Friday, February 08, 2008


.:Thoughts On Habermas...:.

This chapter (The chapter entitled "The Task Of A Critical Theory Of Society" from Habermas' book, Theory and Communicative Action 2.) is a succinct way to wrap up the discussion on Habermas, by putting his critical theory to use. While the critical theory itself was never outright stated in the chapter, it was heavily referenced all throughout, and we clearly saw what he was trying to achieve at this point: he wanted to see if it was necessary and possible to “replace the theory of value” in the first page of the chapter, in order to enable us to connect theoretical statements about lifeworld and systems to each other. This was a promising start to the chapter, insofar as it is attempting to show the interaction in society when the system and the lifeworld come into contact with each other, as the system concept of society can be considered a “methodological objectification of the lifeworld”, and is thus describable in action-theoretic terms, more than anything else.

Critical theory is “critical both of contemporary social sciences and of the social reality it is supposed to grasp”. This simply means that critical theory is designed to address the issues hounding the social sciences and the social reality a particular social science is supposed to grasp, such as psychology and the supposed human psyche that psychology is trying to understand. With this in mind, it becomes reasonable to expect that critical theory is an attempt to explain specific limitations and relative rights of various lines of research, rather than an attempt at supplanting them as would a competitor do in other circumstances. Simply put, critical theory is therefore not a competitor in this sense, but rather, an analyst.

Critical theory is in place to address six different issues: the forms of integration in postliberal societies, family socialization and ego development, mass media and mass culture, the social psychology behind the cessation of protest, the theory of art, and the critique of positivism and science. This spectrum reflects a specific conception of an interdisciplinary social science, which succinctly attempts to string together what is going on in society because of its multi-faceted approach that covers the important bases of society's lifeworlds and systems.

Critical theory (p.383) is, at this point in the article, more of a conjecture than a fully fleshed theory that attempts to pin down the workings of society in a far more all-encompassing way. The theory, as is clearly shown in its being a very general one, attempts to escape the trappings of modernity by underscoring that despite its seemingly universalistic slant as is the case with most works of the moderns, does also take into consideration the possibility of going into the specifics on a case-to-case basis. While this may prove to be difficult because being in the realm of universality tends to leave out a lot of particularities, it cannot be denied that the flexibility of Habermas' Critical Theory indeed plays to its strengths by ensuring that we do not ignore the particularities for which a critical theory must prove useful for.

Critical theory assumes a considerably rationalized lifeworld as one of the initial conditions for the modernization process (p.384). By referring to the lifeworld as rational, it becomes possible to form a coherent and sensible critical theory that attempts to analyze society's workings with the interplay of system and lifeworld being taken heavily into consideration.

Thus, we can say that the critical theory of society is something that maintains a certain modicum of openness (p.400), as it were. While the theory is indeed in place, it is perfectly open to “unlearning” certain errors or simply misperceptions that occur and are either patently untrue, or simply a case of temporal distance thus muddling up such results, as is the case when fads become accounted for in critical theory. When we consider that, we realize that a critical theory of society is not merely critical of society itself, but the critical theory is critical of itself all the same, subjecting itself to reifications brought about by changes in society.

In doing so, Habermas successfully highlights the necessity for a critical theory of society. We see here a very adaptable theory that accounts for society, but does not take consolation in standing by only what appears to be “given”. As it were, “it is only under the pressure of approaching problems that relevant components of such background knowledge are torn out of their unquestioned familiarity and brought to consciousness as something in need of being ascertained.

Therefore, we can state that only in putting the theory of society out there can it succeed in finding appropriate means of fine-tuning and reifying the theory in order to become more relevant to the people who do employ such a theory, instead of a static theory that does not recognize the fickleness of changing times, as it were, as the main reason why these theories prosper at some point but not at others, to begin with. It is this adaptability and resilience precisely that gives much legitimacy to Habermas' critical theory of society, insofar as it knows that “in and through the very act of knowing, it belongs to the objective context of life that it strives to grasp”. In short, its relevance comes to the fore precisely because it knows not just the general theory, but also the constant things that surround its particularity, which are often ignored in common parlance, as was usually the case during the modern times. While indeed Habermas was very much irrevocably of the modern way of thinking, he gave enough leeway for a more contemporary way of looking at his theories.

In conclusion, critical theory, despite its apparent weaknesses, has merit in its relevance to the people who employ it.

No comments: