Thursday, May 18, 2006



** REASON **

The dialectic of enlightenment

(1) There is a linear component to the dialectic. Enlightenment’s roots are antiauthoritarian, in a sense which encompasses even divine authority.[1]

Enlightenment reverts to myth: according to a linear understanding, enlightenment’s domination over nature, which is initially liberating, gradually turns into domination over the natural substrate of the human.[2]

This manifests as man’s self-domination (alienation), and the domination of men by men:[3]

• Enlightenment reverts to scientism / positivism: concepts become formulae, causes become rule and probability, quality becomes quantity.
• This cognitive domination is the basic cause of sociotechnical domination (the domination of man by man).[4] Enlightenment reverts to instrumentalization / technicity: science does not arbitrate its ends.

What enlightened thought represents as superstition, and tries to purge, is already a form of cognition. (Cf. heuristics). Myth is already enlightenment inasmuch as identificatory thinking is inalienable to thought.

Classification, i.e. subsumption as specimens, has an interest in domination, but is different from it. One corollory is that domination and capitalism are not coterminous[5] (cf. Marx[6]).

• The modern reception of Nietzche which emphasises his attack on enlightenment nihilism leads to an irrationalist glorification of pre-rational immediacy, which in fact already contains ingredients of modern rationality.

The entanglement of enlightenment with myth, and reason with domination, is nowhere absent from this account. But the quality of the entanglement has changed, indicating that it’s not a transhistorical invariant:

• In particular, unlike sacrifice,[7] magic and mimesis do not mystify difference. They are not prior to reason or domination, but they are prior to the unity of subject (internalised self-sacrifice).
• Mimesis, the impulse to resemble, is displaced by identification – the attempt to classify, to subsume particulars as specimens.


In a non-linear vein (sic), myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to myth, in the sense that the “enlightened” concept of enlightenment is not enlightened enough.[8] It is unenlightened to the extent it fails to reflect on its own ineradicable mythical dimension:

• Reason tries to rid itself of discrimination. But to aggregate what is like means necessarily to segregate it from what is different. There is a qualitative moment in all quantification.
• Reason tries to rid itself of the non-identical. In doing so it upholds irrational violence, and surrenders its own ineradicable imaginative element to superstition, charlatanism, and madness.

Does this mean that enlightenment and myth are one-and-the-same, albeit historically variable, phenomenon? No. The two theses in Dialectic of Enlightenment have shifting, dialectical priority:

• “Myth is already enlightenment” must not be taken to permanently equate power with knowledge (this might be the thesis that enlightenment is “always already” myth – cf. perhaps Foucault).
• “Enlightenment reverts to myth” must not be understood to permanently entail a failure of enlightenment, such that it should be completed (cf. Habermas) or reversed (however meanderingly and however locally – cf. perhaps Foucault).

Adorno and Horkheimer would balk at defining the relationship b/w the theses as methodology. (Cf. Adorno: “It’s very likely that under the spell of the latter the individuated and the concrete do not even exist yet. Through the word pluralism, utopia is suppressed, as if it were already here; it serves as consolation. That is why however dialectical theory, which critically reflects on itself, may not for its part install itself domestic-style in the medium of the generality”). Nonetheless, their relationship is best made sense of through the figure of an embodied inquirer, successively drawing these contradictory stances from one another and responding ethically, imaginatively and critically within the confines of each phase.

Adorno & Marx

Marx, praxis. Although Adorno shares many of Marx’s anthropological intuitions, he thinks that a twentieth-century equation of truth with practical fruitfulness, capitalist or communist, had disastrous effects. Negative Dialectics begins by making two claims:

• First, although obsolete, philosophy remains necessary because capitalism has not been overthrown.
• Second, Marx’s interpretation of capitalist society was inadequate and his critique is outmoded. Hence, praxis no longer serves as an adequate basis for challenging (philosophical) theory. In fact, praxis serves mostly as a pretext for shutting down the theoretical critique that transformative praxis would require.

Marx requires revisions in a number of other areas: the dialectic between forces of production and relations of production; the relationship between state and economy; the sociology of classes and class consciousness; the nature and function of ideology; and the role of expert cultures, such as modern art and social theory, in criticising capitalism and calling for the transformation of society as a whole.

Although in agreement with Marx’s analysis of the commodity, Adorno thinks his critique of commodity fetishism does not go far enough. Marx “had it easy.” Society has come to be organised around the production of exchange values for the sake of exchange value (which, of course, always already requires a silent appropriation of surplus value). Adorno refers to this nexus of production and power as the “principle of exchange.” A society where this nexus prevails is an “exchange society.”

A caution on totality: while still pretending to grasp the whole, philosophy fails to recognise how thoroughly it depends upon society as a whole, all the way into philosophy’s “immanent truth” (ND 4). Cf. aporetic approach, immanent critique, negative dialectics, atonal philosophy, constellations.

Cf. Adorno: “The inflated bluster over concepts such as ‘imperialism’ or ’monopoly,’ without taking into consideration what these words factually entail [Sachverhalten], and to what extent they are relevant, is as wrong, that is to say irrational, as a mode of conduct which, thanks to its blindly nominalistic conception of the matter at hand [Sachverhalten], refuses to consider that concepts such as exchange-society might have their objectivity, revealing a compulsion of the generality behind the matter at hand [Sachverhalten], which is by no means always adequately translated into the operational field of the facts of the matter [Sachverhalte].”

Adorno & state capitalism

1930s controversies concerning crisis, immiseration, spontaneity and flexibility / robustness of capitalist system. Cf. Luxembourg. Revolutionary or constitutional socialism?

Pollock: monopolistic capitalism, corporatism, capital concentration. Ferocious accumulation, unconstrained by relations of production.

Pollock: Nazism didn’t just mystify material interests, it changed them. Adorno’s lukewarm reception of this analysis – it suggests non-antagonistic economic relations were possible in the antagonistic society of Fascist Germany.

Neumann: see Behemoth. Rejects the state capitalism thesis. Was Nazism then a glorified confidence trick? Adorno: no, it was a real illusion.

Adorno: industrial society in forces of production; late capitalism in relations of production.

While acknowledging with Pollock that political and economic power have become more tightly meshed, Adorno does not think the fundamentally economic character of capitalist exploitation has changed. Economic exploitation has become even more abstract than it was in Marx’s day, and therefore all the more effective and pervasive. The market permeates all areas of human life. Capital is so concentrated as to appear the expression of the entire society.

The problematic Adorno faces is the priority of industrial society (i.e. relations of production) vs. that of productive forces (i.e. late capitalism). The problematic is produced by the thoroughness of the dialectical interpenetration of the two theses. He dissolves this false dilemma with the paradox that “contemporary society is above all an industrial society according to the level of its productive forces.” This would appear to be a category error: the industrial society thesis encourages us to discard productive forces as an autonomous explanatory category.

How is this unpacked?

“In the categories of critical-dialectical theory I would like to suggest as a first and necessarily abstract answer, that contemporary society is above all an industrial society according to the level of its productive forces. Industrial labor has become the model pattern of society everywhere and across all borders of political systems. It developed itself into a totality due to the fact that modes of procedure, which resemble the industrial ones, are extending by economic necessity into the realms of material production, into administration, the distribution-sphere and that which we call culture. Conversely, society is capitalism in terms of its relations of production [Adorno’s emphasis]. Human beings are still what they were according to the Marxist analysis of the middle of the 19th century: appendages of machines, not merely in the literal sense as workers, who have to adapt themselves to the constitution of the machines which they serve, but far beyond this and metaphorically, compelled to assume the roles of the social mechanism and to model themselves on such, without reservation, on the level of their most intimate impulses. Production goes on today just as it did before, for the sake of profits. Needs have gone beyond anything Marx could have foreseen in his time, completely becoming the function of the production-apparatus, which they potentially were all along, instead of the reverse. They are totally governed [gesteuert: mechanically steered, governed].”

Class. For Marx, class is an objective concept which relies on a relationship to the means of production. Not susceptible to quantificatory assessment / phenomenal criteria.

Adorno’s response is characteristically double:

• Adorno (Pollock’s influence): relations of production more elastic than Marx suspected. “The ruling class disappears behind the concentration of capital.” They have become largely functions of their own production apparatus. Cf. economies of scale, natural monopolies,[9] irreducible complexity. Immiseration in Marx’s sense is disabled.
• The exploited are less and less able to experience themselves as a class. “One can speak of relative immiseration only in a comic sense.” Yet exploitation remains intact, indeed sharpens and grows in fixity. Unfreedom is not played out as Marx prognosticised, but “one’s dependence on the consciousness of those who serve an uncontrollable apparatus, is spreading universally over humanity.” Class consciousness is less likely in proportion to the strength of economic domination.

(Cf. Q. Skinner’s “neoclassical unfreedom” – dependence on the arbitrary will of another).

An archaic injustice – partiality of the means of production – underlies apparently free and equitable exchange. But Adorno cannot uncover this injustice as an objective concept – as the extraction of surplus labour – as Marx could, by an immanent critique of liberalism. There is a corroborative relationship between the frustrated objectivity of the two concepts: class, and the extraction of surplus labour.

Adorno’s materialism steadies itself by constant reference to bodily pain and actual homicide. But for relations of production, repeated mass death by starvation, etc., are preventable. Adorno maintains a connection between this self-extermination, and the damage done to life everywhere in the relations of production in order to mystify it.

Marx is still supremely relevant.[10] The identity of the forces of production with the relations of production is a socially necessary illusion. Actually, they are dialectically related. Cf. Wendt, “Anarchy is What You Make It.”

Adorno: no priority of forces over production over relation of production can be assumed, since the former are mediated by the latter. It is important that “one does not cast the blame on what critique has time and again been side-tracked by – namely technics, that is to say the productive forces – thereby indulging in a kind of theoretical machine-breaking on an expanded level [cf. idealism]. Technics is not the disaster, but rather its intertwining with the social relations, in which it is entangled.” The relations of production are relatively preponderant, so the Marxist understanding of their reification is the more pertinent account.


Marx. In exchange, non-identical things and unequal relations represented as abstractly identical (cf. dispositional / relational qualities of objects; Oliver Hart’s “reference points”; fetish character of the commodity). Is this idea true?

