and, more basically, of the logic of the functional differentiation of society as a
system, the empirical assumption being: the more complex society becomes the more
practical rationality is required. The fact of the matter is, however, that if practical
reason cannot be said to be rational simply because it represents the highest stage of
cognitive development, as little can it be claimed that complexity guarantees the
social evolution of practical reason. The most that could be done, in Eder's view, is
that distinct paths of such evolution be distinguished with reference to the different
ways in which social praxis utilizes the morality made available by collective learning
processes in a society. Such an approach allows the identification not only of paths
which lead to a cul-de-sac, but by the same token also ones characterized by a more
or less high degree of practical rationality. More important still, for Eder, is that the
theory of the social evolution of practical reason thus makes possible the building of
the theory of social evolution into the critical theory of society.
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The new concept of critique connected with this endeavour provides an
opportunity for a clarification of the final point of Eder's critique of Habermas's
theory of sociocultural evolution.
Eder puts forward the criticism that Habermas's approach loses much of its critical
potential due to the fact that it involves the adoption of an affirmative concept of
social evolution,81 but the more serious argument concerns the latter's conception of
the normative foundations of critique. Eder regards Habermas's theory of
sociocultural evolution as entailing a variant of Kantian critique of reason in so far as
it proceeds from the construction of ideal stages and the postulation of potentialities
of social evolution, and is then exercised with reference to a standard or criterion
beyond society. As such, it represents what he calls "an aprioristic critique of
practical reason".82 Within the framework of the theory of the social evolution of
practical reason, however, the Kantian critique of reason is sociologized, with the
result that the conditions of critique are transformed. Instead of aprioristic
conditions, critique is grounded in the social employment of practical reason. Such a
"social critique of practical reason",83 or "critique of society",84 thus concentrates on
the utilization contexts of practical reason93 with the aim of disillusioning about what
claims to be and is accepted as practically rational. By so doing, it continues the
process of disenchantment which from the outset accompanied the historical
development of modern society, but at this point in time it has become reflexive. The
social critique of practical reason is "a sociological enlightenment of the
Enlightenment".86 Indeed, to the extent that this reflexive critique of society is
connected with the practical critique embodied by certain of the new social
movements, Eder regards it as forming part of the social evolution of contemporary
society.87 Its contribution lies in helping to open up the possibility of determining
anew the relationship between collective learning processes and practical reason, thus
increasing the rationality of social practices. Since Habermas in his aprioristic
critique continues to concentrate on the classical themes of freedom and justice,
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however, he is able to find only "obscurity"88 where this new attempt at a social
evolution of practical reason is undertaken in contemporary society.
I wish to thank the following persons and institutions for facilitating the research
project of which this essay forms a part: Prof. Klaus Eder for providing me with a
bibliography of his work as well as with some of his writings; my friend John Farrell
in Frankfurt for providing me with various pieces of otherwise inaccessible material;
the Committee for the Promotion of Staff Development in the Faculties of Arts,
Commerce and Law, University College Cork, for financial support; and, finally,
University College Cork for granting me leave of absence for the purposes of a
research sojourn in Germany.
As this essay was essentially completed in 1990, I have for the purposes of
publication added some relevant new references yet a comprehensive integration of
the material was not possible.
1. J. Habermas, Zur Rekonstruktion des Historischen Materialismus, (Frankfurt:
Suhrkamp 1976), partially translated as Habermas, Communication and the Evolution
of Society, (London: Heinemann 1979), relevant here being p. 95; A. Giddens, The
Constitution of Society, (Cambridge: Polity 1984), pp. xxix, 227, 243.
2. Touraine, The Voice and the Eye, (Cambridge: Cambridge U P 1981), p. 14;
Giddens, The Constitution of Society, op. cit., p. 239.
3. K. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1988), p. 292.
4. P. Strydom, "The Ontogenetic Fallacy", Theory, Culture and Society, 9,
No.3/1992, pp. 65-93.
5. Given the confines of this essay, I do not intend to elaborate a critique of Eder
here, wishing to submit only the following: In the essay mentioned in note 4, I have
presented some critical perspectives on Eder's general position. As regards the
present theme, I find his critique of Habermas's theory of social evolution plausible in
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general, but unclarities and perhaps confusions show up in the details. This is
particularly the case with the problem of ontogenesis and the relation between
individual and supra-individual learning processes on which Die Vergesellschaftung
der Natur is less clear than his earlier book, Geschichte als Lernprozeß? (Frankfurt:
Suhrkamp 1985). In the following systematization these difficulties are passed over.
I have developed these criticisms in an essay dealing independently with Eder's
theory of social evolution which will be published elsewhere.
6. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., eg. pp. 33, 66, 258, 288-89, 296,
7. On the by no means fully analyzed relation between Habermas and Piaget, see: U.
Oevermann, "Piagets Bedeutung für die Soziologie", in B. Inhelder et al, eds,
Hommage á Piaget zum achtzigsten Geburtstag, (Stuttgart: Klett 1976), pp. 36-41;
H.-C. Harten, Vernünftiger Organismus oder gesellschaftliche Evolution der
Vernunft, (Frankfurt: Syndikat 1977); H.-C. Harten, Kognitive Sozialisation und
politische Erkenntnis, (Weinheim/Basel: Belz 1977); M. Miller, Kollektive
Lernprozesse, (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1986), pp. 207-220; and B. Freitag, "Theorie des
kommunikativen Handelns und genetische Psychologie", Kölner Zeitschrift für
Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, 35, No1/1983, pp. 555-576.
8. K.Eder, Geschichte als Lernprozeß?, op. cit.
9. M. Miller, Kollektive Lernprozesse, op. cit. Eder never neglects to acknowledge
the contribution of Miller to the development of his new position, eg: Eder,
Geschichte als Lernprozeß?, op. cit., p. 7; Eder, "The 'New Social Movements'",
Social Research, 52/1985, p. 869-90; and Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op.
cit., p. 296.
10. J. Habermas, Die neue Unübersichtlichkeit, (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1985), p. 234.
11. J. Habermas, "Entgegnung", in A. Honneth/H. Joas, eds, Kommunikatives
Handeln, (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1986), pp. 327-405, here p. 394. Cf also P. Strydom,
"Collective Learning: Habermas's Concessions and Their Theoretical Implications",
Philosophy and Social Criticism, 13, No. 3/1987, pp. 265-281.
Published in Praxis International 13(3), October 1993, pp. 304-22
12. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., p. 33.
13. Ibid., pp. 295, 299-300.
14. Eg. A. Giddens, The Constitution of Society, op. cit., pp. 236-43; H. Joas, "Eine
soziologische Transformation der Praxisphilosophie - Giddens' Theorie der
Strukturierung", Zeitschrift für Soziologie, 15, 1986, pp. 237-285. Cf. Eder,
"Strukturen kollektiver Praxis: Die Theorie der sozialen Evolution revisited",
postscript to P.A. Berger, Herrschaftsform Stadt, (Munich: Academic 1983), pp. 243-
258, for Eder's initial consideration of Giddens's contribution.
15. Rather than attempting to list the wide-ranging literature here, I refer the reader
to M. Schmid/F. M. Wuketits, eds, Evolutionary Theory in Social Science,
(Dordrecht: Reidel 1987), which contains a useful bibliography as well as discussions
of various of the relevant developments.
16. T. Parsons, Societies: Evolutionary and Comparative Perspectives, (Englewood
Cliffs: Prentice-Hall 1966); T. Parsons, The System of Modern Societies, (Englewood
Cliffs: Prentice-Hall 1971); T. Parsons, The Evolution of Societies, (Englewood
Cliffs: Prentice-Hall 1977); N. Luhmann, "Geschichte als Prozeß und die Theorie
soziokultureller Evolution", in K.-G. Faber/C. Meier, eds, Historische Prozesse,
(Munich: DTV 1978), pp. 413-440; N. Luhmann, The Differentiation of Society,
(New York: Columbia U P 1982); N. Luhmann, Soziale Systeme, (Frankfurt:
Suhrkamp 1984).
17. Eder, Geschichte als Lernprozeß?, op. cit., p. 20; Eder, "Learning and the
Evolution of Social Systems", in M. Schmid/F.M. Wuketits, eds, Evolutionary Theory
in the Social Sciences, op. cit., pp. 100-25. Relevant literature and bibliographical
details are included in: H. C. Plotkin, ed, Learning, Development and Culture,
(Chichester/New York: Wiley 1982), and D. Mossakowski/G. Roth, eds,
Environmental Adaptation and Evolution, (Stuttgart/New York: Fischer 1982). Cf.
also P. Strydom, "Sociological Questions in Open Learning Standards and the
Learner Environment", UCC-122-40-002/1989, official DELTA Project 1002 Report
to the Commission of the European Communities.
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18. K. R. Popper, Objective Knowledge, (Oxford: Oxford U P 1972); D. T.
Campbell, "Evolutionary Epistemology", in P. A. Schilpp, ed, The Philosophy of Karl
Popper, Vol 1, (La Salle: Open Court 1974), pp. 413-463; H. C. Plotkin, ed,
Learning, Development, and Culture, op. cit.
19. Eder, Geschichte als Lernprozeß?, op. cit., p. 25-6, and Die Vergesellschaftung
der Natur, op. cit., p. 285.
20. From a certain point of view, to be sure, Habermas's position would seem to be
closer to the official genetic than the epigenetic theory: he tries to anticipate the next
evolutionary step by imagining the most advantageous modification rather than
discovering in the epigenetic system the changes it is capable of producing.
21. B. Giesen/M. Schmid, "System und Evolution: Metatheoretische Vorbe-
merkungen zu einer soziologischen Evolutionstheorie", Soziale Welt , 26, 1975, pp.
385-413; B. Giesen, "Gesellschaftliche Identität und Evolution: Ein Vergleich
soziologischer Theorietraditionen", Soziale Welt, 31, 1980, pp. 311-332; B. Giesen,
Makrosoziologie, (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe 1980); B. Giesen/C. Lau, "Zur
Anwendung darwinistischer Erklärungsstrategien in der Soziologie", Kölner
Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, 33, No. 2/1981, pp. 229-256; C. Lau,
Gesellschaftliche Evolution als kollektiver Lernprozeß, (Berlin: Duncker und
Humblot 1981); M. Schmid, Theorien sozialen Wandelns, (Opladen: Westdeutscher
Verlag 1982); M. Schmid, "Habermas's Theory of Social Evolution", in J. B.
Thompson/D. Held, eds, Habermas: Critical Debates, (London: Macmillan 1982),
pp. 162-180; M. Schmid, "Collective Action and the Selection of Rules", in M.
Schmid/F.M. Wuketits, eds, Evolutionary Theory in Social Science, op. cit., pp. 79-
22. Giesen, "Gesellschaftliche Identität und Evolution", op. cit., p. 324; Giesen/Lau,
"Zur Anwendung darwinistischer Erklärungsstrategien in der Soziologie", op. cit., p.
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23. Giesen/Schmid, "System und Evolution", op. cit., pp. 403, 410; Giesen/Lau,
"Zur Anwendung darwinistischer Erklärungsstrategien in der Soziologie", op. cit., pp.
234, 237, 252; Schmid, "Habermas's Theory of Social Evolution", op. cit., p. 175.
24. Giesen/Schmid, "System und Evolution", op. cit., p. 409.
25. Giesen/Lau, "Zur Anwendung darwinistischer Erklärungsstrategien in der
Soziologie", op. cit., pp. 238.
26. Schmid, "Habermas's Theory of Social Evolution", op. cit., pp. 165, 173. A
critical investigation into the "obscure empirical problem" Schmid highlights here has
been conducted by A. Linkenbach, Opake Gestalten des Denkens: Jürgen Habermas
und die Rationalität fremder Lebensformen, (Munich: Fink 1986). Cf. eg. P. R.
Harrison, "Habermas and the Problem of Archaic Societies", Thesis Eleven, 28, 1991,
pp. 127-131.
27. Lau, Gesellschaftliche Evolution als kollektiver Lernprozeß, op. cit., p. 38.
28. Schmid, "Habermas's Theory of Social Evolution", op. cit., pp. 174.
29. Giesen/Schmid, "System und Evolution", op. cit., p. 411; Schmid, "Habermas's
Theory of Social Evolution", op. cit., pp. 174, 178, 179, 180; Giesen/Lau, "Zur
Anwendung darwinistischer Erklärungsstrategien in der Soziologie", op. cit., pp. 252.
30. Strydom, "The Ontogenetic Fallacy", op. cit.
31. T. McCarthy, The Critical Theory of Jürgen Habermas, (London: Hutchinson
1978); J. Arnason, "Review of Jürgen Habermas, Zur Rekonstruktion des
historischen Materialismus", Telos, 39, 1979, pp.201-218; J. Arnason, Praxis und
Interpretation, (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1988); A. Honneth/H. Joas, Soziales Handeln
und menschliche Natur, (Frankfurt: Campus 1980); A. Honneth/H. Joas, Social
Action and Human Nature, (Cambridge: Cambridge U P 1988); G. Frankenberg/U.
Rödel, Von der Volkssouveränität zum Minderheitenschutz, (Frankfurt: Europäische
Verlagsanstalt 1981); Miller, Kollektive Lernprozesse, op. cit.; Eder, Geschichte als
Lernprozeß?, op. cit., and Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit.
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32. Eg.: U. Rödel/G. Frankenberg/H. Dubiel, Die demokratische Frage, (Frankfurt:
Suhrkamp 1989); A. Honneth, Kampf um Anerkennung, (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp
1992); H. Joas, Die Kreativität des Handelns, (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1992).
33. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., pp. 287-8.
34. Habermas initially introduced the idea of a reconstructive theory of social
evolution in the context of his controversy with Luhmann, the first stage of which is
documented in J. Habermas/N. Luhmann, Theorie der Gesellschaft oder
Sozialtechnologie, (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1971), here p. 175. While the Habermas-
Luhmann debate proved to be rather wide-ranging and protracted, as shown by such
later works by Habermas as The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. 1 (London:
Heinemann 1984) and Vol. 2 (Cambridge: Polity 1987) and The Philosophical
Discourse of Modernity, (Cambridge: Polity 1987), as well as Luhmann's Soziale
Systeme, (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1984), the issue of the theory of social evolution has
been an important element of the controversy. Cf. eg.: N. Luhmann, "Geschichte und
Evolution", Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 2,1976, pp. 284-309, and J. Habermas,
"History and Evolution", Telos, 39/1979, pp. 5-44, which originally appeared with
Luhmann's essay in the journal Geschichte und Gesellscahft..
35. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., pp. 288-9.
36. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., pp. 30-38.
37. Ibid., pp. 290-1.
38. P. Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P.
1977), pp. 1, 77; Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., p. 291.
39. Ibid., 291, 292-295; A. Touraine, The Self-Production of Society, (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press 1977), and A. Touraine, The Voice and the Eye,
(Cambridge: Cambridge U.P.); Giddens,The Constitution of Society, op. cit.
40. Miller, Kollektive Lernprozesse, op. cit.; Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur,
op. cit., pp. 292, 296-99.
41. In his more recent work, Eder introduces legitimating practices, as thematised by
Bourdieu, as a mechanism of social evolution in addition to collective learning and
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class conflict. Over and above the production or constitution of society, it is
necessary to take into account the developmental processes transpiring in the cultural
representations of society. Cf. Eder, "Contradictions and Social Evolution: A Theory
of the Social Evolution of Modernity", in H. Haferkamp/N. J. Smelser, eds, Social
Change and Modernity, (Berkeley/Oxford: University of California Press 1992), pp.
320-349. Cf. also K. Eder, ed, Klassenlage, Lebensstil und kulturelle Praxis,
(Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1989).
42. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., p.291.
43. Eder, Geschichte als Lernprozeß?, op. cit., pp. 55-56.
44. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., p. 301.
45. Ibid., p. 290.
46. Ibid., p. 387.
47. Ibid., p. 301.
48. Ibid., pp. 296, 310, 313; cf. also Strydom, "The Ontogenetic Fallacy", op. cit.
49. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., p. 310.
50. Ibid., p. 19.
51. Ibid., pp. 33, 291.
52. Ibid., p.302.
53. Ibid., pp. 303-4.
54. Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society, op. cit., pp. 153-154;
Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. 2, op. cit., pp. 233-75.
55. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., pp. 304-5, cites the ritual
reversal of a social order and class conflict, in the sense of practices through which
the historically specific social order is being dealt with, as examples of structural
models of praxis.
56. Ibid., pp. 320, 308.
57. Ibid., pp. 372. For a critique of Habermas on the basis of the failure of an
attempt by the authors to apply his ontogenetic model to historical material, cf. G.
Published in Praxis International 13(3), October 1993, pp. 304-22
Frankenberg/U. Rödel, Von der Volkssouveränität zum Minderheitenschutz, op. cit.,
pp. 9-31.
58. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., pp. 318-21, 371-72.
59. The expression "metasocial guarantee" derives from Touraine, The Voice and the
Eye, op. cit., pp. 53, 68, and "metadiscourse " or "grand narrative " from J.-F.
Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota 1984), p.
60. The position Eder takes here establishes a connection with Lyotard and his
critique of Habermas, on which cf. M. Frank, Die Grenzen der Verständigung,
(Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1988) and M. Frank, Das Sagbare und das Unsagbare,
(Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1989), pp. 590-607. The issue is whether and, if so, how
dissensus can be integrated into Habermas's position which emphasizes or, rather,
over-emphasizes consensus. Karl-Otto Apel, friend and colleague of Habermas, has
recently in an interview with F. Rötzer, ed, Denken, das an der Zeit ist, (Frankfurt:
Suhrkamp 1987), p. 70, without any change in his position emphatically insisted on
the possibility. Habermas seems to be doing the same in an unpublished manuscript
from 1989 entitled "Individuelle Willensbildung unter den Aspekten des
Zweckmässigen, des Guten und des Gerechten", particularly pp. 25-6. Their
philosophical stance nevertheless seems to place them in a defensive position when it
comes to opening up the problem of the relation between consensus and dissensus.
As regards Eder and Lyotard, whereas the latter at least theoretically neglects, if not
denies, the relation between morality and rationality, as W. van Reijen shows in
"Miss Marx, Terminals und Grands Recrits oder: Kratzt Habermas, wo es nicht
juckt?", in D. Kamper/W. van Reijen, eds, Die unvollendete Vernunft, (Frankfurt:
Suhrkamp 1987), p.567, the latter integrates dissensus while concentrating precisely
on this nexus, and he seems to be able to differentiate it in a manner not open to
Habermas and Apel. Cf. now K. Eder, "Contradictions and Social Evolution", op.
cit., in which the significance of contradictions and conflict for communiation and
social evolution is of focal concern.
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61. Eg. Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society, op. cit., pp. 183-88;
J. Habermas, "Über Moralität und Sittlichkeit: Was macht eine Lebensform
'rational'?, in H. Schnädelbach, ed, Rationalität, (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1984), pp.
218-235; J. Habermas, "Moralität und Sittlichkeit: Treffen Hegels Einwände gegen
Kant auch auf die Diskursethik zu?", in W. Kuhlmann, ed, Moralität und Sittlichkeit,
(Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1986), pp. 16-37.
62. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., pp. 387, 302, 371.
63. Giddens, The Constitution of Society, op. cit., pp. 25-28.
64. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., p. 371.
