The foundations of a critical social theory: Lessons from the Positivismusstreit

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Abstract

Is the Positivismusstreit still worth our time? Fifty years after a controversy that contemporary observers have already marked as rather disappointing, the contemporary scholar might have a hard time trying to make sense of a debate that raised attention for its political implications more than for its contribution to social theory. And yet, some very important lessons can still be drawn from it. First, the ethical foundations of science – including social science –, inasmuch as any scientific enterprise, rest on an ethical ideal of knowledge and society; second, the fact that such a foundation is itself not subject to scientific ‘proof’, but must be instead argued for (or against) on the basis of a critical reflection on the historical traditions and the social practices that make science possible. The article aims to highlight that these assumptions are present both in Popper’s and in Adorno’s approach to science, how they have been further elaborated by Habermas in a close engagement with the tradition of philosophical hermeneutics and what is their importance for today’s scholar.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-184
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Classical Sociology
Volume15
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2015

Keywords

  • Adorno
  • Critical theory
  • Frankfurt School
  • Popper
  • Positivismusstreit

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