The Analytical Theory of Science and Dialectics

A Postscript to the Controversy Between Popper and Adorno*

“Societal totality does not lead a life of its own over and above that which it unites and of which it, in its turn, is composed. It produces and reproduces itself through its individual moments This totality can no more be detached from life, from the co-operation and the antagonism of its elements than can an element be understood merely as it functions without insight into the whole which has its source [Wesen] in the motion of the individual entity itself. System and individual entity are reciprocal and can only be apprehended in their reciprocity.”1 Adorno conceives of society in categories which do not deny their origins in Hegel's logic. He conceptualizes society as totality in the strictly dialectical sense, which prohibits one from approaching the whole organically in accordance with the statement that it is more than the sum of its parts. Nor is totality a class which might be determined in its logical extension by a collection of all the elements which it comprises. To this extent, the dialectical concept of the whole is not subsumed under the justified critique of the logical bases of those Gestalt theories,2 which in their sphere recoil altogether from investigations following the formal rules of analytical techniques and thereby it oversteps the boundaries of formal logic in whose shadowy realm dialectics itself cannot appear as anything other than a chimera.**

*from The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology, translated by Glyn Adey and David Frisby, London: Heinemann, 1976, pp. 131-62.

** The middle section of this sentence can be read as “…which in their sphere recoil altogether from investigations following the formal rules of analytical techniques; nevertheless, dialectics does overstep the boundaries of formal logic…”

1 T. W. Adorno, 'On the Logic of the Social Sciences', p. 107 above.

2 Cf. E. Nagel, The Structure of Science (London, 1961), pp. 380ff.

 The logicians may react in any way they choose; sociologists [131/132] have an excellent word for such chimeras which are not merely chimeras: expressions which relate to the totality of the social life-context are nowadays considered to be ideology. In as far as the self-understanding of the social sciences is determined by the analytical theory of science, the supposedly radical enlightenment senses in every dialectical move a piece of mythology. Perhaps this is not completely incorrect, for the dialectical enlightenment,3 from whose stringency a superficial enlightenment tries to extricate itself, indeed retains from myth an insight forfeited by positivism, namely, that the research process instigated by human subjects belongs, through the act of cognition itself, to the objective context which should be apprehended. This insight, of course, presupposes society as totality and sociologists who reflect upon themselves from within this context. Certainly, the social sciences which proceed analytically and empirically are familiar with a concept of the whole. Their theories are theories of systems and a general theory would have to refer to the societal system as a whole. By means of this anticipatory concept, social phenomena are grasped as a functional connection of empirical regularities. In social-scientific models, the derived relations between the sum of covariant quantities are regarded as elements of an interdependent context. Nevertheless, this relationship of a system to its elements, which is hypothetically represented in the deductive connections of mathematical functions, has to be strictly distinguished from the relationship of the totality and its moments which can be revealed only in a dialectical manner. The distinction between system and totality, in the sense mentioned, cannot be signified directly, for in the language of formal logic it would have to be dissolved, whilst in the language of dialectics it would have to be transcended. Instead of this we intend to approach— as it were, from outside—the two typical forms of social science, one of which restricts itself to the use of the functionalist concept of system whilst the other insists on a dialectical concept of totality. We shall elucidate both types, first of all, by means of four characteristic distinctions.

3 See Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialektik der Aufklarung (Amsterdam, 1947), pp. 131ff; English trans. J. Gumming, Dialectic of Enlightenment (New York, 1972/London, 1973).

[132/133] 1. Within the framework of a strictly empirical scientific theory, the concept of system can only signify formally the interdependent connection of functions which, for their part, are broadly interpreted as relations between variables of social behaviour. The concept of system itself remains as external to the realm of experience analysed as the theoretical statements which explicate it. The rules for analytical-empirical modes of procedure contain—alongside the formal logical rules for the construction of a deductive connection of hypothetical statements, that is, a calculus utilizable in an empirical scientific manner—merely the demand that the simplified basic assumptions be chosen in such a way that they permit the derivation of empirically meaningful law-like hypotheses. At times, it is claimed that the theory must be 'isomorphic' to its area of application, but even this manner of expression is misleading. For we know hardly anything about an ontological correspondence between scientific categories and the structures of reality. Theories are ordering schemata which we construct at will within a syntactically binding framework. They prove to be utilizable for a specific object domain if the real manifoldness of the object accommodates them. For this reason, the analytical theory of science, too, can adhere to the programme of unified science. A factual agreement between the derived law-like hypotheses and empirical uniformities is, in principle, fortuitous and as such remains external to theory. Any reflection which is not satisfied with this state of affairs is inadmissible.

 A dialectical theory is guilty of this lack of satisfaction. It doubts whether science, with regard to the world produced by men, may proceed just as indifferently as it does with such success in the exact natural sciences. The social sciences must, in advance, ensure the appropriateness of their categories for the object because ordering schemata, which co-variant quantities only accommodate by chance, fail to meet our interest in society. Certainly, the institutionally reified relations are included in the catalogue of social science models as so many empirical regularities; and certainly analytical experiential knowledge of this kind may enable us, in the knowledge of isolated dependencies, to exert a technical control over social quantities just as we do over nature. But as soon as cognitive interest is directed beyond the domination of nature—and here this means beyond the manipulation of natural domains—the indifference of the system in the face of its area of application [133/134] suddenly changes into a distortion of the object. The structure of the object, which has been neglected in favour of a general methodology, condemns to irrelevance the theory which it cannot penetrate. In the domain of nature, the triviality of true cognitions has no serious import; in the social sciences, how ever, the object takes its revenge if the human subject, who is still caught up in the act of cognition, remains bound to the constraints of the very sphere that he wishes to analyse. He only frees himself to the extent to which he grasps the societal life-context as a totality which determines even research itself. At the same time, however, social science forfeits its alleged freedom in the choice of categories and models. It knows now that it “does not have unqualified data at its disposal but only such data as are structured through the context of societal totality”.4

4 T. W. Adorno, loc. cit., p. 106 above.

 For all that, the demand that theory in its construction and in the structure of its concept has to measure up to the object [Sache], and the demand that in the method the object has to be treated in accord with its significance can—beyond all representational theory [Abbildtheorie]—only be fulfilled dialectically. It is only the scientific apparatus which reveals an object whose structure must nevertheless previously be understood to some degree, if the categories chosen are not to remain external to it. This circle cannot be broken by any a priori or empiricist immediacy of approach, but is rather only to be explored dialectically in conjunction with the natural hermeneutics of the social life-world. The hypothetico-deductive system of statements is replaced by the hermeneutic explication of meaning. In place of a reversibly unambiguous co-ordination of symbols and meanings vaguely pre-understood, categories gain their determinacy gradually through their relative position in the context developed. Concepts of a relational form give way to concepts which are capable of expressing substance and function in one. Theories of this more flexible type even in the subjective organization of the scientific apparatus incorporate reflexively the fact that they themselves remain a moment of the objective context which, in their turn, they subject to analysis. [134/135]

 2. At the same time as the relationship of theory to its object is transformed, that of theory and experience is also transformed.  The analytical-empirical modes of procedure tolerate only one type of experience which they themselves define. Only the controlled observation of physical behaviour, which is set up in an isolated field under reproducible conditions by subjects interchangeable at will, seems to permit intersubjectively valid  judgments of perception. These represent the experiental basis upon which theories must rest if the deductively acquired hypotheses are to be not only logically correct but also empirically convincing. Empirical sciences in the strict sense insist that all discussable statements should be checked, at least indirectly, by means of this very narrowly channelled experience.

