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Coronavirus: Former MI6 boss says theory COVID-19 came from Wuhan lab must not be dismissed as conspiracy – Yahoo News UK
A former British spy chief says he wants a more open debate on the origin of the coronavirus pandemic and warns against dismissing as conspiracy the idea that it might have come from a laboratory.
Sir Richard Dearlove doubled down on his belief the virus that causes COVID-19 was engineered and escaped by accident from a lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the first victims were identified.
His opinion contrasts with a prevailing view among scientific experts as well as the US and British intelligence communities that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was not man-made.
The intervention comes as a team of scientists from the World Health Organisation (WHO) prepares to fly to China this week to investigate the origin of a disease that has killed more than half a million people globally.
"I subscribe to the theory that it's an engineered escapee from the Wuhan Institute (of Virology)," said Sir Richard, who served as head of the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, between 1999 and 2004.
"I am not saying anything other than it was the result of an accident and that the virus is the consequence of gain-of-function experiments that were being conducted in Wuhan, which I don't think are particularly sinister."
Sir Richard was referring to a type of scientific research that can be carried out to modify viruses.
"There is an accumulation of evidence that this is something that has to be openly discussed in the scientific community," the former spy chief said.
"If we are going to have an inquiry in the UK - which I'm sure will happen - about the pandemic and government policy, it will have to start with the science. Where did this virus actually come from?"
But the widely held view among scientists is that the novel coronavirus most likely occurred naturally.
They believe it probably passed from an animal - the prime suspect is a bat - to a human, possibly via an intermediary species, but without any genetic engineering or man-made modifications.
"There is no doubt that this was a natural event," said Dr Rachael Tarlinton, an associate professor of veterinary virology at the University of Nottingham.
"The artificial release theories seem to be a form of 'magical thinking' - a simplistic solution to a complex problem where if someone can be blamed then that someone can be removed and the problem go away," she said in an email exchange.
"Unfortunately real life just doesn't work this way - manipulating viruses in the lab to change their pathogenicity is actually quite difficult and unpredictable and any group that had the ability to work on something like this would be well aware of how hard this is," she said.
"We knew spillover from animals was a risk The virus may have passed through an intermediate species on its way into the human population from bats but we may never know which animal this was - candidates include pangolins and small carnivores like palm civets or mongooses. Unfortunately we can't go back in time and start monitoring from before the outbreak so we only have very patchy samples to try and work this out from."
This lack of a clear evidence trail is viewed with suspicion by some.
So too is the fact that the virus was so well adapted to transmitting among people and throughout different parts of the body from the moment it was first identified late last year.
The existence in Wuhan of two laboratories that have conducted research into coronaviruses in bats is also seen by those supportive of the lab theory to be more than just a coincidence.
A top official at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which has drawn the most suspicion, has said there is "no way the virus came from us".
Yuan Zhiming, a vice director at the institute, was quoted by a Chinese state broadcaster in April as saying: "We have a strict regulatory regimen. We have a code of conduct for research so we are confident of that.
"Why are there rumours?" he asked. "Because the Institute of Virology [is] in Wuhan people can't help but make associations, which I think is understandable. But it is bad when some are deliberately trying to mislead people. This is entirely based on speculation."
He also denied that the virus was man-made.
With COVID-19 responsible for so much death and economic damage, the mystery about its origin has become a highly-political topic as well as a scientific one.
It has added fuel to already heated hostilities between the United States and China.
US President Donald Trump, who blames Beijing for the pandemic, claimed in April that he had seen evidence it had come from a laboratory.
The US intelligence community took the unusual step of releasing a statement to say it concurred with the consensus view that the disease was not man-made, but spies are investigating whether the virus might have been held in a laboratory and leaked accidentally.
It's understood that Britain's intelligence and security services don't believe the theory that the virus was manufactured.
Sir Richard said: "I am just staggered. They clearly haven't read the science. And they haven't attempted to understand it. The onus is now on the leadership of China to explain why the theory and the hypothesis that it could be engineered is wrong."
Sir Richard first spoke about his coronavirus theory in The Daily Telegraph last month.
He told Sky News his thinking has been shaped in part by the work of a British clinical scientist called Professor Angus Dalgleish and Birger Sorensen, chairman of Norwegian company Immunor, which is seeking to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
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The two men have published a paper offering an alternative theory on a vaccine for coronavirus.
They have written other related coronavirus papers, including one that explores their belief it is more likely the virus was manipulated in a laboratory than occurring naturally.
This research has yet to be accepted by a journal for publication.
The pair said they wanted to challenge work on the origin of COVID-19 published in the scientific journal Nature Medicine in March, which ruled out lab-meddling.
"I thought the whole point of a scientific journal was that you put forward some speculation and you opened it up to debate," said Professor Dalgleish, who is a professor of oncology at the Institute for Infection and Immunity at St George's University London. He is also principal of the Institute for Cancer Vaccines and Immunotherapy.
"Disagree all you want - that's how you get to the right answers."
He and Mr Sorensen say they have gone against the scientific consensus before with their research on treatment for HIV.
"We maintained a very good friendship and working relationship," the British clinician said, explaining how they came to collaborate on COVID-19. He also holds stock options in Mr Sorensen's vaccine company.
Sir Richard challenged Nature to publish the two men's paper on the origin of the virus.
Sky News understands that it was submitted but not accepted.
Magdalena Skipper, editor in chief of Nature, said she was not permitted to discuss individual papers and whether or not they had been received or turned down.
However, as an editor and previously a researcher, she said it was crucial to keep an open mind when it comes to science and to engage in discussion.
"But in the end if one doesn't see many publications in favour of a certain theory, one has to conclude that that's because there isn't robust evidence in favour of that theory. Rather than seeking alternative explanations for that. Because after all it is that focus on the evidence in support of a theory which is the focus of research and how conclusions are made," she said.
Professor Kristian Andersen at the department of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research, a medical research facility in California, was lead author on the March paper that argued the new coronavirus evolved naturally and not from a laboratory.
