Critical theory is a school of thought that stresses the examination and the critique of society and culture, by applying knowledge from the social sciences and the humanities. As a term, critical theory has two meanings with different origins and histories: the first originated in sociology and the second originated in literary criticism, whereby it is used and applied as an umbrella term that can describe a theory founded upon critique; thus, the theorist Max Horkheimer described a theory as critical in so far as it seeks "to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them."
In philosophy, the term critical theory describes the neo-Marxist philosophy of the Frankfurt School, developed in Europe in the 1930s, that engaged the works of intellectuals such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. Modern critical theory arose from the anti-positivist sociology of Max Weber and Georg Simmel, the Marxist theories of György Lukács and of Antonio Gramsci, towards that of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt. Critical theory was established as a school of thought primarily by five Frankfurt School theoreticians: Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, and Jürgen Habermas. In Habermas's work, critical theory transcended its theoretic roots in German idealism, and progressed closer to American pragmatism. The concern for a social "base and superstructure" is one of the remaining Marxist philosophic concepts in much contemporary critical theory.
Whilst critical theorists usually are broadly defined as Marxist intellectuals their tendency to denounce some Marxist concepts, and to synthesise Marxian analysis with other sociologic and philosophic traditions has been attacked as revisionism, by Classical, Orthodox, and Analytical Marxists, and by Marxist-Leninist philosophers. Martin Jay said that the first generation of critical theory is best understood as not promoting a specific philosophical agenda or a specific ideology, but as "a gadfly of other systems".
Famous quotes containing the words critical and/or theory:
“Probably more than youngsters at any age, early adolescents expect the adults they care about to demonstrate the virtues they want demonstrated. They also tend to expect adults they admire to be absolutely perfect. When adults disappoint them, they can be critical and intolerant.”
—The Lions Clubs International and the Quest Nation. The Surprising Years, I, ch.4 (1985)
“No one thinks anything silly is suitable when they are an adolescent. Such an enormous share of their own behavior is silly that they lose all proper perspective on silliness, like a baker who is nauseated by the sight of his own eclairs. This provides another good argument for the emerging theory that the best use of cryogenics is to freeze all human beings when they are between the ages of twelve and nineteen.”
—Anna Quindlen (20th century)