Initially outlined by Max Horkheimer in his Traditional and Critical Theory , critical theory may be defined as a self-conscious social critique that is aimed at change and emancipation through enlightenment and that does not cling dogmatically to its own doctrinal assumptions. A certain sort of story a narrative was provided to explain what was happening in society, but the story concealed as much as it revealed.
The Frankfurt theorists generally assumed that their task was mainly to interpret the areas of society Marx had not dealt with, especially in the superstructure of society. Drawing upon Max Weber, Horkheimer argued that the social sciences differ from the natural sciences inasmuch as generalizations cannot be easily made from so-called experiences because the understanding of a "social" experience itself is always fashioned by ideas that are in the researchers themselves.
The facts which our senses present to us are socially performed in two ways: Both are not simply natural; they are shaped by human activity, and yet the individual perceives himself as receptive and passive in the act of perception. Although various theoretical approaches would come close to breaking out of the ideological constraints that restricted them, such as positivism, pragmatism , neo-Kantianism , and phenomenology , Horkheimer argued that they failed because all were subject to a "logico-mathematical" prejudice that separates theoretical activity from actual life meaning that all these schools sought to find a logic that always remains true, independently of and without consideration for ongoing human activities.
According to Horkheimer, the appropriate response to this dilemma is the development of a critical theory. Critical theory defends the primacy of neither matter materialism nor consciousness idealism , and argues that both epistemologies distort reality to the benefit, eventually, of some small group.
What critical theory attempts to do is to place itself outside of philosophical strictures and the confines of existing structures. However, as a way of thinking and "recovering" humanity's self-knowledge, critical theory often looks to Marxism for its methods and tools.
While critical theory must at all times be self-critical, Horkheimer insisted that a theory is critical only if it is explanatory. Critical theory must, therefore, combine practical and normative thinking to "explain what is wrong with current social reality, identify actors to change it, and provide clear norms for criticism and practical goals for the future. In an intellectual context defined by dogmatic positivism and scientism on the one hand and dogmatic " scientific socialism " on the other, critical theorists intended to rehabilitate Marx's ideas through a philosophically critical approach.
Whereas both Marxist—Leninist and social democratic orthodox thinkers viewed Marxism as a new kind of positive science, Frankfurt School theorists such as Horkheimer instead based their work on the epistemological base of Marx's work, which presented itself as critique, as in Marx's Capital: Critique of Political Economy.
They thus emphasized that Marx attempted to create a new kind of critical analysis oriented toward the unity of theory and revolutionary practice rather than a new kind of positive science. Critique, in this Marxian sense, means taking the ideology of a society for example, the belief in individual freedom or free market capitalism and critiquing it by comparing it with a posited social reality of that very society for example, social inequality and exploitation.
Frankfurt School theorists grounded this on the dialectical methodology established by Hegel and Marx. Dialectical method The Institute also attempted to reformulate dialectics as a concrete method. The use of such a dialectical method can be traced back to the philosophy of Hegel, who conceived dialectic as the tendency of a notion to pass over into its own negation as the result of conflict between its inherent contradictory aspects.
History may thus be seen as an intelligible process which Hegel referred to as Weltgeist , which is the moving towards a specific condition —the rational realization of human freedom. The study of history is thus limited to the description of past and present realities. This was fiercely criticized by Marx and the Young Hegelians , who argued that Hegel had gone too far in defending his abstract conception of "absolute Reason" and had failed to notice the "real" — i.
By turning Hegel's idealist dialectics upside-down, Marx advanced his own theory of dialectical materialism , arguing that "it is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.
This method—to know the truth by uncovering the contradictions in presently predominant ideas and, by extension, in the social relations to which they are linked—exposes the underlying struggle between opposing forces. For Marx, it is only by becoming aware of the dialectic i.
Accordingly, critical theory rejected the historicism and materialism of orthodox Marxism. Contrary to orthodox Marxist praxis , which solely seeks to implement an unchangeable and narrow idea of "communism" into practice, critical theorists held that praxis and theory, following the dialectical method, should be interdependent and should mutually influence each other.
When Marx famously stated in his Theses on Feuerbach that "philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it", his real idea was that philosophy's only validity was in how it informed action. Frankfurt School theorists would correct this by arguing that when action fails, then the theory guiding it must be reviewed. In short, socialist philosophical thought must be given the ability to criticize itself and "overcome" its own errors.
