Rethinking the normative content of critical theory: Marx, Habermas and beyond

Cannon, Robert (1998) Rethinking the normative content of critical theory: Marx, Habermas and beyond. PhD thesis, Middlesex University.

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Abstract

This thesis criticizes Marx's labour theory of value in terms of Habermas's critique of subject-centred thinking, before going on to criticize Habermas's subject-centred approach to the economic system in terms of an intersubjectively re-formulated conception of labour, for while Habermas restores normative content to the principle of self-constitution he restricts it to communicative action. This places the economic system (and its bureaucratic state apparatus) beyond the normative content of modernity. Drawing upon Honneth's writings on struggles for recognition, the thesis seeks to re-normatize labour on the basis of worker's own struggles to re-normatize the economic system.
The first half of the thesis explores the tensions that arise from Marx's attempt to locate his critique of capitalism in a subject-centred conception of self-constitution. Although Marx seeks to historicize the categories of political economy (in line with
capitalist exchange relations), he also seeks to preserve a transhistorical conception of labour as the subject of self-objectification (as the standpoint from which to criticize capitalism). However, this leaves Marx vulnerable to his own historical critique of political economy. It is then argued that it is only possible to redeem the latter by re-grounding critical theory in the labour movement's social and historical struggles to oppose capital.
This requires a re-formulation of Marx's labour theory of value. In place of Marx's notion that 'value' is an expression of self-objectifying labour we substitute Simmel's intersubjective approach to money-value. Marx's account of value is then
understood as arising from the diremption of intersubjectivity into an 'objective' economic system and its 'subjective' agents. This generates a bifurcation of selfconstitution with the intersubjective form of normative social-constitution, on the one side, and the dirempted objective and subjective forms of economic-constitution on the other.
The second half of the thesis critically analyzes Habermas' s contention that modern sociality is divided into a normative lifeworld and a non-normative system. This takes the form of an empirical critique of Habermas' s restriction of normativity to communicative action, and a theoretical critique of his restriction of the charge of reification to the economic system's encroachment upon the latter. In keeping with the theory of discourse ethics, it is argued that Habermas cannot legitimately withdraw normative content from labour and claim universal scope for the former. Consequently, not only is the economic system's capacity to suppress the normativity of labour invalid from the standpoint of 'practical reason', but so is Habermas's attempt to legitimate the system on the basis of 'functional reason'. The thesis draws on Honneth's work to extend the realm of intersubjectivity into the economy on the basis of the struggles of the labour movement to sublate its
diremption of self-regulating system and self-interested actors. We conclude by arguing that trade unions and the welfare state may be understood to comprise normative vehicles for subjecting 'market-value' to an intersubjectively accountable
form of 'social-value'.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: A dissertation in partial fulfilment of the requirements of Middlesex University for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Research Areas: A. > Business School > Economics
B. > Theses
Item ID: 11107
Depositing User: Adam Miller
Date Deposited: 23 Jul 2013 10:17
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2016 14:27
URI: http://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/11107

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