Modernity From The Viewpoint Of Lyotard And Habermas Essay Samples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Postmodernism, Modernity, Art, Philosophy, Project, Time, Culture, World

Pages: 10

Words: 2750

Published: 2021/03/18

The City

The purpose of this paper is a comparative analysis of the works of Jean-François Lyotard and Jürgen Habermas. The material of this paper dwells on the two basic versions of the issue if modernity can be considered as an ‘incomplete project’. Who is right in relation to modernity as a project? Is it possible to come to a common agreement of the two opposite opinions? Most likely, the controversy over modernity as ‘incomplete project’ will always remain incomplete; and this paper examines the cause of the philosophical and cultural issues.
The concept of "modernity" seems so familiar, commonplace, direct, and self-explanatory for any inexperienced person that they can hardly imagine how many broken spears were around this notion in the philosophy of the 20th century. The entire discussion is pointless and impossible for reproduction. One can specify only a few highlights. At the junction of the 19th and 20th centuries, the avant-garde art, which had realized the principle of modern times that consisted in self-justification of every subject, has set a requirement ‘to be modern’, which naturally gave rise to reflection about the fact what the modernity was. Subject infected both supporters and opponents of the avant-garde. But of course, not consensus could come, but there appeared tens and hundreds of the concept of "modernity" (the present).
However, by the mid-century, that controversy died down. but when critics, art historians, philosophers, economists, and sociologists wanted to capture and reflect the evolution of society and the spirit (that had occurred in the post-war period), then a problem of positioning themselves in relation to modernity of the early 20th century occurred. Thus, the term "postmodernism" (postmodernity) arose. The 60s and 70s were passing in the fierce debates: modern and postmodern investigated each other (Dahms, 1992, p. 473). The quintessence of this controversy was the dispute between the two famous sociologists: the French Jean-François Lyotard and the German Jürgen Habermas. Not without exaggeration, one can say that all the "world community" (meaning, of course, stakeholders) was divided into supporters of one or the other. Echoes of this debate can be heard now on the pages of the specialized magazines. Time itself is pushing for reflection on the theme of identity: Who are we? Where are we? Where are we going?


