A Jeanne Site
California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: October 11, 1999
Faculty on the Site.
This essay was prompted by David M. Rasmussen, ed. The Handbook of Critical Theory, Blackwell Publishers, Ltd. 1996 and 1999. In particular, Part VI: Postmodernism, Critique, and the Pathology of the Social.
Thomas McCarthy's Chapter 15: "Critical Theory and Postmodernism: A Response to David Hoy," (op.cit.p. 340 ff.), responds to David Hoy's critiques of critical theory in Hoy and McCarthy, Critical Theory, Cambridge Mass.: Blackwell, 1994. He responds in terms of traditions we have known.
Pragmatism often associated with Dewey. One issue: "Whether one might not be naturalistic and pragmatic and still aspire to 'theory' in one or more of the senses at issue." To what extent does our emphasis on practice to policy to theory mean that those dealing with practice are displaced from the world of those who are dealing with theory? Must this be so? McCarthy answers: "Hoy underplays the critical orientation and practical intention of critical social theory and treats its general accounts of societal transformation simply as "grand metanarratives" of progress, ignoring the use to which those developmental schemes are put in the critique of contemporary society." How important are the spheres in which the ideas are generated? If generated at the theoretical level, is the "metanarrative" aspect the primary goal? Or may the theorist have a practice goal?
Another aspect McCarthy addresses is the extreme position of pluralism, so often associated with postmodernism. "[C]ritical theory of the Habermasian sort is in no way "opposed to pluralism" [citation omitted]. It simply refuses to equate it with "anything goes" and insists that an acceptable pluralism requires an overarching framework of justice, so that one group's well-being does not come at the expense of another's."
We have discussed the difficulties of discourse. Habermas also reflects these concerns. According to McCarthy: . . .Habermas has consistently restricted the focus of his analysis of justification to discourse -- critical, reflective, argumentative dialogue -- about questions of truth and justice. He does not claim, and in fact explicitly [sic] denies, that suppositions of like universality attach to critique or textual interpretation, or to discussions of ethics, politics, identity, and the good life. In such matters, differences in context and perspective do influence the form and substance of deliberation in ways that restrict the scope of claims to validity -- for instance, to claims about who we are and want to be, about what is good for us in the long run, or the like. (Habermas, Theory of Communication and Justification and Application - ask jeanne if you want source materials.)
More to come . . .