Sunday, March 25, 2012

Capitalism for Dumb Liberals !!!

The Present Situation of Social Philosophy and the Tasks of an Institute for Social Research

Although social philosophy may be at the center of the broader interest in philosophy, its status is no better than that of most contemporary philosophical or fundamental intellectual efforts. No substantive conceptual configuration of social philosophy could assert a claim to general validity. In light of the current intellectual situation, in which traditional disciplinary boundaries have been called into question and will remain unclear for the foreseeable future, it does not appear timely to attempt to delineate conclusively the various areas of research. Nonetheless, the general conceptions that one connects with social philosophy can be put concisely. Its ultimate aim is the philosophical interpretation of the vicissitudes of human fate – the fate of humans not as mere individuals, however, but as members of a community. It is thus above all concerned with phenomena that can only be understood in the context of human social life: with the state, law, economy, religion – in short, with the entire material and intellectual culture of humanity. Understood in this way, social philosophy grew into a decisive philosophical task in the course of the development of classical German idealism. The most compelling aspects of the Hegelian system are the supreme achievements of that type of social philosophy. This is not to say that philosophy before Hegel had not been concerned with matters of social philosophy; to the contrary, Kant’s major works contain philosophical theories concerning the knowledge of law, of art, and of religion. But this social philosophy was rooted in the philosophy of the isolated subject [Einzelpersonlichkeit]; those spheres of being were understood as projections [Entw├╝rfe] of the autonomous person. Kant made the closed unity of the rational subject into the exclusive source of the constitutive principles of each cultural sphere; the essence and the organization of culture were to be made comprehensible solely on the basis of the dynamics of the individual, the fundamental modes of activity of the spontaneous ego. Even if the autonomous subject could hardly be equated with the empirical individual in Kant’s philosophy, one was nonetheless supposed to be able to investigate all possible culturally creative factors in the mind of each individual rational being. Overarching structures of being which could only belong to a supraindividual whole, which could only be discovered in the social totality, and to which we must subordinate ourselves, do not exist in this conception. To assert their existence would be considered dogmatic, and action oriented to them would be considered heteronomous. In the Metaphysical Principles of Virtue, Kant writes of the moral subject that a person “is subject to no laws other than those that it gives to itself (either alone or at least together with others).”

Critical Theory and Its Epistemology

Critical Theory has a narrow and a broad meaning in philosophy and in the history of the social sciences. “Critical Theory” in the narrow sense designates several generations of German philosophers and social theorists in the Western European Marxist tradition known as the Frankfurt School. According to these theorists, a “critical” theory may be distinguished from a “traditional” theory according to a specific practical purpose: a theory is critical to the extent that it seeks human emancipation, “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them” (Horkheimer 1982, 244). Because such theories aim to explain and transform all the circumstances that enslave human beings, many “critical theories” in the broader sense have been developed. They have emerged in connection with the many social movements that identify varied dimensions of the domination of human beings in modern societies. In both the broad and the narrow senses, however, a critical theory provides the descriptive and normative bases for social inquiry aimed at decreasing domination and increasing freedom in all their forms.

Critical Theory in the narrow sense has had many different aspects and quite distinct historical phases that cross several generations, from the effective start of the Institute of the Institute for Social Research in the years 1929–1930, which saw the arrival of the Frankfurt School philosophers and an inaugural lecture by Horkheimer, to the present. Its distinctiveness as a philosophical approach that extends to ethics, political philosophy, and the philosophy of history is most apparent when considered in light of the history of the philosophy of the social sciences. Critical Theorists have long sought to distinguish their aims, methods, theories, and forms of explanation from standard understandings in both the natural and the social sciences. Instead, they have claimed that social inquiry ought to combine rather than separate the poles of philosophy and the social sciences: explanation and understanding, structure and agency, regularity and normativity. Such an approach, Critical Theorists argue, permits their enterprise to be practical in a distinctively moral (rather than instrumental) sense. They do not merely seek to provide the means to achieve some independent goal, but rather (as in Horkheimer's famous definition mentioned above) seek “human emancipation” in circumstances of domination and oppression. This normative task cannot be accomplished apart from the interplay between philosophy and social science through interdisciplinary empirical social research (Horkheimer 1993). While Critical Theory is often thought of narrowly as referring to the Frankfurt School that begins with Horkheimer and Adorno and stretches to Marcuse and Habermas, any philosophical approach with similar practical aims could be called a “critical theory,” including feminism, critical race theory, and some forms of post-colonial criticism. In the following, Critical Theory when capitalized refers only to the Frankfurt School. All other uses of the term are meant in the broader sense and thus not capitalized. When used in the singular, “a critical theory” is not capitalized, even when the theory is developed by members of the Frankfurt School in the context of their overall project of Critical Theory.

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