65. Eg. Habermas/Luhmann, Theorie der Gesellschaft oder Sozialtechnologie, op.
cit., pp. 213-15; Habermas, "A Postscript to Knowledge and Human Interests", op.
cit., pp. 168-72; Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. 1, op. cit., p.
66. C. Sinha, Language and Representation, (London: Harvester 1988), pp. 77-110.
Sinha circumscribes what is called the "phylocultural complex" as follows on p. 78:
"the set of assumptions dominating evolutionary and developmental studies at the
turn of the century, based upon concepts of parallelism and repetition at different
'levels' of biological and cultural organization."
67. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., pp. 317-18.
68. Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society, op. cit., pp. 99-116.
69. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., pp. 370-1.
70. Ibid., pp. 373-375. Compare Giddens, The Constitution of Society, op. cit., pp.
239-242, who lists in general four so-called "dangers" of evolutionary thought:
unilineal compression, homological compression, normative illusion and temporal
71. M. Ginsberg, "L.T. Hobhouse", in T. Raison, ed, The Founding Fathers of Social
Science, (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1970), pp. 154-61; M. Ginsberg, Essays in
Sociology and Social Philosophy III, (London: Heinemann 1956); B.S. Wilson,
Published in Praxis International 13(3), October 1993, pp. 304-22
"Morality in the Evolution of the Modern Social System", British Journal of
Sociology, 36, No. 3/1985, pp. 315-32.
72. Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, op. cit., pp. 336-367,
offers a summary of his position under the title of "the normative content of
modernity". In the text I have modified Frederick Lawrence's translation of the
original "Gehalt" by "content" to "import" for the reason that Habermas takes pains to
emphasize that he is not concerned with orienting contents but rather with structural
possibilities facilitating the rationalization of action.
73. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., pp. 375-6.
74. Ibid., p. 373. The use of this expression does not imply that Eder has
postmodernist leanings; on the contrary, he argues in favour of a "reflexive
75. Touraine, The Voice and the Eye, op. cit., p. 14, submits that evolutionism forms
part of the instrumentarium of self-description of industrial society: "...industrial
society...represents itself by the place it occupies in an evolution it describes as
76. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., pp. 373, 374-5, 377.
77. Ibid., p. 374.
78. Loc. cit. Cf H. Dubiel, Kritische Theorie der Gesellschaft, (Weinheim/Munich:
Juventa 1988), pp. 123-127, and H. Dubiel, "Herrschaft oder Emanzipation: Der
Streit um die Erbschaft der Kritischen Theorie", in A. Honneth et al, eds,
Zwischenbetrachtungen: Im Prozeß der Aufklärung - J. Habermas zum 60.
Geburtstag, (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1989), for a discussion of the question of whether
there are two critical theories or not: Adorno and Horkheimer's "theory of pure
domination" and Habermas's "theory of abstract emancipation". Against this
background, it may be submitted that Eder's critical theory of the social evolution of
practical reason goes some distance beyond these two approaches.
79. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., pp. 375, 18.
80. Ibid., p. 373.
Published in Praxis International 13(3), October 1993, pp. 304-22
81. Ibid., pp. 375,309.
82. Ibid., p. 374; cf. also pp. 319-20.
83. Ibid., p. 374.
84. Ibid., p. 377.
85. The recent past has seen the proliferation of what may be called "utilization
research" which throws a good deal of light on the problematic addressed by Eder in
his theory of the social evolution of practical reason. Cf. eg.: A. Evers/H. Nowotny,
Über den Umgang mit Unsicherheit, (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1987); U. Beck/W. Bonß,
eds, Weder Sozialtechnologie noch Aufklärung?, (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1989). An
interesting older work is A. Wilden, System and Structure, (London: Tavistock 1972).
86. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., p. 319. By means of this notion
of critique, Eder takes up the theme of a conference held in Frankfurt in 1987 with a
view to self-critically inquiring into the continuation of a commitment to
enlightenment under the radically changed conditions of the late twentieth century; cf.
J. Rüsen et al, eds, Die Zukunft der Aufklärung, (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1988),
87. Eder, Die Vergesellschaftung der Natur, op. cit., p. 377.
88. Ibid., p. 387. This is a reference to the title of Habermas's collection of political
writings, Die neue Unübersichtlichkeit, op. cit., the title essay of which appeared in
English as "The New Obscurity: The Crisis of the Welfare State and the Exhaustion
of Utopian Energies", Philosophy and Social Criticism, 11, No. 2/1986, pp. 1-19.
... Since Thomas McCarthy's The Critical Theory of Jürgen Habermas (1978) and the remarks of the editors of Telos (39, 1979: 3) on the publication of Habermas's essay on 'History and Evolution' in that journal in the late 1970s, for instance, a critique of Habermas's ontogenetically based developmental-logical theory of social evolution has been developed by younger generation critical theorists such as Johann Arnason (1979), Axel Honneth and Hans Joas (1980Joas ( , 1988), Günter Frankenberg and Ulrich Rödel (1981), and Klaus Eder (1985). 1 At this stage, in fact, a drastically reformulated version is well underway (e.g. Eder 1988; Strydom 1992 Strydom , 1993). It is significant that the major thrust of this critique and reformulation consists precisely of a demonstration that Habermas's theory of society does not allow an adequate treatment of social movements and thus, quite expectedly, of a determined effort to correct this defect by placing social movements at the very centre of the social theoretical stage. ...
