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3.1 The Theory of Communicative Action
Starting with Marx's historical materialism, large-scale macrosociological and historical theories have long been held to be the most appropriate explanatory basis for critical social science. However, such theories have twodrawbacks for the critical project. First, comprehensiveness does not ensure explanatory power. Indeed, there are many such large-scale theories, each with their own distinctive and exemplary social phenomena that guide their attempt at unification. Second, a close examination of standard critical explanations, such as the theory of ideology, shows that such explanations typically appeal to avariety of different social theories (Bohman 1999). Habermas's actual employment of critical explanations bears this out. His criticism of modern societies turns on the explanation of the relationship between two very different theoretical terms: a micro-theory of rationality based on communicative coordination and a macro-theory of the systemic integration of modern societies through such mechanismsas the market (TCA, vol. 2). In concrete terms, this means that Habermas develops a two-level social theory that includes an analysis of communicative rationality, the rational potential built into everyday speech, on the one hand; and a theory of modern society and modernization, on the other (White 1989). On the basis of this theory, Habermas hopes to be able to assess the gains and losses ofmodernization and to overcome its one-sided version of rationalization.
Comprehensive critical theories make two problematic assumptions: that there is one preferred mode of critical explanation, and that there is one preferred goal of social criticism, namely a socialist society that fulfills the norm of human emancipation. Only with such a goal in the background does the two-step process ofemploying historical materialism to establish an epistemically and normatively independent stance make sense. The correctness or incorrectness of such a critical model depends not on its acceptance or rejection by its addressees, but on the adequacy of the theory to objective historical necessities or mechanisms (into which the critical theorist alleges to have superior insight). A pluralistic mode ofcritical inquiry suggests a different norm of correctness: that criticism must be verified by those participating in the practice and that this demand for practical verification is part of the process of inquiry itself.
Although Habermas's attitude toward these different modes of critical theory is somewhat ambivalent, he has given good reasons to accept the practical, pluralist approach. Just asin the analysis of modes of inquiry tied to distinct knowledge-constitutive interests, Habermas accepts that various theories and methods each have “a relative legitimacy.” Indeed, like Dewey he goes so far as to argue that the logic of social explanation is pluralistic and eludes the“apparatus of general theories.” In the absence of any such general theories, the most fruitful approach tosocial-scientific knowledge is to bring all the various methods and theories into relation to each other: “Whereas the natural and the cultural or hermeneutic sciences are capable of living in mutually indifferent, albeit more hostile than peaceful coexistence, the social sciences must bear the tension of divergent approaches under one roof”(1988a, 3). In TCA, Habermas casts critical social theory in asimilarly pluralistic, yet unifying way. In discussing various accounts of societal modernization, for example, he argues that the main existing theories have their own “particular legitimacy” as developed lines of empirical research, and that Critical Theory takes on the task of critically unifying the various theories and their heterogeneous methods and presuppositions. “Critical social theory...
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