Exchange value comes to appear as inherent in commodity – hides “its” source in determinate relationship of domination.

Domination accrues the appearance of a natural series of equivalences.

Lukacs: reification is extension of commodity fetishis to all areas of human consciousness and activity.

Illusory autonomy sought by sociology at the price of immanence / historicity.

Lukacs: the capitalist mistakes himself for a determiner of reification; in praxis the proletariat becomes the identical subject-object of history, whose consciousness is unreified.

For Adorno, materialist thought must realise it is never identical with its objects.

Distinction between capitalist and proletariat experience of experience of reification blurred in Adorno compared with Lukacs.

Anti-semitic anti-capitalism of Fascism was an extension of the logic of late capitalism. The Jews epitomized the sphere of circulation. Strove for egalitarian, mutilating levelling.

Social-pyschological studies: anti-Semitism, authoritarian personality. Cultural studies: television, film, music; also conversations on trains, glimpsed expressions, etc.

Emphasising the Hegelian dimension of Marx, Adorno uses Marxian anti-methodologist critique to rebuke Weber. Marx attacks Left Hegelians and utopian socialists for the “ought” they propose outside of social experience. Likewise, classical political economy begins with illegitimate deductive abstractions.

Immanent critique does not methodologically pre-form its objects. Adorno reads Marx as an immanent critic of political economy – one who starts with the concept in which fact and norm are most acutely implicated, fair exchange, and shows how bourgeois society’s fulfilment of its constitutive normativity would supersede / sublate (aufheben) the bourgeois form of society. “He only needed to ask whether capitalism corresponded in its own dynamic categories to this model, in order to produce, out of the determinate negation of the preexisting theoretical system, a system-like theory in its own right. Meanwhile the market economy has become so honeycombed, that it mocks any such confrontation. The irrationality of the contemporary social structure hinders its rational development in theory.”

Truth is “glimpsed” by determinate negation of the false (so not really a “stance” or “orientation”).

Adorno distances his approach from economism.

Immiseration is a consequence of the autonomous course of liberal political economy, as modified by monopoly capitalism.

Nietzschean moment? Domination reproducting itself in trivially autonomous social and political forms?

Millions starve while food is stockpiled, and nothing apparently can be done.

Cf. aid, moral hazard, additionality, fungibility, selfishness (cf. Peter Singer). Cf. commitment problems. Cf. overlapping consensus.

Materialism which aims to rid itself of illusion entirely risks sensuous dogmatism, endlessly playing out crude involuntary philosophical commitments.

A seamlessly noncontradictory system cannot be materialist. Systematicity is the levelling of the non-identical. Cf. Habermas.

Material has a contradictory relationship with system.

Adorno resists insulating Marx from German philosophy, and from the entire materialist tradition.

Materialism need not be emancipatory / critical. Cf. Hobbes.

Material specificity of minute particulars, not universals, should be the starting point of philosophical interpretation. Cf. Benjamin.

Experience is “sedimented” (cf. Husserl) in abstract concepts.

Systemic character (real illusion) of capitalist society presents systematisation as the unavoidable commitment of any immanent critique. Marx builds a negative system capable of querying the systemic unity which bourgeois society claims for itself.

Contesting political economy’s restrictedly technical redefinition of normative concepts à “free” as “contractually consenting.”

Marx is critical of previous socialist efforts to found political economy in dogmatic anthropology. Where methodological convenience organises the foundational division between needs and wants, the result will be empty moralising. The notion of need emerges coevally with surplus value as a “gift from nature.”

For Smith and Turgot, the question was how is profit possible from fair exchange?

(Cf. Islamic finance).

Marx: theory of surplus value. Price of labour is determined by how much labour goes into the production of labour.

Capital critiques political economy by offering a phenomenology of a systematic and real illusion, whose every category is an identification and misidentification.

Marx’s materialism seeks to avoid political economy’s positivism (in the sense of an exaggerated sense of the nomological); materialist anthropology with a dogmatic doctrine of human needs or interests; and any methodological stance which will betray in advance the specificity of the material.

Nature neither subjected to “dialectical-materialist” expositions (cf. Engels), nor placed under an embarrassed taboo (post-structuralism).

Marx attempts to undo the illusion that all experience is economically / culturally constructed from within, glimpsing nature.

Capitalism does not invent mystification.

For Marx, domination must be deduced economically. He holds a polemic front against the conservative idea that domination is “natural.”

Adorno (influenced by Pollock) wants to correct this tendency: the collapse of capitalism might lead to worse domination / mystification.

Dialectic of Enlightenment: a philosophy of history? “History is the unity of continuity and discontinuity.” That is, history is a real totalisation in natural-historical experience. Cultures are integrated by exchange even as they are beset by furious insistence on altereity.

Positivist / postmodern insistence on discontinuity – recapitulates a teleological fantasy of arrival at pure structure. Adorno: “The fetishism of the facts corresponds to one of the objective laws. Dialectics, which has had its fill of the painful experience of such hegemony, does not hegemonize in turn, but criticizes this just as much as the appearance, that the individuated and the concrete already determine the course of the world hic et nunc.”