He defended his work and attacked the vaccine paper by Mr Sorensen and Professor Dalgleish, describing it as "complete nonsense, unintelligible, and not even remotely scientific - leading the authors to make unfounded and unsupported conclusions about the origin of SARS-CoV-2".
In an emailed statement, sent by a colleague, Professor Andersen added: "As we describe in our paper, all the data strongly suggest that this is a natural virus - no scientific data has been put forward suggesting otherwise, including in the present 'study'."
Mr Sorensen defended his approach.
"What nonsense? He is nonsense. He has no support. He says [originating from a laboratory] cannot happen. Of course this can happen," he said.
Sky News has spoken to four other scientists who believe that the lab theory should not be ruled out, though they did not say it was more likely than a natural explanation.
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Professor Richard Ebright of the Waksman Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers University in New Jersey was dismissive of the Dalgleish-Sorensen paper but he took issue with Professor Andersen's piece in Nature too, describing it as opinion.
"The op-ed's conclusion that SARS-CoV-2 genome shows no signatures of purposeful human manipulation is correct," he said in an email exchange.
"The absence of signatures rules out the possibility the virus was engineered using methods that leave signatures. However, the absence of signatures of manipulation does not rule out the possibility the virus was engineered using widely employed - including at WIV - methods that do not leave signatures. The op-ed does not even address the possibility that an unpublished WIV bat coronavirus could be the progenitor of SARS-CoV-2."
He pushed back on condemning those who consider a lab leak as conspiracy theorists.
"By definition, an accident cannot be a 'conspiracy'," he said.
"Persons who use term 'conspiracy theory' to describe possibility of accidental release reveal themselves to be unable to read, unable to reason, or uninterested in truth."
He signalled that the only way to reach the truth would be through an independent, forensic investigation, which would require access to places like the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
In Australia, Professor Nikolai Petrovsky at Flinders University is also keeping an open mind.
He said normally a virus that jumps from an animal takes time to become good at infecting a human.
"Whereas what appears to have happened with COVID-19 is from day one it was perfectly adapted to infect humans and to transmit between humans which is why it's been such a big problem," he said.
"So then you have to ask: well, how did that happen?
"One possibility of course is that it was just a massive fluke... The other possibility that you have to consider in terms of where its origins may come from is: Has this virus seen human cells before in a situation we simply weren't aware of? And so one of those situations would be if the virus had been growing in human cells in the laboratory."
He too was concerned about scientific research that supports the lab theory not being published.
"It's always fraught with difficulty when you have a scientific question that runs up against a political issue," Professor Petrovsky said. "I think that COVID-19 and its origins is one of those areas where unfortunately we have enormous amount of politics overlaid over the science. And so it gets harder to get to the truth in that context."
Madison researchers have developed a safer and more efficient way to deliver a promising new method for treating cancer and liver disorders and for vaccination including a COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna Therapeutics that has advanced to clinical trials with humans.
The technology relies on inserting into cells pieces of carefully designed messenger RNA (mRNA), a strip of genetic material that human cells typically transcribe from a persons DNA in order to make useful proteins and go about their business. Problems delivering mRNA safely and intact without running afoul of the immune system have held back mRNA-based therapy, but UWMadison researchers are making tiny balls of minerals that appear to do the trick in mice.
These microparticles have pores on their surface that are on the nanometer scale that allow them to pick up and carry molecules like proteins or messenger RNA, saysWilliam Murphy, a UWMadison professor of biomedical engineering and orthopedics. They mimic something commonly seen in archaeology, when we find intact protein or DNA on a bone sample or an eggshell from thousands of years ago. The mineral components helped to stabilize those molecules for all that time.
Murphy and UWMadison collaborators used the mineral-coated microparticles (MCMs) which are 5 to 10 micrometers in diameter, about the size of a human cell in a series of experiments to deliver mRNA to cells surrounding wounds in diabetic mice. Wounds healed faster in MCM-treated mice, and cells in related experiments showed much more efficient pickup of the mRNA molecules than other delivery methods.
The researchers described their findings today in the journal Science Advances.In a healthy cell, DNA is transcribed into mRNA, and mRNA serves as the instructions the cells machinery uses to make proteins. A strip of mRNA created in a lab can be substituted into the process to tell a cell to make something new. If that something is a certain kind of antigen, a molecule that alerts the immune system to the presence of a potentially harmful virus, the mRNA has done the job of a vaccine.
The UWMadison researchers coded mRNA with instructions directing cell ribosomes to pump out a growth factor, a protein that prompts healing processes that are otherwise slow to unfold or nonexistent in the diabetic mice (and many severely diabetic people).
mRNA is short-lived in the body, though, so to deliver enough to cells typically means administering large and frequent doses in which the mRNA strands are carried by containers made of molecules called cationic polymers.
Oftentimes the cationic component is toxic. The more mRNA you deliver, the more therapeutic effect you get, but the more likely it is that youre going to see toxic effect, too. So, its a trade-off, Murphy says. What we found is when we deliver from the MCMs, we dont see that toxicity. And because MCM delivery protects the mRNA from degrading, you can get more mRNA where you want it while mitigating the toxic effects.
The new study also paired mRNA with an immune-system-inhibiting protein, to make sure the target cells didnt pick the mRNA out as a foreign object and destroy or eject it.
Successful mRNA delivery usually keeps a cell working on new instructions for about 24 hours, and the molecules they produce disperse throughout the body. Thats enough for vaccines and the antigens they produce. To keep lengthy processes like growing replacement tissue to heal skin or organs, the proteins or growth factors produced by the cells need to hang around for much longer.
What weve seen with the MCMs is, once the cells take up the mRNA and start making protein, that protein will bind right back within the MCM particle, Murphy says. Then it gets released over the course of weeks. Were basically taking something that would normally last maybe hours or even a day, and were making it last for a long time.
And because the MCMs are large enough that they dont enter the bloodstream and float away, they stay right where they are needed to keep releasing helpful therapy. In the mice, that therapeutic activity kept going for more than 20 days.
