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2008 (30) Heft 2

Social Theory Today. 30 Years of Analyse & Kritik

 


Editorial | Inhalt | Abstracts

The founders and editors of this journal who got together thirty years ago to deliberate on its programme, had been influenced both by the critical and emancipatory aims of the Marxist tradition and by the rigour and sophistication of analytic philosophy. At the same time they were also dissatisfied with both traditions. They were repelled by the sectarian sides of Marxist economics, frustrated by the inscrutable language of the Hegelian Marxists and puzzled by the lack of explicit normative argument in Marxism. Though the deficits of analytic philosophy were less apparent, its constraint to remain strictly ‘analytical’ in the narrow meaning of the term and to avoid the normative issues of classical social philosophy and ethics was a given. Analytic philosophy appeared ‘value-free’ and without a normative framework that differentiated between relevant and irrelevant issues after conceptual details and logical subtleties had been cleared. It neither aspired to reforming society, nor did it feel the need to see its work within the larger social, political or historical context, something of a striking contrast to the Marxist perspective. The Marxian tradition may have been sectarian, self-involved and incriminated, but it was a social and political tradition. Alasdair MacIntyre, in a similar diagnosis of the drawbacks of both camps, thought the attempt to synthesize the two would lead to an even greater disaster—as he wittily made clear by the quip cited on the first page of the first volume of Analyse & Kritik. However, the problem turned out to be less the fact that their submerging would make a bigger splash than the difficulty to tie Marxism and analytic philosophy together in the first place. Or, even more anticlimatic, it seemed that in the course of time their destiny was to disappear altogether.

Parts of the social sciences in West-Germany, sociology especially, had been going through an ‘identity crisis’ during the late 60ties and 70ties of the last century. This explained a growing interest in debates about global ‘theoretical approaches’ and in the methodological and normative side of the social sciences. By the beginning of the 80ties, however, the collapse of Marxism as an academic discipline was foreshadowed, parallel to an about-turn of the social sciences to empirical rather than theoretical and conceptual research. ‘Grand theories’ with all-embracing claims became suspicious. Rare exceptions in Germany were Niklas Luhmann’s ‘systems-theory’ and Jürgen Habermas’ ‘communicative action’ programme. What was soon to become known as the ‘rational choice theory’, i.e. the generalization of the basic behavioural model of micro-economics, began to intrude into areas occupied formerly by other social sciences. In contrast to earlier conflicts between competing research programmes, these developments took place more in the form of night-raids rather than open battle. New theories displaced older ones, without philosophical reflection or proclamation. Fundamental comparisons between different approaches in the social sciences became rare during this change of pace, and even today are not very common, at least in the philosophically pretentious style of the 70ties.

On the philosophical side, again connected with the breakdown of Marxism, the erosion of social philosophy, a formerly thriving enterprise, had another, different impact on the original programme of Analyse & Kritik. With the exception of Habermas’ communication theory, there was hardly a research tradition around any longer which was inspired by the idea of integrating the two aims pursued by the best versions of Marxism: explanation and practical advice. In a sense this was not unexpected, as Marxism’s weakness in normative argument was one of its well-known lacunas. But analytic philosophy too began to change its shape during the 80ties, a fact sarcastically commented upon by Richard Rorty in a contribution to one of this journal’s early issues. After a period of maintaining a rather rigid, normative attitude towards the social sciences, the philosophy of science began to dissolve and most analytic philosophers returned to ‘classical’ philosophical problems, including the interpretation of classic philosophers. As analytic philosophy lost confidence in its former programmes of positivism and ordinary language, it began turning into the open, variegated , technical, professionalized, even if somewhat helpless kind of philosophy it is today. If there is an exception to these trends which started in the 80ties, it applies to a part of philosophy little affected by the analytic programme in the first place: moral and political philosophy. John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice was, as Rorty stated in his article, the most reflective form of liberalism available at its time, and in accordance with the spirit of liberalism tried to free itself from every kind of philosophical foundation.

In sum, within a decade the situation within philosophy and the social sciences in Germany had changed substantially, compared to the time when Analyse & Kritik was founded. The development of the journal turned out quite differently than its founders had expected. The journal remained first and foremost an interdisciplinary journal with no scheduled convergence of the disciplines in sight—but neither excluding the hope for the spontaneous emergence of a mosaic that would assemble a coherent picture—even without a blueprint.

With the exception of extraordinary situations of scientific crisis, such as the one mentioned, most academics typically regard philosophical reflections on their work as being too ‘foundational’ and of little practical use. To what extent it is ‘value-free’ or partisan, ‘scientistic’ or ‘hermeneutical’, does not cut as much ice with empirically minded researchers as philosophers are inclined to think. And this gap of interest cuts both ways. Findings of scientists regularly need too much interpretation to elicit important insights for philosophers. If there have been, nevertheless, areas of common interest implied within the journal’s original programme, they have been, on the one hand, among those domains of the social sciences which are highly theoretical or philosophical themselves, and, on the other, among those philosophical topics which relate to our social existence as human beings. Most of the contributions during three decades of this journal have either fit into one of these two categories, or into an additional third one of a renewed moral and political philosophy. Social justice was indeed among the prominent topics listed in the editors’ original mission statement.

Over the years there have been many contributions from authors emanating from economics and the social and political sciences, applying newly developed terminologies and methods to old problems like those of norms, roles, cooperation, morality, altruism or justice. There have been analytic philosophers proposing explications of concepts like ‘we-intentions’, ‘psychoanalytic repression’, ‘individualism’, ‘health’ and ‘disease’, ‘rationality’, ‘power’ or ‘human nature’. In the area of moral and political philosophy Analyse & Kritik has engaged in debates on nuclear deterrence, euthanasia, environmental sustainability, human rights, internet communication, and more especially on topics of applied ethics, as those of basic income, organ allocation or globalisation. Analyse & Kritik has included among its contributors some of the most interesting and innovative philosophers and social scientists of today, a list of whom can be found on the journal’s homepage. After thirty years the editors feel it to be an appropriate occasion to once again express their deeply felt gratitude to all the contributors.

What is to be expected regarding one of our original hopes to achieve some kind of critical point of view through ‘analysis’ by philosophical and conceptually theoretical means? Of course, as the journal’s development demonstrates, there is no such thing as ‘pure analysis’, and the hope to achieve criticism by achieving clarity alone is misguided. If philosophy is in a position to achieve anything at all in society, it is either through its moral and political arguments, historic reminders or through linguistic innovations, all of which are not based on descriptive conceptual analysis alone. Even philosophers from the analytic tradition, meanwhile, have come to accept the old wisdom that it is only through awareness of their being part of historically evolved societies that their analytical instruments can be applied to issues of common interest rather than to the narrow domain of a small group of fellow philosophers. Only substantially contextualized and normatively embedded ‘analysis’, then, can provide the insights that are expected from philosophers. In conclusion, therefore, we think that a genuine interdisciplinary rather than a professionally specialized journal is an apt medium to support and foster such work.

As the present 30th anniversary issue shows, scholars with interdisciplinary and integrative, empirical and normative, philosophical and scientific interests voice their specific perspectives and bring out the best in the reciprocal and fruitful combination of ‘Analyse’ and ‘Kritik’. We hope that in future the contributors to this journal will go on being as inventive and creative as their predecessors in the last 30 years. The outcome of this endeavour cannot be planned or anticipated—not 30 years ago and not today. But we can count on the ‘invisible hand’ of scientific progress that the outcome will be valuable and enlarge our insight and capacity of judgement. Analyse & Kritik will continue to provide a forum which can help this invisible hand to work—let us look forward to the next 30 years in that spirit!

 

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