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This objection to radical democracy is thus directed to those theories that do not figure out how such principles can be institutionally mediated given current social facts. This approach to law has important consequences for a critical theory, since it changes how we appeal to democratic norms in criticizing current institutions: it is not clear exactly what the difference is between a radical and a liberal democracy, since some of the limitations on participation are due to the constraints of social facts and not to power asymmetries.

That is, members of the public do not control social processes; qua members of a public, they may exercise influence through particular institutionalized mechanisms and channels of communication. Even given the limits of social complexity, there is still room for judgments of greater or lesser democracy, particularly with regard to the democratic value of freedom from domination. For example, a critical theory of globalization could show that the democratic potential of modern societies is being undermined by neoliberal globalization and denationalization of economic policy.

Such a theory sees the solution here to be the achievement of more democracy at the international level. It is also possible that the critical use of democratic concepts may require reconceptualizing the democratic theory that has informed much of Enlightenment criticism in European societies.

Here critical theorists are then simply one sort of participant in the ongoing internal work of redefining the democratic ideal, not simply in showing the lack of its full realization. Either way, radical democracy may no longer be the only means to social transformation, and indeed we may, with Marcuse, think that preserving the truths of the past, such as democratic constitutional achievements, to be as important as imagining a new future.

Given the new situation, Critical Theory could now return to empirical social inquiry to discover new potentials for improving democracy, especially in understanding how it may increase the scope and effectiveness of public deliberation. In these various roles, critical theorists are participants in the democratic public sphere.

To do so would entail a different, perhaps more reflexive notion of critical social inquiry, in which democracy is not only the object of study but is itself understood as a form of social inquiry. Critical Theory would then have to change its conception of what makes it practical and democratic. In the next two sections, I will discuss two aspects of this transformed conception of Critical Theory. First, I turn to the role of social theory in this more pragmatic account of critical social inquiry.

Contrary to its origins in Marxian theoretical realism, I argue for methodological and theoretical pluralism as the best form of practical social science aimed at human emancipation. Second, I illustrate this conception in developing the outlines of a critical theory of globalization, in which greater democracy and nondomination are its goals.

This theory also has a normative side, which is inquiry into democracy itself outside of its familiar social container of the nation state. In this sense, it attempts not just to show constraints but also open possibilities.

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Critical Theorists have failed not only to take up the challenge of such new social circumstances but also thereby to reformulate democratic ideals in novel ways. I shift first to the understanding of the philosophy of social science that would help in this rearticulation of Critical Theory as critical social inquiry as a practical and normative enterprise. Such a practical account of social inquiry has much in common with pragmatism, old and new Bohman a, b. As with pragmatism, Critical Theory came gradually to reject the demand for a scientific or objective basis of criticism grounded in a grand theory.

This demand proved hard to square with the demands of social criticism directed to particular audiences at particular times with their own distinct demands and needs for liberation or emancipation. The first step was to move the critical social scientist away from seeking a single unifying theory to employing many theories in diverse historical situations. Rather, it is better to start with agents' own pretheoretical knowledge and self-understandings.

The issue for critical social inquiry is not only how to relate pretheoretical and theoretical knowledge of the social world, but also how to move among different irreducible perspectives. The second step is to show that such a practical alternative not only provides the basis for robust social criticism, but also that it better accounts for and makes use of the pluralism inherent in various methods and theories of social inquiry.

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While it is far from clear that all critical theorists understand themselves in this way, most agree that only a practical form of critical inquiry can meet the epistemic and normative challenges of social criticism and thus provide an adequate philosophical basis fulfilling the goals of a critical theory. The philosophical problem that emerges in critical social inquiry is to identify precisely those features of its theories, methods, and norms that are sufficient to underwrite social criticism. A closer examination of paradigmatic works across the whole tradition from Marx's Capital to the Frankfurt School's Studies in Authority and the Family and Habermas's Theory of Communicative Action reveals neither some distinctive form of explanation nor a special methodology that provides the necessary and sufficient conditions for such inquiry.

Rather, the best such works employ a variety of methods and styles of explanation and are often interdisciplinary in their mode of research. What then gives them their common orientation and makes them all works of critical social science? There are two common, general answers to the question of what defines these distinctive features of critical social inquiry: one practical and the other theoretical. The latter claims that critical social inquiry ought to employ a distinctive theory that unifies such diverse approaches and explanations.

On this view, Critical Theory constitutes a comprehensive social theory that will unify the social sciences and underwrite the superiority of the critic. The first generation of Frankfurt School Critical Theory sought such a theory in vain before dropping claims to social science as central to their program in the late s Wiggershaus By contrast, according to the practical approach, theories are distinguished by the form of politics in which they can be embedded and the method of verification that this politics entails.

But to claim that critical social science is best unified practically and politically rather than theoretically or epistemically is not to reduce it simply to democratic politics. It becomes rather the mode of inquiry that participants may adopt in their social relations to others. The latter approach has been developed by Habermas and is now favored by Critical Theorists.

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Before turning to such a practical interpretation of critical social inquiry, it is first necessary to consider why the theoretical approach was favored for so long and by so many Critical Theorists. Second, not only must the epistemic basis of criticism be independent of agents' practical knowledge, but it might also be claimed that the correctness of any explanation is independent of its desirable or undesirable political effects on a specific audience. So conceived, social criticism is then a two-stage affair: first, inquirers independently discover the best explanation using the available comprehensive theory; then, second, they persuasively communicate its critical consequences to participants who may have false beliefs about their practices.

Starting with Marx's historical materialism, large-scale macrosociological and historical theories have long been held to be the most appropriate explanatory basis for critical social science.


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However, one problem is that comprehensiveness does not ensure explanatory power. Indeed, there are many such large-scale theories, each with its own distinctive and exemplary social phenomena that guide an attempt at unification. A second problem is that a close examination of standard critical explanations, such as the theory of ideology, shows that they typically appeal to a variety of different social theories Bohman b.

Habermas's actual employment of critical explanations bears this out. His criticism of modern societies turns on the explanation of the relationship between two very different theoretical terms: a micro-theory of rationality based on communicative coordination and a macro-theory of the systemic integration of modern societies in such mechanisms as the market Habermas Not only does the idea of a comprehensive theory presuppose that there is one preferred mode of critical explanation, it also presupposes that there is one preferred goal of social criticism, a socialist society that fulfills the norm of human emancipation.

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Only with such a goal in the background does the two-step process of employing historical materialism to establish an epistemically and normatively independent stance make sense. The validity of social criticism does not merely depend on its being accepted or rejected by those to whom it is addressed. Pluralistic inquiry suggests a different norm of correctness: that criticism must be verified by those participating in the practice and that this demand for practical verification is part of the process of inquiry itself.


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  • Despite his ambivalence between theoretical and practical pluralism, Habermas has given good reasons to accept the practical and pluralist approach. In The Theory of Communicative Action , Habermas casts critical social theory in a similar pluralistic, yet unifying way. This tension between unity and plurality leads in two different directions, one practical and the other theoretical.

    While recognizing the hybrid nature of social science as causal and interpretive, he sought explanations of particular phenomena that united both dimensions. For example, in his Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism he brought the macroanalysis of institutional structures together with the micro-analysis of economic rationality and religious belief Weber Even this account of a comprehensive theory hardly eliminates competing histories that bring together different theories and methods. They do not rely on the criteria of a theory of rationality often appealed to in the Kantian approach, but still seem to justify particular moral claims, such as claims concerning justice and injustice.

    Habermas wants to straddle the divide between the Kantian and the Hegelian approaches in his social theory of modernity. Why not see Habermas's theory of rationality as providing both a theoretical and practical basis for Critical Theory? Certainly, this is how Habermas sees the purpose of such a theory Habermas , chapter 1. In a way similar to recent arguments in Putnam, Habermas now more strongly distinguishes between claims to truth and the context of justification in which they are made, even as he also wants to reject moral realism.

