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Horkheimer was the director of the Institute and Professor of Social Philosophy at the University of Frankfurt from —, and again from — In between those periods he would lead the Institute in exile, primarily in America. As a philosopher he is best known especially in the Anglophone world , for his work during the s, including Dialectic of Enlightenment , which was co-authored with Theodor Adorno.
Especially important in this regard are the writings from the s, which were largely responsible for developing the epistemological and methodological orientation of Frankfurt School critical theory.
Max Horkheimer was born into a conservative Jewish family on February 14, , the only son of Moritz and Babette Horkheimer. A successful and respected businessman who owned several textile factories in the Zuffenhausen district of Stuttgart where Max was born , Moritz Horkheimer expected his son to follow in his footsteps.
Thus Max was taken out of school in to work in the family business, where he eventually became a junior manager. During this period he would begin two relationships that would last for the rest of his life. Despite this, Max and Maidon would marry in and remain together until her death in Wiggerschaus , p.
In the spring of , after failing an army physical, Horkheimer began studies at the University of Munich, and transferred to the University of Frankfurt a semester later. At Frankfurt he studied psychology and philosophy, the latter with the neo-Kantian philosopher Hans Cornelius. During this time he would lecture extensively on 18th and 19th Century philosophy, with his research interests moving more in line with Marxian themes Wiggerschaus , p. The Institute began as a Marxist study group started by Felix Weil, a one-time student of political science at Frankfurt who used his inheritance to fund an institution that would support his leftist academic aims.
Along with Pollock who also completed a doctorate in Frankfurt, writing on Marx , Horkheimer became acquainted with Weil, and took part in the activities of the Institute from the beginning. This program was obstructed from the very beginning by social-political unrest. Shortly after Hitler was named Chancellor in , the Institute in Frankfurt was closed and its building seized by the Gestapo.
Horkheimer was also relieved of his professorship and directorship in early , and relocated to Geneva, where the Institute had opened a satellite office. In July of Horkheimer accepted an offer from Columbia to relocate the Institute to one of their buildings. With the Institute splintering between New York and California, Horkheimer concentrated his energies on his own work, including the collaborative efforts with Theodor Adorno that produced Dialectic of Enlightenment.
In April , he returned to Europe for the first time, to lecture in various cities, including as a visiting professor in Frankfurt. His full return to Germany would follow shortly, and in July he was restored to his professorship at the University of Frankfurt. The following year the Institute would return as well. After returning, Horkheimer would focus on administrative work, reestablishing the Institute and serving two terms as University Rector in the early s.
In he was awarded the Goethe Plaque of the City of Frankfurt, and would later be named honorary citizen of Frankfurt for life. His academic activities also continued throughout the s, and included a period during which he served as a regular visiting professor at the University of Chicago. His work would slow, however, once he retired in to the Swiss town of Montagnola. Max Horkheimer passed away on July 7, , at the age of There he presents most of the main themes of his early philosophy in the context of describing what the Institute was to accomplish under his leadership.
As he notes at the beginning, social philosophy must interpret the various phenomena associated with human social life. Social philosophy must connect with the practical aim of alleviating suffering. Early in the inaugural address he lays out a quick, and critical, history of modern German social philosophy that fixes on Hegel.
Horkheimer rejects this kind of metaphysical view because it seeks to cover over the reality of human suffering. But he is not unreservedly critical of metaphysics. After criticizing Hegelian social philosophy, he notes that in reaction certain strands of social research eschewed philosophy entirely.
Due to this specialization, scientific researchers omit any broader examination of the social roots, and social meaning, from their inquiry. At least metaphysical thinking recognizes the need to present a comprehensive view that can make sense of the social whole. The twin critiques of metaphysics and science provide a space for Horkheimer to present his own view.
The aim of materialist social research is to combine specific empirical studies with more comprehensive theorizing, and thus overcome these problems. Horkheimer finishes by noting that this research will be aimed at the elucidation of the links between economic structure, psychology, and culture, such that the work of various social scientists and theorists can be brought together to forge an empirically informed picture of society that might replace such previous metaphysical categories as Universal Reason or Spirit.
Four elements become key: the emphasis on suffering and happiness, the role rationality plays in emancipatory movements, the combined critiques of metaphysics and positivism, and the methodology of interdisciplinary social research.
Each of these four is examined in more depth in the four subsections below. No social philosophy that denies the singular import of suffering, and the corresponding desire to overcome that suffering, can properly grasp human social reality. Prior to any critique of metaphysics, materialism rests on the basic recognition of suffering and the desire for happiness.
Metaphysical or not, this view is based on the notion that life is marked by pain. But the optimism should not be overestimated, because happiness is construed in a solely negative manner.
The oppressed are motivated not by some positive conception of happiness, but by the hope of freedom from suffering. This individual desire for happiness can further manifest itself as the moral sentiment of compassion, wherein we desire the happiness of others Horkheimer b, pp.
This connection can be seen in the link between the desire for happiness and emancipation, as discussed in the next section. In fact, he describes suffering as resulting from a lack of rational social organization, and proposes that any attempt to improve society must involve making it in some way more rational. To a large extent, this problem of irrationality is described as a social coordination problem.
Insofar as it is individual human beings who suffer, and who desire happiness, individual welfare is a crucial matter. At the same time, individual welfare is still dependent upon a broader social basis, so the life of society as a whole is pertinent to the search for happiness. Social needs are thus handled through various disorganized activities focused on individual needs, which in turn inadequately deals with the social basis of individual welfare, thus detracting from individual welfare.
This tension supposedly comes from the bourgeois socio-economic context in which Kant lived:. Furthermore, it makes clear that the solution to these problems is to be found in the formation of a more rational social order, which is described in terms of a socialist planned economy.
