Freedom of Communicative Action

83 Pages Posted: 24 May 2008

See all articles by Lawrence B. Solum

Lawrence B. Solum

University of Virginia School of Law


The thesis of "Freedom of Communicative Action" is that Jurgen Habermas's theory of communicative action illuminated the deep structure of the First Amendment freedom of speech. Haberams's theory takes speech act theory as its point of departure. Communicative action coordinates indivudal behavior through rational understanding. Communicative action is distinguished from strategic action--the use of communication to manipulate, deceive, or coerce.

Part I offers an introduction. Part II outlines a hermeneutic approach to interpretation of the First Amendent. Part III explores and criticizes existing theories of the freedom of speech. Part IV explicates Habermas's theory of communicative action. Part V developes a theory of the freedom of expression based on Habermas's theory of communication. Part VI applies that theory to particular problems in free speech doctrine. Part VII draws some conclusions about the implications of this exercise for the development of doctrine and the theory of communicative action.

"Freedom of Communicative Action" was published in 1989, and some of the views expressed in the article are no longer affirmed by the author.

Keywords: constitution, constitutional theory, constitutional interpretation, hermeneutics, speech act, Gadamer, Habermas, communicative action, communication, first amendment, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, free speech

Suggested Citation

Solum, Lawrence B., Freedom of Communicative Action. Northwestern University Law Review, Vol. 83, Nos. 1 & 2, pp. 54-135, 1989, Illinois Public Law Research Paper No. 08-06, Available at SSRN:

Lawrence B. Solum (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

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