The Proceedings of the Twenty-First World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 2, 2006

Social and Political Philosophy

Hsin-I Liu
Pages 119-124

The Impossibility of the Public
Habermas's Socio-Philosophical Analysis of the "Mass Public Sphere"

This paper critically evaluates Habermas's social-philosophical exploration of the public sphere in the age of mass communication, which addresses a key question: "Is the public possible in the sociohistorical formation of the mass public sphere?" In his genealogical analysis of different public spheres from feudal to modern times, Habermas indicates that the emergence of inter-subjectivity is historically based upon the dichotomy of private / public (subjective/objective). He emphasizes the opposition of the "subjective side" of rationality to its "objective side" while dealing with the public spheres in different historical periods. Habermas points out that the notion of the public can exist only at the face-to-face level communication. It is impossible for the (impersonal) masses to construct any sense of publicness, since there are no historical and social conditions in which the masses of working class can establish an "autonomous private sphere" outside of material production and consumption, as the bourgeoisie did. In this way, Habermas ambivalently argues that the public is not possible in the mass public sphere.