Issues in Phenomenology and Critical Theory

  • David Rasmussen
Part of the Selected Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy book series (SSPE, volume 7)


The essentially different orientations of phenomenology and critical theory have been so much debated in the history of modern thought that one has reason to wonder if there is any historical evidence for a debate at all. To be sure phenomenology and critical theory have been compared, even formally, in recent history with a view to making them at least similar in orientation, if not identical, in their mutual quests for philosophic truth.1 Equally, or at the same time, critical theorists in particular have attempted to make it emminently clear that there is no relation between phenomenology and critical theory, or if there is, it is a mere appearance.2 Others have argued that if there is a relationship it is a mere pseudo-relationship since those under the influence of phenomenology (later hermeneutics) and those influenced by critical theory (namely Habermas) are really in the same idealistic camp.3 Hence, anyone who enters into this quandry of positions and counter positions is to say the least confused by the rich offering from which to choose. My own reflections on the issue, reflections which were at one time under the influence of phenomenology and now are under the influence of social theory,4 have in some sense attempted to come to terms with these various and conflicting interpretations.


Social Theory Social Phenomenon Modern Theory Critical Theory Temporal Occasion 
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  1. 1.
    This position is best represented by Paci, Enzo. The Function of the Sciences and the Meaning of Man. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1972.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Adorno, Theodor W. The Jargon of Authenticity. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See the argument between Rüdiger Bubner and Hans-Georg Gadamer in Cultural Hermeneutics. Vol. 2, No. 4. February, 1975. (Special Issue on Hermeneutics and Critical Theory).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See my article, “Between Autonomy and Sociality,” in Cultural Hermeneutics. Vol. 1, No. 1, April, 1973, pp. 3–45.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Husserl, Edmund. Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie, erstes Buch, Allgemeine Einführung in die reine Phänomenologie in Husserliana, III. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1950.Google Scholar
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    Husserl, Edmund. Cartesianische Meditationen in Husserliana, I. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1950. See p. 111.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 138–149.Google Scholar
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    Schutz, Alfred. Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt. Vienna: Springer-Verlag, 1960. English translation by George Walsh and Frederick Lehnert. The Phenomenology of the Social World. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1967.Google Scholar
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    Habermas, Jürgen. Knowledge and Human Interests. Boston: Beacon Press, 1971.Google Scholar
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© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1978

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  • David Rasmussen

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