Epistemology should be the axe that breaks the ice of a traditionalism that covers and obstructs scientific enlightenment. This book explores the arguments between critical theory and epistemology in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Focusing on the first and second generations of critical theorists and Luhmann's systems theory, it examines how each approaches epistemology. The book offers a critique of the Kantian base of critical theory's epistemology in conjunction with the latter's endeavour to define political potential through the social function of science. The concept of dialectics is explored as the negation of the irrational and, furthermore, as the open field of epistemological conflict between rationality and irrationality. The book traces the course of arguments that begin with Dilthey's philosophy of a rigorous science, develop with Husserl's phenomenology, Simmel's and Weber's interest in the scientific element within the social concerns of scientific advance. In structuralism, the fear of dialogue prevails. The book discusses the epistemological thought of Pierre Bourdieu and Gilles Deleuze in terms of their persistence in constructing an epistemological understanding of social practice free from the burdens of dialectics, reason and rationality. It also enquires into issues of normativity and modernity within a comparative perspective on modernism, postmodernism and critical theory. Whether in relation to communication deriving from the threefold schema of utterance- information- understanding or in relation to self- reflexivity, systems theory fails to define the bearer or the actor of the previous structural processes. Critical realism attempted to ground dialectics in realism.
Critical theory's epistemological arguments were marshalled in a vehement critique of positivism, which marked its claims as a reaction against rational normativity, or as the new empiricist epistemology safeguarding scientific orthodoxy. This chapter explores the relevant exchange of arguments between critical theorists and positivists. It discusses the analysis of the three major thinkers of the Frankfurt School, Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno and Herbert Marcuse. The critical theory of the Frankfurt School challenged instrumentality whereby human beings become mere instruments along the lines set out by modern science. In order to deal with what constitutes science, epistemologically speaking, critical theory tackles the problem of scientific laws. The answer remains straightforward: whereas natural sciences facilitate the formation of scientific laws, it is rather unfeasible to expect the same degree of certainty in the humanities and social sciences. This chapter also presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book.
This chapter traces to what extent dialectics is an epistemological concern in Wilhelm Dilthey, E. Husserl, Georg Simmel and Max Weber. For Simmel, dialectics is a sort of methodological fragmentation, in the manner of the individual and society. By evaluating (implicitly) dialectics and (explicitly) scientific intersubjectivity, Simmel assesses the essence of his dual schema of forms and concepts, where both constitute the scientific criteria of the humanities. From a study of methodology, Dilthey proceeds to the philosophical contribution of epistemology and the epistemological contribution of philosophy to science. Philosophy and epistemology are pivotal parts of his theoretical concerns, without ever losing their conceptual equality in his work. Phenomenology's hermeneutic turn was inaugurated by Martin Heidegger. To be more precise, the hermeneutic turn that Heidegger introduced was an ontological turn of phenomenology, probably against Husserl's epistemological transcendentalism of the eidetic reduction.
This chapter argues that no matter how hard the structuralists and post-structuralists try to avoid dealing with scientific dialectics, or as much as they merely reject it, their thinking still remains within the confines of dialectics. Following parallel lines of evolution, structuralism and poststructuralism relate to a phenomenological perspective on the sciences that intends to reveal a more rigorous science, which is achieved either a priori, as in Edmund Husserl, or a posteriori, as in ethnomethodology. The chapter shows that even if structures help the reader of epistemology to understand the scientific edifice, there can be no performative structure with dysfunctional or non-existent subjects of action. Furthermore, it addresses the implicit but remarkable 'anxiety' of structuralism and poststructuralism as far as the void of scientific elenchus is concerned. Poststructuralism attempts to address the previous deficit by prioritizing scientific reflexivity that produces accountability criteria for the sciences.
This chapter elaborates on more particular themes that comprise modernism as well as postmodernism in Michel Foucault's work, and deals with Jurgen Habermas' defence of modernity, which was concurrent with Foucault's negative critique towards modern science and rationality. It enquires into issues of normativity and modernity within a comparative perspective on modernism, postmodernism and critical theory. The modernism that Foucault presented opposed Immanuel Kant's idea of critique, and in the overall assessment served as a meta-narrative of modernity or as the formative idea of postmodernism. The dialectical element, for the postmodernists, provides a moment of legitimation by composing a mechanism of arguments and proofs. Foucault's modernism finds itself much closer to the idea of dialectics dealing or being occupied with the negative or the 'other' in science and society than with the postmodern exclusion of reason and the potential of a rational modernity.
Systems' rationality is an example of epistemology in Niklas Luhmann's work, for it produces a theoretical development that is critical of Jurgen Habermas' corresponding notion, prominent in its manifestation and promising in its proliferation. Luhmann owes much inspiration for his systems theory to the structural understanding of society and science. Thus, he attempts a deconstruction of the modern. In his understanding, since the Enlightenment, the modern presupposes but also produces reason, dialectics and the rationality of the sciences. The main argument of this chapter holds that instead of the formalism of systems theory, social enlightenment and political rationality are the outcomes of normative theory and rational praxis, which owe their validity and applicability to the formation of dialectical reason. Luhmann's reversal of critical theory into a traditional theory takes the form of a distortion of modernity in which systems theory is presented as the novel and innovative epistemology for modernity.
This chapter explores and analyses critical realism as formed and explained by Roy Bhaskar, and criticizes his conception of dialectics as being reduced to the achievement of scientific totality. Without opposing critical theory to critical realism, the epistemological prospects of dialectics is developed in the chapter as providing an open field of opposing or inter-negating arguments. The chapter elucidates that the eclipse of any normativity criterion, along with the concern for applicability of the sciences, signifies a pre-critical judgement on the part of Bhaskar's critical realism. The focus of epistemological and scientific critique in Bhaskar's critical realism remains on dialectics, for it appears to provide the exit from the methodological as well as the social monovalence. Bhaskar's conception of science is based on perceptual data. It identifies causal laws in science that involve noticing mechanisms and tendencies for their development, where such tendencies are internal to the scientific structure.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. This book examines dialectics in modern epistemology and compares it with critical theory, not 'in order to' but 'because' the latter can offer innovative means of dialectical theorizing. In this way, critical theory has the potential to advance twenty-first-century epistemology. The book attempts to present and ground the argument that a retreat to de-theorization for the sake of the partiality of empiricism, as well as the postmodern approach. In order to avoid social and scientific instrumentality and pre-modern positions, the construction of scientific politics has to be criticized under the perspective of a political epistemology. Such an epistemology negates the determinism of the arguments of social structures and scientific systems, and replaces the postmodern with a dialectics of modernity that reaches all strata of scientific progress.