The phenomenological concept of modern knowledge and the utopian method of Marxist economics
I now propose to examine the split between power and freedom in Western knowledge by returning to Husserl’s1 formulation of it and by situating its phenomenology in the context of Marxist-Weberian political economy. In attempting to show these connections, I hope to point the way to a synthesis of phenomenology and critical theory which I think Habermas attempted too late in his battle against postrationalism. Rather than take on the philosophical and literary postmodernists and have them teach us our business, I think we must stand firmly upon our own ground of sociological knowledge and not import it second-hand from literary critics whose sense of social institutions is often very thin as I show elsewhere (O’Neill 1992-See Ch. 1, note 6). It is for this very reason that here I deliberately develop my argument from the nature of economic knowledge, critically related to its own institutional and value assumptions. The argument will move from the works of Husserl and Heidegger onto Marcuse, Weber, Hegel and Marx. My study of this constellation represents an effort to integrate the grounds of rational knowledge and freedom in an ‘originary’ matrix of the human praxis which sustains Western knowledge and its regional sciences of nature and society. In particular, it responds to Husserl’s call for a new kind of philosophical method, which I have called ‘documentary work’;2 this method has already borne fruit in the historical and social sciences, where it is suited to the hermeneutic problem which arises from the essentially reflexive nature of human knowledge and praxis. Finally, I shall develop the notion of documentary work in connection with Merleau-Ponty’s concept of ‘institution’,3 in order to relate the reflexive features of knowledge to the dialectic of institutional order and individual freedom, which is the ground of critical theory as I understand it.