Knowledge and Human Interests

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Knowledge and Human Interests
Erkenntnis und Interesse.jpg
AuthorJürgen Habermas
Original titleErkenntnis und Interesse
TranslatorJeremy J. Shapiro
SubjectSociology of knowledge
PublisherSuhrkamp Verlag, Heinemann Educational Books
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages392 (1987 Polity edition)
ISBN0-7456-0459-5 (Polity edition)

Knowledge and Human Interests (German: Erkenntnis und Interesse) is a 1968 book by the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, in which the author discusses the development of the modern natural and human sciences. He criticizes Sigmund Freud, arguing that psychoanalysis is a branch of the humanities rather than a science, and provides a critique of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Habermas's first major systematic work, Knowledge and Human Interests has been compared to the philosopher Paul Ricœur's Freud and Philosophy (1965). It received positive reviews, which identified it as forming part of an important body of work. However, critics have found Habermas's attempt to discuss the relationship between knowledge and human interests unsatisfactory, and his work obscure in style. Some commentators have found his discussion of Freud valuable, while others have questioned his conclusions. His interpretation of Freud has been criticized by the philosopher Adolf Grünbaum in The Foundations of Psychoanalysis (1984).


According to Habermas, he first expounded the views he developed in the book in his Frankfurt inaugural address of June 1965, while his discussion of positivism, pragmatism and historicism had its origins in lectures he delivered in Heidelberg in 1963 and 1964. He expressed his indebtedness to the philosopher Karl-Otto Apel and the psychoanalysts Alexander Mitscherlich and Alfred Lorenzer.[1]


Jürgen Habermas

Habermas describes his work as "a historically oriented attempt to reconstruct the prehistory of modern positivism with the systematic intention of analyzing the connections between knowledge and human interests."[2] Habermas writes that psychoanalysis occupies an important place as an example within his framework.[3] Habermas also discusses the philosophers Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx, Auguste Comte, Ernst Mach, Charles Sanders Peirce, and Wilhelm Dilthey,[4] and critiques the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.[5]

Publication history[edit]

Knowledge and Human Interests was first published by Suhrkamp Velag in 1968, with the exception of its appendix, which was first published in Merkur in 1965. In 1972, Knowledge and Human Interests was published in an English translation by the philosopher Jeremy J. Shapiro by Heinemann Educational Books. In 1987, an English edition was published by Polity Press in association with Blackwell Publishers.[6]


Mainstream media[edit]

Knowledge and Human Interests was discussed by the philosopher Alan Ryan in The New York Review of Books. Ryan argued that the work represented Habermas's "most radical thoughts about the connection between philosophical speculation and social emancipation". However, he maintained that the implications of Habermas's ideas for the social sciences were unclear, and that Habermas failed to develop them in his subsequent work. He observed that, "Readers who thought Habermas had glimpsed something important but elusive have always been disappointed."[7]

Academic journals[edit]

Knowledge and Human Interests received positive reviews from Fred E. Jandt in the Journal of Applied Communication Research,[8] and Thomas B. Farrell in the Quarterly Journal of Speech,[9] and a mixed review from the sociologist Steven Lukes in the British Journal of Sociology.[10] The book was also reviewed by the sociologist David Martin in the Jewish Journal of Sociology,[11] the sociologist Anthony Giddens in the American Journal of Sociology,[12] Andrew Edgar in Sociology,[13] and Lawrence Hazelrigg in Current Perspectives in Social Theory.[14] Other discussions include those by Paul Ricœur in the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association,[15] Rainer Nagele, Roland Reinhart, and Roger Blood in New German Critique,[16] Kenneth Colburn Jr. in Sociological Inquiry,[17] Steven Vogel in Praxis International,[18] Richard Tinning in Quest,[19] Ananta Kumar Giri in the European Journal of Social Theory,[20] Jennifer Scuro in The Oral History Review,[21] and Myriam N. Torres and Silvia E. Moraes in the International Journal of Action Research.[22] In Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Knowledge and Human Interests received discussions from Stephen D. Parsons and Michael Power.[23][24]

Jandt found the book promising, though he considered it difficult to assess because of Habermas's competence in fields ranging from the logic of science to the sociology of knowledge.[8] Farrell found the book ambitious in its goals and dispassionate in its approach. He believed that it formed part of a body of work which "comprises a dialectic sufficiently rigorous to indict and perhaps dislodge behavioral and scientistic theories of communication."[9]