They are made of minerals similar to tooth enamel and bone, but designed to be reabsorbed by the body when theyre not useful anymore, says Murphy, whose work is supported by the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation and a donation from UWMadison alums Michael and Mary Sue Shannon.
We can control their lifespan by adjusting the way theyre made, so they dissolve harmlessly when we want.
The technology behind the microparticles was patented with the help of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and is licensed to Dianomi Therapeutics, a company Murphy co-founded.
The researchers are now working on growing bone and cartilage and repairing spinal cord injuries with mRNA delivered by MCMs.
Reference: Khalil et al. (2020).Single-dose mRNA therapy via biomaterial-mediated sequestration of overexpressed proteins. Science Advances.DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba2422.
This article has been republished from the following materials. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.
Genome Editing Market to Exhibit Rapid Surge in Consumption in the COVID-19 Crisis 2025 – 3rd Watch News
[98 pages report] This market research report includes a detailed segmentation of the global genome editing market by technology (CRISPR, TALEN, ZFN, and Others), by application (Cell Line Engineering, Genetic Engineering, and Others), By end-user (Research Institutes, Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Companies, and Contract Research Organizations), by regions (North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, and Rest of the World).
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Overview of the Global Genome Editing Market
Infoholics market research report predicts that the Global Genome Editing Market will grow at a CAGR of 14.4% during the forecast period. The market has witnessed steady growth in the past few years with the development in technology and the introduction of highly sensitive, robust, and reliable systems in the market. The market is fueled due to increase in genetic disorders, increasing investment and funds, and technological advancements in genome editing.
The market continues to grow and is one of the increasingly accepted market in many countries worldwide. Vendors are focusing towards obtaining funds and collaborating with universities to enlarge their research and development capabilities. The majority of the revenue is generated from the leading players in the market with dominating sales of ThermoFisher Scientific, GenScript Corp., Sangamo Therapeutics, Lonza Group, and Horizon Discovery Group plc.
According to Infoholic Research analysis, North America accounted for the largest share of the global genome editing market in 2018. US dominates the market with majority of genome editing companies being located in this region. However, China has not been too far behind and has great government support for the research in genome editing field.
Genome Editing Market by Technology:
In 2018, the CRISPR segment occupied the largest share due to specific, effective, and cost-effective nature of the technology. Many companies are focusing on providing genome editing services. For instance, in January 2019, Horizon Discovery extended CRISPR screening service to primary human T cells.
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Genome Editing Market by Applications:
In 2018, the cell line engineering accounted the maximum share followed by genetic engineering. Increase in the number of people suffering with genetic disorders has driven the growth of the genome editing market.
Genome Editing Market by End Users:
In 2018, the biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies gained the highest market share for genome editing market due to increased pervasiveness of cancer and infectious diseases are driving research goings-on in biotechnology & pharmaceutical companies segment.
Genome Editing Market by Regions:
The market is dominated by North America, followed by Asia Pacific and Europe. The major share of the North America market is from the US due to quick adoption of new and advanced technologies.
Genome Editing Market Research Competitive Analysis The market is extremely fragmented with several smaller companies struggling for market share. Big pharmaceutical establishments have also united with venture capitalists to provide funding to the start-ups. In 2015, Bayer financed $335 million and in the very same year, Celgene combined with Abingworth invested $64 million in CRISPR Therapeutics. The NIH recently granted 21 somatic cell genome editing grants of almost $86 million over the next half a decade. These endowments are the foremost to be granted through the Somatic Cell Genome Editing (SCGE) program that was initiated in January 2018 with NIH Common Fund.
The companies are collaborating and licensing to increase their capabilities in the market. CRISPR, TALEN, ZFN, Meganuclease, ARCUS, and RTDS are some of the key technology areas concentrated by key players in the market. Since 2015, the deals on the CRISPR technology has drastically increased.
Key competitive facts
Benefits The report provides complete details about the usage and adoption rate of genome editing market. Thus, the key stakeholders can know about the major trends, drivers, investments, vertical players initiatives, and government initiatives towards the healthcare segment in the upcoming years along with details of the pureplay companies entering the market. Moreover, the report provides details about the major challenges that are going to impact the market growth. Additionally, the report gives complete details about the key business opportunities to key stakeholders in order to expand their business and capture the revenue in specific verticals, and to analyze before investing or expanding the business in this market.
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Scientists working at the Central Institute in Kawasaki and Japans Keio University have created monkeys with advanced brains. The study also involved genetics of the max Planck Society and German experts from the Institute of molecular cell biology.
The main feature of the human brain is the neocortex increased. We are talking about areas of the main organ of the CNS that are longer than those of other mammals, including monkeys. Scientists through genetic engineering techniques created the monkeys, which the brain became closer to the human. Because of ethnic barriers the scientists did not allow the monkeys to be born, because 50 days prior to the proposed birth interrupted the experiment.
The experts felt that a mandatory from an ethical point of view, you need to first determine the degree of influence of the new gene on the overall process of fetal development. The increase in brain size was achieved due to the fact that in the genome was added ARHGAP11B. This element is responsible for the enhanced process, the generation of stem cells. The gene is unique, because it has only human.
As scientists assume, ARHGAP11B appeared about five million years ago in the results of mutations. Then came the Neanderthals.
Read this article:
Scientists have created monkeys with improved brain - The Times Hub
Peers are preparing plans to legalise the gene-editing of crops in England, a move that scientists say would offer the nation a chance to develop and grow hardier, more nutritious varieties. The legislation would also open the door to gene-editing of animals.
The change will be proposed when the current Agriculture Bill reaches its committee stages in the House of Lords next month, and is supported by a wide number of peers who believe such a move is long overdue. At present, the practice is highly restricted by EU regulations.
The plan would involve introducing an amendment to the bill to give the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs the power to make changes to the Environmental Protection Act, alterations that would no longer restrict gene-editing in England. The rest of the UK would need separate legislation.
