What’s new in the new ideology critique?
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I argue that contemporary accounts of ideology critique—paradigmatically those advanced by Haslanger, Jaeggi, Celikates, and Stanley—are either inadequate or redundant. The Marxian concept of ideology—a collective epistemic distortion or irrationality that helps maintain bad social arrangements—has recently returned to the forefront of debates in contemporary analytic social philosophy. Ideology critique has similarly emerged as a technique for combating such social ills by remedying those collective epistemic distortions. Ideologies are sets of social meanings or shared understandings. I argue in this paper that because agents must coordinate on them to be mutually intelligible, ideologies, on the fashionable contemporary account, are conventions. They are equilibrium solutions to a particular kind of social coordination problem. The worry is that changing pernicious conventions requires more than the epistemic remedy contemporary critical social theorists prescribe. It also requires overcoming strategic impediments like high first-mover costs. Thus contemporary proponents of ideology critique—the “new ideology critics,” as I’ll call them—face a dilemma. Either their account of social change fails to account for important strategic impediments to social change, in which case it is inadequate, or it incorporates a theory of strategic behavior, and thus merely reinvents the wheel, poorly. It adds nothing to prominent convention-based accounts of social change in the social sciences. More generally, this is an example of a pernicious trend in contemporary critical social theory. Contemporary critical social theorists have abandoned their predecessors’ commitment to engaging with social science, thereby undermining their efforts.
KeywordsIdeology Social philosophy Critical theory Critical social theory Ideology critique Moral progress Social norms
Thanks especially to Matthew Adams, Jake Monaghan, and Daniel Muñoz, all of whom read multiple drafts of this paper. Thanks also to Jonny Anomaly, Jacob Barrett, Allen Buchanan, Cesar Cabezas, Gianna Englert, Dave Estlund (who suggested the title), Arianna Falbo, Jeff Feldman, Jerry Gaus, Nick Geiser, Adam Gjesdal, Charles Larmore, Rachel Leadon, Ferris Lupino, Chad Marxen, Sam Meister, Thomas Moore, Alex Motchoulski, Julian Mueller, Ryan Muldoon, Adam Pautz, Phil Smolenski, Valerie Soon, Bobby Wallace, Taylor White, various anonymous referees, and audiences at the 2016 Princeton Workshop in Social Philosophy, 2017 Politics, Philosophy, and Economics Society, New England Political Science Association meeting, and North American Society for Social Philosophy meetings, ECAP IX, and the Brown Graduate Political Philosophy Workshop for comments, feedback, and helpful discussion.
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