Max Horkheimer defined critical theory in the book Traditional and Critical Theory

Max Horkheimer defined critical theory in the book Traditional and Critical Theory. In this work Horkheimer asserted that a critical theory must do two important things: it must account for the whole of society within a historical context, and it should seek to offer a robust and holistic critique by incorporating insights from all social sciences.

Further, Horkheimer stated that a theory can only be considered a true critical theory if it is explanatory, practical, and normative, meaning that the theory must adequately explain the social problems that exist, it must offer practical solutions for how to respond to them and make change, and it must clearly abide the norms of criticism established by the field.

With this formulation Horkheimer condemned “traditional” theorists for producing works that fail to question power, domination, and the status quo, thus building on Gramsci’s critique of the role of intellectuals in processes of domination.