Gene-editing of plants and animals is controlled by the same strict European laws that govern genetically modified (GM) organisms. However, scientists say gene-editing is cheaper, faster, simpler, safer and more precise than GM technology.
As they point out, GM technology involves the transfer of entire genes or groups of genes from one species to another while the more recently developed techniques of gene-editing merely involve making slight changes to existing genes in a plant or animal and are considered to be just as safe as traditional plant breeding techniques.
Early benefits for UK agriculture could include gluten-free wheat, disease-resistant sugar beet and potatoes that are even healthier than those that we have now, said plant scientist Professor David Baulcombe of Cambridge University.
This enthusiasm is also shared by peers who have argued that the wide use of gene editing of crops could give the nation a key advantage in agriculture and in the food industry after Brexit.
Peers have argued gene editing could give the nation a key advantage after Brexit
I would like [to send] a clear message in this bill that we will move forward to allow gene editing in our research programmes, said Lord Cameron during last weeks reading of the bill. This is a way of speeding up the natural methods of farm breeding to ensure that we can improve the environmental and nutritional outcomes of feeding our ever-expanding human population.
And there was clear evidence that the government would also be sympathetic to such a move. On gene editing, the government agrees that the EU approach is unscientific, said Lord Gardiner, who was responding for the government.
By freeing gene-editing from the expensive restrictions imposed by the EU on the growing of GM plants it will also be possible for small and medium-sized enterprises to set up new projects, say supporters.
At present only major corporations can pay the costs of the rigorous trials required when growing GM plants. We are looking for a brighter, greener, more innovative future, and this bill helps farmers produce that, said Conservative peer Lord Dobbs last week.
Frontispiece to the 1772 edition of the Encyclopdie by Diderot and d'Alembert. At the center, crowned Reason attempts to remove the veil from Truth. Image: Wikimedia Commons
In a sweeping new history of Western philosophy,Jrgen Habermas narrates the progress of humanity through the unfolding of public reason. Missing from that story are the systems of violence and dispossession whose legacies are all too visible today.
Auch eine Geschichte der Philosophie (This Too a History of Philosophy)Vol. 1, Die okzidentale Konstellation von Glauben und Wissen (The Occidental Constellation of Faith and Knowledge)Vol. 2, Vernnftige Freiheit. Spuren des Diskurses ber Glauben und Wissen (Rational Liberty: Traces of the Discourse on Faith and Knowledge)Jrgen HabermasSuhrkamp Verlag, 98 (cloth)
No one in the world feels the weakness of general characterizing more than I. So lamented Johann Gottfried von Herder, towering figure of the German Enlightenment, in his 1774 treatise This Too a Philosophy of History for the Formation of Humanity. One draws together peoples and periods of time that follow one another in an eternal succession like waves of the sea, Herder wrote. Whom has one painted? Whom has the depicting word captured? For Herder, the Enlightenment dream of grasping human history as a seamless whole came up against the irreducible particularity of individuals and cultures.
At a time of crisis, Habermas suggests that humanity already possesses the resources for levelheaded debate oriented toward the common good.
The German philosopher and social theorist Jrgen Habermas, among the most influential thinkers of our time, grapples with much the same problem in his new work, the title of which reverses the order of Herders terms: This Too a History of Philosophy. Published in German last September, Habermass History spans over 3,000 years and 1,700 pages. It marks the apogee of a singular career. Like his eighteenth-century precursor, Habermas seeks a thoroughgoing reconceptualization of the sweep of human history. Philosophical problems, he writes, are distinctive from merely scientific ones in their synthetic force. For Habermas, the fragmentation of modern life has hardly exhausted philosophys capacity for bold questions and architectonic structure.
To be sure, the work pays homage to the legacy of postmodern critique. Wary of Herders pitfalls of general characterizing, Habermas eschews airy speculation for dense textual reconstruction. But this history of philosophy, no less than Enlightenment philosophies of history, is driven by a teleological intent, a principle that threads through historys seeming randomness and contingency. For Herder, that principle was humanitys formation (Bildung), a foundational concept of the German Enlightenment linking the moral development of the individual with the progress of civilization. For Habermas, it is instead a collective learning process (Lernprozess). History, in Habermass telling, is the story of humanitys learning, a record of problems solved and challenges overcome. New knowledge about the objective world alongside social crises, he explains, create cognitive dissonances. These dissonances propel societies to adopt novel modes of understanding and interaction.
The vehicle of Habermass learning process is language: the source of human rationality, the storehouse of humanitys accumulated knowledge, and the medium by which that knowledge can be challenged and improved. Here too Habermas plays variations on an Enlightenment theme. But there is a catch. Although immersed in the give and take of rational argument, Habermass protagonists develop metaphysical systems that obscure their own intersubjective meaning-making. For Habermas, only with the rise of modern, postmetaphysical thinking does philosophy become conscious of the learning process itself.
Tracing a continuous learning process across three millennia of Western philosophy, This Too a History of Philosophy is a masterpiece of erudition and synthesis. Habermass command of the philosophical canon astounds, and even experts will find fresh insight in his searching portraits. At the same time, his narrative of humanitys rational development invites us to pose Herders challenge anew: Whom has Habermass History captured? Most urgent is the questionraised, but not resolvedof how the learning process traversed by the West interacts with wider histories of the modern world.
Born in 1929 into Western Germanys Protestant middle class, Habermas is contemporary Europes most prominent philosopher and public intellectual. Over a prodigious career stretching nearly seven decades, he has set out a system linking epistemology, linguistics, sociology, politics, religion, and law. His philosophical texts have appeared in over forty languages. But more than that, Habermas has distinguished himself as a staunch advocate of the intellectuals public role. His exchanges with interlocutors from John Rawls to Michel Foucault have generated debate across the humanities, and his political interventions have shaped controversies on themes from historical memory to European unification to genetic engineering.