 A dialectical theory of society opposes this. If the formal construction of theory, of the structure of concepts, of the choice of categories and models are not able to follow blindly the abstract rules of a general methodology, but rather, as we have seen, must, in advance, measure up to a pre-formed object, then theory cannot merely be united at a later stage with an experience which is then, of course, restricted. The required coherence of the theoretical approach with the total societal process, to which sociological research itself belongs, similarly points towards experience. But insights of this sort stem, in the last instance, from the fund of pre-scientifically accumulated experience which has not yet excluded, as merely subjective elements, the basic resonance of a life-historically centred social environment, that is, the education acquired by the total human subject.5 This prior experience of society as totality shapes the outline of the theory in which it articulates itself and through whose constructions it is checked anew against experiences. For ultimately, even on that level at which empiricism as organized observation has completely separated itself from thought, and confronts from outside, as an alien instance, thought which has reduced itself to hypothetically necessary statements—even at that level, it must be possible to create consistency. Even a dialectical theory cannot clash with an experience, however restricted it may be. On the other [135/136] hand, it is not bound to forego all those thoughts which cannot be checked in this manner. Not all its theorems can be translated into the formal language of a hypothetico-deductive connection; they cannot all be wholly resolved by empirical findings—least of all the central theorems: “Probably no experiment could convincingly demonstrate the dependence of each social phenomenon on the totality, for the whole which preforms the tangible phenomena can never itself be reduced to particular experimental arrangements. Nevertheless, the dependence of that which can be socially observed upon the total structure is, in reality, more valid than any findings which can be irrefutably verified in the particular and this dependence is anything but a mere figment of the imagination.”6

5 In connection with Dilthey's and Husserl’s concept of 'life-world' (Lebenswelt), Alfred Schutz rescues a concept of experience, which has not yet been positivistically circumscribed, for the methodology of the social sciences. See Collected Papers (The Hague, 1962), part i, pp. 4ff.

6T. W. Adorno, loc. cit., pp. 113f above.

  The functionalist concept of system which analytical social science presupposes cannot, in accordance with its operational sense, be empirically confirmed or refuted as such; law-like hypotheses, no matter how tested or how great in number, could not provide proof that the structure of society itself fulfils the functional connection which necessarily is pre supposed analytically as the framework of possible co-variants. On the other hand, the dialectical concept of society as totality demands that analytical tools and social structures act upon one another like cog-wheels. The hermeneutic anticipation of totality must prove itself in more than a merely instrumental manner. In the course of the explication, it must establish itself as correct—precisely as a concept appropriate to the object itself, whereas the manifoldness of appearances at best complies with a presupposed catalogue of hypotheses. Only against the background of this claim does the shift of emphasis in the relation of the theoretical and the empirical become clear. On the one hand, within the framework of dialectical theory, even the categorial means which otherwise merely lay claim to analytical validity must themselves be legitimated in experience. On the other hand, however, this experience is not to be so identified with controlled observation that a thought, even without being at least indirectly capable of strict falsification, can retain scientific legitimation.

 3. The relationship of theory to experience also determines that [136/137] of theory to history. The analytical-empirical modes of procedure repeatedly attempt to test law-like hypotheses in the same manner, regardless of whether they are dealing with historical material or with natural phenomena. In both cases, a science which lays claim to this title in the strict sense must proceed in a generalizing manner, and the law-like dependencies which it establishes are, in their logical form, basically the same. Out of the very procedure with which the validity of law-like hypotheses is checked against experience, there arises the specific achievement of empirical scientific theories: they permit limited predictions of objective or objectified processes. Since we test a theory by comparing the events predicted with those actually observed, a theory which has been sufficiently tested empirically allows us—on the basis of its general statements, that is the laws, and, with the aid of limiting conditions which determine a case under consideration—to subsume this case under the law and to set up a prognosis for the given situation. One usually calls the situation defined by the limiting condition the cause, and the predicted event the effect. If we use a theory in this way to forecast an event, then it is said that we can 'explain’ this event. Limited prognosis and causal explanation are different expressions for the same achievement of the theoretical sciences.

  According to the analytical theory of science, even the historical sciences are assessed by the same criteria. Of course, they combine the logical means for a different cognitive interest. Their aim is not the derivation and corroboration of universal laws but the explanation of individual events. Historians assume a number of trivial laws, mainly psycho logical or sociological rules derived from experience, in order to infer a hypothetical cause from a given event. The logical form of the causal explanation is the same in each case but the hypotheses, which are to be empirically tested, refer, in the generalizing sciences, to deductively acquired laws under limiting conditions given at random. Yet in the historical sciences, they refer to these limiting conditions themselves which, under the pragmatically presupposed rules of everyday experience, are of interest as the cause of a testified individual event.7 In the analysis of certain causes of individual events, [137/138] the laws, upon which one tacitly relies, may become problematical. As soon as interest in the investigation swings away from the hypothetical singular statements which are to explain specific events, and directs itself towards hypothetical-general statements—for instance, the laws of social behaviour till then assumed to be trivial—then the historian becomes a sociologist; the analysis then belongs to the realm of theoretical science. From this, Popper infers that the testing of law-like hypotheses is not the concern of the historical sciences. Empirical regularities which are expressed in the form of general statements on the functional dependence of covariant quantities, belong to a different dimension than the concrete limiting conditions which can be understood as the cause of certain historical events. Accordingly, there can be no such thing as historical laws. The laws utilizable in the historical sciences have the same status as all other natural laws.

7 See K. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, vol. 2 (London, 1966), pp. 193ff.

  A dialectical theory of society, on the other hand, asserts the dependence of individual phenomena upon the totality; it must reject the restrictive use of the concept of law. Its analysis aims beyond the particular dependent relations of historically neutral quantities, towards an objective context which also plays a part in determining the direction of historical development. Of course, this does not imply those so-called dynamic law-like regularities which strict empirical sciences develop in the form of continuous now models. The historical laws of movement claim a validity which is, at the same time, more comprehensive and more restricted. Since they do not abstract from the specific context of an epoch, they are in no way generally valid. They do not refer to anthropologically enduring structures, to historical constants, but rather to a particular concrete area of application, defined in terms of a process of development both unique in toto and irreversible in its stages. This means that it is defined not merely analytically but through the knowledge of the object itself. On the other hand, the realm of validity for dialectical laws is also more comprehensive, precisely because they do not take in the ubiquitous relations of individual functions and isolated connections, but rather such fundamental dependent relations from which a social life-world, an epochal situation as a whole, is determined as totality and is permeated in all its moments: 'The generality of social scientific laws is not at all that of a conceptual sphere [138/139] into which the individual parts can be wholly incorporated,  but rather always and essentially relates to the relationship of  the general to the particular in its historical concretion.'8

 8 T. W. Adorno, 'Sociology and Empirical Research', p. 77 above.

  Historical regularities of this type signify developments which mediated through the consciousness of the acting subjects, gradually prevail. At the same time, they claim to articulate the objective meaning of a historical life-context. To this extent, a dialectical theory of society proceeds hermeneutically. For such a theory, the comprehension of meaning, to which the analytical-empirical theories attach a merely heuristic value,9 is constitutive. For it gains its categories primarily from the situational consciousness of acting individuals themselves; in the objective spirit of a social life-world, that meaning is articulated which sociological interpretation takes up through identification and critique. Dialectical thought does not simply eliminate the dogmatics of the lived situation through formalization, in fact it retains the subjectively intended meaning in its examination of the prevailing traditions and breaks this meaning up. For the dependence of these ideas and interpretations upon the interests of an objective configuration of societal reproduction makes it impossible to remain at the level of subjective meaning-comprehending hermeneutics; an objective meaning-comprehending theory must also account for that moment of reification which the objectifying procedures exclusively have in mind.

