Critical versus traditional theory: Max Horkheimer
in Beginning classical social theory
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Max Horkheimer’s essay ‘Critical and Traditional Theory’ (1937) is the most explicitly programmatic statement of the Critical Theory of the ‘Frankfurt School’. It addresses the interrelations between the mode of how to organize social research and the nature of the social reality that is being researched. He rejects what both empiricism and rationalism share, namely a conceptual separation of facts and theories. For both, empiricism and rationalism, facts are to be collected like books in a library and theories are like the catalogue that organizes them. Horkheimer’s critique affects our understanding of what ‘facts’ are and what ‘theories’ are. Critical Theory is presented as neither ‘deeply rooted’ in any existing reality, nor detached from societal interests, but committed to the ‘obstinacy of fantasy’ that must be in conflict also with views prevailing amongst the oppressed.

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