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Critical Thinking for Transformative Justice

Critical Thinking for Transformative Justice

sciences. Although

sciences. Although various theoretical approaches would come close to breaking out of the ideological constraints which restricted them, such as positivism, pragmatism, neo-Kantianism and phenomenology, Horkheimer would argue that they failed, because all were subject to a "logico-mathematical" prejudice which separates theoretical activity from actual life (meaning that all these schools sought to find a logic which would always remain 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. The problem, Horkheimer argued, is epistemological: we should not merely reconsider the scientist but the knowing individual in general. [19] Unlike orthodox Marxism, which merely applies a readymade "template" to both critique and action, critical theory seeks to be selfcritical and rejects any pretensions to absolute truth. Critical theory defends the primacy of neither matter (materialism) nor consciousness (idealism), arguing 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 selfknowledge, critical theory often looks to Marxism for its methods and tools. Horkheimer maintained that critical theory should be directed at the totality of society in its historical specificity (i.e. how it came to be configured at a specific point in time), just as it should improve understanding of society by integrating all the major social sciences, including geography, economics, sociology, history, political science, anthropology, and psychology. While critical theory must at all times be self-critical, Horkheimer insisted that a theory is only critical if it is explanatory. Critical theory must therefore combine practical and normative thinking in order 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." Whereas traditional theory can only mirror and explain reality as it presently is, critical theory's purpose is to change it; in Horkheimer's words the goal of critical theory is "the emancipation of human beings from the circumstances that enslave them". Frankfurt School theorists were explicitly linking up with the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant, where the term critique meant philosophical reflection on the limits of claims made for certain kinds of knowledge and a direct connection between such critique and the emphasis on moral autonomy – as opposed to traditionally deterministic and static theories of human action. 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. Page 31 of 45

Whereas both Marxist-Leninist and Social-Democratic orthodox thinkers viewed Marxism as a new kind of positive science, Frankfurt School theorists, such as Horkheimer, rather based their work on the epistemological base of Karl Marx's work, which presented itself as critique, as in Marx's Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. They thus emphasized that Marx was attempting 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, meant taking the ideology of a society – e.g. the belief in individual freedom or free market under capitalism – and critiquing it by comparing it with the social reality of that very society – e.g. social inequality and exploitation. The methodology on which Frankfurt School theorists grounded this critique came to be what had before been established by Hegel and Marx, namely the dialectical method. Page 32 of 45

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