Methodological and Political Pluralism

Democracy, Pragmatism, and Critical Theory

Authored by: James Bohman

Routledge International Handbook of Contemporary Social and Political Theory

Print publication date:  March  2011
Online publication date:  March  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415548250
eBook ISBN: 9780203875575
Adobe ISBN: 9781135997946


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Although myriad in its forms, “critical theory” (or more generally critical social inquiry) has a distinctive purpose and overall structure. Critical social theorists generally aim at constructing social theories that link explanation and criticism and thus have both normative and explanatory features. Furthermore, such theories must also be “practical.” “Practical” here does not simply mean useful; nor does it mean that critical theories are connected to practice generally, but rather to a particular purpose. As Horkheimer put it, such theories seek “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them” (Horkheimer 1982: 244). The philosophical problem of critical social inquiry is to identify precisely those features of its distinctive explanations that give them their distinctive normative character in underwriting social criticism. A closer examination of paradigmatic works of critical social science from Marx's Capital to the Frankfurt School's Studies in Authority and the Family and Habermas's Theory of Communicative Action does not reveal any distinctive form of explanation or special methodology that provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for such inquiry. Rather, the best such works employ a variety of methods and styles of explanation and are often cooperative and interdisciplinary in their mode of research (Horkheimer 1993). What then makes them works of critical social science?

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