Social life is not exhausted by culture.

Ban on philosophy of history – falseness of true antithesis of nature and history – apologetically recapitulates history’s mystification of its natural growth.

Schnädelbach: social myths are generically committed to narrativism, no matter how much good will they demonstrate the unrealised goal of enlightenment.

Myths enlighten, enlightenment mythologises. This is no narrativist nitro, propelling selected facts over the finishing line into timeless wisdom. This is the rebellion of experience against empiricism. Cf. in Adorno the tendency to use, where one might expect a word like “history” or “historicity,” the word “Auschwitz.” Hitler’s barbarism imposes a “new categorical imperative” on human beings in their condition of unfreedom: so to arrange their thought and action that “Auschwitz would not repeat itself, [that] nothing similar would happen” (ND 365).

Whereas denying transcendental value would suppress the suffering that calls out for fundamental change, straightforwardly affirming the existence of utopia would cut off the critique of contemporary society and the struggle to change it.

If Homer’s truths are timeless, we needn’t go to Homer for them. If they are insulated by historical incommensurability, we can’t.

What’s the answer? Polymorphous connections, dialectically blurring burlesque and mock-heroic, in a new mode of fractal derision, reveal entangelement of archaic and modern, dominated and rational. Xenophanes’ critique of divine anthropomorphism is characteristic of enlightenment inasmuch as it demystifies, secularises, disenchants.

Drive for empiricism leads to solipsism, an inability to imagine alternatives. (Cf. Adorno on Hegel).

Nothing can be allowed to stand outside thought: “world as giant analytic judgement.”

Language is confined to structure (which cannot “be like” nature) or to image (which cannot “know” nature). Cf. Kant, mimetic function, also Dreyfuss on Heidegger.

Enlightenment is an actually existing wild generalisation (true predictions of it are unfalsifiable?).

Rationality which is invariant over its object set.


Adorno & Durkheim / Weber

“Max Weber introduced the concept of an ‘interpretative sociology’, believing fundamentally that sociological knowledge consists in understanding the ‘means-end rationality’, the assessment of opportunities made by social agents; whereas Durkheim took the view that sociology differed essentially from psychology (although Max Weber, too, distinguished sharply between them) in that real social facts – faits sociaux – cannot be understood, are impenetrable and opaque and ought, as he put it himself without quite realising the implications of what he said, to be treated as ‘things’, as choses; thus, Durkheim’s sociology was also called chosisme. Traces of this view still survive in French structuralism [...] The second difference is that Max Weber, as you know, rigorously upheld the view that sciology was ‘value-free’ – meaning that value judgements must be absolutely excluded from it. And I should like to say that the vulgar positivism of today has followed him precisely in this, whereas he himself, being still trained in idealist epistemology, refused to have any truck with vulgar sociologism. Durkheim, by contrast, although in some ways a far more unprepentant positivist than Weber, admitted value judgements to sociology. He did so, I believe, because of his more penetrating perception and analysis of the facts themselves. For he had realized that the mere distinction between true and false introduces a value relationship even into pure acts of cognition, which Weber – naively, I would say – thought he could separate from axiological acts, or acts which involve valuations. And indeed, if you read one of Durkheim’s early major works such as The Division of Labour in society, the evaluative tibre is unmistakable. It is very closely related to what I mentioned earlier, the hyypostasis of social facts which, in a process wwhich became more and more prominent in his work, were used normatively and acknowledged as determining values. These two moments, the impenetrable givenness of faits sociaux and their aspect of value latr crystallized out with utmost sharpness in Durkheim’s theory of conscience (consciousness) and of the esprit collectif (collective mind) [...] the old rigid dichotomy of evaluative and value-free knowledge is no longer tenable today. [...] Clearly, the attempt to abolish concepts in sociology and – if I may put it in extreme form – to reduce them to mere tokens, abbreviations for the facts they subsume, devoid of any autonomy, sems to me extremely narrow-minded. There is simply no thought without concepts. [...] Durkheim, in asserting the non-intelligible in chosisme, and thereby stating that sociology really finds its true subject where comprehensibility ceases, hit on a very central moment of socialization: that something originally made by human beings becomes institutionally autonomous in relation to human beings. Only he hypostatizes this point; that is to say, he treats it as if such opacity were ‘second nature’ to the institutions,[11] were inherent in socialization itself. And this tendency is at the origin of the apologia for the existing society which is a decisive trai of Durkheim [...] “

Durkheim: social facts should be treated like things. Society enters each individual as their non-identical compulsion. (Cf. Foucault & grid of intelligibility; communitarianism & non-chosen ties). Moment of truth (alienation). But D. converts prepronderence of collective into an invariant.

[Bernstein: Adorno’s position closer to D.’s than he concedes: for D., the ideal contains the real by way of the wish that it become real.]

Weber: sociology requires a reduction to individual consciousnesses (vs. Durkheim’s restriction to ‘social facts’), and an understanding of the rational and purposive actions of individuals. Action within bourgeois society is not only motivated, but objectively intelligible.

