20th Century Philosophy

Max Horkheimer  1895 - 1973

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Dialectic of EnlightenmentDialectic of Enlightenment by Max Horkheimer, Adorno

This celebrated work is the keystone of the thought of the Frankfurt School. It is a wide-ranging philosophical and psychological critique of the Western categories of reason and nature, from Homer to Nietzsche. "A classic of twentieth-century thought". -- Times Literary Supplement

Beyond one's imagination, the consequences of enlightenment and modernity were visualized by Adorno and Horkheimer in a brilliant piece named "Dialectic of enlightenment". It is a handy volume , rich in content and weaved with lengthy sentences. It was an outcome of shock given by the Nazi forces. Nevertheless a thought about direct results of extreme reasoning, radical socialization and discovery of motives behind humanity's retrogression instead of progressive civilization.

The urge to reach the technological zenith started in that crucial period. Demonstration of destruction of masses with atom bomb was yet to kick off. But the terror started shaking the two intellectuals. Again and again they questioned themselves. Conclusion was insight - social freedom is inseparable from the enlightened thought.

The need for enlightenment was to create a civil society with rationalized idea grows in individuals and institutions. Not just the rational consciousness. What was needed that time is to desperate fear from fate. But with modern science , commerce and politics, it end in a fear of social deviation.

Enlightenment is as equally destructive as that of romanticism. The self of enlightened being itself comes in to life only when it surrender to its enemy. It refuses to transcend the false absolute in reality. The book is clearly classified in to five simple segmental chapters which deal with the metamorphosis of modernity. It is a critical study with myth is already an enlightenment and enlightenment reverts to mythology as the basic premises. For the authors, Homerian odyssey is the main target to show the dialectic of myth and enlightenment. Odyssey was accused as the earliest representative testimonies of western bourgeois civilization. Kant, Sade and Nietzsche were not spared. Adorno and Horkheimer show how the submission of everything natural to the autocratic subject finally culminates in the mastery of the blindly objective and natural. Kant and Sade's idea were branded 'bourgeois thought' and accused of morality mixed with amorality.

First chapter deals with how myth is already an enlightenment. Second one shows the reverse of enlightenment to mythology. Third, projects the submission of subject which makes the object a master. Fourth, "culture industry" brings out the process where enlightenment is ideaogized. Fifth chapter traces the movement of humanity to barbarism.

It is a thorough trashing of enlightenment. They understand that extreme enlightened self is as dangerous as that of fully radiant earth which radiates disaster triumphant.

One has to undergo an intellectual torture to read this book. But it is a must for any mind which have urge to know the other side of modernity. -- by A. Prabaharan, Center for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

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Horkheimer, Max - Eclipse of Reason

Offers a summary of points addressed in Horkheimer's book, "Eclipse of Reason" including his concept of true reason as rationality.


Max Horkheimer and Philosophy of Education


Two stages of development characterize Horkheimer’s' work in Critical Theory. A positive utopianism and optimism towards the possibility of revolutionary change characterize the first stage in his thinking. His Critical Theory of this period was committed to social and cultural transformation. The second stage, starting in 1944 and the joint publication (with Adorno) of "Dialectic of Enlightenment" (Horkheimer und Adorno 1988), manifests a negative utopianism and a harsh critique of Marx and orthodox Marxism. In Horkheimer's words this shift represents a move from Marx to Schopenhauer (Horkheimer 1985a, 309) and from the quest for revolution to a commitment to education (Horkheimer 1985b, 417). The dividing lines are sometimes unclear and unstable. We can find philosophical pessimism in the writings of the young Horkheimer and his letters (Horkheimer 1927) and optimistic attitudes in his later work (especially in his public speeches on education while serving as rector of Frankfurt University) (Horkheimer 1985a, 361-456). However, fundamental changes in his philosophical orientations and its educational implications evolved, as he himself readily acknowledged (Horkheimer 1985b, 336-353), with the advent of World War II and the Holocaust. For all the common ground between the first and the second periods of Horkheimer's work, two essentially different philosophies of education are articulated. The first, or the immature stage of development of Horkheimer's work is its best known and most influential part, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world. This is especially true regarding the influence of Critical Theory on the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s. This part of Horkheimer's work was of special relevance, influencing Critical Pedagogy as developed by thinkers such as Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux, Ira Shor, Cathleen Weiler, Peter McLaren, and Stanley Aronowitz.


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