ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Public Sphere Rediscovered

Arendt and the Perennial Presence of Aristotle in Habermas

This article aims to re-evaluate the infl uence the Greeks and especially Aristotle have had on Jürgen Habermas’s thought via Hannah Arendt. The purpose of such a reassessment is to argue that Habermas’s reconstruction of the public sphere is conceptually yet indirectly embedded in the Aristotelian historical and intellectual trajectory, which is often neglected.

In his book Theory and Practice (1974a), Jürgen Habermas pronounces the break of modern politics from the old tradition of Aristotle. He argues that the tradition of Aristotelian politics was ­entirely founded on prudence and practical philosophy where politics is considered as the doctrine of a good and just life and thus a “continuation of ethics.” To seek a good life, the citizen is dependent on the polis (the ancient Greek city–state)Thus, goodness necessitates eng­aging in politics and political discussions in the open spaces of the polis. The moral, legal, and political aspects of acti­ons thus, in a way, superimpose and overlap with each other.

However, according to Habermas, Niccolò Machiavelli and Thomas Moore initiated a break from this tradition of politics, which was given a final shape by Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes conceptualised the permanent groundwork of a correct political order on the claims of a positivist social philosophy while replacing the Aristotelian foundations of prudence. It resulted in the ­untying of the enmeshed knot of ethics, law, and politics prevalent in the ancient tradition of political philo­sophy. After Hobbes, the correct political order can be envisaged through a government that considers human beings as objects who behave in a “calculable manner” rather than act uninhibited. Once such a naturalistic calculation regarding the politics of human affairs creeps in, the frameworks of the ethical nature of social int­eraction can be ignored. “This separation of politics from morality,” writes Habermas (1974a: 43), “replaces instruction in leading a good and just life with making possible a life of well-being within a correctly instituted order.”

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Updated On : 3rd Jun, 2022
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