Habermass ninetieth birthday last year initiated spirited discussions of his lifes work. His lecture marking the occasion at the University of Frankfurt drew a crowd of over 3,000 listeners, while the appearance of the eight-hundred-page Cambridge Habermas Lexicon set the stage for the next phase of his reception in English. More controversially, a polemic by the political philosopher Raymond Geuss challenged the very foundations of Habermass thought and sparked a contentious exchange among scholars of critical theory. Habermas turns ninety-one today, remaining no less active and continuing to inspire and provoke.
Democracy, for Habermas, is a system where uncoerced communication triumphs over naked power, where rational argument among equal citizens forms the basis of political legitimacy.
An overarching project connects Habermass philosophical writing with his public advocacy and helps to account for his global reach: the elaboration of what he terms a theory of communicative rationality. When we address ourselves to another human being through language, Habermas argues, we assume the possibility of mutual intelligibility and rational persuasion. In an ideal speech situation, where no coercion is present save the unforced force of the better argument, dialogue would foster consensus based on rational agreement. Habermas recognizes that most communication is far from this ideal. Yet he insists that the ideal remains the prerequisite even for ordinary speech, and contains the seedbed of radical democracy. Democracy, for Habermas, is a system where uncoerced communication triumphs over naked power, where rational argument among equal citizens forms the basis of political legitimacy.
Habermass project emerged from the traumas of postwar Germany. Fifteen-years-old at the time of the Nazi collapse, Habermas had narrowly escaped military conscription and listened, horrified, to radio broadcasts of the Nuremberg trials. Determined to uncover where German history had gone so wrong, and whether German culture possessed resources for the countrys reconstruction, the Gymnasium student abandoned a planned career in medicine to pursue philosophy. In what has become a set piece of his biography, it was the 1953 republication of a Nazi-era tract by the philosopher Martin Heidegger, extolling the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism, that led the young Habermas to reject the reigning existentialism and cultural despair. He would instead find his academic home at the University of Frankfurt, among the returned German-Jewish exiles Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. Their reconstituted Institute for Social Research served as a haven for critical debate amidst postwar West Germanys hidebound academic culture.
Yet even as he quickly gained recognition as the leader of the Frankfurt Schools second generation, Habermas diverged from his predecessors. Whereas Horkheimer and Adornos Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947) tracked the decay of Western rationalism into a self-destructive instrumental reason, Habermas sought out a mode of rationality that escaped a narrow means-ends logic. This he would locate in intersubjective communication. Habermass habilitation thesis and the book that made his name, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962), foreshadowed the centrality of communication for his lifes work. Embedding philosophical argument in historical sociology, Habermas traced the rise of a bourgeois public sphere in the coffee houses and print culture of eighteenth-century Europe. The new domain of reasoned deliberation, between the official institutions of politics and the private sphere of the family, challenged ruling authorities and fomented the spread of republican ideas. Although Structural Transformation concluded by charting the decline of the public sphere in modern mass mediaa pervasive concern in todays talk of disinformation and fake newsthe work announced its authors lifelong identification with the unfinished project of Enlightenment.
If Structural Transformation made Habermas a rising star, it was his 1981 magnum opus, The Theory of Communicative Action, that established him as a premier philosopher of the twentieth century. Theory bore the fruits of two decades of intellectual exploration, including a stint as director of the Max Planck Institute in Starnberg, Bavaria, and an ambitious program of reading across classical sociology, systems theory, ordinary language philosophy, and American pragmatism. The book marshaled all of these influences to uncover the rational foundations of communication as a path toward reenergizing democracy. The modern system of economy and bureaucracy, Habermas concluded, must be subjected to rigorous oversight by the lifeworld, the spaces of society and culture where free communication can flourish. While accepting the structures of the capitalist welfare state, Habermas warned against the colonization of the lifeworld by private interests. He would return to this theme over subsequent political writings.
When we address ourselves to another human being through language, Habermas argues, we assume the possibility of mutual intelligibility and rational persuasion. He recognizes that most communication is far from this ideal.
This Too a History of Philosophy marks the culmination of a third stage of Habermass career, one in which questions of faith and religion have assumed increasing prominence. Habermass earlier work hinged on a theory of secularization. Whatever ones private convictions, the public sphere depended on the exchange of validity claims accessible to all citizens; appeals to faith had to be checked at the door. Yet in an address one month after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Habermas characterized contemporary Western democracies as postsecular societies. The public sphere, he now argued, should accommodate religious diversity and permit the participation of religious citizens. Habermas went further in a 2005 essay that followed a public discussion with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI). Not only should religious and secular citizens have equal access to the public sphere, but the latter can be reasonably expected not to exclude the possibility that [religious] contributions may have cognitive substance.
For some of Habermass secular-minded interlocutors, these apparent concessions to religion betrayed the rational promise of critical social theory. Yet as with so much in Habermas, what seems an about-face reflects a deepening of earlier concerns. My own research on Protestant intellectual networks in early postwar Germany uncovered evidence of Habermass participation in Christian-Marxist working groups during the early 1960s. And since the 1980s, Habermas has engaged in philosophical exchanges with prominent Christian theologians, most notably his Catholic contemporary Johann Baptist Metz. Habermass recent writings build upon his longstanding view that religious citizens can contribute moral insight to the public sphereand that they did so in a democratizing Germany. As Europe absorbs new waves of Muslim immigrants, Habermas has sought to combat xenophobic discourses of cultural difference, while fostering democratic deliberation across religious divides.
But more provocative convictions drive Habermass writings on religion as well. Notwithstanding his advocacy for a religiously plural public sphere, Habermas has remained emphatic about the foundational role of Western Christianity. Already in The Theory of Communicative Action, he drew on the classical sociologist Max Weber to trace the rise of modern purposive rationality out of the Protestant idea of vocation. More recently, Habermas has distanced himself from claims of Weberian disenchantment to suggest that the process of secularization remains incomplete. Universalistic egalitarianism, he stated in a 2002 interview, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love . . . Up to this very day there is no alternative to it. Drawing a dubious contrast between the two monotheistic religions, Habermas articulated what would become the core of his intellectual program. The Wests Judeo-Christian heritage was not a passing phase in the emergence of modern thought and politics, but contributedand perhaps still contributesits essential core.
