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New Definition of Public. The Concept of Public Between Enlightenment, German Idealism and Modernity

Basic Info

  • Original Title

    Nova definicija javnosti. Koncept javnosti med razsvetljenstvom, nemškim idealizmom in sodobnostjo

  • Co-Researchers

    Rado Riha, PhD, Alenka Zupančič Žerdin, PhD
  • Project Duration

    1 July 2011–30 June 2014
  • Leading Partner

    Faculty of Arts, University in Ljubljana

  • Project Manager

    Slavoj Žižek, PhD


One of the problems of today’s world is the fact that the link between the private and the public sphere became immediate and lost all the critical connotations it once had had. The private discourse is thoroughly absorbed within the public discourse, and the public sphere is understood only as a place of application of private narratives. The skeleton plan of the proposed project consists in disconnecting the link between the private and the public discourse using critical tools, hence, in offering a definition of public as an exertion of emancipation from precisely that private sphere, within which, according to Habermas, the public once emerged as a concept.
The goal of the research is establishing a new definition of public for the present time, following an analysis of transformation of the concept of public from Enlightenment to the 21st century.
We will perform the analysis of the public from three different, mutually supplementing viewpoints:
(1) From the viewpoint of knowledge, where the research will be dedicated to techniques and processes needed for a scientific information, theory, or a paradigm, to become a public property and a common good. It is our view that this is not only a question of practicality, seeing that in the modern information society all forms of knowledge are always-already public, since they emerge within public institutions, on universities, institutes, in museums, inside various research groups, etc. In the era of Enlightenment one can perceive a slow, yet persistent turn away from private research, motivated by personal interest of the scientist, publishing his achievements, to broader and more systematic projects and investigations that request collaboration between experts both within a specialized field as well as within an interdisciplinary domain. This public nature of knowledge calls for reflection, since new media which, causing an information overload, nowadays accessible via the internet (and no longer only in the libraries), demand new skills of searching, sorting, classifying, differentiating, and, after all, reading as well.
(2) From the viewpoint of subject, a key element to every theory of public. We will proceed from the dilemma between Kantian and Hegelian conceptualization of the subject. According to Kant, the path leading from a private person, a proprietor, over the public space, held as reasoning in front of the reading public, and all the way to the world-justice and cosmopolitan society, is a linear, continuous one. Kant’s ideal is a permanent substitution of politics with morality, the abolishment of politics. Hegel however offers a conceptual scheme, in which one can perceive a break between a private and a public person, attributing to each a different type of subjectivity. For this reason, Hegel regards politics as irreducible non-exchangeable with morality. Following Hegel, the research will try to show that the identity of a public subject is »selective« and »reductive«, as a direct opposition to post-modern ethical thought
(3) From the viewpoint of so called »essentially public« speech acts. The research will rethink the structure of the public subject as a subject of speech acts, outlining a rudimentary speech act situation only: a speaker as posed in front of the hearer, and the truth value, as derived from this setting. The research goals go as follows: definition, classification, and determination of all irreducibly public speech acts, that is, speech acts whose truth value depends on them being uttered publicly. We will offer a description of the speech act situation not bound by the symmetry of consensus, but by an essential asymmetry of the speaker and the hearer. The instance of verification will thus be transferred from the position of the speaker to the position of the hearer.
With the triad knowledge – subject – speech we will try to identify the coordinates of the public space as necessary to the constitution of information society.