Immanent Critique, Power, and Ideology

Immanent Critique, Power, and Ideology

Workshop "Internal Critique"; University of Essex, May 2013


Titus Stahl

May 10, 2013


  1. 2.

    Structure of the paper What (if anything) is “immanent critique”?

    Is there a plausible model of immanent critique? Can there be an immanent critique of ideological practices?
  2. 4.

    What is IC? Immanent critique as a form of social

    critique Object: social practices Mode: comparison with a (normative) standard, aspires to provide reasons for participants
  3. 5.

    What is IC? Distinction of forms of critique according to

    justificatory basis: “Internal critique”: justification of critique by reference to explicitly accepted standards “External critique”: justification of critique by reference to acceptance-independent, objective standards Two reasons for overcoming this distinction: It is not exhaustive Both models are normatively unattractive
  4. 6.

    What is IC? Immanent critique: A critique which draws on

    standards which are internal to social practices but which nevertheless transcend explicitly accepted standards. Three questions: social ontological (what does it mean that there exists a standard “in” a practice?) epistemic (how can we have knowledge about it?) justificatory (why should anyone care?)
  5. 7.

    What is IC? Hegel’s model of immanent critique Standards immanent

    in social reality in virtue of the rationality of a certain structure of human self-understanding. goes beyond mere empirical self-understanding but must make presupposition of process of rationalization strong notion of contradiction
  6. 9.

    Two plausible models 1. A hermeneutic model (Walzer, Taylor, MacIntyre):

    Basic idea: Within our self-understandings, there are normative resources, recoverable through interpretation, which always potentially transcend any given form of that self-understanding Ontology: Meaning implicit in our self-understanding Epistemology: Interpretation Justification: Drawing on shared commitment to own self-understanding
  7. 10.

    Challenges to the hermeneutic model Unclear account of the normative

    force of self-understandings Problem of conservatism: Seemingly no criticism of self-understanding from the outside Problem of presupposition of unity: No place for conflicts within self-understandings Problem of progress: How to distinguish better from worse interpretations?
  8. 11.

    Two plausible models 2. A practice-based model (Habermas, Honneth) Immanent

    critique as reconstruction of normative contents implicit within a fundamental practice of social integration (communication, recognition) Ontology: Immanence of norms in practices Epistemology: Reconstruction of practical norms (Habermas: formal-pragmatic analysis) Justification: Constitutive commitments
  9. 12.

    Challenges to the practice-based models Not clear what the ontology

    of “norms” is Unclear whether privileging one particular practice is justified
  10. 13.

    A fresh start Proposal: Immanent norms as implicit in network

    of mutual ascriptions of authority. Start from normative reactions in a practice; but each particular reaction has only a default authority, its legitimacy can be defeated by non-acceptance. Towards a recognition model of immanent critique.
  11. 15.

    A recognition model Immanent norms: There is a norm immanent

    in a practice if there is a group of persons, each of whoms stands in relationships of recognition to other persons within that group which entail that she accepts the standard authority of those others over the question whether some token of behaviour exhibited by her counts correct according some presupposed, collectively accepted standard.
  12. 16.

    A recognition model Immanent critique: An immanent critique of social

    practices takes up the implicit standards contained in the recognition-based mutual attribution of standard authority between participants of that practice, in order to evaluate both the actual behaviour and the explicit normative beliefs of those participants. IC is therefore both immanent and transformative.
  13. 17.

    A recognition model Social ontology: Immanent norms are constituted by

    persons standing in relationships of recognition of a specific sort. Epistemology: Immanent norms of a community can be discovered through an interpretation of their intersubjective tendencies to evaluate each other’s behaviour Justification: Critical demands can refer to the implicit commitments of persons which are instituted in mutual ascriptions of authority
  14. 18.

    Justification What kind of justification does this model entail? Social

    versus moral justification Only grounds hope, does not attempt to give metaphysical foundations of progress
  15. 20.

    An objection Under certain circumstances, not only the content of

    norms but the very form of normativity are ideological. Form of institution of norms presupposed by the recognition model assumes that the recognition of others expresses a capacity for normative self-legislation Background assumption of the capacity of subjects to reflexively evaluate the own norms These capacities, however, become questionable if we assume that the capacity to institute norms might itself be a product of relationships of power
  16. 21.

    An objection If practices are pervaded by a form of

    power which establishes ideological forms of subjectivity and thereby immunizes itself against critique, pursuing immanent critique might have the result of ideologically affirming this kind of power
  17. 22.

    An answer If a practice is ideological if it contains

    constitutive norms according to which certain critical objections cannot be raised within that practice.
  18. 23.

    An answer Such second-order norms must themselves be instituted through

    mutual recognition between participants in that practice. Within the very structure of institution of such norms, thus, there is an inbuilt commitment of participants that exercises of the authority of participants, on each level, are always potentially subject to further normative evaluations. This entails an implicit commitment to a structure of normativity that allows for critique.
  19. 24.

    An answer If we extend the idea of immanent critique

    such that it not only covers evaluations of a practice according to its immanent norms, but also evaluations of the structure of normativity through which such norms are instituted according to the claim of all participants in each social practice to accept or reject normative evaluations, we can also provide an immanent critique of subjectivating and ideological practices.