9 See W. Stegmuller, Main Currents in Contemporary German, British and American Philosophy, trans. A. Blumberg (Dordrecht, 1969), p. 342; T. Gomperz, Über Sinn und Sinngebilde, Erklären und Verstehen (Tubingen, 1929).

  Just as dialectics eludes the objectivism under which societal relations of historically acting people are analysed as the law like relations between things, so too it resists the danger of ideologizing which exists as long as hermeneutics naively measures the relationships solely in terms of that which they subjectively regard themselves to be. The theory will adhere to this meaning, but only in order to measure it—behind the back of subjects and institutions—against what they really are. In this way, it reveals for itself the historical totality of a social context whose concept even deciphers the subjectively meaningless constraint of the relationships which naturally rebound upon individuals as the fragments of an objective [139/140] context of meaning—and thereby criticizes it: the theory, 'must transform the concepts which it brings, as it were, from outside into those which the object has of itself, into what the object, left to itself, seeks to be, and confront it with what it is. It must dissolve the rigidity of the temporally and spatially fixed object into a field of tension of the possible and the real . . . But, for this reason, hypotheses derived from it—forecasts of what can be regularly expected—are not completely sufficient for it.'10 By linking the method of Verstehen in this manner with the objectivating procedures of causal-analytical science and by permitting the realization of both through a mutually transcending critique, the dialectical approach overcomes the separation of theory and history. According to one of these approaches, the study of history would remain devoid of theory in the explanation of specific events, whilst, according to an approach which recognizes the role of hermeneutics, it would remain devoid of theory in a contemplative realization of past horizons of meaning. In order that history itself can be penetrated theoretically in terms of an objective comprehension of meaning, the study of history must, if the historical philosophical hypostatization of such meaning is to be avoided, keep itself open to the future. Society reveals itself in the tendencies of its historical development, that is, it reveals itself in the laws of its historical development primarily from that which it is not: 'Every concept of structure of the con temporary social order presupposes that a definite will to reshape in future this social structure, to give it this or that direction of development, shall be posited or recognized as historically valid, that is, as effective. Naturally, it remains another matter whether this future is practically intended, is actually formed in its direction, for instance, through politics— or whether it is applied as a constitutive element of theory, as hypothesis.'11 Only in this way, with practical intent, can the social sciences proceed both historically and systematically, whereby, of course, this intention must also, in its turn, be reflected from within the same objective context whose analysis it facilitates. Precisely this legitimation distinguishes it from Max Weber's subjectively arbitrary 'value relations' ( Wertbeziehungen).

10 Adorno, 'Sociology and Empirical Research', loc. cit., p. 69 above.

11 H. Freyer, Soziologie als Wirklichkeitswissenschaft (Leipzig/Berlin, 1930), p. 304, [140/141]

4. The relationship of theory to history also transforms that of science to practice. A study of history which restricts itself in a rigorously empirical-scientific manner to the causal explanation of individual events has immediately only retrospective value; knowledge of this type is not suited to application in practical life. Relevant in this context is rather the knowledge of empirically proven law-like hypotheses; they permit limited prognoses and can, for this reason, be translated into technical recommendations for a purposive-rational choice of means only if the ends are pre-given practically. The technical realization of natural science prognoses rests upon this logical relationship. Correspondingly, techniques in the realm of societal practice can also be developed from social scientific laws, that is, precisely those social techniques with whose aid we can make social processes utilizable, as is the case with natural processes. A sociology which proceeds analytically and empirically can, for this reason, be called upon as an auxiliary science for rational administration. Of course, limited and, consequently, technically utilizable predictions can only be won from theories which refer to isolable fields and stationary "connections with recurring and repeatable sequences. Social systems, however, stand in historical life-contexts, they do not belong to those repetitive systems for which empirical scientifically cogent statements are possible. Correspondingly, the radius of social techniques restricts itself to partial relations between isolable quantities; more complex connections of a higher level of interdependence elude scientifically controllable operations—and this is even more true of social systems as a whole.

  If, nevertheless, we look to the diverse and isolated techniques for assistance in planned political practice—roughly in the sense in which Mannheim intended to employ them for a reorganization of society, or Popper even for a realization of a meaning in history—then, even by positivistic standards, a total analysis is indispensable.12 This analysis would have to develop out of historical contexts the perspective of an action imputable to a total society as subject, only within which can we become conscious of practically significant ends-means relations and possible social techniques. According to Popper, [141/142] general interpretations of major historical developments are also permissible for the purpose of securing this heuristic goal. They do not lead to theories which would be empirically testable in the strict sense, since the same point of view, which guides the interpretation with regard to relevant contemporary problems, largely determines the selection of facts drawn upon for corroboration. Yet we permit such interpretations to glide over our past like searchlights in the expectation of illuminating the relevant sections of the past by the reflected light in such a way that partial relations can be recognized under practical viewpoints. The social techniques themselves are based on general law-like regularities which are neutral to historical development. Yet these techniques are formed within the framework of a heuristically fruitful historical total view which, in the last instance, is chosen arbitrarily. The social context, in which we intervene in a social-technical manner, remains strictly within the dimension of an existence [Sein] set apart from what ought to be [Sollen]. Conversely, the viewpoint of our interpretation and the projection of praxis remain within the dimension of what ought to be, which is split off from existence. The relationship of science to praxis rests, like that of theory to history, upon the strict distinction between facts and decisions: history has no more meaning than nature but we can posit a meaning by virtue of arbitrary decision [Dezision] and energetically strive to enforce it gradually in history with the aid of scientific social techniques.

12 See Popper, loc. cit., vol. 2, pp. 259ff.

 In contrast, a dialectical theory of society must indicate the gaping discrepancy between practical questions and the accomplishment of technical tasks—not to mention the realization of a meaning which, far beyond the domination of nature achieved by manipulation of a reified relation, no matter how skillful that may be—would relate to the structure of a social life-context as a whole and would, in fact, demand its emancipation. The real contradictions are produced by this totality and its historical movement, and those interpretations are reactively evoked which guide the employment of social techniques for apparently freely chosen goals. Only in so far as the practical intentions of our total historical analysis, or the guiding viewpoints of that 'general interpretation' generously conceded by Popper, can be released from pure arbitrariness and can be legitimated, for their part, dialectically from the [142/143] objective context—only to this extent may we expect scientific orientation in practical action. We can only make history in as much as it appears to us as capable of being made. Thus it is one of the advantages, but also one of the obligations of a critical social science, that it allows its problems to be posed by its object: 'one would fetishize science if one radically separated its immanent problems from the real ones, which are weakly reflected in its formalisms'.13 Adorno's statement is the dialectical answer to the postulate of the analytical theory of science that knowledge-guiding interests should be relentlessly examined to ascertain whether they are motivated immanently to the science or whether they are motivated merely from the practice of life.14

 13 T. W. Adorno, 'On the Logic of the Social Sciences', loc. cit., p. 109 above.

 14 See K. Popper, 'The Logic of the Social Sciences', pp. 96f. above.

 Thus, the discussion of the relationship between science and practice necessarily leads to the fifth and last question which distinguishes the self-understanding of the two types of social science, namely, the problem of the so-called value freedom of historical and theoretical research.

