Mihailo Marković 1983

The Idea of Critique in Social Theory

Written: 1983;
Source: The Praxis International Archive;
Transcribed: Zdravko Saveski.

There are two basic issues among those scholars who consider themselves critical theorists:

(1) How to conceive the notion of critique and its relation to explanation (Erklären) and understanding (Verstehen)?

(2) Which spheres of social life should be the primary targets of critique?

If one reduces Critical social theory to the work of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research and its followers, then critique is an alternative to explanation and understanding. Critical social theory would be one of the three major philosophical orientations in contemporary social science, the other two being analytical-empirical and interpretative (phenomenological-hermeneutical) approach.[1] The attitude of the older generation of critical theorists toward methodologies of Erklären and Verstehen was one of separation and even rejection rather than Hegelian transcendence (Aufhebung). Habermas provided systematic theoretical ground for this separation when he distinguished three basic knowledge-constitutive interests which are incorporated in the approaches of the three types of sciences. “The approach of the empirical-analytic sciences incorporates a technical cognitive interest; that of the historical-hermeneutic sciences incorporates a practical one, and the approach of critically oriented sciences incorporates the emancipatory cognitive interest.”[2] This kind of typology is much closer to the positivistic than to Hegelian tradition. There is no link between them, no transition, and the last in the triad merely differs from the other two and does not contain them as both abolished and preserved (aufgehoben) moments. Their mutual isolation is further strengthened by the fact that each of those interests is rooted in one dimension of social life: work, interaction and power. Thus power (Herrschaft) gives rise to emancipatory interest which guides critical social science. The concept of critique that derives from such a scheme is a very narrow concept. It is narrow in two senses.

First, it is not clear how critique in this sense can incorporate “positive“ knowledge about social structures, patterns of behavior, actual forces that shape history. Without such knowledge it is impossible to project alternative real possibilities of social change among which one could choose, enlightened by the “emancipatory” interest. Emancipatory projects would be no more than pre-Marxian utopian visions. The fact is that the critical method of Marx includes very careful factual description, structural analysis, establishment of laws – all those things that analytical-empirical approach emphasizes so much and which some critical theorists dismiss as mere “positivism.”

A second sense in which the Habermasian concept of critique is narrow is a very limited conception of the object of criticism. The scheme even fails as self-understanding of what Habermas and other Frankfurt School scholars were doing. They did more than criticize Herrschaft – authoritarian family, the state, Nazi politics. In their interpretation of psychoanalysis, Frankfurt School theorists saw the critical role of the analyst in his analysis of the distorted self-formative processes of the patient. Inner resistances, which cause his/her pathological state and which the analyst helps to combat by setting off a process of depth self-reflection in the patient, is obviously a considerably different kind of target of critique than external authority (although it could be mediated by the internalized form of this authority, the Super-ego). Another example is Habermas’ theory of communicative competence. Here emancipatory interest is grounded on both interaction and power and the critique reveals how closely linked these two are. The negative features of discourse (that would be removed in an “ideal speech” situation) are: lack of autonomy and responsibility, asymmetry among the participants, constraints other than those of argumentation itself. The aim of critique is to initiate self-reflection by which we can be liberated not only from direct domination but also from its more hidden, indirect forms that are implicit in speech, culture, tradition, customary ways of life. Power cannot be regarded as a separate dimension of life isolated from interaction; neither can it be isolated from work. The latter is a dimension of social life which falls almost entirely outside the scope of interest of the Frankfurt Critical social theory. The Institute for Social Research shifted its primary concern from the critique of socio-economic structure of bourgeois society to the critique of its cultural superstructure.[3] In Habermas’ classification of cognitive interests only a technical interest is grounded on the sphere of work. An ideal community is an ideal speech community, not a community of praxis, that transcends alienated labor and alienated politics, and that includes “free, symmetrical, responsible, unconstrained discourse” as one of its dimensions. The question arises, of course, how a social critique can be thoroughgoing and radical enough if it does not see the roots of distorted speech in those political and economic structures that support social relations of domination and exploitation.

