Ideals and Illusions
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Ideals and Illusions

On Reconstruction and Deconstruction in Contemporary Critical Theory

By Thomas McCarthy





These lucid and closely reasoned studies of the thought of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jürgen Habermas, and Richard Rorty provide a coherent analysis of major pathways in recent critical theory. They defend a position analogous to Kant's - that ideas of reason are both unavoidable presuppositions of thought that have to be carefully reconstructed and persistent sources of illusions that have to be repeatedly deconstructed.McCarthy examines the critique of impure reason from the complementary viewpoints of the attackers and defenders of Enlightenment rationality. He first analyzes the work of Rorty, Foucault, and Derrida to determine what these radical critics have contributed to our understanding of reason and where they have gone wrong. He explores Habermas's theory of communicative rationality, focusing on the attempt to go beyond hermeneutics, the incorporation of systems theory, the implications of discourse ethics for our understanding of political debate and collective decision making, and the relation of political theology to critical social theory.

The analysis and assessment of Habermas's recent work in Ideals and Illusions serves as a sequel to his earlier study The Critical Theory of Jürgen Habermas.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262132688 264 pp. | 9 in x 6 in


$25.00 X ISBN: 9780262631457 264 pp. | 9 in x 6 in


  • The discussions... are a model of clarity and relevance. Indeed, this book is an instant must on reading lists devoted to any of the four major contemporary thinkers. In each case, the exposition of a difficult thinker is handled with great skill, and the criticisms advanced get to the very heart of what is problematic in their work.

    Charles Taylor



  • It is refreshing to read an account of the quarrels between modernists and postmodernists that is at once lucid and focused on substantive issues... With a firm grasp of the principal issues at stake, McCarthy ably forges a format for a reconstructive philosophy that is sufficiently open-textured to appropriate some of the more durable contributions from each of the warring camps.

    Calvin O. Schrag

    Critical Review