  I do not wish, however, to treat this question, as I did the previous ones, in a purely descriptive manner. A systematic investigation cannot be satisfied with a topological determination of philosophy of science standpoints. Since both parties basically raise the same rationalistic claim to a critical and self critical mode of cognition, it must be possible to decide whether dialectics, as positivism asserts, oversteps the boundaries of verifiable reflection and merely usurps the name of reason for an obscurantism which is all the more dangerous;15 or whether, on the contrary, the codex of strict empirical sciences arbitrarily silences a more comprehensive rationalization, and converts the strength of reflection, in the name of precise distinction and sturdy empiricism, into sanctions against thought itself. Dialectics bears the burden of proof for this assertion, for it does not, like positivism, remain confined to simple negation but rather it initially takes up, in an affirmative manner, intellectual thought institutionalized in the scientific sphere. It has to criticize the analytical-empirical modes of procedure immanently in the light of their own claim. Of course, the [143/144] reduction to methodological observation, that is, the methodical elimination of relevant contents, through which a logical absolutism justifies its validity, creates difficulties. Dialectics cannot legitimate its own validity within a dimension which it has a limine transcended—it can in no way be proven by means of principles, but rather its proof would simply be the expounded theory itself. Nevertheless, dialectical thought, if it is to take itself seriously, obliges one to take up the confrontation within the framework laid down by the opposing party. Nonetheless, commencing from its own standpoint, it must force empirical scientific rationalism, in accordance with the recognized standards of partial reason, to realize that the binding reflection is impelled beyond such rationalism, since the latter is a form of incomplete rationalization.

15 See K. Popper, 'What is Dialectic?', Mind, 49, 1940, pp. 403ff.


 The postulate of so-called value freedom rests upon a thesis which, following Popper, one can formulate as the dualism of facts [Tatsachen] and decisions [Entscheidungen]. The thesis can be elucidated by means of a distinction between various types of law. On the one hand, there are the empirical regularities in the sphere of natural and historical phenomena, that is, natural laws; on the other hand, there are rules of human behaviour, that is, social norms. Whilst the invariances of phenomena which are fixed by natural laws endure, in principle, without exception and independent of the influence of acting subjects, social norms are posited and implemented under the threat of sanctions: they are valid only mediately, through the consciousness of human subjects who accept them and alter their actions accordingly. But positivists assume that the sphere of each of the two types of law are autonomous. Correspondingly, even the judgments in which we accept laws of one type or the other lay claim to a basis independent of one another. Hypotheses which refer to natural laws are assertions which either hold good empirically or do not. Statements, on the other hand, with which we accept or repudiate, approve or reject social norms are assertions which can be neither empirically true nor false. The former judgments rest on knowledge, the latter on decision. The meaning of social norms no more depends—as has been presupposed—on factual natural laws or even the latter on [144/145] the former, than can the normative content of value judgments be derived from the descriptive content of factual assertions or, even conversely, the descriptive be derived from the normative. The spheres of is [Sein] and ought [Sollen] are strictly differentiated in this model; statements of a descriptive language cannot be translated into a prescriptive language.16 The dualism of facts and decisions corresponds, in the logic of science, to the separation of cognition and evaluation and, in methodology, to the demand for a restriction of the realm of empirical-scientific analyses to the empirical uniformities in natural and social processes. Practical questions which relate to the meaning of norms are distinguishable scientifically; value judgments can never legitimately take on the form of theoretical statements or be brought into a logically compelling connection with them. Empirical-scientific prognoses concerning a probable co-variance of certain empirical quantities permit, through given ends, a rationalization of the choice of means. The positing of ends itself, however, rests upon an acceptance of norms and lacks any means of being scientifically checked. Such practical questions should not be merged with theoretical-technical questions—that is, with scientific questions which refer to real entities, to the conclusiveness of causal hypotheses and to given ends-means relations. The postulate of value freedom gave rise to Wittgenstein's classic statement that 'We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched.'17

 16 See R. M. Hare, The Language of Morals (Oxford, 1952).

 17 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus logico-philosophicus, loc. cit., 6.52.

 The dualism of facts and decisions necessitates a reduction of permissible knowledge to strict empirical sciences and thereby a complete elimination of questions of life-practice from the horizon of the sciences. The positivistically purified boundary between cognition and evaluation naturally signifies less a result than a problem. For philosophical interpretations now take possession anew of the eliminated realm of values, norms and decisions precisely on the basis of labour divided between philosophy and a restricted science.

  Objective value ethics immediately makes of this a realm of ideal being which transcends sensory experience (Scheler, Hartmann). The value qualities ascribed independence as things of a peculiar ontological dignity, are considered to be comprehensible in a kind [145/146] of intuitive knowledge. Subjective value philosophy is no longer so certain of the references to meaning which are split off from the real life context and thus hypostatized. It too reclaims the existence of orders of value (Max Weber) and powers of belief (Jaspers) in a sphere removed from history. But scientifically controlled knowledge is not simply enlarged by intuitive knowledge. Philosophical belief, which takes a middle course between pure decision and rational comprehension, has to commit itself to one of the competing orders, without being able to transcend their pluralism and completely dissolve the dogmatic core on which philosophical belief itself lives. The responsible, although in principle undecidable, polemic between philosophers, the intellectually honest and existentially committed representatives of mental powers, is undoubtedly the most rational form of confrontation in this realm of practical questions. Ultimately, decisionism [Dezisionismus] is no longer afraid of reducing norms wholly to decisions [Entscheidungen] . In the language-analytical form of a non-cognitive ethics, the decisionistic enlargement into positivistically restricted science is itself positivistically conceived (R. M. Hare). As soon as one posits certain fundamental value judgments as axioms, a deductive connection of statements can be cogently analysed in each case. Mere, of course, those principles are no more accessible to any kind of rational comprehension than are the norms in opposition to natural laws: their acceptance rests solely upon rational decision. No matter whether such arbitrary decisions are interpreted in an existential-personal sense (Sartre), in a public political sense (Carl Schmitt) or institutionally on the basis of anthropological presuppositions (Gehlen) the thesis remains the same—that decisions relevant in practical life, whether they consist in the acceptance of principles, in the choice of a life- historical outline or in the choice of an enemy, can never be replaced or even rationalized through scientific calculation. If, however, the practical questions which have been eliminated from empirical-scientifically restricted knowledge must be utterly dismissed in this manner from the scope of rational discussions; if decisions in questions of practical life must be absolved from every instance in some way committed to rationality, then the last attempt, a desperate one, is not surprising: to secure institutionally, through a return to the closed world of mythical images and powers, a socially binding precedent for practical questions (Walter Bröcker). This complementing of positivism by mythology [146/147] does not lack, as Horkheimer and Adorno have shown,18 a logical compulsion whose treacherous irony only dialectics could set free in laughter.

18 Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, pp. 11f.; on Bröcker see my review, 'Der befremdliche Mythos—Reduktion oder Evokation', in Philosophische Rundschau, 6, 1958, pp. 215ff.