The purpose of this paper is to develop a more general and concrete idea of critique. I shall argue that a social inquiry that lacks critique of its object is not complete and that critique in its various dimensions plays a central role in all phases of research. Therefore one should not isolate critique from explanation and understanding, and treat critical social science as a mere alternative to the analytical-empirical and the interpretative one. Critique of social reality presupposes its accurate empirical description, analysis and understanding. On the other hand, critical self-reflection is implicit in all phases of valid analysis and interpretation.

An adequate philosophical foundation of the idea of critique requires a more general theory of truth than the customary correspondence theory. It requires also a clarification of a basic value standpoint that underlies all criticism. The consequence of such a generalization of the idea of critique will be a broadening of the field of its targets in modern society.


Critique is not something external to social science knowledge, it is not something that may (but need not) coexist with description, analysis, explanation and understanding. All social inquiry is incomplete that is reduced to a mere description, or to structural analysis without examination of the change of those structures. Equally incomplete is research that seeks merely to explain and understand actually given phenomena without exploring the alternative possibilities.

A paradigm of the completely developed social science involves the following necessary elements:

1) The researcher is aware of his basic theoretical and methodological assumptions, is ready to state them explicitly and defend them in a dialogue, but is also prepared to revise and improve them in the light of new experiences and powerful counter-arguments.

2) These basic theoretical assumptions together with all relevant preceding knowledge give a definite a priori meaning to a selected research program.

3) Problems formulated in the research program determine the scope of relevant phenomena that should be examined and described.

4) In order to understand the meaning of described social phenomena it is necessary to discover agents’ motives, intentions, long-range aspirations.

5) In order to explain the described phenomena it is necessary to establish laws and rules that govern them.

6) Objective determinants established by causal analysis and subjective determinants revealed by interpretation of phenomena determine the framework of historical possibilities of subsequent social development.

7) A fully developed social science does not exhaust its task by providing answers to questions about what exists, what is its meaning, why is it the way it is, what is its potential, and how it could change in the future. It also tries to answer questions about what is negative (inadequate, irrational, unjust, inhuman) in the existing social reality, what are its basic limitations with respect to its own potential.

8) Discovery of the basic limitations of existing reality is the negative dimension of critique. The positive dimension of critique is the discovery of the optimal possibility of its future change. The optimal does not coincide with the most probable; on the other hand, its probability must be greater than zero, otherwise it would not belong to the realm of objective possibilities.

9) Since a fully developed social science theory cannot be separated from practice, inquiry does not end with the establishment of the true picture of examined reality with its limitations and future possibilities. Social science must mediate between existing reality and its optimal future possibilities by examining specific phases of the process and possible practical steps which lead from the one to the other.


Obviously critique plays the central role in all these specific phases and structural elements into which social research can be analyzed: from building the theoretical standpoint to a rational selection of the research program, to interpretation and explanation, to discovery of the negative features of reality and finding ways to overcome them. The centrality of the notion of critique in social science follows from the fact that critique is not one among other forms of conscious activity, it is specifically human conscious activity. Critical consciousness is the consciousness of the negative. Human consciousness involves invariably a moment of the negative in more than one sense.

First, consciousness of an object is consciousness of both its being and its non-being. To be aware of an object as a process means to be aware of the negative in it.

Second, identity of the object involves the negation of everything that is different from it. From a logical point of view any definite class of objects divides the universe of discourse into two parts, one of which is the negation of the other. From a historical point of view any realization of one possibility implies the abolition of all other possibilities. As Spinoza said: Omnis determination negatio est. Projecting of real possibilities can be best understood as the progressive elimination of logical possibilities.

Third, while we observe an object as an actually existing phenomenon, we are also aware of those of its structural and dispositional properties that constitute its potential. Our consciousness of the object is thus polarized into consciousness of what the object is and what it could be but is not yet.

