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The Idea of a Critical Theory: Habermas and…

The Idea of a Critical Theory: Habermas and the Frankfurt School

by Raymond Geuss

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Habermas and earlier members of the Frankfurt School have presented critical theory as a radically new form of knowledge. It is differentiated from the natural sciences as essentially 'reflective': the knowledge it provides guides us towards enlightenment as to our true interests, and emancipation from often unsuspected forms of external and internal coercion. Its first paradigms are in the writings of Marx and Freud. In this book Raymond Geuss sets out these fundamental claims and asks whether they can be made good. Is a science which does not simply describe and explain social phenomena, but also criticizes? The concept of ideology plays a crucial role in this discussion. Geuss carefully analyses it here, its relation to our beliefs and interests, and the account of truth and confirmation required by its critique and the concomitant goal of self-knowledge. The book does not presuppose acquaintance with the works of the Frankfurt School and can serve as a lucid introduction to their central, distinctive theses. But in its scrupulous and incisive consideration of these, and the modified support for them that emerges, it will also interest experts on critical theory and others concerned with the methods and purposes of the social sciences in general.… (more)



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Certainly, this is not an introduction to the Frankfurt School, although some seem to believe as much. It should be read alongside Horkheimer's essay, 'Traditional and Critical Theory,' Habermas' essay 'Between Philosophy and Science: Marxism as Critique,' and Adorno's 'Why Still Philosophy?'
Like those essays, this book is programmatic: what *would* a critical theory do? And is it possible? So there is not a lot in here about the actual substance of any given critical theory. Nothing much about 'communicative rationality,' not much about 'negative dialectics,' not much about the 'one-dimensional society.' Rather, this book tries to explain what those projects are meant to achieve.
Given this aim, Geuss succeeds admirably. The book is clear and precise. It doesn't have that kick of rebellion that you can find in Zizek or Badiou's popular works, or the slightly mystifying air of Adorno's worst work, or the hipness of Marcuse's. Some people will say this is a bad thing, and criticize Geuss for putting these ideas in clear, precise prose. Each to their own. But if you want to understand what all that rebellion and mystification and hipness is actually about, you could do worse than begin here.
The one downside is that the focus here is on individuals, which is necessary for analytical ethical philosophy. 'Society,' which is really the object of critique, doesn't get much of a look in. This is a shame, but on the other hand, the book mainly deals with Habermas, and he too uses this language. It's also odd that Geuss prefers Adorno's project, but focuses on Habermas. I guess the latter's just easier to write about. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
You've heard the term 'critical theory' and wondered how the Frankfurt School and Jurgen Habermas are part of neo-Marxism. ( )
  vegetarian | Oct 5, 2011 |
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