Interpretative[12] Sociology: the intentionality (cf. Bretano) of action allows the sociologist to “accomplish something which is never attainable in the natural sciences, namely the subjective understanding of the action of the component individuals.” Links with methodological individualism – social phenomena must be explained by showing how they result from individual actions, which in turn must be explained through reference to the intentional states that motivate the individual actors. Contrasted with Durkheim’s third-person perspective.

Ideal Types: social, economic and historical research can never be fully inductive or descriptive as one must always approach it with a conceptual apparatus, which Weber termed “Ideal Type.” This, together with his interpretative, antipositivistic orientation justifies the assumption of the “rational economic man” (homo economicus).

Fact problems and value problems are heterogeneous (Weber admits this is a value position).

Adorno sympathises with W.’s scepticism of homology between natural and social sciences (he attributes the origin its rationale to Freyer: the observer is not external to object of study). But Adorno thinks that in laying stress on the self-understanding of participants of social institutions, W. underestimates the autonomous life of social relations.

Beyond Durkheim vs. Weber: sociology ought to grasp the incomprehensibility which makes relations opaque and autonomous. Autonomy of social relations is a real illusion. (Cf. Marx on fetish character of the commodity).

Adorno rejects the neo-Kantian distinction between nomothetic & ideographic sciences. (Cf. disjunctions b/w structuralism & hermeneutics, and b/w discursive & aesthetic functions of language). Understanding opacities requires philosophical artifice: the qualitative specificity of social theory is likely to go missing if it attempts absolute literalness.

Sociological laws fall into error by implying a domain of purely sociological objects (cf. Schmitt on autonomy of the political). Adorno argues against such fetishised methodology: “People prefer to cling to a pure tautology, to the absolute certainty of the proposition that A = A, rather than importing into the realm of knowledge the risks – of which they are preconciously aware – imposed by an existence liable to be annihilated at any moment.” Of course he connects this with Horkheimer’s instrumental reason.

[Cf. Schmitt: “The dualism of the methods of sociology and jurisprudence ends in a monistic metaphysics.”]

The ideal of methodology is really tautology – its knowledge is determined operationally, since it does no more than fulfil the demands of method, at the expense of the object (vs. immanent critique). Adorno suspects that no relevant truth is not attended by the risk that it might be wrong (cf. Habermasian fallibilism).

“The fetishism of the facts corresponds to one of the objective laws.”

Sociological professionalism ought to be opaque, and ought not to set limits to social inquiry.

Durkheim & Weber lose the philosophical advances of Kant (the transcendental move) and Hegel (dialectical understanding of fact & value (or of facticity & norm)).

The “old rigid dichotomy of evaluative and value-free knowledge is no longer tenable today”. Weberian version of the division buys antipositivism at the cost of “dogmatic hypostasis of universal anthropological values.” Any method posited in advance of its object is idealist. The priorities of sociological method are mistaken for features of social experience.

Kant’s “critical path” between necessarily intelligible world (rationalism – cf. Weber) & necessarily unintelligible world (skepticism – cf. Durkheim).


Lukacs: Building on Max Weber’s theory of rationalization, Lukács argues that the capitalist economy is no longer one sector of society alongside others. Rather, commodity exchange has become the central organizing principle for all sectors of society. This allows commodity fetishism to permeate all social institutions (e.g., law, administration, journalism) as well as all academic disciplines, including philosophy. “Reification” refers to “the structural process whereby the commodity form permeates life in capitalist society.” Lukács was especially concerned with how reification makes human beings “seem like mere things obeying the inexorable laws of the marketplace” (Zuidervaart 1991, 76).

Sacrifice – object or creature substituted for one incommensurable with it.

Ego owes its existance to the sacrifice of the present moment to the future.

Archaic bloodlust in bourgeois setting: altar smoke from hearth fire.

Exchange society prohibits any value from incommensurability with others – thus exchange value itself is the master value.

Adorno came to call the reification of consciousness an “epiphenomenon.” Critical social theory needs to address why hunger, poverty, and other forms of human suffering persist despite the technological and scientific potential to eliminate them.

Hatred of social complexity, which might be associated with communitarianism, and the endorsement of disintermediation in the name of bare or honest coercion would make freedom unimaginable.

Identity thinking both opposed to mimesis and is itself mimesis of what is dead.

Death is the inextinguishable remainder of nature in culture. The mimetic nexus strives to become inorganic, object-like.

Self-preservation is intangled with self-extinction.

Marcuse: the classic psychoanalytic formulation of the reality principle, the necessary postponement of gratification, is based an a resource scarcity which the forces of production in principle have overcome. Thus “the fatal enemy of lasting gratification is time.”

By contrast, Adorno’s thought aims at a coercionless synthesis of manifold – reconciliation, not dissolution, of culture and nature. Contra Habermas, only in such reconciliation does an objective concept of communication appear.

Not aesthetics against discourse – these are dialectically contaminated counterconcepts.

Internalisation of sacrifice an aporetic moment.