Fourth, all perception is anything but disinterested. Selection of relevant data is at the same time the elimination of everything else. We immediately experience phenomena in the light of our taste, needs, practical interest. We see them often as ugly, unpleasant, dangerous. Furthermore we judge them from the point of view of our moral, legal, political, aesthetical and other standards. Our judgments, whether about immediate affective reactions or judgments mediated by general communal norms, enter our perception and cannot be easily distinguished from purely receptive sensory elements.

Fifth, specifically human consciousness involves a negative attitude toward itself: this is critical self-consciousness. With the exception of some perfectly self-assured imbeciles all other individuals invariably experience as negative certain impulses, affects, habits of thinking including methodological rules of inquiry, norms of conduct, including moral norms of the community to which they belong. In the absence of critical self-consciousness no self-development would be possible.

Those social scholars who advocate value-free social science express their readiness to suspend their practical interests as well as moral and political norms of the cultural traditions to which they belong. Even if they could succeed in this (which is questionable) they cannot avoid constant selection and critical evaluation of observed data, nor permanent application of epistemological values which regulate various phases of inquiry, nor can they escape constant critical reexamination of their own research activity.

Critique in this general sense means discovery of the limitations and realization of the possibilities of their transcendence.

What limitations are we talking here about? These are first, limitations in the description and explanation of reality, second, limitations in the interpretation of the meaning of that reality, third, limitations in reality itself.

Such a conception of critique presupposes a corresponding triple conception of truth. Truth is the intended end-product of inquiry. It is present to a growing degree in incomplete results of fragmentary and unfinished investigation. Critique is the examination and reexamination that leads to this final product.


Truth is usually understood as correspondence or some kind of adequacy of our statements and theories to objective reality. This conception fits very well with the mainstream analytical-empirical orientation in contemporary social science. It contributes significantly to a tendency of reification of knowledge. Objective social reality is constituted by observable invariant patterns of overt behavior and its products – social institutions. Motives, intentions and aspirations are excluded since they cannot allegedly be tested in a satisfactory intersubjective way. The consequence of this elimination of subjectivity from the concept of reality is the lack of understanding of what is going on. The resulting picture of society is very incomplete and unreliable in its predictions, especially in times of crisis and powerful movements. In order to grasp subjective forces that mould history within objective constraints one should take into consideration another dimension of truth: truth of interpretation, adequacy of the scientific model of a social reality (of ideal types) to the meaning intended by the agents themselves.

Schutz‘s postulate of adequacy of inquiry requires: “Each term in a scientific model of human action must be constructed in such a way that a human act performed within the life-world by an individual actor in the way indicated by the typical construct would be understandable for the actor himself as well as for his fellowmen in terms of common-sense interpretation of everyday life.”[4]

This kind of adequacy allows understanding of subjective forces of a social reality. A picture of reality that omits that essential dimension of social life is very incomplete and very unreliable in its predictions.

Nevertheless when both adequacy requirements have been met, when explanation and understanding have been blended in our account of social reality, we still do not know how much is the actual state adequate to its own potential, to what extent it has become what it optimally could be. To the extent to which we want our knowledge to be praxis-oriented rather than passive, we will, therefore, be concerned about a third kind of adequacy, a third dimension of truth: how true is the examined social reality to an ideal standard. When the ideal standard is the one chosen by the agents themselves, critique is internal, when it expresses the basic value standpoint of the research – critique is external; both are needed.

Now the notion of truth that embraces all three dimensions of adequacy can be stated explicitly in the following way.

The concept of truth involves the relation of adequacy between two structures:

a) adequacy of a proposition or theory to objective reality; b) adequacy of a proposition or theory to a subjective reality (motives, aspirations); c) adequacy of reality itself to a theoretical standard of its evaluation. Truth in the first two senses is truth about reality; in the third sense it is truth of reality. A social theory is, then, true to the extent to which the following three conditions have been fulfilled:

1) The theory offers accurate description and a valid explanation of objective social processes (i.e., it is adequate to the actually existing objective state of society),

2) The theory enables us to properly interpret the meaning of social events and symbolical forms (i.e., it is adequate to the given spiritual situation in the society),

3) The theory reveals basic limitations of given society and its optimal possibilities of future development (i.e., it is adequate to a social ideal which expresses the potential for development of the given reality).


