Critical Social Theory

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Critical Social Theory. “[O]ur age is … the age of enlightenment, and to criticism everything must submit” Kant, Critique of Pure Reason. What is critical theory?.
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Critical Social Theory “[O]ur age is … the age of enlightenment, and to criticism everything must submit” Kant, Critique of Pure Reason What is critical theory?
  • The term is most closely associated with a multi-disciplinary group of historians, philosophers, and political scientists known as the ‘Frankfurt School’
  • The researchers were affiliated with the Institut für Sozialforschung (Institute for Social Research) in Frankfurt, established in 1923.
  • The group disbanded when the Nazis came in power in 1933, but was re-started in New York by Horkheimer and Adorno in the 40s as the New School of Social Research.
  • What is critical theory?
  • Members include:
  • Max Horkheimer (1895-1973), sociologist and social psychologist
  • Theodore Adorno (1903-1969), philosoper and musicologist
  • Herbert Marcuse (1893-1970), philosopher
  • Erich Fromm (1900-1980), psychoanalyst
  • Federick Pollock, economist
  • What is critical theory?
  • Influences:
  • German Idealist tradition, a ‘critical’ philosophy initiated by Immanuel Kant in the 18th Century—Kant’s ‘critical’ philosophy examined the conditions for the possibility of knowledge and ethics (from the perspective of individual knowers/actors)
  • Marx’s historical and social approach, specifically Marx’s ideology critique. (Note: members of the Frankfurt School are not orthodox Marxists!)
  • What is critical theory?
  • In their interventions, members of the Frankfurt School tried to show that the proper use of ‘reason’ can lead to emancipation.
  • The root of this ambition can be traced back to the Enlightenment thinkers (including Kant and Marx) with their emphasis on freedom and autonomy
  • Kant (1724-1804) wrote the Critique of Pure Reason in response to the challenge set by Hume’s empiricist philosophy Kant and the conditions for the possibility of knowledge Empiricism: all concepts and justification of our beliefs are derived from sense experience Hume (1711-1776) distinguishes between two kinds of propositions: Relations of ideas Matters of fact Hume’s challenge Relations of Ideas
  • Consider: ‘Bachelors are unmarried adult males’
  • What is the subject in this example? The predicate?
  • Does the predicate contain any new information that is not in the subject?
  • Matters of fact
  • Consider: ‘Fredericton is the capital of New Brunswick’
  • ‘Wong is a left-footed, myopic philosopher without a lot of hair’
  • Do the predicates in these propositions contain new information that is not contained in the subject?
  • How do we know propositions that are relations of ideas to be true? The negation of this kind of proposition yields a contradiction: ‘Bachelors are not unmarried adult males’ How do we know propositions that are matters of fact to be true? These propositions can be shown to be true/false with sense experience Relations of ideas vs. Matters of fact Relations of ideas vs. matters of fact be true?
  • ‘Hume’s fork’: there are only two kinds of reasoning dealing with our ideas—abstract reasoning involving relations of ideas (= ‘analytic’) and experimental reasoning concerning matters of fact (= ‘synthetic’).
  • If an argument does not utilize either type of reasoning then, for Hume, the argument is merely ‘sophistry and illusion’
  • Hume’s challenge: be true?
  • Remember that matters of fact are known through experience
  • How do we know that ‘the sun will rise in the east tomorrow’ or ‘the billiard ball will not move the next time you strike it with your pool cue ’?
  • Is there a contradiction in denying that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow?
  • Hume’s challenge: be true?
  • How do we know that the ball will move when struck with the pool cue?
  • Cause and effect
  • But what is a ‘cause’ for an empiricist?
  • Constant conjunction of event A followed by event B
  • Hume’s challenge be true?
  • Implications of the constant conjunction analysis of ‘cause’:
  • There is no necessary connection between event A and event B; the conjunction between the two events may not hold in the future
  • Hume’s challenge is that the conclusion of an inductive argument about future experience can always be false regardless of the number of observations we have made.
  • Hume’s challenge be true?
  • Our inferences beyond past and present experience depends on the assumption that the future resembles the past, or the uniformity of nature.
  • How do we know that the future resembles the past?
  • Will we be committing a contradiction if we were to say the future will not resemble the past?
  • Hume’s challenge be true?
  • It is important to note that Hume does not deny that we use inductive reasoning.
  • For Hume, we are so psychologically constituted that we will continue to use induction
  • His point is that we cannot offer a rational, i.e. philosophical, justification for induction.
  • Answering Hume: synthetic a priori be true?
  • Kant: perhaps Hume is wrong and that there are truths about the world that can known a priori
  • First, what does ‘a priori’ mean?
  • ‘a priori’ is usuallycontrasted with ‘a posteriori’ both make reference to how we come to know
  • ‘a priori’ = independent of experience
  • ‘a posteriori’ = by sense experience
  • Kant’s response: synthetic a priori be true? Synthetic be true?a priori
  • Synthetic a priori propositions represent the conditions of the possibility of knowledge of the phenomenal world, i.e. of things as they appear to us.
  • For Kant, we have no knowledge of the world of things in themselves (nouemenal world).
  • Question: how is the critical inquiry into the conditions of the possibility of knowledge an expression of freedom.
  • Categorical Imperative be true?
  • Kant also held that the proper use of reason we can discover universal laws of human conduct
  • Version 1 (Formula of Universal Law): “Act only on that maxim whereby [I can also] will that it should become a universal law.”
  • Version 2 (Formula of Humanity): “Act as to treat humanity, whether in [your] own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end … never as a means only.”
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