Science, normativity and skill: Reviewing and renewing the anthropological basis of Critical Theory

Philosophy and Social Criticism 37 (2):139-165 (2011)
The categories and contours of a normative social theory are prefigured by its ‘anthropological’ presuppositions. The discourse/communicative-theoretic basis of Habermasian theory was prefigured by a strong anthropological demarcation between an instrumentally structured realm of science, technology and labor versus a normatively structured realm of social interaction. An alternative anthropology, bolstered by current work in the empirical sciences, finds fundamental normative needs for orientation and ‘compensation’ also to be embedded in embodied material practices. An emerging anthropologically informed concept of skill that goes beyond old manual versus intellectual dichotomies and brings forth internal criteria of autonomy and authenticity can serve as a new bridge between categories of social justice, such as Sen and Nussbaum’s basic human ‘capabilities’, and new cutting-edge work in the empirical human sciences and thereby provide Critical Theory with a renewed point of departure that is both normatively and descriptively rich, for advancing its dialectical, historical mission
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DOI 10.1177/0191453710387064
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