Those who still defend the views of neutrality of social science would refuse to study negativity and would insist that description, explanation and understanding do not involve any critical evaluation. To this it could be replied: first that a social researcher cannot completely succeed in “putting himself into brackets” as a practical being, interested member of community; second, that various kinds of values orient our research all the time, and that critique is implicit in all phases of inquiry.

Consider first the analytical-empirical paradigm of social study. The starting point of research is not collection of positive facts, nor even laying down of hypotheses. Dewey was right in establishing that all inquiry starts with the explicit formulation of a problem. However, we become conscious of a problem in the conflict of new data and preexisting theoretical views. Yet the problem is not only how to interpret and explain new data, but it could also be: how to improve our theoretical standpoint and to revise some of our assumptions. A process of critical reexamination of one’s basic methodological presuppositions is going on all the time: in actual research – when some of them turn out to be inadequate, or in a dialogue with representatives of other orientations – when lacunae in one’s initial position become apparent.

The choice of a research program is anything but value-free, autonomous and purely rational. Without a constant critique of various pragmatic interests that determine the choice and direction of inquiry, social science would more or less become a victim of ideological mystification everywhere.

The choice of hypotheses is another step in inquiry that is not regulated by any strict rules. Of course methodological rules determine derivation and testing of consequences. But there are no rules that lead us to decide how many hypotheses will be taken into consideration and when we shall decide that we exhausted all possibilities and that we can stop further testing. In the absence of a critique that challenges early closing of a problem, most results of a hypothetical-deductive inquiry would have to be considered very problematic.

Another question is reliability and validity of empirical data. Before they can be accepted as true evidence they have to undergo extensive critical testing (comparing them, matching data obtained by one method with those obtained by another method, etc.).

A crucial issue in the analytical-empirical paradigm of social science is the status of a law. Laws are indispensable to explanation of phenomena. However, if they are only empirical generalisations lacking any necessity, all explanations are unreliable. On the other hand they become dogmatical if we interpret social laws as expressions of natural necessity. An interesting alternative is a pragmatical strategy of their justification. A statement that has the status of a law is so well theoretically entrenched and has so often been empirically confirmed that we decide to defend it in the conflict with surprising new data until we exhaust all the possibilities (that are offered to us by scientific method) of challenging truly factual character of data and/or modifying without essentially transforming the statement of the law.

To conclude this section: critique is an immanent and indispensable element of all description, causal analysis and scientific explanation – those phases of inquiry that deal with objective dimensions of examined social reality.


What is the role of critique in interpretation, in the study of subjective dimensions of social reality?

The task of social scholars is here to build up interpretative schemes which will help to understand what an act means for the agents and those persons who interact with them. Using the method of ideal types-building the scholar attributes “typical” goals and purposes to fictitious, “typical” individuals in everyday life. Phenomenologists and hermeneutic social scholars know very well that those constructions must not be arbitrary. Alfred Schütz introduced the postulates of logical consistency and of adequacy in order to justify them. “Fulfillment of the postulate of logical consistency warrants the objective validity of the thought-objects constructed by the social scientist … Compliance with the postulate of adequacy warrants the consistency of the constructs of the social scientist with the constructs of common-sense experience of the social reality.”[5]

These two postulates hardly suffice to overcome the arbitrariness in building interpretative schemes. Husserl believed that phenomenological description must rest on certain basic a priori structures of meaning which do not hold only for this or that everyday’s world but for the world in general. The attempt to build a transcendental phenomenology as a fundamental science of transcendental subjectivity failed, in the view of Schutz.[6] He attempted himself to explore some basic structures that constitute any form of social life, from Greek polls to contemporary industrial society. These are face-to-face interactions or interactions in the world-of-contemporaries. However, these are an inadequate basis for the interpretative schemes of individual social researchers: there is no mediation between them. The mediatory role could be played by the structures that characterize specific historical types of society. Here lies one of the basic limitations of the phenomenological method: no structure is conceived historically, in its genesis, transformation and disappearance.