While theory must inform praxis, praxis must also have a chance to inform theory. Historical context Weberian theory Comparative historical analysis of Western rationalism in capitalism, the modern state, secular scientific rationality, culture, and religion; analysis of the forms of domination in general and of modern rational-legal bureaucratic domination in particular; articulation of the distinctive, hermeneutic method of the social sciences.
Freudian theory Critique of the repressive structure of the " reality principle " of advanced civilization and of the normal neurosis of everyday life; discovery of the unconscious , primary-process thinking, and the impact of the Oedipus complex and of anxiety on psychic life; analysis of the psychic bases of authoritarianism and irrational social behavior. Critique of positivism Critique of positivism as a philosophy, as a scientific methodology , as a political ideology and as everyday conformity ; rehabilitation of — negative — dialectic , return to Hegel; appropriation of critical elements in phenomenology, historicism, existentialism, critique of their ahistorical, idealist tendencies; critique of logical positivism and pragmatism.
Aesthetic modernism Critique of "false" and reified experience by breaking through its traditional forms and language; projection of alternative modes of existence and experience; liberation of the unconscious; consciousness of unique, modern situation; appropriation of Kafka , Proust , Schoenberg , Breton ; critique of the culture industry and "affirmative" culture; aesthetic utopia. Culture theory Critique of mass culture as suppression and absorption of negation, as integration into status quo; critique of Western culture as a culture of domination, both of an external and internal nature; dialectic differentiation of emancipatory and repressive dimensions of elite culture; Kierkegaard 's critique of the present age , Nietzsche 's transvaluation, and Schiller 's aesthetic education.
Responding to the intensification of alienation and irrationality in an advanced capitalist society , critical theory is a comprehensive, ideology-critical, historically self-reflective body of theory aiming simultaneously to explain domination and point to the possibilities of bringing about a rational, humane, and free society.
Frankfurt School critical theorists developed numerous theories of the economic, political, cultural, and psychological domination structures of advanced industrial civilization.
The Institute made major contributions in two areas relating to the possibility of human subjects to be rational, i. The first consisted of social phenomena previously considered in Marxism as part of the " superstructure " or as ideology: Studies saw a common concern here in the ability of capitalism to destroy the preconditions of critical, revolutionary political consciousness.
This meant arriving at a sophisticated awareness of the depth dimension in which social oppression sustains itself. It also meant the beginning of critical theory's recognition of ideology as part of the foundations of social structure. Critique of Western civilization Dialectic of Enlightenment and Minima Moralia The second phase of Frankfurt School critical theory centres principally on two works: The authors wrote both works during the Institute's exile in America.
While retaining much of a Marxian analysis, in these works critical theory shifted its emphasis from the critique of capitalism to a critique of Western civilization as a whole, as seen in Dialectic of Enlightenment, which uses the Odyssey as a paradigm for their analysis of bourgeois consciousness.
In these works, Horkheimer and Adorno present many themes that have come to dominate the social thought of recent years; for instance, their exposition of the domination of nature as a central characteristic of instrumental rationality in Western civilization was made long before ecology and environmentalism had become popular concerns. The analysis of reason now goes one stage further: The rationality of Western civilization appears as a fusion of domination and technological rationality, bringing all of external and internal nature under the power of the human subject.
In the process, however, the subject itself gets swallowed up and no social force analogous to the proletariat can be identified that enables the subject to emancipate itself. Hence the subtitle of Minima Moralia: In Adorno's words, For since the overwhelming objectivity of historical movement in its present phase consists so far only in the dissolution of the subject, without yet giving rise to a new one, individual experience necessarily bases itself on the old subject, now historically condemned, which is still for-itself, but no longer in-itself.
The subject still feels sure of its autonomy, but the nullity demonstrated to subjects by the concentration camp is already overtaking the form of subjectivity itself. Even dialectical progress is put into doubt: The previously "free" market as an "unconscious" mechanism for the distribution of goods and "irrevocable" private property of Marx's epoch have gradually been replaced by the centralized state planning and socialized ownership of the means of production in contemporary Western societies.