This point, then, provides the space where Horkheimer can link his own materialist theory, and the work of the Institute, to the broadly Marxian aim of emancipation through overcoming the capitalist order.
Furthermore, that irrationality needs to be made explicit to the classes who suffer the most from it, so they can take proper action. Rather, various social and economic forces keep the proletariat from recognizing its potential; for example there is a split between the unemployed, who suffer most from capitalism but are disorganized, and the workers who can be organized, but fear losing their jobs Horkheimer a, 61— The proletariat requires the help of the theorist. That theorist must engage in a special kind of activity, however, which as the next section will show must steer clear of two opposing errors.
In this attempt, certain characteristics of experience are emphasized and developed into coherent world views that have putatively universal validity, and describe the significance of the world and human life pp. But human beings are only capable of finite knowledge, and can only pay attention to changing historical conditions. If insights into the absolute are impossible, there is no known ultimate order of things that grounds all other forms of knowledge.
Rather than pursuing an interest in understanding human existence, Horkheimer argues, metaphysics obscures the proper understanding of human life. In each case, however, Horkheimer was not solely critical, and there is a positive element that Horkheimer finds in metaphysics that serves as a transition to his critique of science.
Metaphysics is, in general, right to try to engage in some form of synoptic theorizing, although it takes it too far. The critique of the sciences developed in the early texts moves along two lines. First, the sciences are criticized for being overly specialized.
The result is a lack of unification and overall direction. All human work, be it in the sciences or anything else, depends on a broader context which supports it, and the activities that are associated with the social interests prevalent at any given time affect the direction of scientific research. Science has a responsibility to society that can only be filled if its various research efforts are knit together within a more comprehensive framework that takes society and its improvement as its object.
The critiques of science and positivism make the same basic points. Thus positivism disconnects science from society and robs it of its emancipatory possibilities, because brute facts can only grasp the present, and the possibility for changing the status quo in the future is lost. The crucial point to note is that the critiques of metaphysics and science work together, and are meant to open up a space between the two where materialist social research should operate.
Science, on the other hand, maintains its rigorous empirical methods, but must open itself up to the role it plays in the broader social framework.
But this realism has to be qualified; materialism is distinguished from idealism through the appeal to an objective reality outside of our thinking, but it is further separated from metaphysical realism by its recognition that our knowing is historically bounded. Along these lines, Horkheimer admits to holding to a correspondence theory of truth, but notes that:. This correspondence is neither a simple datum [nor] an immediate fact Rather, it is always established by real events and human activity.
Already in the investigation and determination of facts, and even more in the verification of theories, a role is played by the direction of attention, the refinement of methods, the categorical structure of the subject matter—in short, by human activity corresponding to the given social period.
But more than theoretical or methodological changes that shift scientific theories, Horkheimer sees knowledge as being marked by our practical interests. This is why a strong metaphysical conception of reality is unavailable to us; all thinking is marked by practical and theoretical interests that are partial and subject to historical change. But this point cannot be taken too far; truth is neither wholly determined by our practical interests nor by theory-dependent conditions of verification.
But because all inquiry into truth is historically and socially mediated, it is constantly open to adjustment. Objective truths have to be grasped empirically, and the work of the specialized sciences is thus necessary to determine the truth of the current state of society. For Horkheimer, it was properly the job of the philosopher to plan out and guide the interdisciplinary work of the Institute.
It is clearly the case, however, that there were many difficulties in carrying out the empirical research that was used in those studies see the historical discussion of this period in Wiggerschaus , — One might doubt, for example, that the philosophers who formed the core of the Frankfurt School, including Horkheimer himself, were actually open enough to the sciences.
Jay pp. This seems fair insofar as Horkheimer spent a great deal of energy claiming that empirical and theoretical research should be combined, and explaining why they should be combined, but did very little to explain how they would be so combined. This is not wrong, but can be misleading if overemphasized. Also, the role of the theorist vis-a-vis society changes. In part, this prefigures later views.
The critique of traditional theory largely follows the earlier critique of the sciences and positivism, and in this sense is a summation. Again, the fact that the sciences do not recognize their presence in a broader social framework is emphasized.
The savant further misses the suffering caused by that social structure, and the fact that science is complicit in this oppression.
This relies on a form of immanent critique, tied to the suffering of the oppressed; the theorist must seize on the meaning of the experience of the oppressed and develop it into a coherent critique of existing society. This general symmetry with the earlier program belies certain important changes to the theory, however. The very beginning of the text, which discusses traditional theory, shows a subtle shift from the earlier work.
Eclipse of Reason is a book by Max Horkheimer , in which the author discusses how the Nazis were able to project their agenda as "reasonable",   but also identifies the pragmatism of John Dewey as problematic, due to his emphasis on the instrumental dimension of reasoning. Horkheimer deals with the concept of reason within the history of western philosophy. He details the difference between objective , subjective and instrumental reason, and states that we have moved from the former through the center and into the latter though subjective and instrumental reason are closely connected. Objective reason deals with universal truths that dictate that an action is either right or wrong. It is a concrete concept, and a force in the world that requires specific modes of behavior. The focus in the objective faculty of reason is on the ends, rather than the means.
Eclipse of Reason
In Eclipse of Reason , Max Horkheimer shows how thinking has degenerated since the Enlightenment into what he characterizes as instrumental classification and calculation:. This type of reason may be called subjective reason. It is essentially concerned with means and ends, with the adequacy of procedures for purposes more or less taken for granted and supposedly self-explanatory. It attaches little importance to the question whether the purposes as such are reasonable. On the other hand, he shows how this universality of rationality has gradually …. Citation: Wood, Kelsey. The Literary Encyclopedia.
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