Do Critical and Normative Inquiry Conflict?

28 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2006 Last revised: 20 Oct 2007

See all articles by T. J. Donahue

T. J. Donahue

Institute for Philosophical Research, UNAM

Date Written: October 15, 2007


There is an assumption, widely held by political theorists and philosophers, that is seldom discussed and yet has serious consequences for the practice of political theory. The assumption is that critical and normative inquiry conflict. Critical inquiry is the activity of asking what's bad about this or that; normative inquiry is the activity of asking what we should do. Now the assumption - call it the Conflict Thesis - entails that the aims of critical and normative inquiry are incompatible: you cannot consistently accept both. This paper asks whether the Conflict Thesis is true. In answer, it argues that the thesis is false. There is no conflict between critical and normative inquiry, because their aims and presuppositions are compatible. This view I call the No-conflict Thesis. In arguing for this thesis, the paper gives accounts of critical and normative inquiry, identifies their aims and presuppositions, and shows that these are compatible. The paper concludes by showing that a set of neglected but important questions lies at the intersection of critical and normative inquiry.

Keywords: critical inquiry, critique, justification, normative inquiry, normativity, presuppositions

JEL Classification: B24, D63

Suggested Citation

Donahue, T. J., Do Critical and Normative Inquiry Conflict? (October 15, 2007). Available at SSRN: or

T. J. Donahue (Contact Author)

Institute for Philosophical Research, UNAM ( email )

Circuito Maestro Mario de la Cueva s/n
Ciudad Universitaria
Coyoacán, Mexico, Distrito Federal C.P. 04510

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