Dialectic of Enlightenment

Stanford University Press
2
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Dialectic of Enlightenment is undoubtedly the most influential publication of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. Written during the Second World War and circulated privately, it appeared in a printed edition in Amsterdam in 1947. "What we had set out to do," the authors write in the Preface, "was nothing less than to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism." Yet the work goes far beyond a mere critique of contemporary events. Historically remote developments, indeed, the birth of Western history and of subjectivity itself out of the struggle against natural forces, as represented in myths, are connected in a wide arch to the most threatening experiences of the present. The book consists in five chapters, at first glance unconnected, together with a number of shorter notes. The various analyses concern such phenomena as the detachment of science from practical life, formalized morality, the manipulative nature of entertainment culture, and a paranoid behavioral structure, expressed in aggressive anti-Semitism, that marks the limits of enlightenment. The authors perceive a common element in these phenomena, the tendency toward self-destruction of the guiding criteria inherent in enlightenment thought from the beginning. Using historical analyses to elucidate the present, they show, against the background of a prehistory of subjectivity, why the National Socialist terror was not an aberration of modern history but was rooted deeply in the fundamental characteristics of Western civilization. Adorno and Horkheimer see the self-destruction of Western reason as grounded in a historical and fateful dialectic between the domination of external nature and society. They trace enlightenment, which split these spheres apart, back to its mythical roots. Enlightenment and myth, therefore, are not irreconcilable opposites, but dialectically mediated qualities of both real and intellectual life. "Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology." This paradox is the fundamental thesis of the book. This new translation, based on the text in the complete edition of the works of Max Horkheimer, contains textual variants, commentary upon them, and an editorial discussion of the position of this work in the development of Critical Theory.
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About the author

Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno were two influential members of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory.
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Publisher
Stanford University Press
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Published on
Mar 27, 2002
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9780804788090
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / General
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A crucial debate currently raging in the fields of cognitive and social science centers around general and specific approaches to understanding the actions of others. When we understand the actions of another person, do we do so on the basis of a general theory of psychology, or on the basis of an effort to place ourselves in the particular position of that specific person? Hans Kgler and Karsten Stuebers Empathy and Agency addresses this and other issues vital to current social science, in an advanced and diverse analysis of the foundations of social-scientific methodology based on recent cognitive psychology. The book serves as both an introduction to the debate for non-academic audiences and as a catalyst for further discussion for serious theorists. Empathy and Agency provides a solid foundation of the fundamental issues in social and cognitive science, but also presents the most influential paradigms in the field at this time. How do we, as interpreters and theorists in the human and social sciences, understand agency? What are the methods, models, and mediating theoretical frameworks that allow us to give a reliable and adequate account of beliefs, actions, and cultural practices? More specifically, how can we as interpretive analysts employ our own cognitive capacities so as to render the beliefs, intentions, and actions of other human beings intelligible? These are the leading questions that a group of well-established social philosophers explore in this volume in light of the most recent (and hotly debated) findings in cognitive science, developmental psychology, and philosophy of mind. In particular, the debate concerning simulation -- whether agents interpret others by means of implicit theoretical assumptions, or whether they rather simulate their behavior by putting themselves in their shoes -- has produced a wide set of important empirical and philosophical insights. This book takes up those insights and discusses their impact in the context of their most important paradigms in social methodology today.A systematic introduction pertaining to the understanding-explanation debate sets the stage, followed by eleven chapters representing the different approaches tot he field. The paradigms include Wittgensteinian, Davidsonian and Diltheyan approaches, hermeneutics and critical theory, game theory, naturalized epistemology, philosophy of history and twentieth-century social theory, as well as simulation approach proper. As stake are the relation between everyday and social-scientific interpretation, the role of empathy (or role-taking) in understanding human agency, the implications of attributing rationality in the course of interpretation, as well as the relation between rational and causal models in social explanation. The discussions cut across well-established disciplinary boundaries so that the book appeals to both analytic and hermeneutic traditions within philosophy. In addition, the book speaks to all who are engaged in interpreting or explaining human agency in the cultural and social sciences.
This volume comprises one of the key lecture courses leading up to the publication in 1966 of Adorno's major work, Negative Dialectics. These lectures focus on developing the concepts critical to the introductory section of that book. They show Adorno as an embattled philosopher defining his own methodology among the prevailing trends of the time. As a critical theorist, he repudiated the worn-out Marxist stereotypes still dominant in the Soviet bloc – he specifically addresses his remarks to students who had escaped from the East in the period leading up to the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Influenced as he was by the empirical schools of thought he had encountered in the United States, he nevertheless continued to resist what he saw as their surrender to scientific and mathematical abstraction. However, their influence was potent enough to prevent him from reverting to the traditional idealisms still prevalent in Germany, or to their latest manifestations in the shape of the new ontology of Heidegger and his disciples. Instead, he attempts to define, perhaps more simply and fully than in the final published version, a ‘negative', i.e. critical, approach to philosophy. Permeating the whole book is Adorno’s sense of the overwhelming power of totalizing, dominating systems in the post-Auschwitz world. Intellectual negativity, therefore, commits him to the stubborn defence of individuals – both facts and people – who stubbornly refuse to become integrated into ‘the administered world’.

These lectures reveal Adorno to be a lively and engaging lecturer. He makes serious demands on his listeners but always manages to enliven his arguments with observations on philosophers and writers such as Proust and Brecht and comments on current events. Heavy intellectual artillery is combined with a concern for his students’ progress.

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