Accordingly, in constructing a “dialectic of enlightenment” the authors simultaneously aim to carry out a dialectical enlightenment of enlightenment not unlike Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Two Hegelian concepts anchor this project, namely, determinate negation and conceptual self-reflection. “Determinate negation” (bestimmte Negation) indicates that immanent criticism is the way to wrest truth from ideology. A dialectical enlightenment of enlightenment, then, “discloses each image as script. It teaches us to read from [the image’s] features the admission of falseness which cancels its power and hands it over to truth” (DE 18). Beyond and through such determinate negation, a dialectical enlightenment of enlightenment also recalls the origin and goal of thought itself. Such recollection is the work of the concept as the self-reflection of thought (der Begriff als Selbstbesinnung des Denkens, DE 32). Conceptual self-reflection reveals that thought arises from the very corporeal needs and desires that get forgotten when thought becomes a mere instrument of human self-preservation. It also reveals that the goal of thought is not to continue the blind domination of nature and humans but to point toward reconciliation.

Adorno & the Culture Industry

Culture industry: The “same thing is offered to everybody by the standardised production of consumption goods” but this is concealed under “the manipulation of taste and the official culture’s pretense of individualism”. Adorno conceptualised this phenomenon as pseudo-individualization and the always-the-same. He saw this mass-produced culture as a danger to the more difficult high arts. Culture industries cultivate false needs; that is, needs created and satisfied by capitalism. True needs, in contrast, are freedom, creativity, and genuine happiness. More dialectically, under present conditions, the line between false and true needs is blurred altogether.

Adorno argues that the culture industry involves a change in the commodity character of art, such that art’s commodity character is deliberately acknowledged and art “abjures its autonomy” (DE 127). With its emphasis on marketability, the culture industry dispenses entirely with the “purposelessness” that was central to art’s autonomy. Once marketability becomes a total demand, the internal economic structure of cultural commodities shifts. Instead of promising freedom from societally dictated uses, and thereby having a genuine use value that people can enjoy, products mediated by the culture industry have their use value replaced by exchange value: “Everything has value only in so far as it can be exchanged, not in so far as it is something in itself. For consumers the use value of art, its essence, is a fetish, and the fetish—the social valuation which they mistake for the merit of works of art— becomes its only use value, the only quality they enjoy” (DE 128). Hence the culture industry dissolves the “genuine commodity character” that artworks once possessed when exchange value still presupposed use value (DE 129-30).


Aesthetics: Adorno retains from Kant the notion that art proper (“fine art” or “beautiful art”—schöne Kunst—in Kant’s vocabulary) is characterized by formal autonomy. But Adorno combines this Kantian emphasis on form with Hegel’s emphasis on intellectual import (geistiger Gehalt) and Marx’s emphasis on art’s embeddedness in society as a whole.

The artwork’s necessary and illusory autonomy, in turn, is the key to (modern) art’s social character, namely, to be “the social antithesis of society” (AT 8).

Adorno regards authentic works of (modern) art as social monads. The unavoidable tensions within them express unavoidable conflicts within the larger sociohistorical process from which they arise and to which they belong. These tensions enter the artwork through the artist’s struggle with sociohistorically laden materials, and they call forth conflicting interpretations, many of which misread either the work-internal tensions or their connection to conflicts in society as a whole. Adorno sees all of these tensions and conflicts as “contradictions” to be worked through and eventually to be resolved. Their complete resolution, however, would require a transformation in society as a whole, which, given his social theory, does not seem imminent.

The artwork has an internal truth content to the extent that the artwork’s import can be found internally and externally either true or false. Such truth content is not a metaphysical idea or essence hovering outside the artwork. But neither is it a merely human construct. It is historical but not arbitrary; nonpropositional, yet calling for propositional claims to be made about it; utopian in its reach, yet firmly tied to specific societal conditions. Truth content is the way in which an artwork simultaneously challenges the way things are and suggests how things could be better, but leaves things practically unchanged: “Art has truth as the semblance of the illusionless” (AT 132).

Negative dialectics. Effort “to use the strength of the [epistemic] subject to break through the deception of constitutive subjectivity” (ND xx).

In insisting on the priority of the object, Adorno repeatedly makes three claims: first, that the epistemic subject is itself objectively constituted by the society to which it belongs and without which the subject could not exist; second, that no object can be fully known according to the rules and procedures of identitarian thinking ; third, that the goal of thought itself, even when thought forgets its goal under societally induced pressures to impose identity on objects, is to honor them in their nonidentity, in their difference from what a restricted rationality declares them to be. Against empiricism, however, he argues that no object is simply “given” either, both because it can be an object only in relation to a subject and because objects are historical and have the potential to change.

First, a long Introduction (ND 1-57) works out a concept of “philosophical experience” that both challenges Kant’s distinction between “phenomena” and “noumena” and rejects Hegel’s construction of “absolute spirit.”

Then Part One (ND 59-131) distinguishes Adorno’s project from the “fundamental ontology” in Heidegger’s Being and Time.

Two (ND 133-207) works out Adorno’s alternative with respect to the categories he reconfigures from German idealism.

Three (ND 209-408), composing nearly half the book, elaborates philosophical “models.” These present negative dialectics in action upon key concepts of moral philosophy (“freedom”), philosophy of history (“world spirit” and “natural history”), and metaphysics.