  Honest positivists, whose laughter is dispelled by such perspectives, make do with the programme of an 'open society'. They too, of course, must insist on the boundary strictly drawn by the logic of science between cognition and evaluation. They too identify empirical scientific knowledge, gained in accordance with the rules of a generally binding methodology, with science as such. They too accept, for this reason, the residual determination of thought which extends beyond this, and do not ask whether perhaps it is not the monopolization of all possible knowledge, through a specific form of knowledge, which creates the norm that relegates everything which it cannot accommodate to the fetish form of evaluation, decision or belief. But if they shrink from the unarticulated metaphysics of objective value ethics and subjective value philosophy in the same manner as they shrink from the declared irrationalism of decisionism and even remythologization, then there only remains the alternative which Popper in fact has chosen, namely, of saving rationalism at least as a confession of faith. Since positivism may admit reason only in its particularized form (as a faculty of the correct handling of formal logical and methodological rules), it can proclaim the relevance of cognition for a rational practice only through a 'faith in reason'. Here the problem 'cannot be the choice between knowledge and faith, but only between two kinds of faith'.19 If scientific cognition lacks every meaning reference to practice and, conversely, every normative content is independent of insight into the real life-context—as is presupposed undialectically—then the dilemma must be admitted, namely, that I can compel no one to base his assumptions constantly on arguments and experiences; and, with the aid of such arguments and experiences, I can prove to no one that I myself must behave in this way; 'That is to say, a rationalist attitude must first be adopted [by means of an arbitrary decision— J.H.] if any argument or experience is to be effective, and it cannot [147/148] therefore be based upon argument or experience.'20 This rationalistic attitude is effective in practice to the extent to which it determines the moral and political actions of individuals and, in the last instance, of society as a whole. Above all, it commits us to a social-technical appropriate behaviour. In social life, as in nature, we discover empirical regularities which can be formulated in scientific laws. We act rationally in so far as we establish social norms and institutions in the knowledge of these natural laws and select our measures according to the technical recommendations which result from them. It is, therefore, precisely the problematical separation of natural laws and norms, the dualism of facts and decisions, which we make when assuming that history can have as little meaning as nature, that appears as the precondition for the practical effectiveness of a commitment to rationalism. It is a precondition of our social-technical realization of a meaning, naturally alien to history, in the dimension of historical facts. This realization is achieved by means of an arbitrary decision and by virtue of our theoretical knowledge of factual natural laws.

19 Popper, loc. cit., vol. 2, p. 246.

20 loc. cit., p. 230.

 Popper's attempt to preserve the rationalism of the logic of science from the irrationalistic consequences of its necessarily decisionistic basis—his rationalistic confession of faith in a scientifically-guided political practice—develops naturally from the questionable presupposition, which he shares with Dewey's Quest for Certainty and with pragmatism as a whole, namely that human beings can rationally direct their own fate to the extent to which they utilize social techniques. We shall examine whether this presupposition holds good: does a continuum of rationality exist between the capacity for technical mastery over objectified processes, on the one hand, and a practical domination of historical processes, on the other—the history which we 'make' without up till now being able to make it consciously? The question at issue is whether rational administration of the world coincides with the solution of historically posed practical questions. Prior to this however, another precondition, the fundamental one, upon which the problem as a whole rests, is to be examined; namely, the strict separation of natural laws and norms to which the dualism of facts and decisions refers. Certainly the critique of natural law has demonstrated that social norms are not directly founded in nature, in that which is, nor can they be so grounded.21 But does not this [148/149] withdraw the normative meaning from a rational discussion of the concrete life-context from which it emerged and upon which it either falls back ideologically or reacts critically? And conversely, the question poses itself more pointedly: is knowledge then—and not only that which, in the emphatic sense, aims at the concept of an object instead of merely at its existence, but also the knowledge which has been reduced positivistically to empirical science—in fact released from every normative bond?

 21 Cf. E. Topitsch, Vom Ursprung und Ende der Metaphysik (Vienna, 1958).


We shall examine this question in connection with Popper's suggestions for the solution of the so-called basis-problem.22 This problem is posed in the philosophy of sciences' analysis of the possible empirical testing of theories. Logically correct hypotheses prove their empirical validity only when they are confronted with experience. Strictly speaking, however, theoretical statements cannot be directly tested by means of experience, however objectified it may be, but rather only by other statements. Experiences or perceptions however, are not statements, they can at most be expressed in observation statements. For this reason, such protocol statements were regarded as the basis upon which the decision as to the conclusiveness of hypotheses could be taken. It was Popper himself who objected to this view of Carnap and Neurath, claiming that the vagueness in the relationship of theory and experience is merely set aside, only to return in the equally problematic relationship of protocol statements to protocolled experiences. For if we do not rely upon the historically superseded presupposition of earlier sensualism that elementary sensory data are intuitively and immediately manifest, then to us even protocolled sense-certainty provides no logically satisfying basis for the plausibility of empirical scientific theories.

22 Cf. K. R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific of Discovery (London, 1959), pp. 93ff.

 Popper offers an alternative solution in connection with his general theory of falsification. 23 As is well known, he provides proof that law-like hypotheses cannot be verified at all. These hypotheses possess the form of unrestricted universal statements with an unlimited number of—in principle—possible instances of application whilst the series of observations, however, with whose [149/150] aid we examine the hypothesis in one particular case, is, in principle, finite. An inductive proof is therefore impossible. Law-like hypotheses can at most be confirmed indirectly by withstanding as many attempts at falsification as possible. A theory can founder on singular existential assertions which contradict the law-like hypothesis which has been reformulated as a negative prediction. But intersubjective recognition cannot be exacted from such basic statements, which express a result of observation. For analogous reasons, they themselves are no more accessible to a verification than are law-like hypotheses, whose empirical testing they are intended to serve. Inevitably, in every basic statement, universal terms are used which, with regard to verification, have the same status as hypothetical assumptions. The simple assertion that 'here is a glass of water' could not be proved by a finite series of observations, because the meaning of such general terms as 'glass' or 'water' consists of assumptions about the law-like behaviour of bodies. Even basic statements transcend all possible experience because their terms inexplicitly imply law-like hypotheses which, for their part, cannot be verified on account of the, in principle, unlimited number of instances of application. Popper clarifies this thesis with the comment that all universals are either 'dispositional words', or can be reduced to these. Even in the elementary terms of the simplest protocol statements, we discover the implied assumptions concerning law-like behaviour of observable objects as soon as we consider possible verification procedures, that is test situations, which, in doubtful cases, would be sufficient to clarify the significance of the universals used.24

23 Cf. loc. cit., pp. 78ff.

24 Cf. loc. cit., pp. 42ff. 

It is no accident that Popper advances the logical objections to the naive view that basic statements can be resolved directly through intuitive sense certainty, up to the point from which the pragmatic objections of Charles Sanders Peirce had once developed.25 In his own way, Peirce repeats Hegel's critique of sense certainty. Of course, he does not dialectically transcend the illusion of naked facts and bare sensations in the experiential process of a phenomenology of the mind, nor does he remain content, as did a later phenomenology, with pushing perceptual judgments back into the associated realm of pre-predicative [150/151] experiences.26 That pre-systematic experiential knowledge, already sedimented in forms of apperception, into which each immediate perception is merged from the outset—that is, the network of the hypothetically pre-understood and the anticipatorily co-intended, in which even the simplest sensations are always encapsulated –  Peirce links with feedback-regulated behaviour. The hypothetical surplus-beyond each specific content of an immediately perceived entity, which logically comes into its own in the universal terms of experiential protocols—implicitly refers to an anticipated behavioural regularity. Indeed, such meaning as is possessed by what is perceived can only be regarded as the sum of behavioural habits which are corroborated in it: 'for what a thing means is simply what habits it involves'. Hypothetically, the degree of generality of descriptive content in perceptual judgments far exceeds the particularity of what is perceived in each case because, under the selective pressure towards the stabilization of the results of actions, we always form experiences and articulated meanings.

