Transcendence in Postmetaphysical Thinking. Habermas' God




Habermas, Postmetaphysical Thinking, Transcendence, Ethical truth, Institutionalized Authority


Habermas emphasizes the importance for critical thinking of ideas of truth and moral validity that are at once context-transcending and immanent to human practices. in a recent review, Peter Dews queries his distinction between metaphysically construed transcendence and transcendence from within, asking provocatively in what sense Habermas does not believe in God. I answer that his conception of “God” is resolutely postmetaphysical, a god that is constructed by way of human linguistic practices. I then give three reasons for why it should not be embraced by contemporary critical social theory. First, in the domain of practical reason, this conception of transcendence excludes by fiat any “Other” to communicative reason, blocking possibilities for mutual learning. Second, due to the same exclusion, it risks reproducing an undesirable social order. Third, it is inadequate for the purposes of a critical theory of social institutions. 

Author Biography

Maeve Cooke, University College Dublin

School of Philosophy

Full Professor


Boltanski, Luc. 2011. On Critique. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Cooke, Maeve. 1994. Language and Reason: A Study of Habermas’s Pragmatics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

—. 2007. “Salvaging and Secularizing the Semantic Contents of Religion: The Limitations of Habermas’s Postmetaphysical Proposal”. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 60, no. 1–3: 187–207. doi:10.1007/s11153–006–0006–5.

—. 2013. “Violating Neutrality? Religious Validity Claims and Democratic Legitimacy”. In Habermas and Religion, edited by Craig Calhoun, Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan VanAntwerpen, 249–76. Cambridge: Polity Press.

—. 2016. “Contingency and Objectivity in Critical Social Theory: Horkheimer and Habermas”. In Facts and Values: The Ethics and Metaethics of Normativity, edited by Giancarlo Marchetti and Sarin Marchetti, 60–79. London: Routledge.

—. 2016. “The Limits of Learning: Habermas’s Social Theory and Religion”. European Journal of Philosophy 24, no. 3: 694–711.

—. 2019. “A Pluralist Model of Democracy”. In What is Pluralism? The Question of Pluralism in Politics, edited by V. Kaul and I. Salvatore. New York, NY: Routledge.

—. 2019. “Discourse Ethics”. In The Routledge Companion to the Frankfurt School, edited by Peter E. Gordon, Espen Hammer and Axel Honneth, 65–81. New York, NY: Routledge.

Dews, Peter. 1995. “The Paradigm Shift in Communication and the Question of Subjectivity: Reflections on Habermas, Lacan and Mead”. Revue Internationale de Philosophie 49, no. 194 (4).

—. 2017. “Review of: Jürgen Habermas, Postmetaphysical Thinking II. Translation by Ciaran Cronin”. Last modified November 10, 2017.

Habermas, Jürgen. 1973. “Wahrheitstheorien”. In Wirklichkeit und Reflexion: Walter Schulz zum 60. Geburtstag, edited by Helmut Fahrenbach, 211–66. Pfüllingen.

—. 1987. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

—. 1990. Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

—. 1991. Texte und Kontexte. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.

—. 1992. Postmetaphysical Thinking. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

—. 1993. Justification and Application: Remarks on Discourse Ethics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

—. 1996. Between Facts and Norms. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

—. 1996. “Modernity: An Unfinished Project”. In Habermas and the Unfinished Project of Modernity: Critical Essays on The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, edited by Maurizio Passerin d’Entrèves and Seyla Benhabib, 38–58. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

—. 2003. The Future of Human Nature. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press.

—. 2003. Truth and Justification. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.

—. 2008. Between Naturalism and Religion. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

—. 2017. Postmetaphysical Thinking ll. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Horkheimer, Max. 1972. Critical Theory. New York, NY: Continuum.

—. 1978. “On the Problem of Truth”. In The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, edited by Eike Gebhardt and Andrew Arato, 407–43. New York, NY: Urizen Books.

Jaeggi, Rahel. 2009. “Was ist eine (gute) Institution?”. In Sozialphilosophie und Kritik, edited by Rainer Forst et al., 528–44. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.



How to Cite

Cooke, Maeve. 2019. “Transcendence in Postmetaphysical Thinking. Habermas’ God”. European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 11 (4):21-44.



Special Issue - Habermas on Religion