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Communicative Action and Rational Choice. By Joseph Heath. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001. 363p. $39.95 Rethinking the Communicative Turn: Adorno, Habermas and the Problem of Communicative Freedom. By Martin Morris. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001. 245p. $60.50 cloth, $20.95 paper.

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 January 2004

Peter Breiner
State University of New York at Albany


The work of Jürgen Habermas seems to have a rather ambiguous relation to its origins in Frankfurt School critical theory. On the one hand, Habermas portrays his own work as vindicating the Frankfurt school's goal of finding a location for rational autonomy against the various forces of instrumental reasoning that treat all agency from the vantage point of means– ends reasoning. On the other hand, Habermas insists that he can only vindicate that goal by divesting himself of the Frankfurt school's preoccupation with finding a form of consciousness undistorted by reified social relations. In place of the critique of reification and false consciousness, Habermas offers us a critique of distorted communication built on academic disciplines well outside the dialectical theories of Theodor Adorno or Max Horkheimer: Specifically, he derives his theory of undistorted communication from an account of the presuppositions of speech acts derived from analytic language philosophy, and he inserts this notion into a theory of society based upon the systems theories of Talcott Parsons and Niklas Luhmann. This ambiguity has spawned the most disparate commentary. One strand of interpretation seeks to assess the relation of his theory of communicative reason to the original Frankfurt school project of criticizing reified consciousness. A completely different strand of interpretation, rooted in analytic moral philosophy, seeks to draw out the implications of his theory of communicative reason for finding a procedure to produce moral agreement. The two books under review are fine exemplars of each of these directions, although this short review can hardly do justice to the quality of argument and rigor of Joseph Heath's book.

Book Reviews
2003 by the American Political Science Association

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