Kant. What makes possible any genuine experience cannot simply be the “application” of a priori concepts to a priori intuitions via the “schematism” of the imagination (Einbildungskraft). Genuine experience is made possible by that which exceeds the grasp of thought and sensibility. Adorno does not call this excess the “thing in itself,” however, for that would assume the Kantian framework he criticizes. Rather, he calls it “the nonidentical” (das Nichtidentische).

Contra Kant: “Consciousness, rational insight, is not simply the same as a free act. We cannot flatly equate it with the will. Yet this precisely is what happens in Kant’s thinking.” The addendum, “the rudiment of a phase in which the dualism of the extramental and intramental was not thoroughly consolidated yet, neither volitively bridgeable nor an ontological ultimate”, is lumped with the res cogitans, regardless of the difference which separates it.

(Cf. Schmitt: “The exception is that which cannot be subsumed; it defies general codification, but it simultaneously reveals a specifically juridical formal element: the decision in absolute purity.”)

Kant’s transcendental subject is unintelligible: we can think of an object that is not a subject, but not vice-versa. Likewise, qualities subjects attribute to objects are “borrowed from the objectivity of the intentio recta.” [direct intention]

Hegel. The concept of the nonidentical, in turn, marks the difference between Adorno’s materialism and Hegel’s idealism. Although he shares Hegel’s emphasis on a speculative identity between thought and being, between subject and object, and between reason and reality, Adorno denies that this identity has been achieved in a positive fashion. For the most part this identity has occurred negatively instead. That is to say, human thought, in achieving identity and unity, has imposed these upon objects, suppressing or ignoring their differences and diversity. Such imposition is driven by a societal formation whose exchange principle demands the equivalence (exchange value) of what is inherently nonequivalent (use value). Whereas Hegel’s speculative identity amounts to an identity between identity and nonidentity, Adorno’s amounts to a nonidentity between identity and nonidentity.

“The need to let suffering speak is a condition of all truth. For suffering is objectivity that weighs upon the subject … “ (ND 17-18). The resources available to philosophy in this regard include the “expressive” or “mimetic” dimensions of language, which conflict with “ordinary” (i.e., societally sanctioned) syntax and semantics. In philosophy, this requires an emphasis on “presentation” (Darstellung) in which logical stringency and expressive flexibility interact (ND 18-19, 52-53). Another resource lies in unscripted relationships among established concepts. By taking such concepts out of their established patterns and rearranging them in “constellations” around a specific subject matter, philosophy can unlock some of the historical dynamic hidden within objects whose identity exceeds the classifications imposed upon them (ND 52-53, 162-66).

Under current conditions the only way for philosophy to give priority to the object is dialectically, Adorno argues. He describes dialectics as the attempt to recognize the nonidentity between thought and the object while carrying out the project of conceptual identification. Dialectics is “the consistent consciousness of nonidentity,” and contradiction, its central category, is “the nonidentical under the aspect of identity.”

To think is to identify, and thought can only achieve truth by identifying. The semblance of total identity is mingled with thought’s truth.

The only way to break through the semblance of total identity is immanently, using the concept. Accordingly, everything that is qualitatively different and that resists conceptualization will show up as a contradiction.

Contradictions cannot be neatly ascribed to either thought or reality. “To proceed dialectically means to think in contradictions, for the sake of the contradiction already experienced in the object [Sache], and against that contradiction. A contradiction in reality, [dialectics] is a contradiction against reality” (ND 144-45).

Rousseau: socially legitimated domination, formulated contractually, i.e. communicatively.

Nietzsche: idea of a right the ruse of the dominated.

Hegel (cf. “recognition”): to posit either the originary purity of either domination or communication (cf. PoS, 1977, pp. 111-19) is more mythical, and more mystified, than the (ir)rational entangelment of domination and communication.

Rationalistic insistence that domination must be fully clarified makes itself oblivious to its own implicatedness with domination.

Ruling against skepticism is declaring the world rational.

Vagueness of domination cannot be undone merely for the convencience of social theory. It testifies to a real illusion.

Social theorist would have to claim access to rationality free from domination to make domination fully intelligible.

Honneth: intersubjective domination is modelled, in Adorno, on inauspiciously nomological domination.

But for A.’s materialism, to dominate humans is either to dominate nature or to falsely free humans from nature.

Only a theory which presupposes mastery of nature can regard intersubjectivity as a separate sphere.

Idealism. The somatic realisation of the object world disintermediated from corpus of imagery. Corresponds with the theological ban on graven images: the resurrection of the flesh! Cf. Negative Dialectics, 207.

Ad. & Hork.: contra Hab., theory of entanglment of domination & communicative rationality.

Materialist theory of subjectivity cannot accept procedural separation between theory of communication and model of social conflict.

Only in a state of reconciliation will the objective concept of communication come into view. The existing concept betrays the best that there is – the potential for agreement between people and things – to an interchange between subjects according to the requirements of subjective reason.

