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“Public Space and Political Public Sphere” by Habermas

Argument About the Reading

The issues of the distinction and unity of public and private selves of a human have long been in the focus of philosophical discourse. Habermas’ (2004) lecture is an extensive discussion of the interrelations between private and public spheres as the two dimensions, through which the social life of human beings becomes possible. The theory presented in the reading regards the two opposing dimensions (public and private) as the interrelated constituents of human social life. The author provides powerful arguments based on his biography showing that the complexity of modern societies is reflected in the public nature of any individual. In this paper, the lecture’s main points will be discussed, analyzed, and reflected on, as well as attributed with an additional point of view of a scholar.

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Central Points

The reading is a complex but logical set of arguments touching on general considerations concerning the role of personality in the forming of public opinion, biographical episodes, and the political life of Germany. The author intertwines all these elements into an argument for his theory concerning the public space and political public sphere as the integral constituents of social life. Habermas claims that different fields of social life are based on different views of public and personal domains. Indeed, for celebrities representing the media sphere, their public image is equal to their private life; thus, the line between the two dimensions is blurred (Habermas, 2004). On the contrary, for the representatives of public discourse, objectivity is more important than their personal spheres. Therefore, the participants of philosophical, literary, or political debates operate with arguments, reasoning, and opinions based on objective perspectives. Their public and personal lives are separate and “complement each other”(Habermas, 2004, p. 1). However, the complexity of human society, where people are strongly dependent on each other and are linked with communication, the role of the public in personal life and vice versus gains a broader perspective.

In the philosopher’s opinion, the personal perspectives of all the members of a democratic society form a public space through intersubjectivity and dependent interaction, thus each equally contributing to the political public sphere. The role of intellectuals in society is to “make public use of the professional knowledge that they possess” in order to maintain reason and objectivity as the essence of the public domain (Habermas, 2004, p. 10). The author’s ideas are represented through the perspective of his life experiences in a way that demonstrates how the personal sphere is formed by public influences. Therefore, such influences should be well-balanced, reasoned, and objectively presented to maintain democracy.

Reflection on the Reading

Habermas’ (2004) lecture provides a broad scope of issues to consider within the realm of the main idea. In general, the philosopher’s theory demonstrates logic and reason, within which the claims sound clear and reliable. Touching on the issues of communication, globalization, marginalization, and politics, Habermas connects all these elements into a complex system of modern public space that reflects the contribution of each member. For example, the author refers to Aristotle’s claims about humans being political animals or “animal that exists in a polity, a public space” to emphasize the innate social dependence of people on others (Habermas, 2004, p. 3). In my opinion, such a basis for an argument is strong and provides valid ground for building the theory of intersubjectivity within the realm of public space.

Also, the philosopher successfully attributes his personal life experience to demonstrate how his theory works. Indeed, through the challenges imposed by surgery or by the political realities of 1940-s Germany, Habermas depicts how these episodes have shaped his philosophical ideas and changed both, his private and public spheres. I think that such an approach to the explanation of the theory is remarkable and very useful in the given context. However, the part of the argument that grounds the politics of Germany during and after World War II seems to be limited to the authoritarian regime. Such a reference underlines particular issues concerning politics rather than provides general implications of the theory to global society. On the other hand, the opposition of authoritarian and democratic societies helps the author to show the different roles of public space in the two systems of government. The change from authoritarian to democratic political sphere might only happen through the reconstruction of public opinion constituted of the personal views of the members of society.

Public Sphere from Boeder’s Perspective

The research of the issues under discussion shows that the problem of the political public sphere has gained much attention in academic circles. Boeder (2005) devoted an article to the discussion of the future of the public sphere in the conditions of the emerging network society. Grounding his arguments on Habermas’ claims, Boeder (2005) underlines the complexity of the society, in which digital communication and media impose changes to social structures. Within this perspective, the roles of public and private become even more complicated in the time of the digital era. In my opinion, such a claim is valid and only strengthens Habermas’ general implications concerning the role of personal opinions in the public domain. However, social media and other manifestations of digital society impose a significant threat to the role of intellectuals in the forming of the public sphere.


Boeder, P. (2005). Habermas’ heritage: The future of the public sphere in the network society. First Monday, 10(9). Web.

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Habermas, J. (2004). Public space and political public sphere – The biographical roots of two motifs in my thought. Web.

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