THEODOR ADORNO [1903-1969]

Theodor Adorno
Theodor Adorno was one of the foremost continental philosophers of the twentieth century. Although he wrote on a wide range of subjects, his fundamental concern was human suffering—especially modern societies’ effects upon the human condition. He was influenced most notably by Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche. He was associated with The Institute for Social Research, in the Frankfurt School, which was a social science and cultural intellectual hub for promotingsocialism and overthrowing capitalism. It was responsible for the creation of the philosophical form called critical theory, which takes the stand that oppression is created through politics, economics, culture, and materialism, but is maintained most significantly through consciousness. Therefore the focus of action must come from consciousness. The Institute of Social Research deviated from orthodox Marxism in its argument that social and cultural factors played as important a role as economics in oppression.

Adorno made many contributions to critical theory, notably his view that reason had become entangled with domination and suffering. Adorno coined the tern ‘identity thinking’ to describe the process of categorical thought in modern society, by which everything becomes an example of an abstract, and thus nothing individual in its actual specific uniqueness is allowed to exist. He lamented that the human race had gone from understanding the world through myth to understanding it through scientific reasoning, but that this latter ‘enlightenment’ was the same as understanding the world through myth. Both modes create a viewpoint that the subjective must conform to an outside world to which it has no control. Within this argument, Adorno saw morality as being stuck within this powerless subjective: in a world that values only recognizable facts, morality becomes nihilistic, a mere prejudice of individual subjectivity. Adorno is also known for his critique of the ‘the culture industry.’ He felt that the entertainment industry of modern society is just as mechanical, formulaic, and dominating as the workplace. He argued that humans in modern society are programmed at work and in their leisure, and though they seek to escape the monotony of their workplace, they are merely changing to another piece of the machine – from producer to consumer. There is no chance of becoming free individuals who can take part in the creation of society, whether at work or play. [NEXT...]