    The problem for the practical conception of critical social inquiry is then to escape the horns of a dilemma: it should be neither purely epistemic and thus overly cognitivist, nor purely moralistic. Neither provides sufficient critical purchase. In the case of the observer, there is too much distance, so much so that it is hard to see how the theory can motivate criticism; in the case of the pure participant perspective, there is too little distance to motivate or justify any criticism at all.

    It is also the same general theoretical and methodological dilemma that characterizes the debates between naturalist and anti-naturalist approaches. While the former sees terms such as rationality as explanans to explain away such phenomena as norms, the latter argues that normative terms are not so reducible and thus figure in both explanans and explanandum. The best practical account here reconciles Rorty's ambiguity by putting the epistemological component in the social world, in our various cognitive perspectives towards it that include the normative perspectives of others. The ambiguity is then the practical problem of adopting different points of view, something that reflective participants in self-critical practices must already be able to do by virtue of their competence.

    Rather than look for the universal and necessary features of social scientific knowledge, Critical Theory has instead focused on the social relationships between inquirers and other actors in the social sciences. Such relationships can be specified epistemically in terms of the perspective taken by the inquirer on the actors who figure in their explanations or interpretations.

    Seen in this way, the two dominant and opposed approaches to social science adopt quite different perspectives. On the one hand, naturalism gives priority to the third-person or explanatory perspective; on the other hand, the anti-reductionism of interpretive social science argues for the priority of first- and second-person understanding and so for an essential methodological dualism. Critical Theory since Horkheimer has long attempted to offer an alternative to both views. Pragmatists from Mead to Dewey offer similar criticisms Habermas , ; Dewey b.

    This conception of practical knowledge would model the role of the social scientist in politics on the engineer, who masterfully chooses the optimal solution to a problem of design.

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    This technocratic model of the social scientist as detached observer rather than reflective participant always needs to be contextualized in the social relationships it constitutes as a form of socially distributed practical knowledge. By contrast with the engineering model, interpretive social science takes up the first-person perspective in making explicit the meaningfulness of an action or expression.

    https://nitcostnutinry.gq Interpretations as practical knowledge are not based on some general theory no matter how helpful or explanatory these may be when interpretation is difficult , but reconstruct agent's own reasons, or at least how these reasons might seem to be good ones from a first-person perspective. This leaves an interpreter in a peculiar epistemic predicament: what started as the enterprise of seeing things from others' points of view can at best provide the best interpretation for us of how things are for them.

    The only way out of this problem is to see that there is more than one form of practical knowledge. Naturalistic and hermeneutic approaches see the relationship of the subject and object of inquiry as forcing the social scientist to take either the third-person or first-person perspective. However, critical social science necessarily requires complex perspective taking and the coordination of various points of view, minimally that of social scientists with the subjects under study.

    It employs the know-how of a participant in dialogue or communication Bohman This perspective provides the alternative to opposing perspectives especially when our first-person knowledge or third-person theories get it wrong. When faced with interpreting others' behavior we quickly run into the limits of first-person knowledge simpliciter.

    Neither the interpreter's nor the observer's perspectives are sufficient to specify these opaque intentional contexts for others. For social scientists as well as participants in practices more generally, the adjudication of such conflicts requires mutual perspective taking, which is its own mode of practical reasoning. Theories of many different sorts locate interpretation as a practice, that is, in acts and processes of ongoing communication. Communication is seen from this perspective as the exercise of a distinctive form of practical rationality.

    A critical theory of communicative action offers its own distinctive definition of rationality, one that is epistemic, practical, and intersubjective. A theory of rationality can be a reconstruction of the practical knowledge necessary for establishing social relationships. This reconstruction is essential to understanding the commitments of the reflective participant, including the critic. There are two general arguments for a theory that assumes the irreducibility of such a perspective. The first is that interpreting is not merely describing something. Rather, it establishes commitments and entitlements between the interpreter and the one interpreted.

    Second, in doing so the interpreter takes up particular normative attitudes. In interpreting one is not just reporting, but rather expressing and establishing one's attitude toward a claim, such as when the interpreter takes the interpreted to say something to be true, or to perform an act that is appropriate according to social norms.