Basically, Habermas believes that the crisis of modernity is associated with the failure of the project grounds. The values ​​of the Enlightenment were the "reasons"; Habermas connects the "incompleteness" of the project with the ability to correct this link, its transformation into a "communicative reason" (Hiruta, 2014, pp. 90-91). One would suggest such scheme: the traditional society justified their way of life and thinking with super value, which was called "God". Renaissance softened the model and put forward a new foundation – ‘God and Me’. The modernity offered the world to live on the principle of "I, myself". Habermas proposes to adjust the project, based on the principle of "the others and I." That is, Habermas defends modern, considering this project as a very promising for society and humanity in general. He agrees that the project is "incomplete" and proposes a strategy for solving the crisis of modernity (Pippin, 1991, p. 329).
     However, Lyotard refers to all attempts to "complete" the project of modernity as a very skeptical one. He argues that attempts to complete the project of "modernity" is a transcendental illusion, which is fed by nostalgia for the whole and unified. But this illusion, as shown by the 20th century, is a payable terror. In the face of its theorists, people hear nothing more than a "hoarse voice of the desire to start a terror again, complete the fantasy, dream about to catch and bite the reality" (Schulz, 2007, p. 655).
The very center of Lyotard’ philosophy is the notion of multiplicity and the concept of irresistible plurality (Poster, 1992, p. 567). Lyotard’ special phenomenological understanding of time led him to the concept of irresistible plurality, which extends to the concept of "pure ethics of time." In the center (as in the theory of time by Husserl and Heidegger) stands the concept of "now." But it is especially important for Lyotard to emphasize the uniqueness of each ‘now’, which is a weak expression in the language in speaking, but is best expressed in silence. What does the expression "it happens", happens now, mean? People try to express the unique moment of "now" with the help of the Proposition events, but it comes up against its ineffability: what happens is already performed, and the thoughts are not able to cope with it. Time and space, according to Lyotard, are the essence of "form giving us what is being accomplished" (Woodward, 2011, p. 66), but consideration that accomplishes come always too early or too late to be grasped and expressed. A person has learned to "embody" time. For example, money is a sign of "the departed" time of the imprinted labor. But here one can talk only about the "abstract time", while the specific time accomplishes the inexpressible events.
Originally, a series of works devoted to postmodernism brought Lyotard his fame. He was referring to an "uprising" of contemporary philosophy, especially the French, against the "philosophy of modernity", i.e. a new-time European thought. The term "postmodern" according to Lyotard refers to the state of society after the end of "the era of the great narratives of modernity" (Rorty, R 1984, p. 39). Lyotard interprets the essence of the last as following: all the "little narratives" or "acts of discourse" were considered necessary to bring under the yoke of a single narrative, leading to homogeneity (Christianity, emancipation, socialism, technology, etc.). In contrast to this, Lyotard joins the destinations in the art and science of 20th century, which called into question the traditional model of unity and gave a fundamentally pluralistic understanding of reality. Lyotard argues that in the postmodern era any rules and principles, applying to universality, immutability, "total domination", are unacceptable (West, 2001, p. 33). When there is a claim of a single "narrative" to "total" dominance (whether it is a speculative "story" about self-construction knowledge or the emancipation of a person, their movement for freedom that was the claim ideology of the Enlightenment) – this case can result like another Auschwitz. How should end the dispute-postmodern rebellion against the dictates of modernity? Lyotard believes that this delimitation should be - as opposed to a legal dispute - neither winning nor losing side, because there cannot exist a universal human discourse. Each erected proposition of the dispute is justified insofar as it is not simply a statement but a committed event. But not a single proposition should qualify for the dominance. In contrast to Habermas, who insists on a democratic search for agreement or consensus, Lyotard puts forward the idea of ​​continuing disagreements, confrontations of viewpoints in any discourse. Lyotard insists that each of them has its own rules and its own rights, and any ‘common understanding’ cannot smooth the dispute.
On the one hand, the "modernity" is described as a transitional period, and as the period of completion of one era, no matter giant or short, and the beginning of another. All the controversy that surround the identification of contemporary concern dwell, in fact, on the fact that there are seen symptoms in the modern phenomenon (and all emit almost the same), which start and end as well as any other symptoms. But what opportunities they open and close?
This situation is typical of the collapse period of the "great synthesis", which have been described above. Actually, no one argues that it is the main sign of modernity, whatever it is called. Lyotard suggests that postmodern is the time, when a "war integrity", totality was declared, when no one believes in metanarrative, which combines the heterogeneous phenomena into a single logic. He sees a positive chance for humanity in celebration of pluralism. Habermas recognizes the integrity of the crash, but sees it as a problem than the "liberation" (Greig, 2004, pp. 220-222). And Habermas accuses defensively Lyotard in self-contradiction because Lyotard has a totality (as a theory) too. Without going into details of this discussion, one can note that the fact of "the collapse of integrity" is recognized by both, regardless of whether it is grasped as a positive or as a negative feature. But what, in fact, does the "integrity" mean?
Basically, both sociologists call it a "system" of Hegel, "grand synthesis", summing up the entire previous history of announcing its completed outline. In fact, the initial, vague, and undeniably rich interpretations made by the earlier thinkers at the beginning of human history, are now clarified and grasped in the absolute conception; their heuristic, interpretative potential is exhausted and ordered in the categories, which pass into each other dialectically. The practical and spiritual experience of humanity is summarized. Humanity has manifested itself; it showed its best and worst sides.
According to Jacques Derrida, any attempt to finalize a global project comparable to the vain desire to finish the "Tower of Babel" is a symbol of unattainable completeness of any of the constructs and structural order (Zimmer, 1998, p. 678). Thus, one can conclude that the polemics surrounding the change of socio-cultural and philosophical paradigms highlights the complexity and ambiguity of this process.
Unfortunately, nowadays, contemporary ideas exist not only in the minds of philosophers; and many real geopolitical events indicate that the approval of the postmodern way of thinking and acting is not right. When the developed countries tend to the world hegemony, imposing their rules not only economically, but also by force. It is too presumptuous to say that postmodernism is finally confirmed in the minds of men when the irreconcilable Islamist fundamentalism triumphs, denying any alternative; when the newly military budgets rise and the ethnic conflicts inflame (Bould, 2006, pp. 233-234).
As the practice shows, the attempts to subdue the socio-political reality of the same rules of the game never succeeds. The reality, whether it is the reality of the society or the nature, is opposed to any limitations imposed by it. It always throws off the shackles of alien regulations, and sooner or later, falls back into place (Arnason, 2003, pp. 441-444).
Originally, Habermas’ belonging to postmodernism is as skeptical as Lyotard’s belonging to modernism. Yet Habermas did not deny its importance to society. He believed that postmodernism was ambiguous, heterogeneous phenomenon with both positive and negative sides. Lyotard believed that the present state of postmodernism was a state of reflection, which aimed to identify the proportion between constructive and destructive trends and to identify ways to overcome all negative, which potentially contains postmodernism (Hummel, 2006, pp. 311-329).
