Contemporary critical social theories face the question of how to justify the ideas of the good society that guide their critical analyses. Traditionally, these more or less determinate ideas of the good society were held to be independent of their specific sociocultural context and historical epoch. Today, such a concept of context-transcending validity is not easy to defend; the "linguistic turn" of Western philosophy signals the widespread acceptance of the view that ideas of knowledge and validity are always mediated linguistically and that language is conditioned by history and context. In Re-Presenting the Good Society, Maeve Cooke addresses the justificatory dilemma facing critical social theories: how to maintain an idea of context-transcending validity without violating anti-authoritarian impulses. In doing so she not only clarifies the issues and positions taken by other theorists—including Richard Rorty, Jürgen Habermas, Axel Honneth, and Judith Butler—but also offers her own original and thought-provoking analysis of context-transcending validity.
Because the tension between an anti-authoritarian impulse and a guiding idea of context-transcending validity is today an integral part of critical social theory, Cooke argues that it should be negotiated rather than eliminated. Her proposal for a concept of context-transcending validity has as its central claim that we should conceive of the good society as re-presented in particular constitutively inadequate representations of it. These re-presentations are, Cooke argues provocatively, regulative ideas that have an imaginary, fictive character.
About the Author
Maeve Cooke is Associate Professor of German Social and Political Thought at University College Dublin. She is the author of Language and Reason: A Study of Habermas's Pragmatics (MIT Press, 1994) and editor of On the Pragmatics of Communication (MIT Press, 1998), a collection of essays by Jürgen Habermas.
"With forceful logic and pellucid prose, Maeve Cooke has produced a major reconstruction of critical theory. She explains how abstract utopias must be symbolically interpreted in emotionally compelling, concrete forms. She has built a philosophical bridge across which rationalist philosophers and cultural theorists can walk, encounter one another, and develop mutual understandings."
—Jeffrey C. Alexander, Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology and Codirector, Center for Cultural Sociology, Yale University
"In her stimulating study, Maeve Cooke passionately defends a democratic critical social theory that negotiates between sensitivity to historical context and the demand for 'context-transcending validity.' She presents a powerful vision of the ideal of a good society that can orient our praxis. This book ought to be consulted by anyone concerned with the current viability of critical social theory."
—Richard J. Bernstein, Vera List Professor of Philosophy, New School University
"Cooke offers a clear and cogent articulation of a central problem in critical theory and a concrete, detailed, and imaginative proposal for how to reconcile it. Her scholarship is of the highest level. This is a really fine piece of work that will make a significant contribution to the field."
—Amy R. Allen, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Women's and Gender Studies, Dartmouth College