chapter  14
Horkheimer in context
Pages 17

Perhaps the classical statement of the nature and aims of ‘critical’ social theory was made by Max Horkheimer in his often-quoted article Traditional and Critical Theory’ of 1937,1 a text which can serve for present purposes as epitomizing the sociological tradition of the Frankfurt School of which Habermas is the heir. Traditional theory for Horkheimer is that type of theory which he says became the dominant mode in the natural sciences, involving the elaboration of a contradiction-free theoretical system amenable to hypothesis formation, mathematization and the gathering of data. As both Lukacs and Gramsci also pointed out, in the natural sciences this kind of theory has led to great success and many schools of sociology have scientistically sought to adopt a similar mode of theory in which a stress is placed on the investigation of facts. Horkheimer means what we would refer to as theory conforming to what philosophers term the hypothetico-deductive nomological model of science which is still often advocated for sociology today. In the research practice informed by this ideal

The phenomenologically oriented sociologist will indeed claim that once an essential law has been ascertained every particular instance will, beyond any doubt, exemplify the law . . . There is always, on the one hand, the conceptually formulated knowledge and, on the other, the facts to be subsumed under it. Such a subsumption or establishing of a relation between the simple perception or verification of a fact and the conceptual structure of our knowing is called its theoretical explanation.2