This Too a History of Philosophy is the realization of Habermass claim on a grand scale. At its most basic, the work provides a historical survey linking Habermass longstanding theory of communication with his more recent argument for the preeminence of Judeo-Christianity. The central thesis is expansive but straightforward. Communicative rationality as well as constitutional democracy emerged out of a three-thousand-year dialogue between the two poles of Western thought: faith and knowledge. Through a protracted history of intellectual debate and social transformation, the moral universalism at the core of Christianityhaving evolved out of its Jewish precursorwas subsumed into modern, postmetaphysical thinking. Habermass account of secularization departs from what the philosopher Charles Taylor has termed the subtraction story, by which irrational beliefs are stripped away with the forward march of science. Instead, Habermas reconstructs the interactions of Christian faith and worldly knowledge as a process not of conflict, but of mutual learning and translation.
Habermass learning process is rooted in the very nature of Homo sapiens as a linguistic being. Drawing on the research of the developmental psychologist Michael Tomasello, he begins with a sharp distinction between human and animal cognition. Other primates, Habermas explains, communicate to indicate objects in their own environments. But the unique social complexity of human life, manifested in the monogamous family and paleolithic hunt, catalyzed a distinctive ability to communicate intersubjectively about a shared objective world. This unique form of language allowed human beings to formulate collective solutions to common problems. Humanitys social and cultural learning could thereby outpace its biological evolution.
The Wests Judeo-Christian heritage was not a passing phase in the emergence of modern thought and politics, Habermas argues, but contributedand perhaps still contributesits essential core.
Habermas proceeds to narrate the early development of human societies along a hierarchy of communicative forms. Ritual served as the primordial medium of symbolic communication, bridging the individual and the collective. Habermas locates a shift to myth in the Near Eastern high cultures of the third millennium B.C.E., characterized by written language, scientific advancement, and political hierarchy. But the crucial transformation came in the Axial Age of Moses, Buddha, Confucius, and Platoa term Habermas borrows from the philosopher Karl Jaspers. Whereas myth collapsed god and man into one another, the Axial worldviews accomplished the seminal distinction between sacred and profane, eternal and temporal. In Judaisms omniscient God, Buddhisms doctrine of reincarnation, and Platos Forms, Habermas locates the foundations for the transcendental perspective of both objective science and universal morality.
Jaspers developed the concept of the Axial Age, Habermas notes, to overcome the Eurocentric narrowing of view to the Western path of cultural development. But Habermass own study takes a sharp turn toward the West. It is the particular history of Western Christianity, he argues, that leads from the nascent universalism of the Axial Age to modern postmetaphysical reason and constitutional democracy. Eastern religions became amalgamated to state power or declined in competition with new sciences. Judaism remained too bound to its sacral language and text to interact productively with its surroundings. But the unique circumstances of early Christianitys confrontation with Greek philosophy and Roman state power catalyzed a process of mutual learning. The cross-pollination of faith and knowledge found an early apex in Augustines fourth-century synthesis of Christianity and Platonism. And at the same time that Augustine introduced philosophy to the Church, Western Christianitys Roman-inspired legal system brought the Church into the realm of power politics.
Traversing the church-state conflicts of medieval Europe, Habermas arrives at thirteenth-century Italy as a new turning point: a site at which the earliest forms of proto-capitalism inaugurated the functional differentiation of modern society. Thomas Aquinas, the central thinker of the period, departed from Augustines Christian-Platonist synthesis to establish theology and philosophy as separate disciplines. Reason and faith now offered firmly independent paths toward salvation. Though Aquinas remained a monarchist, his formulation of natural law, implanted by God in human reason, opened the door to nascent democratic theories. With unprecedented criticisms of the pope, Aquinass late medieval successors theorized law as a limit on both church and state power. They prefigured an age when law would become an object of contestation among citizens.
Yet ironically, perhaps reflective of Webers ongoing influence, it is the political reactionary Martin Luther who is accorded pride of place in Habermass narrative of secularization. Luthers attack on ecclesiastical authority, Habermas argues, not only exacerbated the cleft of church and state, but located faith in the intersubjective exchange between the human being and God. Protestant hermeneutics, in which every believer became an interpreter of Scripture, foreshadowed a communicative rationality in which authority is accorded to the most convincing argument.
Habermas reconstructs the interactions of Christian faith and worldly knowledge as a process not of conflict, but of mutual learning and translation.
At the same time, Luthers attempt to secure faith from the incursions of worldly authority set up its own undoing. The Reformation, in addition to the scientific and political revolutions of the seventeenth century, tore apart the Augustinian and Thomist syntheses of ontology (what is there?) with practical philosophy (what should I do?). The secularization of state power, epitomized in the English constitutional revolution, eroded the Christian foundations of political order; the determinism of Newtonian laws threatened to undermine human free will, the kernel of Christian morality. The question of legitimacy emerged as the Achilles heel of modern thought.
David Hume and Immanuel Kant are the eighteenth-century thinkers who, for Habermas, articulated the paradigm-shifting responses to this problem. Seventeenth-century philosophers could reconcile faith and knowledge only at the expense of inconsistent foundations: consider Thomas Hobbess argument for religiously based monarchy despite his avowed atheism and John Lockes return to divinely ordained natural law. Only in Hume and Kant was the breakthrough to postmetaphysical thinking achieved. Hume disaggregated human subjectivity into a succession of sense-impressions, dissolving Christian metaphysics. But Kant emerges as the hero of Habermass narrative, the figure who reconstructed the rational core of Christianity in the wake of Humes withering critique. Kants categorical imperative, which called on individuals to posit their actions as the basis for a universal law, established a universal morality on purely rational grounds.