Lukes found the book disappointing. He wrote that, "Its style is unnecessarily obscure and high-flown, its lack of fine-grained philosophical analysis disappointing, and its concentration on the exegesis of other thinkers essentially diversionary." He maintained that while Habermas had interesting things to say about several thinkers, especially Freud, most of the exegesis was "familiar", while some of it was "perverse", such as Habermas's "juxtaposition of Comte and Mach under the label of 'positivism'." He credited Habermas with providing a systematic account of his view of his "philosophical ancestors", which he considered valuable since Habermas was an important representative of the Frankfurt School, but believed Habermas failed to provide a satisfactory discussion of critical science or a direct discussion of the connection between knowledge and human interests.[10]

Ricœur endorsed Habermas's view that psychoanalysis misunderstood itself by claiming to be a natural science.[15] Colburn questioned whether Habermas's attempt to demonstrate the connection between knowledge and interest helped him to critique positivism. He argued against Habermas that interest is not independent of knowledge. He criticized Habermas's definition of knowledge.[25] Giri discussed Habermas in relation to the Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo.[20] Torres and Moraes described Knowledge and Human Interests as a "seminal work", and credited Habermas with providing "the theoretical framework for understanding curriculum and educational research."[26]

Evaluations in books[edit]

The philosopher Walter Kaufmann criticized Habermas for poor scholarship in his treatment of Nietzsche in a 1974 appendix to Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. He noted that Habermas relied on the inadequate edition of Nietzsche's works prepared by Karl Schlechta.[27] The philosopher Leszek Kołakowski identified Knowledge and Human Interests as one of Habermas's principal books in Main Currents of Marxism. However, he questioned the accuracy of Habermas's understanding of both psychoanalysis and Marx's work, and criticized Habermas for failing to clearly define the concept of "emancipation".[28] The philosopher Adolf Grünbaum criticized Habermas's discussion of the scientific status of psychoanalysis in The Foundations of Psychoanalysis. He described Habermas's discussion of Freud as "patronizing", his arguments as inconsistent, and his conclusions about the therapeutic effects of psychoanalytic treatment as incoherent as well as incompatible with Freud's hypotheses. He also argued that Habermas, based on his own limited understanding of science, put forward a mistaken contrast between the human sciences and sciences such as physics. He rejected Habermas's view that it is the acceptance of psychoanalytic interpretations by patients in analytic treatment that establishes their validity and accused Habermas of quoting Freud out of context to help him make his case. He noted that Habermas's conclusions had influenced both philosophers and psychoanalysts, but criticized them for failing to appreciate some of their shortcomings.[29]

The philosopher Douglas Kellner credited Habermas with demonstrating the importance of psychoanalysis for "increasing understanding of human nature and contributing to the process of self-formation" in Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism (1984). Comparing Knowledge and Human Interests to Marcuse's Eros and Civilization, he suggested that Habermas made better use of several Freudian ideas.[30] The philosopher Jeffrey Abramson compared Knowledge and Human Interests to 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) in Liberation and Its Limits: The Moral and Political Thought of Freud (1986). He wrote that these books jointly placed Freud at the center of moral and philosophical inquiry.[31] The philosopher Tom Rockmore described Knowledge and Human Interests as a "complex study" in Habermas on historical materialism (1989) and suggested that it may eventually be recognized as Habermas's most significant work. He found Habermas's discussion of Freud valuable, but argued that by attributing a view of knowledge and interest similar to his to Freud, Habermas "cloaks his own theory in the prestige of Freud's."[32]

The philosopher Jonathan Lear blamed Knowledge and Human Interests, along with Ricœur's Freud and Philosophy, for convincing some psychoanalysts that reasons cannot be causes, a view Lear considers part of a mistaken philosophical tradition, in Love and Its Place in Nature (1990). He credited Grünbaum with effectively criticizing Habermas in The Foundations of Psychoanalysis.[33] The historian Paul Robinson described Habermas's thinking about the nature of analytic cures as obscure in Freud and His Critics (1993).[34] The critic Frederick Crews criticized Habermas for helping to inspire unscientific defenses of Freud and psychoanalysis in Unauthorized Freud (1998). He also charged him with misunderstanding Freud. He endorsed Grünbaum's criticism of Habermas in The Foundations of Psychoanalysis.[35] The philosopher Jon Barwise identified Knowledge and Human Interests as Habermas's first major systematic work in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (1999).[36]


