Radical Sociology

By J. David Colfax; Jack L. Roach | Go to book overview

(8)
A Reconceptualization of
Critical Theory *

TRENT SCHROYER

The goal of a critical theory is to name that which secretly keeps society going. Theory would lift the rock under which evil broods; only its recognition can preserve meaning.

—THEODOR ADORNO


INTRODUCTION: THE NOTION OF A
CRITICAL THEORY

A critical theory of society derives from the philosophical tradition of the critique of appearances. Such a totalizing theory cannot emerge from a compilation of empirical facts. It is by now clear to all that the methodological rationales of established social science predefine the reality investigated. In nailing down the facts about society, the activity of men is reified into a thing-like facticity. A critical theory, on the other hand, transcends its facts, rendering them meaningful, but at the same time placing them in the context of the tension between the given and the possible. Construction of a critical theory follows the principle of an immanent critique. By first expressing what a social totality holds itself to be, and then confronting it with what it is, a critical theory is able to break down the rigidity of the object. Hence, Marx's identification of the ideology of "equivalence exchange" as the self-image of capitalist society is contradicted by the formulation of the "developmental laws of capitalism." The phenomenal appearance of capitalism is negated by its own internal dynamics. Marx's critical theory is in his mentor's terms, a

____________________
*
An earlier version of this chapter appeared as "Marx and Habermas" in Continuum 8, No. 1 (Spring-Summer 1970).

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