Jürgen Habermas celebrates his 90th birthday on 18 June 2019. Members of Goethe University warmly congratulate the world famous philosopher, who taught and carried out research at the university in Frankfurt for many years, and who shaped several generations of academics, and wish him many more productive years. The well wishes from Goethe University and Education Minister Angela Dorn can be read in numerous statements in this news release.

Habermas is among the most frequently cited philosophers and sociologists of the present, and his life and work are intimately connected with Goethe University. Born in Düsseldorf in 1929, Jürgen Habermas studied philosophy, history, psychology, German literature and economics in Göttingen, Zurich and Bonn from 1949 to 1954. He was greatly shaped early on by an encounter with Karl-Otto Apel, who would also later teach in Frankfurt. Habermas caused a sensation in 1953, when he criticized Heidegger’s proximity to National Socialism in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

In 1956, Habermas became research fellow with Theodor W. Adorno at the Institute for Social Research, but switched to Marburg for his habilitation. Following a first extraordinary professorship in Heidelberg, Habermas returned to Frankfurt in 1964 following an appointment to Horkheimer’s chair for philosophy. One of his most influential works was developed from his inaugural lecture “Erkenntnis und Interesse” (Knowledge and Human Interests).

Habermas played a significant role during the student protests around 1968: with his demand for reformation of the education system he became the intellectual stimulator of the revolting generation. Toward the end of the sixties, however, he distanced himself from the radical left surrounding Rudi Dutschke, criticizing their frivolous attitude toward violence. From 1971 to 1989, Habermas headed the Max-Planck-Institut zur Erforschung der Lebensbedingungen der wissenschaftlich-technischen Welt (Max Planck Institute for the research of living conditions in the scientific-technical world) together with Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker. His main work “The Theory of Communicative Action” was published in 1981. From 1983 to 1994 he again taught in Frankfurt as Professor of Philosophy. He remained active in the media after his retirement, taking a stand on many relevant issues. He also remained connected to Goethe University, where he will give a public lecture the day after his 90th birthday.

Congratulations from the President’s on Jürgen Habermas’ 90th birthday:

“With society increasingly polarized and so many people retreating to the private sphere, Jürgen Habermas is more relevant than ever. We need a rational discourse as formulated by Habermas in his Thoery of Communicative Action, in order to find answers to current questions on justice and cohesion. As University President, I am happy that this great philosopher debates these issues with our Frankfurt University community time and again.”

Prof. Birgitta Wolff, Goethe University President

Statement from the Hessian Minister of Education:

“Jürgen Habermas once called his contribution to societal discourse an ‘attempt at uninvited argumentative support for the continuing process of shaping public opinion‘. This perfectly describes his role as intellectual in the best sense with his characteristic succinctness and dash of humour. As philosopher, but also as combative democrat and staunch European, Jürgen Habermas has also shaped the history of Goethe University since the fifties. We can be grateful to have him, and I wish him many more years of health and full alertness.”

Angela Dorn, Hessian Minister of Higher Education, Research and the Arts

Additional voices from Goethe University:

“Jürgen Habermas is not only one of Goethe University’s most vibrant personalities, his thought and work in the tradition of critical theory also shaped the discussions on the structure of democratic participation and the implementation of enlightened values in societal and state norms and their inconsistencies. In this way he formed the understanding and practice of democracy both within and outside of the university.”

Kyra Beninga, Chair of the General Student Council (AStA) at Goethe University

“I am very happy that Jürgen Habermas, with whom I have been connected since my student days, is celebrating his 90th birthday in good health and continued productivity. I am especially happy that we can commemorate this event together in Frankfurt and that he is giving us the gift of a lecture and an in-depth discussion with this students and colleagues. His work is and remains authoritative for much of our research at Goethe University, especially in the context of the Excellence Cluster Normative Orders.”

Rainer Forst, Professor for Political Theory and Philosophy, Co-Speaker of the research collaboration Normative Orders

“In an almost unique way, Jürgen Habermas unites the roles of the globally recognized academic and the public intellectual in communication with each other. In both his academic work and in his person, he has demonstrated that reason and the public sphere mutually depend on each other and do not rule each other out, as has been claimed time and again, especially in this country. With this basic insight, he has shaped the self-conception of the democratic constitutional state not only in Germany, but also for a united Europe.”

Klaus Günther, Professor for Legal Theory, Criminal Law, and Criminal Process Law, Co-Speaker of the research collaboration Normative Orders

Like many others in my generation involved with Critical Theory, reading the works of Jürgen Habermas, particularly The Theory of Communicative Action, played a decisive role even during my studies. The continuing impact of Habermas’ writings is also based on their ability to illuminate the works of other authors and theories. Jürgen Habermas’ lasting significance for the Institute for Social Research is rooted not least in his work on the logic of the social sciences, which led to the foundation of a critical-reconstructive methodology. The positivism dispute of the sixties, in which Habermas was a protagonist, seems to be returning to German sociology in new garb today, giving the young Habermas a new relevance.”

Ferdinand Sutterlüty, Professor for Sociology with a focus on Family and Youth Sociology, Commisarial Director of the Institute for Social Research.

“It is indisputable: Jürgen Habermas is one of the most important, influential and discourse-shaping philosophers of his generation. This is true for the German, the European, and the global context. The fact that today I hold a Chair at the Frankfurt University that is connected with his name is a great and almost dizzying honour for me. At the same time, it also represents an obligation to a standard, one that was always self-evident to him: that thought matters – it matters to our relationship to ourselves, the world and to society.

Martin Saar, Professor for Social Philosophy

“Jürgen Habermas exemplifies like no other what it means to philosophize passionately, demandingly and at the same politically responsibly. His intellectual style is characterized by an open and communicative way of thinking. Long before research politics used external rewards to initiate extensive collaborations in the humanities and social scientists, Habermas established an interdisciplinary philosophy from within, for internally rational reasons, as something self-evident.”

Thomas M. Schmidt, Professor for Religious Philosophy

“The significance of Jürgen Habermas for political science can hardly be overestimated. Jürgen Habermas is not only a brilliant analyst of the status quo, he also has the courage and ability to open new thought horizons and develop innovative theories that have been and continue to be pioneering in the entire field of political science. During my studies, Habermas’ habilitation treatise on the structural transition of the public sphere opened my eyes – political systems, I learned, are continually undergoing processes of adjustment to societal changes. In his later work, Habermas laid the foundation for the research on new models of democracy that flourish today, indirectly making him the founding father of the research initiative ‘Democratic Innovations’ at Goethe University.

Brigitte Geißel, Professor for Political Science and Political Sociology, Head of the Research Initiative Democratic Innovations