  1. ^ Habermas 1987, pp. vii–viii.
  2. ^ Habermas 1987, p. vii.
  3. ^ Habermas 1987, p. viii.
  4. ^ Habermas 1987, pp. 7–42, 71–79, 81–89, 91–112, 140–160.
  5. ^ Habermas 1987, pp. 290–300.
  6. ^ Habermas 1987, pp. iii–iv.
  7. ^ Ryan 2003, p. 44.
  8. ^ a b Jandt 1975, pp. 64–65.
  9. ^ a b Farrell 1977, pp. 102–104.
  10. ^ a b Lukes 1972, pp. 499–500.
  11. ^ Martin 1973, pp. 121–122.
  12. ^ Giddens 1977, pp. 198–212.
  13. ^ Edgar 1982, pp. 461–463.
  14. ^ Hazelrigg 2009, pp. 189–206.
  15. ^ a b Ricœur 1988, pp. viii, 259, 304.
  16. ^ Nagele, Reinhart & Blood 1981, p. 41.
  17. ^ Colburn 1986, pp. 367–380.
  18. ^ Vogel 1988, pp. 329–349.
  19. ^ Tinning 1992, pp. 1–14.
  20. ^ a b Giri 2004, pp. 85–103.
  21. ^ Scuro 2004, pp. 43–69.
  22. ^ Torres & Moraes 2006, pp. 343–374.
  23. ^ Parsons 1992, p. 218.
  24. ^ Power 1993, p. 26.
  25. ^ Colburn 1986, p. 375.
  26. ^ Torres & Moraes 2006, p. 343, 351.
  27. ^ Kaufmann 2013, pp. 452–453.
  28. ^ Kołakowski 2012, pp. 1096, 1100–1101.
  29. ^ Grünbaum 1984, pp. 9–43.
  30. ^ Kellner 1984, pp. 193, 195, 434.
  31. ^ Abramson 1986, p. ix.
  32. ^ Rockmore 1989, pp. 49, 66–67.
  33. ^ Lear 1992, p. 49.
  34. ^ Robinson 1993, pp. 188–189.
  35. ^ Crews 1999, p. xxix.
  36. ^ Barwise 1999, p. 359.


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  • Edgar, Andrew (1982). "Critical Hermeneutics: A Study in the Thought of Paul Ricoeur and Jurgen Habermas/Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences (Book)". Sociology. 16 (3). doi:10.1177/0038038582016003017.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Farrell, Thomas B. (1977). "Legitimation Crisis/Theory and Practice/Knowledge and Human Interests (Book)". Quarterly Journal of Speech. 63 (1).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Giddens, Anthony (1977). "Review Essay: Habermas's Social and Political Theory". American Journal of Sociology. 83 (1). doi:10.1086/226517.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Giri, Ananta Kumar (2004). "Knowledge and Human Liberation Jürgen Habermas, Sri Aurobibndo and Beyond". European Journal of Social Theory. 7 (1).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Hazelrigg, Lawrence (2009). "Forty years of Knowledge and Human Interests: A Brief Appreciation". Current Perspectives in Social Theory. 26.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Jandt, Fred E. (1975). "Toward a Rational Society/Knowledge and Human Interests/Theory and Practice (book)". Journal of Applied Communication Research. 3 (1).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Lukes, Steven (1972). "Knowledge and Human Interests (Book)". British Journal of Sociology. 23 (4).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Martin, David (1973). "Knowledge and Human Interests (Book)". Jewish Journal of Sociology. 15 (1).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
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  • Parsons, Stephen D. (1992). "Explaining Technology and Society The Problem of Nature in Habermas". Philosophy of the Social Sciences. 22 (2).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Power, Michael (1993). "Habermas and Transcendental Arguments: A Reappraisal". Philosophy of the Social Sciences. 23 (1).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Ryan, Alan (2003). "The Power of Positive Thinking". The New York Review of Books. 50 (1).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Scuro, Jennifer (2004). "Exploring Personal History: A Case Study of an Italian Immigrant Woman". The Oral History Review. 31 (1).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Tinning, Richard (1992). "Reading Action Research: Notes on Knowledge and Human Interests". Quest. 44 (1).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Torres, Myriam N.; Moraes, Silvia E. (2006). "Building Socially Responsive Curricula through Emancipatory Action Research: International Contexts". International Journal of Action Research. 2 (3).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Vogel, Steven (1988). "Habermas and Science". Praxis International. 8 (3).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)

External links[edit]