[1] Domination over nature: knowledge is scientific if it is pragmatic.
[2] Humans are already nature. The instrumental attitude towards nature is directed inward. Alienated nature strikes back in the practice of self-reification. Mimetic strata of self tries to adapt itself to all that is left of nature in culture – death.
[3] Capturing both senses: power over nature is paid for with subjection to social divisions.
[4] Or, repression of social class accompanies repression of psychic rational layer among the opressed.
[5] Division between spiritual and manual labour pre-dates capitalism.
[6] Implicated in corrective to what A. & H. saw as Marxian economism. Domination is not the same as alienation. There can be domination without alienation. Subject and class domination prefigure capitalism and could outlast it.
[7] Sacrifice substititution anticipates commodity fetishism, subsumptive thinking, constitution of subject, mystified class division.
[8] Enlightenment is not as enlightened as the dialectic of enlightenment and myth; myth is not as mythical as the dialectic of enlightenment and myth.
[9] “Such a process happened in the water industry in nineteenth century Britain. Up until the mid-nineteenth century, Parliament discouraged municipal involvement in water supply; in 1851, private companies had 60% of the market. Competition amongst the companies in larger industrial towns lowered profit margins, as companies were less able to charge a sufficient price for installation of networks in new areas. In areas with direct competition (with two sets of mains), usually at the edge of companies’ territories, profit margins were lowest of all. Such situations resulted in higher costs and lower efficiency, as two networks, neither used to capacity, were used. With a limited number of households that could afford their services, expansion of networks slowed, and many companies were barely profitable. With a lack of water and sanitation claiming thousands of lives in periodic epidemics, municipalisation proceeded rapidly after 1860, and it was municipalities which were able to raise the finance for investment which private companies in many cases could not. A few well-run private companies which worked together with their local towns and cities (gaining legal monopolies and thereby the financial security to invest as required) did survive, providing around 20% of the population with water even today. The rest of the water industry in England and Wales was reprivatised in the form of 10 regional monopolies in 1989.”
[10] “According to this [industiral society] thesis, the world has been so thoroughly determined by an unimaginably-extended technology [Technik: technics], that the corresponding social relations which once defined capitalism, the transformation of living labor into commodities and therein the contradiction of classes, is becoming irrelevant, insofar as it has not become an archaic superstition.”

[11] There are sparks of a kind of (negative) radical individualism in Adorno, focussed on the authoritarian and repressive essence of all institutions.
[12] Twentieth-century philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer have criticized what they considered to be the romantic and subjective character of Verstehen in Dilthey. Dilthey and the early Heidegger were interested in the “facticity” and “life-context” of understanding, and sought to universalize it as the way humans exist through language on the basis of ontology. Verstehen also played a role in Edmund Husserl and Alfred Schutz’s analysis of the “lifeworld.” Jürgen Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel further transformed the concept of Verstehen, reformulating it on the basis of a transcendental-pragmatic philosophy of language and the theory of communicative action.


Transcendental idealism à go beyond empiricist-rationalist stalemate:

Hobbes’s determinist empiricism
Hume’s empiricist scepticism extended to freedom & even causation itself
Rationalists like Descartes, Leibniz à superstitious

Internal connection b/w reason, maturity, “democracy” (constitutionalism, self-government) and critique



Private vs. public reason à cf. Habermas’s strategic vs. communicative reason


Opposed direct democracy
Constitutional republics à ideally w/ sovereignty invested in elected legislature
Suffrage for propertied / professional men


Different b/w right and virtue
Moral law cannot be based on any empirical good (e.g. happiness). “There is only one innate right […] Freedom (independence from being constrained by another’s choice), insofar as it can coexist with the freedom of every other in accordance with a universal law […]”

Classical liberalism
Democratic peace theory à cosmopolitan right of hospitality


On PATERNALISM: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another.”

On REPRESENTATION: “It is so convenient to be immature! If I have a book to have understanding in place of me, a spiritual adviser to have a conscience for me, a doctor to judge my diet for me, and so on, I need not make any efforts at all.”

On REVOLUTION: “There is more chance of an entire public enlightening itself […] a public can only achieve enlightenment slowly. A revolution may well put an end to autocratic despotism and to rapacious or power-seeking oppression, but it will never produce a true reform in ways of thinking […]”

On PUBLIC / PRIVATE REASON: “The public use of man’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men; the private use of reason may quite often be very narrowly restricted, however, without undue hindrance to the progress of enlightenment. But by the public use of one's own reason I mean that use which anyone may make of it as a man of learning addressing the entire reading public. What I term the private use of reason is that which a person may make of it in a particular civil post or office with which he is entrusted.”

& “[…] a clergyman is bound to instruct his pupils and his congregation in accordance with the doctrines of the church he serves, for he was employed by it on that condition. But as a scholar, he is completely free as well as obliged to impart to the public all his carefully considered, well-intentioned thoughts on the mistaken aspects of those doctrines […]”


Similarly for Adorno, maturity entails “the power to resist established oponions and, one and the same, also to resist existing institutions, to resist everything that is merely posited, that justifies itself with its existence.”

Adorno thinks enlightenment was broken off too early. Lack of rationality. Kant blamed critique for being improper, wanted to punish reason for exceeding its bounds, bridle its use. (Hegel, who sometimes equates thinking w/ negativity and therefore w/ critique, wants to punish those who rely on their own understanding, because they refuse to subordinate themselves to the totality).

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