Original Articles

Habermas, History and Social Evolution: Moral Learning and the Trial of Louis XVI

Alan R. How a1
a1 Department of Sociology, University College Worcester, Henwick Grove, Worcester, WR2 6AJ; e-mail:


In recent times, under the influence of postmodernist thought sociology has largely rejected the idea of social evolution. An exception to this trend is to be found in the work of Jürgen Habermas. Habermas's account of social evolution has received some critical attention, but in sociology wider detail of the picture is not well known. Habermas wishes to hold to the possibility that evolutionary progress can be discerned not only in the sphere of technical control, but also in the sphere of social and moral development. The paper presents Habermas's views on social evoluton within the wider context of his development of critical theory as a ‘reconstructive science’. It suggests that his account has been able to resist many of the standard criticisms of evolutionary theory and that a renewal of interest in this area could provide a rich vein of new sociological knowledge.

Key Words: critical theory; Habermas; reconstructive science; social evolution.