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University of Wyoming

Habermas' View on Knowledge
by Kathleen Kirsch

Jurgan Habermas was born in 1929 in Dusseldorf, Germany. He studied at Gottigen and Bonn. He taught at Heidleberg and then Frankfurt. He is considered to be the heir to the tradition of philosophical based critical social theory (Lemert, 1993).

According to Habermas there are three different forms knowledge can take. Technical knowledge comes from the interest of prediction and control, which is generated from the interaction between humans and nature. Within a modern society there is an interest in learning about nature thought the scientific process of positivism. Through this science humans hope to exercise control over nature. The ability for humans to produce this technical knowledge comes from our desire to exercise control over the internal and external worlds of our lives. The technical cognitive interests reveals a desire to free ourselves from the constraints of nature so that we may be self-directing (Seidman, 1994).

We are also able to reproduce the world that we live in though the use of this control. This reproduction of the world comes to us through our ability to communicate and interact with one another. This leads to the realm of practical knowledge as described by Habermas. The practical knowledge opens the door for the historical, interpretive, or cultural sciences whose aim is to clarify the meaning of texts, actions and social events in order to promote mutual understanding. Similarly, the practical cognitive interests exhibits a wish to abolish distortion and blockages in interactions in order to render communication open and free (free to hear the voice of reason over the noise of particular interests) (Seidman, 1994).

Finally, there is emancipatory knowledge, which focuses upon the desire to free ones self from the dominant power. Both the technical and the practical knowledge are essential in emancipatory knowledge. The emancipatory cognitive interests gives rise to the critical sciences (Marxism and Psychoanalysis). These aim to identify internal (psychological) and external (social or environmental) constraints on human action with the hope that such an awareness will promote autonomy (Siedman, 1994).

Habermas also thought that human beings had the capacity to be reflective upon their own lives and experiences. However, there were institutions within the society, which could hinder the individual reflecting upon their experiences and how the frame of reference was used to experience the reflection. This imposed frame of reference will often inhibit individuals from reaching their full potential. (Welton, 1993a)