Criticism and Social Action Asher Idan [Ph. D. Dissertation, Tel Aviv University, 1985]



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Criticism and Social Action
Asher Idan
[Ph.D. Dissertation, Tel Aviv University, 1985]
(Supervisor: Marcelo Dascal)
ABSTRACT
Marx himself would have agreed with such a practical approach to the criticism of his method..... He was led to this position, I believe, by his conviction that a scientific background was urgently needed by the practical politician.
K.Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies


In the society that denies use—values, the entire ideology – a science, supposedly – is built on the sole basis of preeminence of exchange—values. Thus the hell of reality is compensated for by the heaven of ideas.
S.Amin, Imperialism and Unequal Development

The central question which will be discussed in my work is: What kinds of criticism can we find in metascientific and in metapolitical theories and what are the connections between these kinds of criticism? I deal mainly with twentieth century theories which try to evaluate the influence of criticism on scientific and political practice. Metascientific and metapolitical theories are theories about science and about politics. They may stem from different perspectives, such as the philosophy of science, the philosophy of politics (or the so-called “political philosophy”), sociology and psychology of science, the political sciences, the history of science, the critical theories of society and politics, and so on.

The thesis is divided into two parts and seven chapters. Chapter 1 is the Introduction to both parts. Part A deals mainly with three schools belonging to the European—American context: critical rationalism (Popper, Lakatos, Agassi, Jarvie, Albert), pluralism (Kuhn, Feyeraband, Winch, some kinds of hermeneutics), and critical social theory (Lukacs, Horkheimer, Marcuse, Adorno, Habermas. Part B (Chapters 5, 6, 7) deals mainly with three trends of thought that enlarge their perspective beyond the European— American context. This includes the Praxis School, the theory of unequal development in the world system (Frank, Wallerstein, Amin), and the Althusserian School.
Chapter 1 begins by introducing Popper’s theory about the influence of criticism on the natural sciences the social sciences and on politics. Popperian metascience’s main concern is not the logical analysis of scientific statements and theories, but the logical analysis of the practice of conjectures and refutations. This practice means: a clear presentation of the problems in a certain domain of knowledge, of the possibilities of solutions, and a critical assessment of the different solutions. According to Popper, this is not the kind of practice to be found only in the natural sciences, but rather in every kind of rational endeavor. Thus, Popper identifies criticalism and rationalism and he calls his attitude “critical rationalism”.

My whole thesis can be seen as a critical discussion of Popper's kinds of criticism. Thus, I continue chapter 2 by examining Kuhn's criticism of Popper's metascience, Lakatos's and Agassi's improvements of it, and Feyerabend's improvements to Kuhn's criticism, including their extension to metapolitics.

According to Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerablend, there is no clear criterion for determining under what conditions a conjecture or a hypothesis is to be rejected, i.e., we do not know in advance what are the proper standards of criticism. In concrete research situations we often do not know whether we are confronted with an obstacle to be overcome, a counter-instance that can be tolerated because of the enormous success of the theory, or evidence that should be taken as falsifying our claim. The judgments of the scientists in cases like these are fallible. The standards of criticism are themselves open to interpretation.

According to Kuhn, there are two kinds of science, which alternate periodically: 1) Normal science, in which one paradigm defines the procedures and objects of research; and 2) revolutionary science, where we find more than one paradigm in a given scientific domain. The main activity in the stage of normal science is "puzzle solving”, where criticism is never directed at basic pre—suppositions, practices and theories, which constitute the governing paradigm. In revolutionary science, the shift from one paradigm to another does not happen due to some kind of argumentative criticism but rather by virtue of psychological causes (Gestalt switch), sociological causes (institutional or generational change, or rhetorical persuasion.

Lakatos improved critical rationalism by introducing a dynamical and historical perspective and thus gave new meanings to the concept of criticism. Kuhn’s “normal science” is nothing more than a paradigm or a research program that became monopolistic in a given scientific domain. A research program is a developing paradigm. The shift from one research program to another never happens by one act of criticism but through a long and complex combination of tests, experiment, ad—hoc hypotheses, etc.