Habermas presents the history of post-Kantian philosophy as a short path toward his own theory of communicative action. The key challenge was to ground the concept of rational libertywhich Kant defined as the subjects obedience to a self-willed lawin an account of society. G. F. W. Hegel, building on Herders turn to history and culture, identified reason with an objective Spirit unfolding through time. Yet if Hegel took a step forward beyond Kants isolated subject, his valorization of state-imposed morality (Sittlichkeit) was a step back to Christian monarchism. Only Hegels leftwing successors of the 1830s developed a social theory of language to mediate between subject and object. The Young Hegelian Ludwig Feuerbach located the potential for human freedom not in a transcendent God but in everyday social relations, constituted through language.
For Habermas, modern constitutions create the institutional framework for a participatory public sphere, the heart of democratic life. Citizens are bound only by the force of the better argument and can reach agreement across cultural divides.
Habermas titles his last chapter The Contemporaneity of the Young Hegelians, underscoring an enduring shift in the locus of reason from subjective consciousness to intersubjective communication. He dismisses Karl Marxs critique of ideology, which situated the theorist over the heads of the participants themselves. Instead, Habermas regards Charles Sanders Peirce, the founder of American pragmatism, as the true successor to the Young Hegelians. Peirce developed Feuerbachs philosophy of language into a full-fledged theory of knowledge. For Peirce, scientific knowledge obtained solely in intersubjective understandings. Language was the essential medium coordinating between the external world and the research of the scientific community.
Habermas, finally, draws a line to his own writings. Whereas Peirce uncovered linguistic learning processes in science and technology, Habermass own work since the 1980s has shown how communication fosters progress in moral and political life as well. Habermas elects not to engage the late twentieth-century debates that surrounded his corpus. That, he writes, would have required at least one more book. But this decision only contributes to the air of inevitability surrounding This Too a History of Philosophy. Habermass theory of communicative rationality emerges as the outcome of, and explanation for, the trajectory he has traced since the Axial Age. The learning process, it would seem, culminates in its own self-awarenessrealized in Habermass oeuvre.
This brief summary can hardly do justice to the staggering array of texts and debates that Habermas explores. The architecture of the work is ingenious, if its teleology does not fully convince. Most pressing, however, Habermas intends his History not only as a historical exercise, but as a record of the ideas that have furnished the political foundations of the modern West. The work invites readers to consider the resonancesand contradictionsbetween philosophy and politics.
Habermas himself, as in his previous works, sees a close alignment of the two. The normative implications he draws will not surprise veteran readers. A detranscendentalized concept of rational libertythe result of the three-thousand-year dialogue of faith and knowledgeforms the key to a universalist rational morality that makes possible the discursive resolution of moral conflicts, even with a multiplicity of heterogeneous voices. In turn, the historical traces of those moral-practical learning processes traced over his study are deposited in the practices and legal guarantees of democratic constitutional states. In short, modern constitutions create the institutional framework for a participatory public sphere, the heart of democratic life. Here, citizens are bound only by the force of the better argument and can reach agreement across cultural divides.
A tension persists between Habermass political ideals and his historical framework. His storys European origin collides with its universal intent.
It is an appealing vision. At a time when a global pandemic has only exacerbated spiraling inequalities, pervasive racism, and xenophobic insurgencies on both sides of the Atlantic, Habermas suggests that humanity already possesses the resources for levelheaded debate oriented toward the common good. Yet a tension persists between Habermass political ideals and his historical framework. The gap is not so much one of theory and practice, which Habermas readily acknowledges. Instead, his storys European origin collides with its universal intent. Habermas insists that postmetaphysical reasonbecause it refuses to take refuge in foundational certaintiesprovides a basis for the inter-cultural dialogue necessary to confront global crises of climate change, mass migration, and unregulated markets. But by tracing the emergence of modern rationality solely to a Western, and Christian, learning process, he elides the historical reckoning necessary for any such dialogue.
The same problem faced Habermass Enlightenment precursors, who equally saw Europe as the source of universal ideals. Yet philosophical histories of the German Enlightenment also recognized the role of power in history, and the violence that saturated Europes interactions with the non-European world. Kants 1784 essay Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose, which informs Habermass argument for a global public sphere, predicted the achievement of world peace through the improvement in the political constitutions of our continent (which will probably legislate eventually for all other continents). Herder more directly confronted the nexus of European global domination and colonial violence, and suggested that history would have its revenge. Europe must give compensation for the debts that it has incurred, make good the crimes that it has committednot from choice but according to the very nature of things.
Even Hegels history of Absolute Spirit, the most bluntly Eurocentric teleology of classical German Idealism, attests to counter-narratives that shook the self-certainties of revolutionary Europe. As the political theorist Susan Buck-Morss has pointed out, the Haitian Revolution of 17911804, the slave uprising that overthrew French rule over the Caribbean island, may well have motivated Hegels early account of freedom. Though Hegel would later become an apologist for slavery, his dialectical theory of history modeled how political ideals emerge out of struggle, not only consensus. At the same time that Idealist philosophies of history enacted colonialist apologetics, they could also, if inadvertently, subvert them.
This Too a History of Philosophy, by contrast, devotes limited attention to the contradictions of European slavery and colonialism, as well as their problematic treatment by contemporaries. Habermas instead frames colonial encounters as moments in the learning process, way stations on the path toward moral universalism. He addresses the conquest of the Americas only to conclude that Francisco de Vitoria, the sixteenth-century Scholastic who defended the property rights of indigenous peoples, exemplified the universal reach of Catholic natural law. A long section on Lockes theory of natural rights omits their use to justify colonial expropriations.
Haiti, too, is absent from Habermass History, as is the centuries-long, intra-Christian debate over the legitimacy of slavery. Instead, Habermas tells a more straightforward story. The abolition of slavery, he argues, is a popular and really striking example of moral learning:
While the slaves always should have been understood as persons who were denied the social status of free people, the masters first had to learn to recognize and acknowledge in the Other the same person that they were in themselves.
