Knowledge and Human Interests

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Knowledge and Human Interests
Erkenntnis und Interesse.jpg
The German edition
Author Jürgen Habermas
Original title Erkenntnis und Interesse
Translator Jeremy J. Shapiro
Country Germany
Language German
Subject Philosophy
Media type Print
Pages 392 (English edition)
ISBN 0-7456-0459-5 (English edition)

Knowledge and Human Interests (German: Erkenntnis und Interesse) is a 1968 book by the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas. The work was first published in English translation in 1972, by Heinemann Educational Books.


Habermas argues that the sciences depend on ideological assumptions and interests, and that enlightenment reason has become an instrument of domination.[1] Broadly Kantian in his approach, but also influenced by Marxism, he seeks to reconstruct the genealogy of the modern natural and human sciences by inquiring into their social, historical, and epistemological conditions of emergence.[2]

Placing the emphasis on the act of interpretation, Habermas argues that psychoanalysis is less a scientific theory of the mind than a hermeneutic, a technique of understanding, and hence a branch of the humanities like biography and philology.[3] Habermas finds Sigmund Freud guilty of "scientistic self-misunderstanding" in thinking that his work is a contribution to science. In Habermas's view, psychoanalysis is unlike science in that it does not aspire to causal knowledge. Instead of attempting to explain human behavior in terms of general causal laws, psychoanalysis aims to dissolve the causal nexus of the natural world: an analytic cure destroys the causal tie between a repression and its neurotic symptom, and thereby rescues the patient from the causal regime of nature.[4]

In the last twelve pages of the book, Habermas provides a critique of Friedrich Nietzsche.[5]

Scholarly reception[edit]

Knowledge and Human Interests has been grouped with Herbert Marcuse's Eros and Civilization (1955), Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death (1959), Philip Rieff's Freud: The Mind of the Moralist (1959), and Paul Ricœur's Freud and Philosophy (1965), books which jointly placed Freud at the center of moral and philosophical inquiry.[6] Philosopher Walter Kaufmann criticized Habermas for poor scholarship in his treatment of Nietzsche, arguing that he relied on an inadequate edition of Nietzsche's works.[5]

Habermas's discussion of the scientific status of psychoanalysis has been criticized by philosopher Adolf Grünbaum in The Foundations of Psychoanalysis (1984). Grünbaum argues that Habermas misunderstands psychoanalysis and is ignorant of science and its actual practices. Historian Paul Robinson finds Habermas's thinking about the nature of analytic cures difficult to grasp.[4]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Inwood 2005. p. 312.
  2. ^ Norris 2005. p. 356.
  3. ^ Robertson 1999. p. xxxi.
  4. ^ a b Robinson 1993. p. 188-9.
  5. ^ a b Kaufmann 1974. p. 452.
  6. ^ Abramson 1986. p. ix.


  • Abramson, Jeffrey B. (1986). Liberation and Its Limits: The Moral and Political Thought of Freud. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-2913-0. 
  • Inwood, Michael (2005). Honderich, Ted, ed. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-926479-1. 
  • Kaufmann, Walter (1974). Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01983-5. 
  • Norris, Christopher (2005). Honderich, Ted, ed. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-926479-1. 
  • Robertson, Ritchie; Freud, Sigmund (1999). The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-210049-1. 
  • Robinson, Paul (1993). Freud and His Critics. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-08029-7. 

External links[edit]