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Pathologies of Reason: On the Legacy of Critical Theory

Amy Allen General Editor
Axel Honneth
Translated by James Ingram
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 236
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  • Book Info
    Pathologies of Reason
    Book Description:

    Axel Honneth has been instrumental in advancing the work of the Frankfurt School of critical theorists, rebuilding their effort to combine radical social and political analysis with rigorous philosophical inquiry. These eleven essays published over the past five years reclaim the relevant themes of the Frankfurt School, which counted Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, Jürgen Habermas, Franz Neumann, and Albrecht Wellmer as members. They also engage with Kant, Freud, Alexander Mitscherlich, and Michael Walzer, whose work on morality, history, democracy, and individuality intersects with the Frankfurt School's core concerns.

    Collected here for the first time in English, Honneth's essays pursue the unifying themes and theses that support the methodologies and thematics of critical social theory, and they address the possibilities of continuing this tradition through radically changed theoretical and social conditions. According to Honneth, there is a unity that underlies critical theory's multiple approaches: the way in which reason is both distorted and furthered in contemporary capitalist society. And while much is dead in the social and psychological doctrines of critical social theory, its central inquiries remain vitally relevant.

    Is social progress still possible after the horrors of the twentieth century? Does capitalism deform reason and, if so, in what respects? Can we justify the relationship between law and violence in secular terms, or is it inextricably bound to divine justice? How can we be free when we're subject to socialization in a highly complex and in many respects unfree society? For Honneth, suffering and moral struggle are departure points for a new "reconstructive" form of social criticism, one that is based solidly in the empirically grounded, interdisciplinary approach of the Frankfurt School.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51837-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. ONE THE IRREDUCIBILITY OF PROGRESS: Kant’s Account of the Relationship Between Morality and History
    (pp. 1-18)

    At the very start of the second section of his essay “The Contest of the Faculties,” at the center of which stands the now famous idea of “signs in history,” Kant mocks a certain category of the prophetic narrating of history. His ridicule is directed at all those prophets, politicians, and intellectuals who in the past presumed to be able to predict a decline of morals or a political-cultural decadence. Such soothsayings, Kant says with unconcealed irony, are nothing other than self-fulfilling prophecies. Indeed, the authors of such prophecies, through their own misdeeds, have themselves essentially contributed to history, having...

  5. TWO A SOCIAL PATHOLOGY OF REASON: On the Intellectual Legacy of Critical Theory
    (pp. 19-42)

    With the turn of the new century, Critical Theory appears to have become an intellectual artifact. This superficial dividing point alone seems to greatly increase the intellectual gap separating us from the theoretical beginnings of the Frankfurt School. Just as the names of authors who were for its founders still vividly alive suddenly sound as if they come from far away, so, too, the theoretical challenges from which the members of the school had won their insights threaten to fall into oblivion. Today a younger generation carries on the work of social criticism without having much more than a nostalgic...

    (pp. 43-53)

    The common and widespread opposition of strong and weak criticism only represents a rather hopeless attempt to bring a discussion that has branched out in many directions under a simple denominator. For years, ever since the end of Marxism as an autonomous theory, the question of how it is possible to find an appropriate standpoint from which to critically interrogate liberal-democratic societies without borrowing from the philosophy of history has been discussed from the most diverse perspectives. On the one hand, a large part is played by material questions of social theory, which have essentially to do with the difficulty...

    (pp. 54-70)

    It is ill-advised to restrict oneself to Adorno’s social-theoretical essays and papers in order to get to his analysis of capitalism, and it is no less mistaken to believe that one can obtain the elements of his conception of society in the form of descriptive, explanatory theory. To be sure, Adorno repeatedly let himself be led to speak of the structural transformations of capitalist society as if it were a matter of parts of an explanatory theory. The lecture on “Late Capitalism or Industrial Society?” is as exemplary of this tendency as the “Reflections on Class Theory” from the early...

