Making Sense of Morality: A Brief Assessment of Critical Theory

Various ethics terms
Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

What then should we think of critical theory (CT) and its shaping influences in these other views? I’ll consider some strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths

Reality

Yet, if we don’t come to grips with the end result of nominalism, we can seduce ourselves to think everything is what it is in name only — due to how we have conceived of it. So, both these views lead us to think that what exists is our construct. Yet, to be consistent, that means oppression (as well as liberation) is just some particular group’s construct. Justice, dignity, and equality, all of which are good moral values, end up being just the way a particular group has constructed their morals. But that result is anything but what critical theorists want. They argue for their views as the way things really are, and the way things should be for all people. Yet, based on their own theory’s bases, they cannot be such. Indeed, they are just a particular group’s constructs, and if they try to universalize them, they actually could be imperialistic and oppressive.

Knowledge

Similarly, the strength of CT claims depends upon our ability to see real people in real conditions, and see them as unjust. But, can we do this on historicism? I do not think so. Since we can never access something real as it is in itself, apart from our interpretation, it seems we only access our interpretation (call it I1) thereof. But, now a new regress appears. I1 is real, but, per the theory, I cannot access it as it really is, but only as I interpret it (I2). But then that same repetition occurs with I3, I4, and so on, without a way to ever get started. Knowledge becomes impossible on historicism. (Moreover, how can we even form an interpretation if we cannot access something as it really is, even if we do not know it exhaustively?)

Ethics

Further, the fundamental duty on CT (that we are to liberate the oppressed from the oppressors) seems to lead to never-ending violence. Since there are only two groups, once the oppressed have been liberated, now they are the oppressors, and they and the former oppressors have switched places. But, now the cycle must repeat endlessly, with wanton violence.

Though CT identifies real injustices and oppression, it cannot hope to be an adequate basis to address them.

Professor of ethics, philosophy of religion @ Biola's MA Christian Apologetics. Interests: ethics, knowledge, nominalism, & how Christians have been naturalized