According to Agassi, the Popperian kind of criticism is important in the internal history of science and functions as a force of change. But — he claims — Popper didn’t analyze adequately the importance of the social institutions for the external history of science. These institutions function, as a pressure towards stability. The tension between the forces of change and the forces of stability give a new dimension to the concept of criticism. First, criticalism and rationalism are not the same thing any more, since there are non-rational kinds of criticism (like the scholastic and the talmudic kinds). Second, criticism should be directed not only to means but also to ends, which can be extra—scientific. This new dimension of criticism enables Agassi to apply the modified critical rationalism from metascience and metapolitics to metatechnology.

Feyerabend radicalizes Kuhn’s and Lakatos’s criticism against Popper’s metascience and extends it against Popper’s metapolitics and, more generally, against modern science and modern society. First, science is much less critical than is widely believed. Second, science tries to be a monopolistic way of gaining knowledge. Third, science has lost its social emancipatory power and became a repressive instrument in the hands of conservative groups. Fourth, science as a central Western kind of practice tries to achieve a monopolistic stand vis—a—vis non—Western kinds of practice (traditional Chinese medicine, Voodoo, etc.).
Chapter 3 begins by introducing Lucaks's analysis of capitalist reification as an obstacle to criticism in science, philosophy, and politics,. Reification is an alienation of the second degree. A man or a group become alienated when their products become independent, “objective” forces which cannot be controlled by them. A man or a group become reified when their conscious­ness “freezes”, in commercial forms, the above men­tioned capitalist product. The capitalist scientists and philosophers (including metascientists and metapoliticians) suffer from reification and “freeze”, in commercial forms, scientific and philosophical theories and see their theories as independent and objective “truths” (Plato’s Ideas, Descartes’s Cogito, Kant’s Thing In Itself, and I can add: Popper’s World 3). Kant’s critical philosophy was one of the first (unconscious) steps towards a criticism of capitalist reifi­cation but it is practically ineffective since it cannot be directed to the causes of reification and alienation which are to be found in the capitalist mode of production Kant’s criticism was non-concrete and unhistorical. Hegel historicized Kant’s criticism and Marx concretized it.

According to Lukacs’s interpretation of Marx, the only social force which can criticize practically and concretely the capitalist reality and its reification is the proletarian class. This class can also build a non-reified alternative to the reified capitalist science and philosophy. This alternative will be based on central concepts like: process (instead of objects), totality (instead of fragments) and quality (in addition to quantity). The general framework of this alternative is the proletarian class consciousness.

Horkheimer and Marcuse try to develop some of Lukacs’s ideas. They distinguish between traditional theory and critical theory. Critical theory opposes the reproduction of the existing social order, while traditional theory supports it or remains neutral. The methods of the natural sciences should be complemented by a critical method if we want to have an adequate social science and political theory.

After World War II, Marcuse and Habermas continue to develop the original thesis of the Frankfurt School. Marcuse argues that science and technology became central capitalist productive forces, that the technocratic consciousness grew, and thus science became an anti—critical force. Habermas develops part of Marcuse’s ideas through the distinction between the concepts of work and communica­tion. The extrapolation of the domain of work to the domain of communication is an important kind of reification. Modern science and technology are based on an instrumental reason which tried to be immune to the criticism of the normative—communicational reason. An instrumental criticism is of limited scope since it is never directed to the compre­hensive goals of society but only to the means through which the existing goals are achieved.


Chapter 4 is a summary of part A and a bridge to part B. I begin by criticizing critical rationalism from the points of view of critical social theory and of pluralism. Apel joins Adorno’s and Habermas’s criticism and brings with him a hermeneutica1 diinension. To this I add the Marxist Althusserians’ (Curthoys and Schuthing) perspective on knowledge as production, and the pluralist (Winch) perspective on knowledge as interpretative. The central point of this criticism against critical rationalism in this chapter, which is common to both Marxists and pluralists, is that it has too narrow a concept of criticism. Habermas and Apel argue that the principles of communication are more basic and universal than the principle of research in natural science (Apel’s principle of the a priori of communication, Habermas’s principles of universal pragmatics). Thus, the concept of criticism should be discussed in this more basic and universal context. Adorno argues in a similar way about the concept of criticism of social reality. Winch argues that the concept of criticism of the critical rationalists is an Europoentric one, since they never criticize themselves yes from the perspective of other cultures. Critticism should be dialogical, according to him. Althusserians argue that the concept of criticism of the critical rationalists is individualistic, while criticism in science and in politics is always social specific to a certain mode of production.

