Political, Moral, and Critical Theory

James Gordon Finlayson

in The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy

Published in print November 2007 | ISBN: 9780199234097
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:


Political, Moral, and Critical Theory

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Critical theory is a multifarious and dynamic body of thought, and it is hard to make general statements about its relation to practical philosophy without shoehorning it into one-size-fits-all judgments. To avoid doing this, this article indicates wherever possible whose critical theory is at issue and at what phase in its development. The Frankfurt School critical theory is a particular kind of Gesellschaftskritik or social criticism, the practical aims of which are essential to and inseparable from it. Indeed, as distinct from social theory or sociology, critical theory is, in the eyes of its architects and practitioners, a kind of practice. Yet critical theory is still very much philosophy. Furthermore, critical theory from early on had an almost entirely negative view of instrumental reasoning. This raises the question which asks about the kind of practical upshot that critical theory can have, absent of all political, moral, and prudential considerations.

Keywords: critical theory; judgments; Gesellschaftskritik; social criticism; sociology

Article.  21147 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Moral Philosophy ; Social and Political Philosophy

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