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Critical Theory and Philosophy


									         Critical Theory and Society

          “To the degree that the established society is
 irrational, the analysis in terms of historical rationality
    introduces into the concept the negative element—
              critique, contradiction and transcendence”
Herbert Marcuse, “The Catastrophe of Liberation,” 103
 The narrative of progress
 The narrative of progress: “we have it much
  better than before” (104).
 What does “we have it much better than before”
  commit us to?
 Various features of society appear to be
  necessities; we have to recognize them as part
  of reality.
 The story of progress then admits economic
  and political madness—and we accept it as
  reality even though it is irrational (103).

 Critical Theory: the negative element
 Why does Marcuse state that his analysis is
  focused on the ‘negative’?
 The negative (irrational) elements cannot
  ultimately be harmonised with the positive tone of
  the narrative. Are we really better off now?
 Irrational? In what sense?
 Various features of society—the economy,
  technology, etc.—appear to be ‘independent’ from
  and have power over individuals. These process
  have control over our lives, and not the other way
 The task of critique challenges such ‘truths of
  necessity’: “Critical thought strives to define the
  irrational character of the established rationality
  … and to define the tendencies which cause this
  rationality to generate its own transformation”
 Marcuse believes that at this moment in history
  human beings have developed the necessary
  technological capabilities to overcome the
  irrational elements.
Critique and a ‘new’ reason
 What we need is a new technology: a technology
  that recognises that the telos (i.e. end) of technology
  is to overcome the struggle for existence (105).
 If this direction were to be adopted, it would lead to a
  “catastrophic transformation” of the prevailing
  rationality in economics and technology. Why call it
 We would give them up for a new approach: “The
  function of Reason is to promote the art of life” (ibid)
 What is the art of life?
 Marcuse borrows the idea from A.N. Whitehead:
  it is to live, to live well and to live better (105).
 Reason discerns the discrepancy between the
  ‘real’ and the possible. Because Reason is no
  longer merely instrumental reasoning, it can
  imagine other possibilities.
 Critique is akin to art: it “creates another
  universe of thought and practice against and
  within the existing one” (111). And the role of
  ‘art’ is no longer to “beautifying [the business of
  the prevailing rationality] and its misery” (ibid).
The Reason of science
 Marcuse argues that prevailing concept of
  reason as manifested in established science
  and technology is truncated because it
  excludes the importance of the imagination.
 Marcuse: in the past science demonstrated its
  ‘superiority’ over philosophy and metaphysics
  with the instrumental domination of nature.
  Scientific claims can be easily verified.
 But he believes that metaphysical propositions
  about human flourishing, the good life, may
  now be verified.
Philosophy and Metaphysics
 “Like all propositions that claim truth,
  [metaphysical propositions] must be verifiable;
  they must stay within the universe of possible
  experience. This universe [however] is never co-
  extensive with the established one but extends to
  the limits of the world which can be created by
  transforming the established one. … Thus the
  speculations about the Good Life, the Good
  Society … obtain an increasingly realistic content;
  on technological grounds, the metaphysical tends
  to become physical.” (italics added, 106)

the metaphysical tends to become
 What does “the metaphysical tends to become
  physical” mean?
 Those concepts can now be made concrete, for
  it is now possible for “the translation of values
  into technical tasks” (107).
 “Industrial society has reached the point where
  … the scientific abstraction from final causes
  becomes obsolete in science’s own terms.
  Science itself has rendered it possible to make
  final causes the proper domain of science”
  Scientific enterprise as political
 We can quantify “the available range of freedom
  from want” (107). In this way, the formerly
  philosophical ideas of ‘the good life’, ‘liberation’
  etc. may become the proper object of science.
 In so doing, science becomes political: “For the
  transformation of values into needs, of final
  causes into technical possibilities is a new stage
  in the conquest of oppressive, unmastered forces
  in society as well as in nature” (108).

 Critique and technology
 The “technical mastery of final causes” is
  significant because it “is the … development and
  utilization of resources … freed from all
  particular interests which impede the
  satisfaction of human needs and the evolution of
  human faculties” (108).
 Notice that all the talk about translating values
  into needs and the technical mastery of final
  causes require “the continued existence of the
  technical base itself” (107). What is different is
  the recognition of different ends.
  Critique and the mastery of ‘nature’
 Marcuse: “there are two kinds of mastery: a
  repressive and a liberating one” (109). What is the
  liberating sense of mastery?
 “The reduction of misery, violence and cruelty” (ibid).
  How plausible is this claim as a notion of mastery of
 Here is one way in which it may be plausible: our
  society tolerates the ill-treatment of animals “the
  work of a human society whose rationality is still the
  irrational” (110).

  The arrogance of reason?
 But Marcuse adds that “civilization produces
  the means for freeing Nature from its own
  brutality, its own insufficiency, its own
  blindness, by virtue of the cognitive and
  transforming power of Reason” (110).
 Why describe the interaction between say a
  lion and an antelope as blind or brutal? What
  may some of the consequences be if we
 Liberation from what then?
 Liberation from “affluent society” (113). What
  does liberation mean?
 It is not a romantic return: a return “to healthy
  and robust poverty, moral cleanliness and
  simplicity” (113).
 Rather it is the elimination of “profitable waste”
  in affluent, consumerist society (ibid).
 One of the main obstacles: “comfort, business
  and job security … may serve as a universal
  example of enslaving contentment” (114).

 The affluent society
 The affluent society is “overdeveloped;” it is not
  a suitable model for sustainable development
 A suitable model would involve rational
  population control (114) and a “redefinition of
  needs” (115).
 The more ‘false needs’ become “the individual’s
  own needs and satisfactions, the more would
  their repression appear to be an all but fatal
  deprivation” (ibid).

 Dare to use your own reason
 What is the possibility of using one’s own
  reason in contemporary society? Is there such
  a ‘space’?
 This sort of ‘space’—this kind of privacy—is
  available only to few in contemporary society,
  and most of them don’t take advantage of it
  (114). What about the rest?
 The rest of us face the force of conforming to
  mass society. Here think about the role of

 Dare to use your reason
 “The mere absence of all advertising and of all
  indoctrinating media of information and
  entertainment would plunge the individual into
  a traumatic void where he would have the
  chance to wonder and to think, to know himself
  … and his society. Deprived of his false …
  representatives, he would have to learn his
  ABC’s again” (115).

What does the catastrophe of liberation
  For Marcuse, liberation from false needs has
   the consequence of overcoming the
   established technological and social order.
  The catastrophe of liberation is ironic. It is
   saying goodbye to an irrational society.


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