Before positioning on the issue of the destructiveness of postmodernism, it is necessary to trace the legitimate perceived view of postmodern theory as a negative bearing confusion, frustration, powerlessness stating the reason and the lack of values. Lyotard argued that postmodernism had many destructive traits that should be mentioned, but at the same time, it was necessary to distinguish between its actual negative content of surface and superficial criticism (Jenkins, 2004, pp. 376-377).
In order to understand better some provisions, which cause a negative reaction in most cases in the postmodern exercise; one needs to delve into the history of philosophical thought and the heritage of Friedrich Nietzsche. His figure comes to the fore when one talks about the thinkers whose ideas have the most significant influence on the formation and development of the ideas conceptualized in philosophy of modernism and postmodernism. The German thinker, which had worked during the reign of modernist ideology, was surprisingly modern in the era of "post-modernity". Nietzsche's philosophical ideas needed almost a century to get a new sound because they were surprisingly timely. All the major problems of the post-modernists intersect somehow with the main provisions of Nietzsche's philosophy. Many of the founders of postmodern philosophy such as Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard, etc., observed a keen interest in the ideas of the German philosopher, who could be regarded as the first harbinger of post-modernity. Lyotard used some of the provisions of Nietzsche in a polemic with Habermas (Peters, 2006, pp. 310-311).
The ideology of the Mind was the beginning of culture in the modern era. But as it weakened, the Will rebelled from the depths of subjective life, which gradually replaced the Mind. This line runs from Nietzsche, and Lyotard continues it in the works related to the development of postmodernism. The world can be understood as chaos and eternal death from these positions, but it was not described from the viewpoint of the Filth. Entropy is generated by a pure will. To liberate an individual from the dictates of reason means to cut off the "telos" and release "arche". Arche, as an unordered set of irrational impulses, populates the entropy, creating new life worlds, which are carnivalized and released from power. Habermas argues that modernity as a project should be completed. He is trying to change the direction of thinking of modernity, to find a balance between faith and complete loss of faith. Habermas argues that if the postmodern worldview of humanity will be the main point, one should expect a total loss of humanity and the profanation of art, including social life. According to Habermas, postmodernism is characterized by aestheticization of violence, the emergence of thanatological cults, the emergence of ideological eclecticism, pornographic art, the struggle for the rights of the criminal and immoral intentions (Freed, 2013, p.87).
This paradigm will be approved by a number of "revolutions" and enter the sphere of values ​​in the scope of things. This intellectual revolution of Nietzsche, the sexual revolution in the United States and Europe, the student revolution of 1968, the anti-communist turmoil end of the century, a chain of color revolutions throughout the world. What is called postmodernism is a state of culture death that began in connection with the exhaustion of modernity (Papastephanou, 2014, pp. 688-690). The history of the crisis of modernity is generated by a falling of the West from the Absolute; it is a drift towards lower values. Lyotard disapproves of any attempt to "completion" of modernity. According to him, the modernity exhausted itself and the future belongs to the postmodern. Postmodernism is a natural phenomenon, which must follow a modernist. This is an evolutionary process in the culture of all humankind. Society creates reality and creates art on the basis of how it changed the laws and values. Lyotard does not imagine any manifestations of the today’s modernity (Raulet, 1984, p. 155).
Lyotard argues that there is no need for the "completion" of modernity because postmodernism, despite its unconventionality, is a strict and rational knowledge, having its basic principles, methods and approaches. Postmodernism cannot be reduced to the level of eclecticism, which is characterized by Lyotard as a zero degree of the universal culture of today (Bart, 2003, pp. 20-25).
However, attempts to return the old Art Nouveau privileges continue to be implemented in the modern philosophical thought. The most famous of the critics of postmodernism Jürgen Habermas believes that postmodernism is inappropriate due to the incomplete project of modernity. However, he admits that the latter, despite the inexhaustible until the end capabilities, yet is in a deep crisis, mainly due to the fact that it allowed a holistic perception of life split into a mutually independent representation of narrow groups of experts. Habermas believes that the situation can be corrected if there is a reconciliation between the different "language games", there is a need in unity or consensus (Heath, 2014, pp. 152-153).
Lyotard opposes the potential of postmodern towards modernity, as an already passed stage. He argues that the specificity of postmodern is that it goes to the highest point of complexity beyond which there is nothing. And if one cannot invent a greater complexity, one needs to strive for simplicity, that is, for the established values. Humanity cannot fend off all the achievements of civilization, the result of which became a totally confused world; but at the same time, it is necessary to regain a simple and clear system of values ​​(Dahms, 1992, pp.484-485). And just now, a postmodern thought in the new stage of development appeals to the leaving temptations of the total deconstruction, which were left in the past humanistic traditions of modernism. But there is no place for a universal ethics in the post-modern interpretation of humanism, because this ethics dictates a certain pattern of behavior. The emphasis lies on the general guarantees of immunity of the humanistic values ​​(Schulz, 2007, p. 656). Postmodernism has always eschewed the general ideas, but human values are not the general ideas. This is the specific value of each individual without which their own life loses its meaning. Postmodernism, rejecting the universals, cannot turn away from such universal human values ​​such as the right to a dignified, peaceful life, the freedom to express their thoughts and feelings, that is, ultimately, to choose their own destiny.
According to Habermas, it would be quite wrongly to reject the biblical commandments, which fed the spiritual culture of the European Middle Ages and modern times. People actually do not become free with having discarded faith and having forgotten God. (Jenkins, 2004, pp.377-379). Lyotard is convinced that such phenomena related to religion are legitimate due to the events of the last century.
In conclusion, this analysis of the controversy between Habermas and Lyotard suggests the fundamentalism of the discussed problems. The question of "incompleteness" of modernism as a project and the depreciation of the traditional forms of rationality in the modern world occupies the leading position among these problems. It is hard to argue about who is right and whose beliefs are more important for the development of philosophy and culture as a whole. Habermas’ statements are quite acceptable from the viewpoint of pragmatism and rationality. He offers quite right strategy in order to support the completion of modernity as a project, insisting on its importance in the cultural process not only of the European society, but also around the world. Lyotard asserts that modernity can never be considered a "complete project", as it has no logical end. Most of the work is aimed at the development of Lyotard's postmodern concept and to solve the problems that are associated with its aesthetics and strategy. Lyotard sees no prospects in the modern and rejects all Habermas’ attempts to return to what has already ceased to be relevant. All these questions remain open, and they are particularly relevant now, when there are global changes in science, culture, economy, politics, law, and philosophy. The last one is focused on understanding of the deep transformation processes taking place in the complex and uncertain world.