25 Cf. C. S. Peirce, Collected Papers, ed. Hartshorne and Weiss (Cambridge, 1960), Vol. V; above all, the essays, 'Questions Concerning Certain Faculties Claimed for Man'; 'Fixation of Belief; and 'How to Make Our Ideas Clear'.

26 Cf. E. Husserl, Erfahrung und Urteil (Hamburg, 1948).

  Popper, in opposing a positivist solution to the basis problem, adheres to the view that the observational statements which lend themselves to the falsification of law-like hypotheses cannot be justified in an empirically compelling manner; instead, it must be decided in each case whether the acceptance of a basic statement is sufficiently motivated by experience. In the process of research, all the observers who are involved in attempts at falsifying certain theories must, by means of relevant observational statements, arrive at a provisional consensus which can be refuted at any time. This agreement rests, in the last instance, upon a decision; it can be neither enforced logically nor empirically. Even the limiting case is taken into account: should it be impossible one day for those involved to arrive at such an agreement at all, then this would be tantamount to the breakdown of language as a means of general communication.

 Popper's 'solution' leads to consequences that are certainly unintended. For it involuntarily confirms that the empirical validity of basic statements, and thus the plausibility of theories, is by no means decided in a scientifically elucidated context, for instance, in a context of action which, for its part, could be theoretically elucidated or even capable of theoretical explication. But, rather, scientists discuss whether to accept a basic statement, [151/152] and this means, whether or not they wish to apply a law-like hypothesis, correctly derived, to a given, experimentally established state of affairs. Popper compares this process to the legal process, and here the Anglo-Saxon organization of the trial well exemplifies this. Through some kind of decision, the jurors agree which representation of a factual occurrence they intend to approve. This corresponds to accepting a basic statement. It permits, together with the system of norms of criminal law (empirical scientific hypotheses), certain stringent deductions and the verdict. We, of course, are only interested in the parallel with regard to a circle which, when scientific law-like hypotheses are applied to observed states of affairs, can apparently be no more avoided than when juridical legal norms are applied to the events investigated. In both cases, it would be impossible to apply the system of laws if one had not previously agreed upon the establishment of the facts; this establishment, however, must, in its turn, be reached in a procedure which corresponds to the system of laws and, consequently, already applies them.27 One cannot apply general rules if a prior decision has not been taken concerning the facts which can be subsumed under the rules; on the other hand, these facts cannot be established as relevant cases prior to an application of those rules. The inevitable circle28 in the application of rules is evidence of the embedding of the research process in a context which itself can no longer be explicated in an analytical- empirical manner but only hermeneutically. The postulates of strict cognition naturally conceal a non-explicated pre-understanding which, in fact, they presuppose; here the detachment of methodology from the real research process and its social functions takes its revenge.

27 Cf. Popper, loc. cit., p. 110.

28 Cf. H. G. Gadamer, Wahrheit and Methode (Tübingen, 1960), pp. 292ff.

 Research is an institution composed of people who act together and communicate with one another; as such it determines, through the communication of the researchers, that which can theoretically lay claim to validity. The demand for controlled observation as the basis for decisions concerning the empirical plausibility of law-like hypotheses, already presupposes a pre- understanding of certain social norms. It is certainly not sufficient to know the specific aim of an investigation and the relevance of an observation for certain assumptions. Instead, the meaning of the research process as a whole must be understood before I can [152/153] know to what the empirical validity of basic statements is related, just as the judge must always have grasped the meaning of judicature as such. The quaestio facti must be determined with reference to a given quaestio juris, that is, one understood in its immanent claims. In legal proceedings, this question is prominent in everyone's mind. The whole affair here revolves around the question of an offence against general prohibitive norms, positively set down and sanctioned by the state. Correspondingly, the empirical validity of basic statements is measured against a behavioural expectation governed by social norms. But, what does the quaestio juris look like in the research process, and how is the empirical validity of basic statements measured in this case? One indication is given by the pragmatist interpretation of the research process.

 How can we explain the fact which Popper persistently ignores, namely, that we are normally in no doubt at all about the validity of a basic statement; that we are in no doubt that the assumptions implied in its universal terms, which refer to the law-like behaviour of bodies would also be corroborated in all future test situations ? The regress of an—in principle—infinite series of basic statements, of which each succeeding one would have to corroborate the assumptions implied in the previous statement, is, to be sure, a logically grounded possibility. In the research process, however, it would only become acute if these assumptions were actually rendered problematic along the whole series. For, thus far, they in no way possess the uncertainty of hypotheses but represent the certainty of unproblematic convictions and pragmatically proven ideas. The theoretical floor of an undiscussed behavioural certainty is carpentered from the planks of such latent convictions (of 'beliefs' which the pragmatists take as their starting point). On this universal ground of belief, single pre-scientifically established convictions become problematic and are only recognizable in their hypothetical validity when, in a specific instance, the associated habit no longer guarantees the expected result.

 The disturbed stability of pragmatically adopted behaviour necessitates a modification of the guiding 'conviction', which can now be formulated as a hypothesis and subjected to a test. In principle, the preconditions for the latter mirror the preconditions for the credibility of non-problematicized convictions: preconditions for the achievements of acting human beings who [153/154] sustain and ease their life through societal labour. In the last instance, therefore, the empirical validity of basic statements, and thereby the plausibility of law-like hypotheses and empirical scientific theories as a whole, is related to the criteria for assessing the results of action which have been socially adopted in the necessarily intersubjective context of working groups. It is here that the hermeneutic pre-understanding, concealed by the analytical theory of science, is formed, a pre-understanding which first makes possible the application of rules for the acceptance of basic statements. The so-called basis-problem simply does not appear if we regard the research process as part of a comprehensive process of socially institutionalized actions, through which social groups sustain their naturally precarious life. For the basic statement no longer draws empirical validity solely from the motives of an individual observation, but also from the previous integration of individual perceptions into the realm of convictions which are unproblematic, and have proved themselves on a broad basis. This occurs under experimental conditions which, as such, imitate the control of the results of action which is naturally built into systems of societal labour. If, however, the empirical validity of experimentally tested law-like hypotheses is derived in this manner from the context of the work process, then strictly empirical scientific knowledge must tolerate being interpreted through the same life-reference to labour as a type of action and as the concrete domination of nature.

 The technical recommendations for a rationalized choice of means under given ends cannot be derived from scientific theories merely at a later stage, and as if by chance. Instead, the latter provide, from the outset, information for rules of technical domination similar to the domination of matter as it is developed in the work process. Popper's 'decision' [Entscheidung] concerning the acceptance or rejection of basic statements is reached from the same hermeneutic pre-understanding that guides the self-regulation of the social labour process: even those involved in the work process must be in agreement about the criteria governing success or lack of success of a technical rule. The latter can prove itself or founder in specific tasks; but the tasks in which its validity is decided empirically possess, for their part, at most a social binding force. The regulated feedback of technical rules is measured against the tasks set down with the social labour process, and this means that they have been made socially binding; [154/155] this feedback is measured against norms which must be consensual with regard to their meaning if judgments as to success or failure are to be intersubjectively valid. Such a research process bound to analytical-empirical rules cannot probe behind this life-reference; it is always presupposed hermeneutically.