The most difficult problem for interpretative social science is the impossibility to make a distinction between adequate and false consciousness that people have about their own activity and the activity of others. Interpretative social science assumes that every individual is able to understand his acts and be aware of his motives. But what happens if the agent is wrong concerning his true motives, if he lacks true self-understanding? Schutz does not even consider this possibility. For him an in-order-to motive is simply “an act that an individual projects into the future perfect sense and in terms of which the action receives its orientation.” There is nothing in the phenomenological method that allows a critical attitude toward individual self-understanding, or toward subjective meaning. In this way are entirely ignored all such important insights as Hegel’s analysis of “false consciousness,” Marx’s critique of ideology, Sartre’s analysis of “bad faith,” Freud’s discovery of the mechanisms of repression, resistance, self-deceit.

The consequences for the interpretative approach are very serious. Schutz‘s postulate of adequacy required that theoretical models of the social scientist be in agreement with interpretative schemes of agents themselves, in other words, with their self-understanding. If individuals in a society deceive themselves and live in illusions as to their own intentions and motives, all such rationalizations must come to expression in the interpretative model of the scientist. Then such a model is clearly ideological: instead of revealing truth about a social reality, the model would contribute to its mystification.

It follows, then, that interpretation must be critical all the time. It must be a critique of mythical and ideological consciousness. To do this a bridge must be reestablished between analysis of objective social structures and interpretation of subjective processes. In order to discover true motives of an action it is necessary to know objective history of a community, its active forces and pressures, biographies of important individuals, forgotten and repressed past, subjective determinants.

Critique of ideology cannot be separated from the critique of reality that produces ideological consciousness. Critique of social reality is entirely missing in either analytical – empirical or interpretative approaches to social science. When it is there in exceptional individual cases, it lacks any theoretical foundation. For example Schutz writes on equality: “The ideal of equality of chances ought to secure the individual the right to search for happiness and maximum of self-realization that his situation in social reality allows.”[7] There is nothing in Schutz’s philosophy that supports talk abort social ideals, about what ought to be in reality, about happiness, or self-realization as supreme values.


The richest and most adequate theoretical framework for a critique of reality one can still find in Marx; in that sense his thought can indeed be characterized as the critical philosophy of our epoch. However, two fundamental objections are necessary.

First, Marx has to a considerable extent neglected the analysis of subjectivity, especially of those elements of culture and of spiritual life that cannot be fully explained by the social basis, that are autonomous, creative, unpredictable. His great contribution is a philosophical ground for the critique of all ideology. But the description and analysis of the subjective structures of: actual social consciousness, self-consciousness, symbolic forms, traditional culture, was underestimated by both Marx and his early followers. It is therefore indispensable to take into account and interpret within a new totality all that was contributed theoretically and methodologically by phenomologists and hermeneuticians.

Second, in Marx’ positive knowledge about objective social structures is a moment of critical science. In order to be able to say what is not human in reality, in order to be able to project most human future possibility one must know what reality is, what is its structure, what social forces mould events, what are objective tendencies of historical processes. Marx was clear about that, but many among his followers were not. They allowed a hiatus between what is and what ought to be. The apologists would declare that the ideal was already realized. The utopian rebels would reject the ugly present reality in the name of the future ideal without mediating the ideal by a solid knowledge about the structures of existing reality and by a projection of real, feasible, short-range possibilities.

The importance and present day relevance of what Marx has to offer in order to ground social criticism can be best evaluated in comparison with other alternatives.

There is a plurality of philosophical positions that can serve as the theoretical foundation of a critique of reality. A simple typology would rest on two distinctions. One is between the static and the dynamic (historical). The other one is between the absolute and the relative. Thus we would have the following four positions:

First, a static relativism characteristic for pragmatism and structuralism. Value assumptions constitute disparate paradigms of morality analogous to Bachelard’s different types of rationality or Kuhn’s paradigms of science or Levi-Strauss’ codes for expressing specific social structures. A critique of reality is possible from the standpoint of a set of moral rules which are characteristic for each particular society. There is no universal “good” and no sense in which one morality could be judged superior to the others.