... Having provided analyses of the immanent critique of Habermas's ontogenetically based developmental-logical theory of social evolution elsewhere (Strydom 1992Strydom , 1993), I propose to present a sample of arguments to illustrate the conclusions reached in the debate. On the whole, they underline the debilitating limitations Habermas imposes on the study of social movements by way of his general theory of society or, more particularly, his theory of social evolution. ...
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At a crucial point in his presentation of Habermas' recent writings, White discusses Habermas’ account of new social movements. His overprivileging of Habermas' “communicative model” and the linking of this model to Habermas' theory of modernity forces him to provide a superficial interpretation of Habermas' treatment of new social movements. Despite his recognition of the role played by Habermas' “general theory of society,” he overlooks how the theory of modernity is integrated into the broader framework. This is explained by his conception of Habermas' contribution as representing a research program in the social sciences, i.e., his circumscription of the “core” (9) of such a research program.
... And as pointed out earlier, the learning processes at this level must be distinguished from sociocultural evolution which represents a more general higher-level learning process. This distinction is necessary to avoid the fallacious argumentation inevitably resulting from the confounding of the historical and evolutionary levels (Strydom 1992(Strydom , 1993(Strydom , 2018. ...
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This essay reports on a critical investigation into Habermas' conception of 'weak naturalism' that is based on the assumption of a continuity between nature and culture, but nevertheless allows culture and the social lifeworld a characteristically human degree of independence captured by the concept of 'formal pragmatics'. The investigation is conducted from a non-reductionist cognitive sociological perspective that seeks to preserve the relation between nature and the sociocultural form of life, while developing a cognitive theory of culture. Two outcomes result, one concerning weak naturalism and the other formal pragmatics. The principal finding it that Habermas' account of weak naturalism is incomplete insofar as he glosses over a number of crucial aspects, including principally a differentiated concept of evolution, the elementary social forms lying below and behind social practices and, finally, the feedback loop whereby sociocultural learning processes in the social lifeworld impact not only on social practices but also at different levels on their limits. The critical reflections are finally completed by considering the significance weak naturalism harbours for formal pragmatics itself. The main problem here is that the formal pragmatic understanding of structure based on the theory of action falls short of the enduring world-defining structures required by the concept of weak naturalism. While formal pragmatics is nevertheless affirmed as far as it goes, a shift is advocated from the linguistic paradigm to the cognitive paradigm to resolve the crucial problem of cultural structure. Introduction For the purposes of developing an integral cognitive sociology, one able to bring together and articulate in a plausible manner both nature and the human sociocultural form of life, the adoption of a weak naturalistic position is crucial. Only then would it be possible to avoid both the problematic alternatives of, on the one hand, a strong naturalistic cognitive sociology that tends to approach the sociocultural world from a strictly scientific neurological or biogenetic point of view and, on the other, a soft culturalist cognitive sociology that dismisses or ignores any and every naturalistic consideration whatsoever. If one searches for suitable assistance on the question of weak naturalism, one can hardly do better than Jürgen Habermas' most helpful contribution on the topic which forms part of his late theoretical philosophy. There he incorporates weak naturalism in his overall framework of formal pragmatics. A close study of his account reveals, however, that critical reflections on his conception of weak naturalism are required as well as corresponding elaboration on various aspects he glosses over. A question arises also about his presentation of the relation between weak naturalism and formal pragmatics, particularly the precise theoretical status of the latter as it bears on the conception of cultural structure. The current intention is to activate a series of critical reflections with a view to filling in the omissions in his account of weak naturalism as well as reaching beyond formal pragmatics in recuperating cultural structure, doing so from the perspective of the significance of these steps for articulating an integral cognitive sociology.
... It is only after the October Revolution of 1917 and again in the course of the Second World War that some of the Avant-garde artists sympathized with Marxist Socialism or Communism or joined the Communist Party – for instance, after the revolution the Cubist Albert Gleizes was temporarily attracted by Soviet Communism; various Dadaists, despite many differences, developed ties with the distinction among history, development and evolution is necessary to deal with these various problems and their relations to one another (see e.g. Strydom 1992Strydom , 1993). Communist movement because of its revolutionary and anti-bourgeois spirit, including Hans Richter, Richard Huelsenbeck, Alberto Giacometti, and Jean Arp; similarly, certain Surrealists also established relations with Marxist Communism yet on their own terms, including André Breton, Louis Aragon and Paul Eluard; Pablo Picasso, who at an early stage had been enduringly influenced by Anarchism, associated with both Dadaist and Surrealist sympathizers of Communism after World War I and eventually joined the Communist Party as late as 1944 (Egbert 1970; Chipp 1971). ...