But this description is misleading. It elides not only slaverys enduring legacies, but the histories of resistance, civil war, and violent backlash that paved the twisted road to emancipation. And these histories can hardly be decoupled from the emergence of human rights. Habermas takes the enactment of democratic constitutions to mark the historical embodiment of reason, but the North Atlantic constitutions of the Age of Revolution continued to authorize slavery at the same time that they expanded the rights of privileged groups.
Habermas proceeds similarly through nineteenth- and twentieth-century social reform, passing over the contested, politicized, and still ongoing struggles by which marginalized groups claimed legal rights. Like the abolition of slavery, Habermas regards the authorization of religious tolerance, freedom of opinion, [and] sexual equality, increasingly also the recognition of sexual freedom as the results of moral learning processes. Such learning occurs when
relevant parts of the population discover new connections to other people, toward whom until then they had felt little or only weak obligation . . . allowing them to understand that even these strangers are in no relevant manner different from themselves.
Habermas does not further specify who stands on each side of these learning processes, the active bestowers of rights and the receptive strangers. The implication, however, is that extensions of rights tend to proceed from the moral learning of societys dominant groups.
Habermass account of Western moral progress not only stands apart from classics of critical theory like Horkheimer and Adornos Dialectic of Enlightenment. It is also, arguably, in tension with his own earlier work on the public sphere. In an essay for Habermass ninetieth birthday, the philosopher Mara Pa Lara underscores how Habermass concept of publicity provides tools for feminists and other excluded groups to challenge power structures and demand recognition as political subjects. Yet stories of excluded groups and individuals who inserted themselves into the public sphereand the canon of Western philosophyare all but absent from This Too a History of Philosophy. For its many twists and turns, the history Habermas tells is linear and aggregative, the unfolding of an immanent logic. Rarely do we learn of realizations that were unjustly discarded, knowledge suppressed, experiments failed. In the learning process, it would seem, little is forgotten.
Habermas might object that such a critique misses the point. Painful histories of slavery and colonialism are not at issue, since Western political thought has still come to hold the abolition of racism (or sexism, religious discrimination, or homophobia) as a normative ideal to orient action. And to challenge Habermass conception of the learning process might appear to forfeit the Enlightenment promise of the rational improvement of the human condition.
By tracing the emergence of modern rationality solely to a Western, and Christian, learning process, he elides the historical reckoning necessary for inter-cultural dialogue.
To raise questions of historical accuracy, however, is not to reject Habermass ideals. His goalsconstitutional democracy buttressed by a robust public sphere, equal rights realized in both law and practice, and international cooperation around global problemsremain critically important, even as their attainment appears ever more remote. But a history oriented toward the realization of these ideals would require fuller examination of the contexts under which they were formed and contested. To narrow the genesis of moral universalism to a Western, Christian learning process limits our understanding of how political change happened in the past. Transforming the contingent into the inexorable, such a narrative constricts social theorys thinking of possible futures.
Habermas draws to a close with a reference to Theodor Adornos late essay, Reason and Revelation. Reflecting upon on the modern revival of irrational faiths, Adorno concluded that a return to religion could not be sustained. Nothing of theological content will persist without being transformed, Adorno pronounced. Every content will have to put itself to the test of migrating into the realm of the secular, the profane.
Adorno wrote these words in homage to his friend and interlocutor Walter Benjamin, who committed suicide in 1940 fleeing Nazi persecution at the French-Spanish border. Its inclusion is a fitting tribute to Adorno, Habermass teacher and the thinker who articulated the crisis of modern civilization to which Habermass career has responded. And Habermas answers Adorno in a manner fitting of Benjamin, whose late writings perceived the glimmer of messianic hope peering through histories of suffering:
So long as religious experience can still support, on the basis of ritual praxis, the presence of a strong transcendence . . . the question remains open for secular reason whether there are uncompensated semantic contents that still await a translation into the profane.
Religion, Habermas suggests, might retain a sacral core that resists secularization.
Yet Habermass concluding reflection is also jarring, underscoring his departure from the Frankfurt Schools first generation. For Adorno and Benjamin, the experience of brute suffering, epitomized in their own time with the rise of National Socialism, revealed the falsehood of progressive teleologies of human reason. Habermas, by contrast, alludes only once to the historical conditions of his predecessors thought, at the end of a long introduction. Regression, he notes, remains the constant shadow of progress:
What we experienced in the twentieth century as a true break in civilization is anything other than a relapse into barbarism, but the absolutely new, and from now on always present possibility of the moral collapse of an entire nation.
Habermas goes on to concede that unreason in history will be a neglected theme in what is to follow. The Nazi period does not reappear.
Set in the context of German history, an implicit premise of Habermass work may well be that the Federal Republic of Germanys democratic transformation, what Habermas earlier termed its unconditional opening toward the West, vindicates the long arc of the learning process. The unreason that preoccupied his forebears, Habermas seems to suggest, should not blind us to the Wests historical achievements. Habermas has been rightly lauded for seeking a way forward beyond his precursors totalizing critique of reason. His own public contributions proved vital to fostering democratic culture in postwar Germany. But Habermass History avoids linking the emergence of Western-cum-universal rationality with systems of violence and dispossession whose legacies are all too visible todayand that also shaped the history of philosophy.
The unreason that preoccupied his forebears, Habermas seems to suggest, should not blind us to the Wests historical achievements.
Still, by any measure, This Too a History of Philosophy is a landmark achievement. The text caps a generative intellectual career, clarifying how Habermas understands the historical and conceptual foundations of his lifelong project. Most significantly, the work will inspire the next cohort of critical theorists to confront anew the problem of philosophys historical ground. Challenges to democracy and struggles for justice in our own moment may belie the conviction that public reason is the sole heritage of the West, or the apex of its historical progress. But thinking with and against Habermas offers powerful tools for reconsidering the place of communicative action in social theory's project of emancipation. Returning to history as a critical lens on the discourse of philosophy, rather than the canvas of its rational development, offers one path forward.
Authors Note: The author would like to thank Liat Spiro for many conversations about the questions treated in this essay.