‘Morality and Critical Theory. On the Normative Problem of Frankfurt School Social Criticism’

Finlayson, James Gordon (2009) ‘Morality and Critical Theory. On the Normative Problem of Frankfurt School Social Criticism’. Telos. pp. 7-41. ISSN 0090-6514

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Can a social or political theory insofar as it aims to be critical avoid appealing to normative (moral or ethical) criteria? This question has in one form or another haunted the tradition of Hegelian Marxist social theory. Here, I am only concerned with a specific variant of it. In the 1980’s Jürgen Habermas came up with an analysis and critique of what he called the problem of the ‘normative foundations’ of critical theory. Habermas’s analysis of the problem with Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, and of the direction in which they subsequently took critical theory, has been hugely influential. However, it is freighted with his (controversial) theories of meaning and communicative rationality. This has two bad consequences: first it clouds the real issue of ‘normative foundations’ that besets Frankfurt School critical theory; second, because of the theoretical hostages to fortune Habermas’s criticism of Adorno and Horkheimer needlessly takes, it looks vulnerable to objections. All this has obscured the nature of the debate on the normative problem of critical theory. After analysing and interpreting Habermas’s original criticism, I reconstruct it in five steps by presenting and defending five theses to which, I believe, the first generation Frankfurt School critical theorists are committed. These five theses give rise to a dilemma that captures what I take to be the real normative problem of critical theory. This argument is then used to throw new light on some recent interpretations of the legacy of (first-generation) Frankfurt School critical theory, and on its development at the hands of subsequent ‘generations’, namely Habermas and Honneth.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Frankfurt School, critical theory, normativity, Habermas Adorno
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > Philosophy
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HX Socialism. Communism. Anarchism
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BD Speculative Philosophy
Depositing User: Gordon Finlayson
Date Deposited: 26 Jun 2008
Last Modified: 26 Jun 2013 12:20
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/1733
Google Scholar:5 Citations

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