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... The relations between these three levels are complex and have not been fully worked out in social theory (see Habermas 1979;Miller 1986;Strydom 1987Strydom , 1992Strydom , 1993Eder 1999). The following can be said to be the most important mapping mechanisms by which the different levels relate to each other: − process −− learning entails a movement; it is not static or simply reproductive, but generative; − connectivism −− learning occurs by connecting different concepts, discourses, information rather than occurring within a closed paradigm; − development −− the "processual" nature of learning leads to a development in competencies. ...
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Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork in an English training program tailored for rural young Tibetans in West China, this study looks into the complexities, dilemma, and possibilities of particularly the cultural aspects of citizenship in a context where minority people are encountering urban, majority, and global forces as a result of their geographic and cultural mobility. In doing so, the theme of flexible citizenship (Ong 1999) emerges, which deconstructs the conventional conception of citizenship. This deconstruction is achieved through unveiling the complexity and complication of citizenship that is in particular evidence in the everyday practices of these Tibetan subjects. The findings capture a re-consideration of citizenship that is open to multiplicity and grows out of practices.
... Contudo, a ênfase nas "comunidades epistêmicas" potencializa sua penetração na dinâmica da sociedade civil, onde a criação de novos conhecimentos permite a expansão democrática participativa. Um exemplo notório dessas possibilidades na atual etapa de globalização tem sido a crescente legitimidade dos tribunais internacionais para julgar a violação dos crimes contra a humanidade, os direitos humanos, genocídio etc. Vários autores estão trabalhando esta temática, entre os quais March (1991), Strydom (1993), Wynne (1992) e Reiter (1994). ...
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Há um reconhecimento crescente entre os cientistas políticos de que uma fonte principal para a conquista e o aperfeiçoamento da democracia é o apren-dizado político por parte dos atores sociais e políticos. Este reconhecimento decorre do fato de que "estamos particularmente interessados na sobrevivência das democracias emergentes – e em como evitar a recorrência de crises preve-nindo o eventual colapso dessas democracias" (McCoy 2000). Podemos de antemão duvidar que o aprendizado político evitasse a recorrência de crises, ou ainda que sendo isso possível, prevenisse o eventual colapso da democracia. Mas, depois dos eventos de 11 de setembro de 2001, podemos inclusive adian-tar que essa preocupação com o aprendizado político não se aplica apenas ao destino das democracias emergentes, pois abarca as alternativas de futuro dos próprios países centrais do Ocidente. Escrito antes desses eventos, o livro de McCoy já reconhece que a bibliografia especializada não considera satisfatori-amente como o aprendizado político reorienta os comportamentos e atitudes em apoio à democracia política e seu aperfeiçoamento. Portanto, tais críticas à bibliografia são um vasto desafio para trabalho de pesquisa ainda a ser feito. E o presente texto acata esse desafio, numa revisão teórica inicial das abordagens existentes ao aprendizado político no contexto da globalização. Num primeiro momento, consideramos as limitações da aborda-gem ao estudo das elites nos processos de democratização da América Latina. Em segundo lugar, salientamos as dificuldades da teoria da modernização para enfrentar o tema, nos estudos sobre os públicos massivos. Mais adiante salien-tamos as contribuições que uma abordagem inspirada nos trabalhos de Jürgen Habermas pode proporcionar ao estudo do aprendizado político. E concluímos 1 Doutor em Ciência Política pela New School, professor visitante do Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ciências Sociais da Pucrs, pesquisador do CNPq.
... The relations between these three levels are complex and have not been fully worked out in social theory (see Habermas 1979, Miller 1986, Strydom 1987, 1993, Eder 1999). The following can be said to be the most important mapping mechanisms by which the different levels relate to each other: ᭹ process-learning entails a movement; it is not static or simply reproductive, but generative; ᭹ connectivism-learning occurs by connecting different concepts, discourses, information rather than occurring within a closed paradigm; ᭹ development-the 'processual' nature of learning leads to a development in competencies. ...
A relatively neglected dimension of citizenship is learning processes. A theory of learning is outlined, distinguishing between individual learning processes and collective ones. Linking learning to citizenship suggests a model of cultural citizenship, which entails mechanisms of translation whereby the different levels of learning are connected. In this article, the idea of cultural citizenship is conceived of in terms of learning processes and is defended against what will be called disciplinary citizenship in which learning is reduced to citizenship classes and formal membership of the polity.