Second, if we wish to overcome relativism we could accept absolutism in the sense of Kant or Scheller. There is a transcendental concept of man and his practical reason, there is a historical autonomy of good will, universal moral law. In Scheller basic values are projected into a special absolute realm of validity.

Third, for those who reject static conceptions of either a formalistic ethics of duty or of an axiology of values “in themselves,” another open possibility is Hegel’s historical absolutism. There it is possible to compare and criticize different moral systems and to interpret them as particular moments of development. However, the basic assumption of an absolute spirit ultimately denies history and possible creation of new values in the future.

Fourth, there is the possibility of a historical relativism in the spirit of official Marxism. Marx’s thought is often ambiguous, even contradictory when ideas from different writings, different periods, different theoretical battles are compared. Official Marxist ideology offers a historical and relativistic conception of morality. Morality evolves in history but is always determined by the objective life conditions of a definite social class. This overemphasis on class character of human beings brings us back to relativism. One can find it not only in the Orthodox Marxism of the Second and the Third International, but also in the structuralism of Althusser. Instead of seeing in future what Hegel saw in the past – a process of human totalization, of a progressive enrichment and emancipation, both Orthodox Marxists and Althusserians conceive history as a series of modes of production separated by revolutionary discontinuums and cultural (“epistemological”) gaps. Marx was himself responsible for this relativistic interpretation. For example Marx’s sixth thesis on Feuerbach, “Man is the ensemble of social relationships” has clearly relativistic implications. On the other hand, his critique of alienated labour, of alienated politics and of ideology helps to develop a universal humanistic value standpoint that transcends both false dilemmas of relativism and absolutism, and of static structuralism and historicism.

Critique is free from relativism when it rests on strong convictions, in spite of all respect for the views of others. But it is also free from dogmatism when those convictions are in principle open for possible revision whenever they meet powerful counter-arguments. The underlying assumption here is that dialogues with the opponents make sense – whether they lead to further affirmation or to revision and further self-development of one’s point of view. Without such a free, symmetrical communication one could not discover what is truly universally human.

The universally human is the invariant in the variable. It is constituted by certain specifically human dispositions which are responsible for all spectacular development and ongoing emancipation in history. Such are rationality, creativity, communicative power, ability to cultivate our senses and get an increasingly rich experience of the world, capacity for mutual recognition and care. These dispositions constitute a universal human potential for praxis which is always realized in new, not fully predictable ways. Such a point of view is not static: history of humanity is a process of ever greater differentiation and enrichment. On the other hand this is neither historism that passes from one particular to the other. There is an evolving human identity that remains continuous in all historical transformations. To preserve and further develop this identity, to create historical conditions for equally bringing to life this potential for praxis in all individuals – constitutes the highest good, and the basic ground for critical evaluation of social reality.

This view could be attacked in at least the following three ways.

First objection would be that by virtue of the very fact that it introduces value judgments into social science, the latter becomes ideological. The reply to this would be that only those value judgments are ideological which express the particular interest of a specific social group, class, party, nation, race, religion, or sex. Value judgments which claim universal validity are compatible with scientific objectivity – unless it can be shown that the claim was false.

Second objection is that even if the claims to universal validity of statements about universal human potential cannot be falsified, they also cannot be confirmed – and have therefore metaphysical, non-scientific character. The point is, however, that statements about universal human creativity, rationality and communicability are testable. They would be manifested in each individual under specifiable conditions. Generating such conditions would then allow us to effectively test those statements. In that sense they belong to a general scientific theory of human being in history.

Third objection is that any conception of man that is applied as a value standpoint of critique must be dogmatic and exclusive of other possible standpoints. The answer to this is that dogmatism must be overcome in two ways. Each case of application allows revision of what has been applied. On the other hand, one enters the dialogue with spokesmen of other philosophical views ready to recognize a strong counter-argument, open for mutual influences, interaction and such a consensus that would require improvement of one’s own initial position.