Arnason, JP 2003, Sociology, Critique and Modernity: Views Across the European Divide, Comparative Sociology, 2, 3.
Bart, V 2003, Lyotard, Intercultural Communication and the Quest for Real People, Language & Intercultural Communication, 3, 1.
Bould, M 2006, The Incomplete Projects: Marxism, Modernity and the Politics of Culture, Historical Materialism, 14, 4.
Dahms, HF 1992, Democracy and the Post-Enlightenment: Lyotard and Habermas Reappraised, International Journal Of Politics, Culture & Society, 5, 3.
Freed, MM 2013, Robert Musil and the techne of Rewriting Modernity, Germanic Review, 88, 1.
Greig, M 2004, Habermas and the Holy Grail of Reason: The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity between Theatre and Theory, Social Semiotics, 14, 2.
Heath, J 2014, Habermas: The Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, University Of Toronto Law Journal, 64, 1.
Hiruta, K 2014, Under Weber's Shadow: Modernity, Subjectivity and Politics in Habermas, Arendt and MacIntyre, Political Studies Review, 12, 1.
Hummel, RP 2006, "WE DO NOT NEED NO STINKING BADGES" - MODERNISTS VS. POST- MODERNISTS: KANT, FOUCAULT, WEBER, LOEWITH, ARENDT, Administrative Theory & Praxis (Administrative Theory & Praxis), 28, 3.
Jenkins, K 2004, Modernist Disavowals and Postmodern Reminders of the Condition of History Today: on Jean François Lyotard, Rethinking History, 8, 3.
Raulet, Gr 1984, From Modernity as One-Way Street To Postmodernity as Dead End, New German Critique, 33.
Rorty, R 1984, HABERMAS AND LYOTARD ON POST-MODERNITY, Praxis International, 4, 1.
Papastephanou, M 2014, From Consensus to Dissensus and Back Again: Habermas and Lyotard, European Legacy, 19, 6.
Peters, M 2006, Lyotard, nihilism and education, Studies In Philosophy & Education, 25, 4.
Pippin, RB 1991, Hegel, modernity, and Habermas, Monist, 74, 3.
Poster, M 1992, Postmodernity and the politics of multiculturalism: The Lyotard-Habermas debate over social theory, Modern Fiction Studies, 38, 3.
Schulz, RM 2007, Lyotard, Postmodernism and Science Education: A Rejoinder To Zembylas, Educational Philosophy & Theory, 39, 6.
Zimmer, L 1998, Jacques Et Francois: Derrida Vs. Voltaire, Virginia Quarterly Review 74.4.
Woodward, A 2011, Nihilism and the Sublime in Lyotard, Angelaki: Journal Of The Theoretical Humanities, 16, 2.

Cite this page
Choose cite format:
  • APA
  • MLA
  • Harvard
  • Vancouver
  • Chicago
  • ASA
  • IEEE
  • AMA
WePapers. (2021, March, 18) Modernity From The Viewpoint Of Lyotard And Habermas Essay Samples. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from
"Modernity From The Viewpoint Of Lyotard And Habermas Essay Samples." WePapers, 18 Mar. 2021, Accessed 29 November 2022.
WePapers. 2021. Modernity From The Viewpoint Of Lyotard And Habermas Essay Samples., viewed November 29 2022, <>
WePapers. Modernity From The Viewpoint Of Lyotard And Habermas Essay Samples. [Internet]. March 2021. [Accessed November 29, 2022]. Available from:
"Modernity From The Viewpoint Of Lyotard And Habermas Essay Samples." WePapers, Mar 18, 2021. Accessed November 29, 2022.
WePapers. 2021. "Modernity From The Viewpoint Of Lyotard And Habermas Essay Samples." Free Essay Examples - Retrieved November 29, 2022. (
"Modernity From The Viewpoint Of Lyotard And Habermas Essay Samples," Free Essay Examples -, 18-Mar-2021. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 29-Nov-2022].
Modernity From The Viewpoint Of Lyotard And Habermas Essay Samples. Free Essay Examples - Published Mar 18, 2021. Accessed November 29, 2022.

Share with friends using:

Related Premium Essays
Contact us
Chat now