Daniele Lorenzini reviews Critique and Praxis
Bernard E. Harcourt. Critique and Praxis: A Radical Critical Philosophy of Illusions, Values, and Actions. New York: Columbia University Press. 696 pp.
Review by Daniele Lorenzini, Critical Inquiry, 16 December 2020
If there is one dogma that most political philosophers and critical thinkers alike have shared in the past two centuries, it is the idea that we need a road map if we want to understand how to change the world and make it a better, more just place to live. This road map need not take the form of a perfectly worked-out theory relying on unshakable normative foundations—we could also figure it out “as we go along.” But this is only possible, we are told, once critique has successfully liberated us from our cognitive dependence on a given (misguided and/or oppressive) representation of the world. Thus, critical theory—broadly construed to encompass ideology and genealogy critique as well as discourse ethics—invariably falls prey to the idea that theory must precede practice, either because one needs to know what exactly to change before beginning to change it, or because one cannot possibly transform the world into a better place without first emancipating oneself from a certain (false or restricted) representation of it.