 In the court case, the empirical validity of basic statements is measured antecedently against the meaning of socially defined behavioural expectations; in the research process, it is measured against the meaning of the socially defined (scientific) achievement. In both cases, it is a question of systems of socially posited norms, but with the crucial distinction that the meaning of work seems to be relatively constant within a large historical span of variation, whilst not only the legal systems but also the modes of production and the meaning of law as such changes with epochs and social structures. The situation is exactly the same in the case of other social norms. The practical interest in the domination of objective processes apparently stands out from all the other interests of practical life. The interest in the sustenance of life through societal labour under the constraint of natural circumstances seems to have been virtually constant throughout the previous stages in the development of the human race. For this reason, a consensus concerning the meaning of technical domination can be achieved without any difficulty, in principle, within historical and cultural boundaries; the intersubjective validity of empirical-scientific statements which follows the criteria of this pre-understanding is therefore secured. Indeed, the high level of intersubjectivity of this type of statement retroactively causes the very interest upon which it is based—and to whose historically and environmentally neutral constancy it is indebted—to fall, as it were, into oblivion. The interest which has now become self- evident and is no longer thematized, recedes into the background, so that, having become invested methodically in the grounds of cognition, it subjectively disappears from the consciousness of those involved in the research process.

 Thus, the illusion of pure theory can preserve itself even in the self-understanding of modern empirical sciences. In classical philosophy from Plato to Hegel, the theoretical attitude has been conceptualized as contemplation which rests upon the need for a lack of need. In a continuation of this tradition, the analytical theory of science still adheres to the same attitude: regardless of the life-contexts from which the research process historically [155/156] proceeds, as far as the validity of empirical scientific statements is concerned, the research process is to be emancipated from all life references and no less removed from praxis than the Greeks had claimed for all true theory. It is upon their classical presuppositions that a postulate is founded which, however, would have been alien to the classical philosophers—the demand for value freedom. It would indeed be endangered if, for the modern sciences, through an immanent critique, a connection were demonstrated with the social labour process, a connection which penetrates the innermost structures of the theory itself and determines what shall empirically possess validity.

 The historical situation in which during the seventeenth century empirical science in the strict sense emerges with the new physics, is by no means external to the structure of empirical science. If it demands that the theoretical outline and the meaning of empirical validity be obtained from a technical attitude, then it would be true that henceforth research and knowledge would be practised from the perspective and the horizon of interests of the labouring human subject. Up to that point, the roles of theory and of the reproduction of material life had been strictly divided socially; the monopolization of the acquisition of knowledge by the leisure classes had remained unchallenged. It is only within the framework of modern bourgeois society, which legitimizes the acquisition of property through labour, that science can receive impulses from the experiential realm of manual crafts and research can gradually be integrated into the labour process.

 The mechanics of Galileo and his contemporaries dissects nature with reference to a form of technical domination which had just been developed within the framework of the new modes of manufacture. It was, for its part, dependent upon the rational dissection of the manual labour process into elementary functions. To regard natural events mechanistically by analogy with labour processes in manufacturing concerns, meant focusing knowledge upon the need for technical rules.29 That the life-practical reference of cognition to work within the framework of a mechanistic world picture emerged at this moment, at the time of the so-called period of manufacture; that since then it has created universal— and in the prevailing positivistic self-understanding of the sciences —exclusive recognition for one specific form of knowledge, all [156/157] this is indeed connected historically with another developmental tendency within bourgeois society.

29 Franz Borkenau, Der Übergang vom Feudalen zum bürgerlichen Weltbild (Paris, 1934), esp. pp. 1-15.

 In so far as exchange relations also affect the work process and make the mode of production dependent upon the market, the life references—constitutive in the world of a social group— which are the concrete relations of human beings to things and of human beings with one another, are torn asunder. In a process of reification, that which things are for us in a concrete situation and that which human beings signify for us in a given situation, are hypostatized into entities in themselves, which can then be attributed to apparently neutralized objects in the form, so to speak, of the appended quality of a 'value'. The value freedom objectivated in the empirical sciences is just as much a product of this reification as are the values themselves which are abstracted from the life-context. On the one hand, just as in the exchange values the actually invested labour and the possible enjoyment of the consumer disappears so, on the other hand, the manifoldness of the social life-references and of the knowledge-guiding interests is obfuscated in the objects which remain when the veneer of subjectivized value qualities is stripped from them. It is all the more easy for the excluding domination of that particular interest to prevail unconsciously which, complimenting the process of utilization, incorporates the natural and the social world into the labour process and transforms them into productive forces.

 This practical cognitive interest in the mastery of objective processes can be formalized to such an extent that it disappears qua practical cognitive interest in the grounds of cognition of the empirical sciences. The relationship between abstract measures and the anticipated rule-governed behaviour of isolated quantities is liberated from the context of action of social labour and becomes relevant in itself. Even the relevance of a need for technical rules ultimately becomes indiscernible within a canon of instructions which robs this instrumental relationship between intervention and reaction of the technical sense of applicability for practical ends in general. Eventually, left to itself, the research process is only concerned with the functional connections of co-variant quantities, with natural laws. In the face of this, our spontaneous achievements have to be restricted to our 'recognizing' them disinterestedly and in a manner quite removed from practical life; in short, in a theoretical attitude. The claim to exclusiveness raised by strict knowledge sublates all the other knowledge-guiding [157-158] interests in favour of a single interest of which it is not even conscious.

 The postulate of value freedom testifies that the analytical-empirical procedures cannot ensure for themselves the life-reference within which they themselves objectively stand. Within a life-reference fixed by everyday language and stamped out in social norms, we experience and judge things as human beings with regard to a specific meaning, in which the unseparated descriptive and normative content states just as much about the human subjects who live in it as it does about the objects experienced themselves. 'Values' are constituted dialectically in the relation between the two. As soon as they are subtracted, however, as an independent quality from the apparently neutralized entities, and are either objectified into ideal objects or subjectified into forms of reactions, then the categories of the life-world are not so much burst open as deceived. The latter only gain power over a theory which devolves on practice because, in the illusion of autonomy, it ridicules a connection which in reality cannot be dissolved. No theory which is aware of this will be able to comprehend its object without simultaneously reflecting upon the viewpoint under which, according to its own immanent claim, the object has some validity: 'what was subsequently sanctioned as a value does not operate externally to the object. . . but rather is immanent to it'.30

30 T. W. Adorno, 'On the Logic of the Social Sciences', loc. cit., p. 117.


Value neutrality has nothing to do with the theoretical attitude in the classical sense. On the contrary, it corresponds to an objectivity of the validity of statements, which is made possible —and is purchased—through restriction to a technical cognitive interest. This restriction does not, however, transcend the normative commitment of the research process to the motives of practical life; instead, without any discussion, it makes one particular motive dominant over the others. No matter how greatly repressed this may be in the scientific-theoretical self-understanding, one may be quite sure that, in the practical realization of social-scientific results, difficulties emerge which [158/159] arise solely from this. Gunnar Myrdal has drawn attention to this problem.31

 31 Cf. Gunnar Myrdal, 'Ends and Means in Political Economy', in Value in Social Theory (London, 1958); on the whole problem, cf. Max Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason (New York, 1947), esp. ch. 1.

