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Adorno, Theodor Wiesengrund (1903–69)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD001-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2016
Retrieved June 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Philosopher, musicologist and social theorist, Theodor Adorno was the philosophical architect of the first generation of Critical Theory emanating from the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany. Departing from the perspective of more orthodox Marxists, Adorno believed the twin normative challenges of modernity – injustice and nihilism – derived from the abstractive character of Enlightenment rationality. In consequence, he argued that the critique of political economy must give way to a critique of Enlightenment, instrumental reason.

Identity thinking, as Adorno termed instrumental rationality, abstracts from the sensory, linguistic and social mediations which connect knowing subjects to objects known. In so doing, it represses what is contingent, sensuous and particular in persons and nature. Adorno’s method of negative dialectics was designed to rescue these elements from the claims of instrumental reason. Adorno conceded, however, that all this method could demonstrate was that an abstract concept did not exhaust its object. For a model of an alternative grammar of reason and cognition Adorno turned to the accomplishments of artistic modernism. There, where each new work tests and transforms the very idea of something being a work of art, Adorno saw a model for the kind of dynamic interdependence between mind and its objects that was required for a renewed conception of knowing and acting.

Citing this article:
Bernstein, J.M.. Adorno, Theodor Wiesengrund (1903–69), 2016, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD001-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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