Of this second "phase" of the Frankfurt School, philosopher and critical theorist Nikolas Kompridis writes that: According to the now canonical view of its history, Frankfurt School critical theory began in the s as a fairly confident interdisciplinary and materialist research program, the general aim of which was to connect normative social criticism to the emancipatory potential latent in concrete historical processes.
Only a decade or so later, however, having revisited the premises of their philosophy of history, Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment steered the whole enterprise, provocatively and self-consciously, into a skeptical cul-de-sac. As a result they got stuck in the irresolvable dilemmas of the "philosophy of the subject," and the original program was shrunk to a negativistic practice of critique that eschewed the very normative ideals on which it implicitly depended.
He argued that radical art and music may preserve the truth by capturing the reality of human suffering. What radical music perceives is the untransfigured suffering of man [ It forbids continuity and development.
Musical language is polarized according to its extreme; towards gestures of shock resembling bodily convulsions on the one hand, and on the other towards a crystalline standstill of a human being whom anxiety causes to freeze in her tracks [ It is the surviving message of despair from the shipwrecked.
It has been criticized by those who do not share its conception of modern society as a false totality that renders obsolete traditional conceptions and images of beauty and harmony. In particular, Adorno despised jazz and popular music , viewing it as part of the culture industry , that contributes to the present sustainability of capitalism by rendering it "aesthetically pleasing" and "agreeable". Please add a reason or a talk parameter to this template to explain the issue with the section.
February This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. November Learn how and when to remove this template message With the growth of advanced industrial society during the Cold War era, critical theorists recognized that the path of capitalism and history had changed decisively, that the modes of oppression operated differently, and that the industrial working class no longer remained the determinate negation of capitalism.
This led to the attempt to root the dialectic in an absolute method of negativity, as in Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man and Adorno's Negative Dialectics During this period the Institute of Social Research resettled in Frankfurt although many of its associates remained in the United States with the task not merely of continuing its research but of becoming a leading force in the sociological education and democratization of West Germany.
This led to a certain systematization of the Institute's entire accumulation of empirical research and theoretical analysis. During this period, Frankfurt School critical theory particularly influenced some segments of the left wing and leftist thought, particularly the New Left. Herbert Marcuse has occasionally been described as the theorist or intellectual progenitor of the New Left.
Their critique of technology, totality, teleology and occasionally civilization is an influence on anarcho-primitivism. Their work also heavily influenced intellectual discourse on popular culture and scholarly popular culture studies. More importantly, however, the Frankfurt School attempted to define the fate of reason in the new historical period. While Marcuse did so through analysis of structural changes in the labor process under capitalism and inherent features of the methodology of science , Horkheimer and Adorno concentrated on a re-examination of the foundation of critical theory.
This effort appears in systematized form in Adorno's Negative Dialectics, which tries to redefine dialectics for an era in which "philosophy, which once seemed obsolete, lives on because the moment to realize it was missed". Negative dialectics expresses the idea of critical thought so conceived that the apparatus of domination cannot co-opt it.
Its central notion, long a focal one for Horkheimer and Adorno, suggests that the original sin of thought lies in its attempt to eliminate all that is other than thought, the attempt by the subject to devour the object, the striving for identity. This reduction makes thought the accomplice of domination. Adorno thoroughly criticizes Heidegger 's fundamental ontology , which he thinks reintroduces idealistic and identity-based concepts under the guise of having overcome the philosophical tradition.
Negative dialectics comprises a monument to the end of the tradition of the individual subject as the locus of criticism. Without a revolutionary working class, the Frankfurt School had no one to rely on but the individual subject. But, as the liberal capitalist social basis of the autonomous individual receded into the past, the dialectic based on it became more and more abstract.
November Main article: The Frankfurt School avoided taking a stand on the precise relationship between the materialist and transcendental methods, which led to ambiguity in their writings and confusion among their readers. Habermas's epistemology synthesizes these two traditions by showing that phenomenological and transcendental analysis can be subsumed under a materialist theory of social evolution , while the materialist theory makes sense only as part of a quasi-transcendental theory of emancipatory knowledge that is the self-reflection of cultural evolution.
The simultaneously empirical and transcendental nature of emancipatory knowledge becomes the foundation stone of critical theory. By locating the conditions of rationality in the social structure of language use, Habermas moves the locus of rationality from the autonomous subject to subjects in interaction. Rationality is a property not of individuals per se, but rather of structures of undistorted communication.