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This chapter presents in outline the theoretical framework of an integral cognitive sociology that, aside from making sense in itself and on its own, has been intentionally designed to complement Critical Theory by potentially enhancing its analytical and defining critical capacity. It is an integral version in so far as it seeks to interrelate in a cognitive theoretical sense both the sociocultural and naturalistic dimensions. Starting from the metatheoretical concept of immanent transcendence, the sociocultural dimension is explicated through the key concept of the metacultural cognitive order of society and a complementary theory of cultural structures and dynamics. This complex is then embedded in nature by means of the concept of weak naturalism that, despite tying it down ontologically, allows the sociocultural domain to come into its own. Theoretically and methodologically, the ambivalent tension-laden position of the sociocultural world between first and second nature is of special interest in that it is crucial to Critical Theory's critical reconstructive and explanatory mode of procedure. Rather than just outlining the theoretical framework, which is given in the core second part of the chapter, however, indications are first offered of the origination of this integral version of cognitive sociology. Instead of a general historical overview of whatever smatterings of the cognitive are to be found in Critical Theory, this is done from an intellectual autobiographical perspective. Both the emergence of this cognitive sociology from the intellectual constellation of the 1960s and 70s in which Karl-Otto Apel and Jürgen Habermas took Critical Theory in a new direction is pinpointed and its subsequent unfolding in by no means uncritical correlation with the further development of Critical Theory in the context of international debates, including the cognitive revolution, is traced. Introduction To honour my brief of having to write on the theme of Critical Theory and cognitive sociology requires taking up an autobiographical perspective, both my own and my generation's, in order to briefly retrace the trajectory of this relation from the viewpoint of my current understanding of cognitive sociology. The integral version of cognitive sociology presented here is closely associated with Critical Theory. It originally emerged against the background of the intellectual constellation of the late-1960s and early-1970s in which Critical Theory occupied a central position, and it gradually unfolded in parallel with the development of the latter in a context partially shaped by the cognitive revolution.
Evolution and learning are two analytically distinct concepts. People learn yet evolution (`change') does not necessarily take place. To clarify this problem the concept of learning is explicated. The first problem addressed is the question of who is learning. Here a shift from the single actor perspective to an interaction perspective is proposed (using Habermas and Luhmann as theoretical arguments for such a shift). Both, however, idealize the preconditions that interactants share while learning collectively. Against rationalist assumptions it is argued that in order to learn people need a narratively based shared world. What do they learn? They acquire knowledge and they learn how to learn. This still does not solve the problem why they learn. Learning, it is argued, does not guarantee evolution but provides the mutations for evolutionary processes to take place.
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We seek to follow the development of evolutionary theory in the thought of Habermas, starting with the statement taken from the Prologue of Legitimation Crisis, 1973: "The programmatic character of Part I of this book makes clear that a theory of social evolution, although it must be the basis of social theory, is today still scarcely at all developed." Attention is directed to how Habermas reorients the evolutionary meaning of historical development in light of the concept of lifeworld as the sphere of the realization of communicative action. We seek to investigate how Habermas' model assigns, by means of language, the task of symbolic production and reproduction of the normative consensus among participants in the social world, while at the same time indicating that there is a telos of social integration immanent in the communicative practice itself. In this sense, we seek to demonstrate that just as universal pragmatics serves as the theoretical basis for the analysis of processes of abnormal socialization and the distortion of language, the theory of social evolution serves as a parameter for a critical social theory with the emancipatory intent of evaluating the empirical and contingent unfolding of historical dynamics.
Evolution was once a dividing mark between the “developed us” and the “underdeveloped or primitive them” but there has been certain foundational transformations in the theory and normative quest of evolution which challenge us to overcome this. Developments in both the discourse and practice of socio-cultural evolution as well as biological and cosmic evolution point to the need for cultivating a new enlightenment and non-duality going beyond the dualism of environment and the organism, ontogenesis and socio-genesis and much more fundamentally, “us” and “them.” The present essay discusses the contours of a new evolutionary theory under the rubric of “co-evolution.” It builds upon the seminal works of both Bergson and Sri Aurobindo and discusses the outline of a new enlightenment and non-duality. It also discusses the evolutionary challenge before self and society in terms of realizing a new enlightenment which just does not valorize rationality and dualism but strives for realization of non-duality in manifold relations of being and becoming in self and society.
Collective action and the selection of rules : some notes on the evolutionary paradigm in social theory. - In: Evolutionary theory in social science / ed. by Michael Schmid ... - Dordrecht u.a. : Reidel, 1987. - S. 79-100. - (Theory and decision library : A, Philosophy and methodology of the social sciences)
Jürgen Habermas has developed his ideas on the foundation of a theory of evolution in various works and has repeatedly emphasised its programmatic character.1 The theory is presented along several different lines of thought, but these, when looked at more closely, do not always form a coherent whole. The claims of a theory developed under such circumstances can only be judged in an equally limited way. In particular, the restricted scope of this essay prevents me from describing adequately the numerous connections with other theoretical and philosophical parts of Habermas’s oeuvre. I shall also disregard the way that Habermas’s evolutionary theory grew out of his debate with Niklas Luhmann’s theory of society. Similarly, I should like to suspend judgement on the question of whether the illustrations of the theory are historically sound. I see my task, therefore, as twofold: first, to sketch out the content of the theory of evolution and, if possible, to systematise it; second, to examine some of the central concepts of the theory, an examination which should lead to an evaluation of it.