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Why do Social Theories Become Ideologies?


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Oct 6, 2008
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Why do Social Theories Become Ideologies?

An ideology is systematically biased by its assumptions and it constantly must protect its assumptions from erosion if it is to maintain the status of its ideology. For Marx the ideologist becomes a constant apologist for his ideology. An uncritical or vulgar social theorist, even though personally very critical of the established order cannot overcome the social osmosis resulting from the society and is unable to realize his critical intentions.

A system of knowledge is inherently limited and distorted by its assumptions. Because of these assumptions it abstracts certain aspects of reality and conceptualizes the subject matter in a highly selective manner in accordance with the assumptions. The physicist restricts her focus to matters that can be quantified in terms of weight, time, distance, and perhaps wavelength.

“Each form of inquiry operates within the framework of and the limits set by its basic assumptions, and offer an inherently inadequate account of the world.” Since non-philosophical inquiry is not aware off or able to question its assumptions “they have a constant tendency to claim universal validity and transgress into areas not their own.”

The author argues that “the assumptions underlying and constituting a point of view may be not only methodological, ontological, and epistemological, but also social…To be a member of a society is to occupy a prestructured social space and to find one self already related to others in a certain manner.”

The superficial student of social theory “is compelled by the very logic of his inquiry to become its apologist. Even if he were critical of his society, his very level of investigation condemns him to becoming its apologist…because the surface of society is ideologically constituted, so that whoever remains confined to it can do little more than reproduce the underlying ideology.”

All accepted social theory becomes ideologically constituted because society in general becomes its apologist. Society in general becomes an apologist for a social theory because that society, which has never been taught critical thinking, is unable to comprehend matter beyond the appearance of reality.

The inquiring mind requires a philosophical attitude if it is to illuminate that which is beneath the surface of social reality. I claim that ‘CT (Critical Thinking) is philosophy lite’ is a useful and accurate metaphor for the student of social reality. CT is the first step toward facing and conquering the “apologists’ dread”.

I think that Marx would say that ideology is a set of ideas to which a group of individuals place great trust. Within this group of individuals most will become apologists for this ideology because most members have never been taught to think critically. Thus every set of ideas to which many are drawn will become an ideology. An ideology then is a set of ideas that is very popular and which is forcefully promoted by a large number of apologists. Thus the ideology is enforced by force.

The difference in being a critical thinker or an apologist is that the critical thinker is conscious of his or her fallibility and is conscious of the assumptions that are part of the set of ideas making up that particular domain of belief.

The critical thinker recognizes the tendency to be biased and can remain rational about his or her set of beliefs. The Christian or the Muslim who remains a critical thinker rather than an apologist can keep the set of beliefs while maintaining a balanced view of that domain of knowledge and how that domain of belief fits into a society in harmony.

“Strange as it may seem, Marx’s concept of apologia bears a remarkable resemblance to, and can be best understood in the context of the traditional discussion of the nature and task of philosophy.”

Philosophy is, as a philosophy professor said to me when I asked him what philosophy was about, a radically critical self-consciousness form of inquiry. Philosophy is the only domain of knowledge that has the attitude and discipline required to critically question its assumptions. All domains of knowledge start with assumptions and if these assumptions are challenged then the whole domain of theoretically defined knowledge loses its theoretical rational and legitimacy.

Pull away the foundational assumptions of any domain of knowledge and the edifice crumbles without it.

Quotes from Marx’s Theory of Ideology by Bhikhu Parekh.
Pull away the foundational assumptions of any domain of knowledge and the edifice crumbles without it.

No society exists that is 100% rational, logical and objective.

All societies make use of institutions and customs that came into being for reasons no one really remembers anymore. They remain institutions because they "work".

Applying "critical thinking" too broadly and too harshly and you wash away the glue that holds a society together, and as the quote indicates, the edifice crumbles.

Want to know what happens then? Chaos. Anarchy. Lebanon in the 70's, Somalia today. No moral anchor, no core beliefs, no restraint on the ambitious.

Many institutions exist in society to which we are emotionally, rather than rationally, attached.... yet they often serve a vital social function. Wipe away that attachment with CT and you've kicked the supports out from under society without replacing it with anything of equal strength and power.

A belief that human beings have inborn rights that must not be infringed upon is difficult to prove rationally... yet such a belief tends to safeguard rights human beings ought to have and need to have far more strongly than some mere philosophical construct that is viewed with intellectual detachment.

People will passionately defend to the death those rights they believe they were endowed with by their Creator; far fewer will have such passion or make such sacrifice for a nebulous list forwarded in the name of logic. When soldiers charge machine-gun nests, they are more likely to cry out "For God and Country!" than "For Logic and Reason!".

Logic and reason would suggest staying under cover and letting someone else get shot. :mrgreen:
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