If the idea of man as a being of praxis is the fundamental standpoint of radical critique, then it clearly follows that the targets of criticism will not only be: violation of civil rights, despotic domination, usurpation of the surplus value from property less workers, let alone distorted communication. All these are only specific cases of distorted praxis, of an activity in which individuals fail to be what they could be. From that point of view the dimensions of social life that Habermas allocated to his three knowledge-constitutive interests can be only distinguished but by no means separated. The field of critical social theory is the totality of work, authority and communicative interaction.

Distorted speech takes place under the conditions of alienated labour, of political and cultural domination. Even if allowed to participate in a discourse about the production program of an economic enterprise, a worker lacks knowledge of necessary data, lacks competence to speak in public, and since he is so vulnerable he may also lack courage. He has no chance of taking part in a free, unrestrained symmetrical speech either in his workplace or in political society at large – short of a thoroughgoing social revolution.

Consequently, an ideal form of life is not just an ideal speech community but more generally, an ideal community of praxis, i.e., a community in which equal social conditions would be secured for each individual to bring to life his specific potential for praxis.

There is, by all means, a normative element in the idea of praxis. But it is not arbitrary – it is implicit in the very structure of human activity in history. It is true that for each moment of genuine creativity there have been ages of dull mechanical repetition. For one individual who has fully actualized his creative potential there are thousands who have been disastrously crippled. And yet praxis has always been actually there in human history. Countless anonymous individuals who never had the leisure to indulge in a deliberate search for novelties, managed to create language, basic social institutions, initial technology and an impressive popular culture. As a matter of fact praxis is the necessary condition of history; in its absence human history would be undistinguishable from the history of any other living organisms – slow, repetitive, entirely based on the laws of biological evolution.

The ideal community of praxis is not a completed, idyllic community devoid of all contradictions (resembling perhaps a strangely naive description of communism given by Marx in one passage in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts that all his critics love to quote, usually without bothering to quote other passages incompatible with it). This is a community that resolves some basic conflicts of our epoch, while preserving certain tensions and limitations which seem to inevitably accompany man as a natural and social being, and the destiny of which beyond the horizon of our epoch can hardly be conjectured. It is not clear, for example, whether we can ever get rid of all routine work, of all scarcity, of all heteronomy in social life, of all dimensions of inequality.

And yet, in comparison with our present state of affairs there are two essentially new emancipatory break-throughs in the ideal community of praxis for our epoch.

First, the abolition of any monopoly of alienated, dominating power (political, economical and cultural) opens a space for universal free participation in the decision-making on public issues.

Second, considerable reduction of socially obligatory work and a kind of education the primary purpose of which is the discovery of potential talent, will increasingly liberate all individuals for unstructured, innovative, spontaneous activities.

Such an ideal community of praxis is not merely a postulate of reason or expression of hope but a real historical possibility of our epoch. Its idea gives basic orientation to critical social science. On the other hand critical social science may indicate the way of its practical realization (which would be different in each particular society).

Status quo social scholars tend to dismiss any discourse about ideals as utopian. However the fundamental problem of social science today is not that it suffers from too much unfounded, unscientific, utopian critique of reality. Its true problem is that it is not sufficiently critical and that, under the mask of neutrality and freedom from any values, it simply serves well established practical interests and invisible traditional ideological values.


1. See Richard Bernstein, The Restructuring of Social and Political Theory (New York and London, 1976).

2. Jürgen Habermas, Erkenntnis und Interesse (Knowledge and Human Interests Boston, 1971), p. 308.

3. See Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination

4. Schutz, Collected Papers, (The Hague, 1964) vol. I, p. 44.

5. Schutz, Ibid., vol. I, pp. 63-64.

6. “Husserl’s attempt to account for the constitution of transcendental subjectivity in terms of the operations of a consciousness of a transcendental ego has not succeeded” (Schutz, Collected Papers, vol. III, 1966), p. 82.

7. Schutz, Ibid., vol. II, p. 273.