 Since Max Weber, what had long been pragmatically clarified in the relationship between natural sciences and technology seems to have been clarified for the realm of social sciences too; namely, that scientific prognoses can be realized in technical recommendations. These recommendations distinguish between a given initial situation, alternative means and hypothetical ends; all so-called value judgments are simply attached to the third member of this chain, whilst the if-then relations can themselves be investigated in a value-free manner. This translation presupposes, of course, that in societal practice, as in the technical domination of nature, it is always possible to isolate ends-means relations in which the value neutrality of the means and the value indifference of the subsidiary consequences are guaranteed; in which, then, a 'value' is only linked with ends so that these ends may not, for their part, be regarded as neutralized means for other ends. In those realms of practical life for which social-scientific analyses are required, none of the three conditions is, however, normally fulfilled. If practical decisions are to be grounded in a concrete situation, then technical recommendations must first be interpreted with regard to complex life-references. This interpretation must take into account what those recommendations ignore, namely, that initially isolated ends and subsidiary consequences must be regarded—if possible in relation to other ends—just as much as means as the initially neutralized means, in another respect, can gain a relative end in themselves.

 Certainly, every social-technical measure, every technical recommendation to which it adheres, every strictly scientific prognosis upon which it is based, must assume means for isolated ends with isolable subsidiary consequences to be value-neutral. Isolation and neutralization are inevitable for analytical purposes. But the structure of the object, the social life-world itself, also imposes the reservation that practical questions cannot be sufficiently solved by the statement of a technical rule, but instead they require an interpretation which cancels that abstraction with respect to the life-practical consequences. Such interpretations demonstrate that the ends-means relations, which are unproblematic [159/160] in the technical domination of nature, immediately become problematic with regard to society. Conditions which define the situations of action behave like the moments of a totality which cannot be dichotomously divided into dead and living, into facts and values, into value-free means and value-laden ends without failing to grasp them as such. Rather, it is here that Hegel's dialectic of ends and means comes into its own, since the societal context is literally a life-context, in which the smallest trifling part is as alive—and that means equally as vulnerable—as the whole. The means possess just as much expediency for certain ends as the ends themselves possess a correspondence to certain means. Consequently, practical questions cannot be sufficiently answered with a purposive-rational choice of value-neutral means. Practical questions demand theoretical guidance as to how one situation can be carried over into another. They demand (following a suggestion made by Paul Streeten) programmes and not prognoses. Programmes recommend strategies to bring about unproblematical situations, namely, the specific connection of a particular constellation of means, ends and subsidiary consequences, a connection which can certainly be dissected for analytical purposes but cannot be dissolved practically.

  Myrdal's critique of Weber's ends-means scheme demonstrates that with the strict modes of procedure of value-free social sciences a technical cognitive interest comes into play which remains inappropriate to practical life and, in addition, requires a programmatic interpretation of the individual prognoses. Beyond this, it is shown how, under the exclusive validity of this type of science, the competing, apparently mediatized cognitive interests succeed on the back of that interest (in the domination of objectified processes) which is alone permitted. It becomes apparent that the practical realization of technical recommendations, in fact, has no need of the controlled, additional interpretation which had been demanded. But this is not because there is, after all, no discrepancy between technical recommendations and practical solutions, but simply because the social-scientific theories from which the prognoses are derived, do not, despite their own self- understanding, satisfy the strict demands of value neutrality. From the very beginning, they are guided by a pre-understanding relevant to a specific set of practical questions. This guiding understanding of meaning is decisive in the choice both of the theoretical foundations and of the hypotheses basic to the models. [160/161] On a high level of abstraction, the great majority of possible functional connections and of correspondingly manifold programmes is systematically excluded—in fact, rightly excluded as irrelevant—under the particular guiding programmatic viewpoints which are not reflected upon as such. The analysis itself develops in a formally universal manner and leads to value-neutral prognoses; but these prognoses result from analyses within a frame of reference which, as such, already proceeds from a programmatic pre-understanding, and consequently relates to the strategies sought after. The pre-understanding may certainly prove to be incomplete or useless. The exact knowledge of functional connections can lead both to a transformation of the techniques and to a correction of the goals, to an adaptation of the strategy as a whole, even to the demonstration that the tacit anticipation of the state of affairs into which the problematic situation is to be carried over is inappropriate. On the other hand, however, the analysis itself is directed by tacitly assumed programmatic viewpoints. Only for this reason can the analytically won ends-means relation be wholly merged into practical solutions at all.

  Since not only the ends but all the components of a particular constellation of means, ends and subsidiary consequences are elements of a life-context, and since, in a choice of practical measures, these would have to be compared and weighed against other constellations in their entireties, it is necessary that the great mass of all conceivable constellations be eliminated before the value-neutral investigation can commence, in formal agreement with the ends-means scheme. Thus it was the case that for Max Weber's ideal-typical series a particular historical-philosophical pre-understanding of the entire European development was decisive, and this means a programmatic viewpoint, namely the rationalization of all areas of culture.32 And the case is, in principle, [161/162] no different as far as more strictly formalized theories are concerned. It is precisely the domination of a technical cognitive interest, hidden to itself, which conceals the veiled investments of the relatively dogmatic total understanding of a situation, with which even the strictly empirical sociologist has implicitly identified himself before it slips through his hands in the initial stages of a formalized theory under the claim of hypothetical universality. If, however, even in the initial stages of mathematical social sciences, situationally-bound experiences are of necessity incorporated, if the knowledge-guiding interests can be merely formalized but not suspended, then the latter must be brought under control and criticized or legitimated as objective interests derived from the total societal context, unless one wishes to silence rationalization on the threshold of analytical-empirical procedures.

 The reflection upon such interests impels recourse to dialectical thought, if dialectics simply means, in this context, the attempt to comprehend the analysis at every moment both as a part of the societal process analysed and as its possible critical self-awareness. But this means that we forego the assumption of that external, and merely fortuitous, relationship between the analytical instruments and the data analysed, a relationship which can, of course, be assumed in the relation of technical domination over objective and objectified processes. Only in this way, can the social sciences throw off the illusion—valuable in practical terms—that the scientific control of societal domains which, results in an emancipation from natural constraint – secured by recourse to a scientifically produced technical force of domination—is possible in history in the same manner and with the same means as is already realized in the face of nature.

 32 Cf. H. Freyer, Soziologie als Wirklichkeitswissenschaft, loc. cit., pp. l55f., 'It is extremely characteristic that in a typology of the forms of domination one deliberately starts from the specifically modern form of administration, "in order afterwards to be able to contrast the others with it" (Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, p. 124). It is just as characteristic that the chapter on the sociology of the city ... is designed to understand the specific nature of the western city, because in it lie the roots of the modern capitalist social system, and that here once again the other types of city are treated as contrasts. In these examples ... the basic intention of Max Weber's sociology is revealed. It consists of the question: which is the autonomous form of the formation of modern European society, and through which unique combination of circumstances is it made possible or enforced? . . . Sociology, as the systematic science of other types of societal reality, becomes the path along which contemporary reality learns to recognize itself in its historical reality.' 

SOURCE: Habermas, Jürgen. "The Analytical Theory of Science and Dialectics," in The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology, translated by Glyn Adey and David Frisby (London: Heinemann, 1976), pp. 131-162.

Note: The footnotes marked with asterisks were not in the original publication.

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