Application of the Critical Theory
Defining the Critical Theory

The Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School is a critique of capitalism, its appropriation of the surplus value of the collective, and its commoditification of every aspect of our modern society. It provides a better understanding to present social conditions, how these conditions evolved, how they are transformed, how they interact with each other, what laws govern their transformation, and how they maintain their validity. This complex task is achieved through a multi-discipline approach that combines perspectives drawn from many different fields of study. These fields include economical, historical, philosophical, political, psychological, and sociological studies. However, this does not mean that the Critical Theory is limited to only these fields. Contrary to the belief of many scholars, the Critical Theory is self-reflective in its nature and value driven. The ultimate goal of the Critical Theory is to transform our present society into a just, rational, humane, and reconciled society. The Critical Theory has several basic tasks, but is not limited to only these tasks, which are all equally important in our present historical situation. Some of the tasks of the Critical Theory are:

  • To promote a diversified education for all individuals in order to steer them away from over-specialization. This will create individuals with strong mental faculties who will be able to think critically about the forces that affect their daily lives.

  • To help steer humanity away from Alternative Future #1 and Alternative Future #2.

  • To create a social balance between the personal autonomy of the individual and universal solidarity of the collective.

  • To promote revolution against all forms of fascism and nationalism.

  • To promote revolution against all forms of discrimination including those based on sex, sexual orientation, race, and religious belief.

  • To preserve the good moral values that promote universal solidarity and will help bring about a more just, humane, rational, and reconciled society.

Each Critical Theorist uses their particular skills, talents, and knowledge to contribute to the massive endeavor of the Critical Theory. But this does not mean that they did not contribute to different areas of research, for example, the "Dialectic of Enlightenment" is a collaboration between Adorno and Horkheimer. The findings of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation of Critical Theorist are generally noted as the "Critical Theory of Horkheimer" or "Marcuse's Critical Theory". The collective findings on a particular subject are usually denoted as, for example, "Critical Theory of Religion" or "Critical Theory of Art". Respectfully, it should be stressed that this clear and concise definition of the Critical Theory does not mean it is the only definition. Most Critical Theorists prefer a negative definition of the Critical Theory, meaning, it is easier to determine what the Critical Theory is not, instead of what it is. If you would like to read more, click this line.

BTW - If you are looking for an understanding of Prof. Siebert's critical theory of religion, click this line.

If you would like to quote my definition of the Critical Theory found on this page, it would be extremely courteous of you to notify me, by way of E-Mail, where and how you are using it; even though I know that I cannot force you to do so. I would like to thank Rudolf J. Siebert and Michael Ott (who retired from GVSU 2014) for critiquing my work as I put this definition together. I will add to this definition as I gain a better understanding of the Critical Theory. Here are three ways you can cite this electronic source. Remember, the "Retrieved" equals the month, day, and year you accessed this web page.

American Sociological Association (ASA)
Jensen, Walter. 1997. "Defining the Critical Theory." The Application of the Critical Theory, May. Retrieved Nov. 1, 2014 (

American Psychological Association (APA)
Jensen, W. (1997, May). Defining the Critical Theory. The Application of the Critical Theory. Retrieved from

Modern Language Association (MLA)
Jensen, Walter. "Defining the Critical Theory." The Application of the Critical Theory. May 1997. Web. 1 Nov. 2014. <>.

In the One-Dimensional Man by Herbert Marcuse (Boston: Beacon, 1964), Marcuse explains the critical theory. He writes (see 'Introduction to the First Edition: The Paralysis of Criticism: Society Without Opposition,' pg.xlii-xliii),

"To investigate the roots of these developments and examine their historical alternatives is part of the aim of a critical theory of contemporary society, a theory which analyzes society in the light of its used and unused or abused capabilities for improving the human condition. But what are the standards for such a critique?

Certainly value judgments play a part. The established way of organizing society is measured against other possible ways, ways which are held to offer better chances for alleviating man's struggle for existence; a specific historical practice is measured against its own historical alternatives. From the beginning, any critical theory of society is thus confronted with the problem of historical objectivity, a problem which arises at the two points where the analysis implies value judgments:

1. the judgment that human life is worth living, or rather can be and ought to be made worth living. This judgement underlies all intellectual effort; it is the a priori of social theory, and its rejection (which is perfectly logical) rejects theory itself;

2. the judgment that, in a given society, specific possibilities exist for the amelioration of human life and specific ways and means of realizing these possibilities. Critical analysis has to demonstrate the objective validity of these judgments, and the demonstration has to proceed on empirical grounds. The established society has available an ascertainable quantity and quality of intellectual and material resources. How can these resources be used for the optimal development and satisfaction of individual needs and faculties with a minimum of toil and misery? Social theory is historical theory, and history is the realm of chance in the realm of necessity. Therefore, among the various possible and actual modes of organizing and utilizing the available resources, which ones offer the greatest chance of an optimal development?"

Text added 02-03-2009

In The Frankfurt School Revisited: And Other Essays on Politics and Society (ISBN: 041595357X, New York: Routledge - Taylor & Francis Group, 2006), Richard Wolin writes (pg.1),

"Conceived in the 1930s, Critical Theory aimed at a balance integration of philosophy and the social sciences. In the words of spiritus rector Max Horkheimer, its goal was the pursuit of 'interdisciplinary materialism.' Traditionally, philosophy reasoned about values or ultimate ends. Yet, to its detriment, it neglected the sphere of reality or concrete existence in terms of which alone its ideals might become genuinely meaningful or lived. The social sciences, for their part, squandered their energies in an unreflective pursuit of 'facts.' Their antipathy to 'values' - a legacy of positivism - meant that frequently the data they produced bore little relationship to genuine human needs. Worse still, their fetishization of expertise was often antidemocratic and abetted the forces of political technocracy."

Text added 03-11-2009

For an illustrated over view of the Critical Theory, click this line.

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