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Critical Thinking for Transformative Justice

Critical Thinking for Transformative Justice

Page 29 of

Page 29 of 45

The Critique of Ideology The Frankfurt School's work cannot be fully comprehended without equally understanding the aims and objectives of critical theory. Initially outlined by Max Horkheimer in his Traditional and Critical Theory (1937), critical theory may be defined as a self-conscious social critique that is aimed at change and emancipation through enlightenment, and does not cling dogmatically to its own doctrinal assumptions. The original aim of critical theory was to analyze the true significance of "the ruling understandings" generated in bourgeois society, in order to show how they misrepresented actual human interaction in the real world, and in so doing functioned to justify or legitimize the domination of people by capitalism. 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 own task was mainly to interpret all the other areas of society which Marx had not dealt with, especially in the superstructure of society. Horkheimer opposed it to "traditional theory", which refers to theory in the positivistic, scientistic, or purely observational mode – that is, which derives generalizations or "laws" about different aspects of the world. Drawing upon Max Weber, Horkheimer argued that the social sciences are different 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. What the researcher does not realize is that he is caught in a historical context in which ideologies shape the thinking; thus theory would be conforming to the ideas in the mind of the researcher rather than the experience itself: “ The facts which our senses present to us are socially performed in two ways: through the historical character of the object perceived and through the historical character of the perceiving organ. 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. ” For Horkheimer, approaches to understanding in the social sciences cannot simply imitate those in the natural Page 30 of 45

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