Critical theory is a school of thought that stresses the reflective assessments and critique of society and culture by applying knowledge from the social sciences and the humanities.
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- The error in positivism is that it takes as its standard of truth the contingently given division of labor, that between the science and social praxis as well as that within science itself, and allows no theory that could reveal the division of labor to be itself derivative and mediated and thus strip it of its false authority.
- Theodor Adorno, "Why still philosophy?" in Critical Models (1998), p. 10
- If Malcolm X or the Black Panthers had attempted to set up a separate black state on American soil in the tradition of John Brown, their efforts would have been crushed immediately... A nation which, since its founding, has rejected the idea of hereditary entitlements. Slavery and racial discrimination are exceptions to this tradition. Huge, horrific exceptions, but exceptions nonetheless. For all the hypocrisies and bigotries of its citizens and leaders, the United States does promise liberty, equality and justice. The gap between these promises and realities often yaws wide, but the promises abide. They are part of the 'American Dream', the 'American Creed', and the American 'civil religion', which no amount of 'realism' or cynicism seems able to smother... No group in American history has had more reason to disbelieve America's promises than African Americans... Imbued with Christianity and the American Creed, most black Americans rejected the appeals of socialists in the late nineteenth century, Communists in the 1930s, and neo-Marxist 'liberationists' in the 1960s. Rather, when America's unpaid 'promissory note' came due in the 1950s and 1960s, they marched forth from Christian churches to demand fulfillment of the very American promise that 'all men are created equal'. And faith in the redeemability of America's promises remains in the African-American community today, sustaining efforts to overcome continued segregation, unjust incarceration and enduring economic inequality.
- Jeff Pyle, "Race, Equality and the Rule of Law: Critical Race Theory's Attack on the Promises of Liberalism" (May 1999), Boston College Law Review.
- When an active individual of sound common sense perceives the sordid state of the world, desire to change it becomes the guiding principle by which he organizes given facts and shapes them into a theory. The methods and categories as well as the transformation of the theory can be understood only in connection with his taking of sides. This, in turn, discloses both his sound common sense and the character of the world. Right thinking depends as much on right willing as right willing on right thinking.
- Max Horkheimer, "The Latest Attack on Metaphysics" (1937), in Critical Theory: Selected Essays (1982), p. 162
- Instead of ideologically synchronizing contradictions, or assigning them to separate halls of the academy, critical theory seeks to articulate them.
- Russell Jacoby, Social Amnesia (1975), p. 73