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Critique is a method of disciplined, systematic analysis of a written or oral discourse. Critique is commonly understood as fault finding and negative judgement, but it can also involve merit recognition, and in the philosophical tradition it also means a methodical practice of doubt. The contemporary sense of critique has been largely influenced by the Enlightenment critique of prejudice and authority, which championed the emancipation and autonomy from religious and political authorities. Critique is an accepted format of written and oral debate.
Some authors draw a distinction between critique and criticism.[better source needed] The distinction is not made in French, German, or Italian, where the two words both translate as critique, Kritik, and critica, respectively. According to philosopher Gianni Vattimo, criticism is used more frequently to denote literary criticism or art criticism, that is the interpretation and evaluation of literature and art; while critique may be used in the English language to refer to more general and profound writing as Kant's Critique of pure reason. Another proposed distinction is that critique is never personalized nor ad hominem, but is instead the analyses of the structure of the thought in the content of the item critiqued. This analysis then offers by way of the critique method either a rebuttal or a suggestion of further expansion upon the problems presented by the topic of that specific written or oral argumentation. Even authors that believe there might be a distinction, say that there is some ambiguity that is still unresolved.
Critique is an accepted and established process of orderly scholarly and public debate. In the fine arts and the humanities, and especially in writing, critique is influenced by the scientific method of analysis. Critique is based upon an informed opinion, and never upon personal opinion. Informed opinion is accepted as being technical knowledge, personal or professional experience, or specified training.
The term 'critique' derives, via French, from Ancient Greek κριτική (kritikē), meaning "the faculty of judgement", that is, discerning the value of persons or things.
In Philosophy and its applications
Philosophy is the application of critical thought, and is the disciplined practice of processing the theory/praxis problem. In philosophical contexts, such as law or academics, critique is most influenced by Kant's use of the term to mean a reflective examination of the validity and limits of a human capacity or of a set of philosophical claims. This has been extended in modern philosophy to mean a systematic inquiry into the conditions and consequences of a concept, a theory, a discipline, or an approach and/or attempt to understand the limitations and validity of that. A critical perspective, in this sense, is the opposite of a dogmatic one. Kant wrote:
- We deal with a concept dogmatically ... if we consider it as contained under another concept of the object which constitutes a principle of reason and determine it in conformity with this. But we deal with it merely critically if we consider it only in reference to our cognitive faculties and consequently to the subjective conditions of thinking it, without undertaking to decide anything about its object.
Later thinkers such as Hegel used the word 'critique' in a broader way than Kant's sense of the word, to mean the systematic inquiry into the limits of a doctrine or set of concepts. This referential expansion led, for instance, to the formulation of the idea of social critique, such as arose after Karl Marx's theoretical work delineated in his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), which was a critique of the then-current models of economic theory and thought of that time. Further critique can then be applied after the fact, by using thorough critique as a basis for new argument. The idea of critique is elemental to legal, aesthetic, and literary theory and such practices, such as in the analysis and evaluation of writings such as pictorial, musical, or expanded textual works.
The Strength and Weakness of a Critique
Formal and casual criticisms of a work (a poem, an article, a book, a painting, or a play, for example) often use the term 'critique' to refer to any somewhat loosely-applied argument about the quality of the work, typically when used in reference to popular (loose) expectations, or conventionality, of a genre or class. Such idea of 'quality' is measured against varying standards which may not be equivalents. It is very difficult to establish a measure of 'quality.' Hewing to a measure of 'quality' requires standardization, which eclipses tendentious conditions such as tradition, nuanced, subcultural, or analogous usages. 'Quality' is no longer thought of as being a necessarily valid marker signifying importance in some circles, and very much a signifier of such importance in other circles. Critique, when applied, analyzes very narrow qualitative assemblies of thought.
Many practitioners prefer to distinguish "weak" critiques (supported by arguments from induction, testimony, appeals to authority or to emotion, consensus, chain of improbabilities (e.g., butterfly effect), or appeals to analogy) from "strong critiques" that rely only on deduction, mathematical proof, and formal logic.
Both types of critique find expression in academic essays, policy position papers, trade journals, periodicals, political and religious leaflets, civic testimony, and judicial cross examination. The "stronger critique" is generally accepted as "more" valid, while the "weak" critique is generally accepted as preferential rather than conclusive, or leading to conclusive, result. "Weak" critique is greatly cautioned against in formal education.
Marx's work inspired the 'Frankfurt School' of critical theory, now best exemplified in the work of Jürgen Habermas. This, in turn, helped inspire the cultural studies form of social critique, which treats cultural products and their reception as evidence of wider social ills such as racism or gender bias. Social critique has been further extended in the work of Michel Foucault and of Alasdair MacIntyre. In their different and radically contrasting ways, MacIntyre and Foucault go well beyond the original Kantian meaning of the term critique in contesting legitimatory accounts of social power.
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- Rodolphe Gasché (2007) The honor of thinking: critique, theory, philosophy pp.12-3 quote:
Let us also remind ourselves of the fact that throughout the eighteenth century, which Kant, in Critique of Pure Reason, labeled "in especial degree, the age of criticism" and to which our use of "critique", today remains largely indebted, critique was above all critique of prejudice and established authority, and hence was intimately tied to a conception of the human being as capable of self-thinking, hence authonomous, and free from religious and political authorities.
- Gianni Vattimo Postmodern criticism: postmodern critique in David Wood (1990) Writing the future, pp.57-8
- "critick". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.
- Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment section 74.
- For an overview of philosophical conceptions of critique from Spinoza to Rancière see K. de Boer and R. Sonderegger (eds.), Conceptions of Critique in Modern and Contemporary Philosophy (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2012).