  8. FIVE PERFORMING JUSTICE: Adorno’s Introduction to Negative Dialectics
    (pp. 71-87)

    Anyone who reads the introduction toNegative Dialecticswill quickly ascertain what Adorno has in mind when he speaks of his text as a “web” or a music-like “composition” (21/44).¹ The roughly fifty-page chapter has no derivation of a thesis, no step-by-step exposition and justification. Rather, it presents itself as an artfully woven net of a few, constantly varied thought motifs. If it were not enough that there seems to be no rising line of argumentation, the flow of text is barely graphically interrupted. Altogether in just three places are larger spaces left between the very long paragraphs, suggesting a...

  9. SIX SAVING THE SACRED WITH A PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY: On Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence”
    (pp. 88-125)

    Like many of Walter Benjamin’s texts, this essay is of highly vexing subtlety because in the course of the argumentation, without any noticeable transition, it carries out what begins with a sober, almost academic central question as a religious meditation. Written at the turn of 1922,¹ at a time when the twenty-eight-year-old author was still strongly under the influence of reading Ernst Bloch’sSpirit of Utopia,² the study apparently takes up a question that preoccupied many of his contemporaries in the immediate aftershocks of the Russian and German revolutions. What kind of legitimacy, so the central challenge for legal theory...

  10. SEVEN APPROPRIATING FREEDOM: Freud’s Conception of Individual Self-Relation
    (pp. 126-145)

    Only dogmatism can today still blind one to the fact that a string of premises of Freudian theory have in the meantime become highly questionable. Developments in infant research, in developmental psychology generally, but also in evolutionary biology, have cast doubt on central and basic assumptions of the psychoanalytic view of young children. Beginning with the assumption of a primary narcissism, in which the infant is still supposed to experience its environment exclusively as its own work, through to the claim that girls typically have penis envy, much of what was still considered relatively secure fifty years ago has been...

  11. EIGHT “ANXIETY AND POLITICS”: The Strengths and Weaknesses of Franz Neumann’s Diagnosis of a Social Pathology
    (pp. 146-156)

    Franz Neumann’s late essay, “Anxiety and Politics,” represents one of the few available attempts to combine the diagnosis of a social pathology with an interest in questions of political justice.¹ The pathology under consideration in his study involves various forms of anxiety, while his normative reference point follows from the thesis that democratic will-formation presupposes a necessary measure of individual autonomy. The theoretical association by which Neumann connects these two levels of analysis presumably originated with Adam Smith and has since been further developed by only a few political thinkers, such as Michael Bakhtin and Charles Taylor. At stake is...

  12. NINE DEMOCRACY AND INNER FREEDOM: Alexander Mitscherlich’s Contribution to Critical Social Theory
    (pp. 157-164)

    The first thing that can probably be said in retrospect about the significance of Alexander Mitscherlich is that today we perceptibly and sorely miss his studies, observations, and diagnoses. At present, there is no social-psychological thinker who can describe psychic transformations in individuals or masses with comparable subtlety, caution, or understanding. The analyses Mitscherlich devoted to the tendencies of a spiritual structural transformation in capitalism in the period between 1955 and 1975 tower far above everything we know today by way of comparable diagnoses in their thematic range, degree of conceptual differentiation, and depth of comprehension. At the time, probably...

  13. TEN DISSONANCES OF COMMUNICATIVE REASON: Albrecht Wellmer and Critical Theory
    (pp. 165-178)

    In his innumerable reflections on Beethoven’s late style, recently compiled from his literary estate into a volume about the composer, Theodor Adorno repeatedly emphasizes the fading, the general withering of harmony as a characteristic trait.¹ The further Beethoven develops in his compositional opus, the more at ease he becomes with leaving behind the classical style of his middle period, the more clearly apparent—in the late quartets, the Diabelli Variations, the Bagatelles (op. 126)—are dissonance and polarization, which can mount even to a renunciation of tonality. To Adorno, this tendency for growing, uncurbed disharmony attests not only to an...

  14. APPENDIX: IDIOSYNCRASY AS A TOOL OF KNOWLEDGE: Social Criticism in the Age of the Normalized Intellectual
    (pp. 179-192)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 193-212)
    (pp. 213-222)