I criticize the pluralists’ concept of criticism through Habermas’s criticism against Winch and Gadamer, through Jarvie’s criticism against Winch, and through the Althusserians’ criticism against Feyeraband. The criticism the three share against pluralism is that on the basis of a wider concept of criticism the relativistic elements of pluralism become redundant (Habermas’s praxical and communicational criticism, the Aithusserians’ practical – as different.from praxical – and societal criticism, and Jarvie’s levels of rationality).

I criticize the critical social theory through Popper’s and Albert’s criticism against Adorno and Habermas and by applying Feyerabnd’s critique of the Althusserians to Adorno and Habermas. The central pluralist criticism against critical social theory is that it is Europocentric. Thus, for example, Habermas’s universal pragmatics is not universal since it is based on an European mode of language and action. Popper and Albert argue against the critical social theory that its concept of criticism is ambiguous and that total criticism can bring about social disasters.

I conclude chapter 4 by examining Radnitzky’s attempt to find a critical-hermeneutical ethics as a common basis of the three disputing trends of thought and as a basis for a unified theory of metaetics and metascience. At the end of part B we will see that Radnitzky’s attempt was one of the first steps towards overcoming the dichotomy objectivism—relativism.


Chapter 5 opens part B by extending our discussion from Western Europe and the U.S.A. to Eastern Europe and the U.S.S.R. Djilas criticized the social structure of the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe from a new perspective, namely not from a liberal perspective, but from a Marxist perspective, which exposes a new exploiting class which Djilas called “The New Class”. Djilas argued that the U.S.S.R. is not the socialist country but one form (not the best) of socialist country. It is characterized by state socialism and imperialistic socialism. Suppressing private owner­ship and replacing it by state ownership doesn’t entail the suppression of exploitation. The state bureaucracy and mainly the party bureaucracy constructs an exploitative single monopoly (the state). The internal exploitative structure is extended to an ex­ternal exploitative structure where the U.S.S.R. exploits the Eastern European countries through unequal exchange and through developing them as unequal partners in the Soviet economy.

The Praxis School developed ideas similar to the above, and gave them a philosophical basis. According to it, the best alternative to state socialism is self—managing socialism in the internal and in the external level. This alternative is the “material condition” for a non-elitist and concrete political criticism and for a critical-creative man in a critical-creative society.

From the analysis of Djilas and the Praxis School two criticisms against Popper emerge:

1) Popper didn’t realize that many of the social evils in the U.S.S.R., which he criticized, are not the result of a Marxist politics but of the opposite of it, namely of a deviation from the Marxist politics to a mixture of centralism, expertism, etatism and anti-humanism. This point will be discussed in a wider context at the end of chapter 7, after introducing Amin’s and Althusser’s analyses.

2) Popper didn’t realize chat there is a key difference between scientific criticism and political criticism. Unlike scientific criticism, which is usually of an abstract and elitist kind (since it is theory-oriented, rather than reality-oriented, and since it is generally the business of experts), political criticism should be concrete and non-elitist. Concrete and non-elitist criticism cannot be directed only against parties and/or ideologies (usually in elections once in four or five years), but should be directed also at the factory managers, planners, and policy-decisions in discussions between the managers and experts on the one side and the workers on the other.
In some respects, Chapter 6 continues the discus­sion of Chapter 5 by extending some of its themes to the Eastern European—Soviet context as well as to the global context. Frank analyzed the historical development of the relationships between the "core" (U.S.A., Western Europe, U.S.S.R., Japan) and the "periphery" (most of the countries of Africa, Asia and South America) in three periods:

1) The period of the birth of the system of core and periphery, from the discovery of the New World to the Industrial Revolution.

2) The period of the appearance of the institutional and ideological expressions of the relationship between the core and its periphery (the French Revolution, democracy, liberalism, etc.), from the industrial revolution to the beginning of the fall of the British Empire in the fourth quarter of the 19th Century.

3) The period of the deepening of the exploitation of the periphery through changes in the forms of exploitation (from political colonialism to the economical imperialism of huge and multinational firms, and from a “free market” economy to a monopolistic one), from the last quarter of the 19th century to the sixties of the 20th century.

