This is a study in the philosophy of social science. It takes the form of a comparative critique of three contemporary approaches: ordinary language philosophy, hermeneutics and critical theory, represented here respectively by Ludwig Wittgenstein, Paul Ricoeur and Jurgen Habermas. Part I is devoted to an exposition of these authors' views and of the traditions to which they belong. Its unifying thread is their common concern with language, a concern which nonetheless reveals important differences of approach. For whereas ordinary language philosophers tend to treat linguistic activity as the ultimate object of inquiry, both Ricoeur and Habermas regard it as a medium which betrays more fundamental dimensions of human experience and the social world. Part II complements the exposition with a critical analysis of its central themes: the conceptualisation of action, the methodology of interpretation, and the theory of reference and truth. The author defends many aspects of the work of Ricoeur and Habermas, such as the emphasis on power and ideology, the strategy of depth interpretation, and the link between consensus and truth; but he argues that there are serious deficiencies and obscurities in their work. He proposes solutions to these difficulties and concludes with a sketch of a critical and rationally justified theory for the interpretation of action - a critical hermeneutics."
'John B. Thompson has made an invaluable contribution to current debate in the philosophy of the human sciences ... Dr Thompson not only provides a lucid account of three partly convergent ways of treating the relationship between language, action and the world, but lays the critical foundation for his own approach, which he calls 'critical hermeneutics' ... He is careful in his exposition and succinct in his criticism of Ricoeur and Habermas as well as the Wittgensteinians.' The Times Higher Education Supplement 'John Thompson has produced two books that, it may be hoped, will continue the upsurge of interest in Ricoeur's work ... Placing Ricoeur in context with the more familiar ordinary language philosophy and critical theory of Habermas allows Thompson both to make Ricoeur's work more accessible, and to outline a general problematic in social science, within which to establish his own 'critical hermeneutics" ... While Thompson's relationship to critical theory remains ambiguous at times, he still puts forward an exciting programme. Its application in a concrete study of ideology, which Thompson promises, should prove a highly fruitful inquiry.' Sociology 'Thompson pursues Ricoeur's central questions with great rigour and imagination.' Political Studies 'A magnificently organized and cogently argued work, one that constitutes a thematic account of important movements in contemporary philosophy and actively engages these movements in a philosophical manner that forces the reader into a dialogue with the author.' Heythrop Journal