Lecture Seven The Frankfurt School and the Critical Theory



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Lecture Seven

The Frankfurt School and the Critical Theory


One, History of the Institute for Social Research

1, Historical Background: the betray of the spirit of revolution

KPD, the survival of the Soviet Union

SPD, the survival of the Weimar Republic

Problem: are there any possibilities of new Praxis?
2, the Founding of the Institute (1923)

The institute:

On the one hand, independent from the government (sponsored by Felix Weil)

On the other hand, be affiliated to the Frankfurt University

The directors of the institute:

Carl Grunberg: the Grunberg Archive

Max Horkheimer: the Journal for Social Research, the project of Social Philosophy (or Critical Theory)
3, the institute in exiles

Be forced to exile (be both Jewish and Marxist)

The institute: first to Geneva, then to the United States (renamed as the International Institute for Social Research in Columbia University)

The Journal: printed in Paris in the language of German, the title changed into “Studies in Philosophy and Social Science” (1939-1941)

Theory: to deal with the relationship between social philosophy and social science; to deal with the changed historical condition, that is the nonexistence of the proletariat as the subject of revolution

Main representatives: Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Eric Fromm, Friedrich Pollock

4, the institute after the wars

Back to Germany (1949-)

The Frankfurt School and the students’ movement in 1968 (Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno)
5, Three generations of the Frankfurt School
First generation: Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Eric Fromm, Friedrich Pollock (Walter Benjamin)
Second Generation: Jurgen Habermas
Third Generation: Axel Honneth

Two, the genesis of Critical Theory

1, the continuation of the tradition of Hegelian Marxism

Left Hegelian-- Marx—Hegelian Marxism

Main elements: Hegelian Dialectic, the Unity of Theory and Praxis
2, the Criticism of the Dichotomy of the subjective and the objective

A, The emphasis on subjectivity and inwardness (for example, Dilthey’s Life philosophy): a cry against the phenomenon of reification (and the monopoly capitalism), but have minimized the importance of action


B, the necessity to go from Kant’s morality to Hegel’s ethics: from duty to pity and politics
3, the criticism of the metaphysics of idealism and materialism

A, the criticism of materialistic reductionism

B, the criticism of the materialistic epistemology

C, the dialectical interaction between the subject and the object

Facts (part) --- mediations---- reality (totality)

The interdisciplinary studies of social reality

D, the Negative anthropology

Jewish thinking: Anti-Uopia

Negative anthropology: human slef-production
4, Criticism of the rejection of Reason

A, the criticism of positivism (the logical positivism of the Vienna Circle, the fetishism of facts, the reliance on logic, the separation between facts and values)

B, the criticism of irrationalism (the rejection of reason)

C, the differentiation between understanding and reason

Reason and Praxis (human freedom, human spontaneity)

Three, the influence of the Frankfurt School’s works since the 1970s

1, the works of the Frankfurt school

The criticism of enlightenment

The criticism of fascism

The criticism of mass culture


2, the New Left and the discovery and acceptance of “western Marxism” (in the 1960s)
3, the influence of the Frankfurt School since the 1970s

A, the critical theory and the cultural correlate of the post-Fordist system



B, the Frankfurt School and the dilemma of the “engaged intellectuals”


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