Wallerstein developed Frank’s theory by analyzing the relationships between core and periphery in terms of the idea of a “Capitalist World System”, by analyzing the internal European conditions of the birth of the core, by pointing to the three variables of the mobility of one country toward the core of the system, and by developing the methodology for the analysis of the "World System". According to Wallerstein, a socialist revolution is not an event but a long process. Thus the Russian Revolution was more a kind of change of regime than a socialist revolution. Mao, for example, argues that a socialist revolution is a long process which not only moves one socialist state towards the core of the capitalist world system, but which begins the replacement of the capitalist world economy by a socialist world economy. I think that, in the same way as the concept of criticism was modified from “instant criticism” through one crucial experiment to a more historical concept of a "critical process" (Lakatos), so too the concept of revolution (which is a kind of "practical criticism") was modified from “instant revolutionism" through one crucial battle to a more historical and concrete idea of "revolutionary process". Thus, Popper’s “refutation” of Marxism through the Soviet “crucial” experiment is wrong both from a metascientific and from a metapolitical point of view.

Amin agrees with most of Frank’s analysis. He added to it the fundamental rule of unequal development from the periphery to the core, as well as a criticism of Europocentrism and Economism. He also developed the theoretical metapolitical and metascientific basis for the struggle against imperialism, and proposed a conceptual revolution in the Marxist method. Marx was an Europocentrist thinker who didn’t understand what he stigmatized as the “Asiatic Mode of Production”. According to Amin, this mode is equivalent to the tributary mode which is the central mode in history. The European kind of feudalism is not an independent mode but a sub-type of the tributary mode. It is a transitional mode since feudalism usually tends to become tributarism (as happened in China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India). European feudalism is an exceptional case in history, since it became capitalism, and thus it was a kind of “historical mutation”. Amin’s metapolitical conclusions from his analysis are:

1) Industrialization is not a necessary means to reach a socialist society. Unlike Lenin, Trostky and Stalin, Amin argues that there is no universal necessity to pass from feudalism to socialism through a capitalist proletarization.

2) There is (at least) an equal chance for a socialist revolution in countries which are based historically on the tributary mode of production.

3) There is a deep difference between the revolutionary politics of the core and of the periphery, since the peripheral proletariat is struggling not only against the internal capitalism but (mainly) against the external capitalism of the core.

Amin has also two metascientific-metapolitical conclusions: ‘.



  1. Science is the ideology of the capitalist mode of production, much like religion is the ideology of the tributary mode of production. The unseen God (or Gods) in the religious ideology is the parallel of the unseen market (or the forces of the market) in the scientific ideology.

  2. Capitalist science is not socially and politically neutral since it was developed as a productive force in ex­ploitative relations of production. Thus, scientific theories and technological instruments should not be imported as “packed boxes” from the core to the periphery, but should be critically analyzed and rebuilt according to the needs of the periphery

From the analysis of Frank, Wallerstein and Amin I conclude that:

1) Critical social theory was unaware of the importance of understanding the periphery for understanding the obstacles to socialism in the core.

2) Popper has a similar Europocentric (not universal) concept of criticism in his metapolitics.

3) Unlike critical rationalism and unlike critical social theory which are Europocentric, the pluralists are aware of the trap of Europocentrism, but their alternative is an abstract pluralism which ignores the concrete results of Europocentrism.


Chapter 7 is a summary of part B and of the whole work. I begin by returning to Popper’s metapolitical criticism against Marx’s revolutionary politics. Then I introduce Althusser’s “reading” of The Capital through the actions and the institutions of Marxism. Since Popper tried to do a similar reading, I confront Popper and Althusser on issues like historicism and economism. Surprising similarities (and of course also differences), which appeared already in Chapter 4 in connection with the Aithusserians’ criticism of Popperian metascience. According to Althusser, many readers of Marx (and I think that Popper is one of them) have read him through the perspective of the empiricist problematic, while the Marxist problematic is a post-empiricist and a practice-oriented one.

From Amin’s and Althusser’s analysis an alternative to the dichotomy between objectivism and relativism emerges. They go beyond these two extremes. Another alternative to this dichotomy is that of Rorty and Bernstein. According to (what I call) the “abstract hermeneutical-praxical pluralism” of Rorty and Bernstein the above mentioned dichotomy is the result of the Cartesian Anxiety which is based on empiricist and monological problematics. According to (what I call) the “concrete practical pluralism” of Amin and Althusser (though there are important differences between them) the above mentioned dichotomy is the result of the capitalist reality. A concrete pluralism should take different modes of production as the basis of the analysis of cultural and political pluralism.


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