Dialectic of Enlightenment

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Bourgeois society is ruled by equivalence. It makes the dissimilar comparable by reducing it to abstract quantities. To the enlightenment, that which does not reduce to numbers, and ultimately to the one, becomes illusion.
Whereas the unconscious colossus of real existence, subjectless capitalism, inflicts its destruction blindly, the deludedly rebellious subject is willing to see that destruction as its fulfillment, and, together with the biting cold it emits toward human beings misused as things, it also radiates the perverted love which, in the world of things, takes the place of love in its immediacy.

Dialectic of Enlightenment (German: Dialektik der Aufklärung) is one of the core texts of Critical Theory explaining the socio-psychological status quo that had been responsible for what the Frankfurt School considered the failure of the Enlightenment. It has had a major effect on 20th century philosophy, sociology, culture, and politics, inspiring especially the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s. Written by Frankfurt School philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, the book made its first appearance in 1944 under the title Philosophische Fragmente by Social Studies Association, Inc., New York. A revised version was published in 1947 by Querido Verlag in Amsterdam with the title Dialektik der Aufklärung.

See also:
Max Horkheimer
Theodor Adorno


  • Technology ... aims to produce neither concepts nor images, nor the joy of understanding, but method, exploitation of the labor of others, capital.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 2
  • Ruthless toward itself, the Enlightenment has eradicated the last remnant of its own self-awareness.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 2
  • For Bacon as for Luther, “knowledge that tendeth but to satisfaction, is but as a courtesan, which is for pleasure, and not for fruit or generation.” Its concern is not “satisfaction, which men call truth,” but “operation,” the effective procedure. The “true end, scope or office of knowledge” does not consist in “any plausible, delectable, reverend or admired discourse, or any satisfactory arguments, but in effecting and working, and in discovery of particulars not revealed before, for the better endowment and help of man’s life.” There shall be neither mystery nor any desire to reveal mystery.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 2
  • On their way toward modern science human beings have discarded meaning. The concept is replaced by the formula, the cause by rules.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 3
  • For enlightenment, anything which does not conform to the standard of calculability and utility must be viewed with suspicion.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 3
  • Bourgeois society is ruled by equivalence. It makes dissimilar things comparable by reducing them to abstract quantities. For the Enlightenment, anything which cannot be resolved into numbers, and ultimately into one, is illusion; modern positivism consigns it to poetry.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 4
  • Bourgeois society is ruled by equivalence. It makes the dissimilar comparable by reducing it to abstract quantities. To the enlightenment, that which does not reduce to numbers, and ultimately to the one, becomes illusion.
    • John Cumming trans., p. 7
  • Myth sought to report, to name, to tell of origins—but therefore also to narrate, record, explain.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 5
  • Die Menschen bezahlen die Vermehrung ihrer Macht mit der Entfremdung von dem, worüber sie die Macht ausüben. Die Aufklärung verhält sich zu den Dingen wie der Diktator zu den Menschen. Er kennt sie, insofern er sie manipulieren kann. Der Mann der Wissenschaft kennt die Dinge, insofern er sie machen kann. Dadurch wird ihr An sich Für ihn.
    • Human beings purchase the increase in their power with estrangement from that over which it is exerted. Enlightenment stands in the same relationship to things as the dictator to human beings. He knows them to the extent that he can manipulate them. The man of science knows things to the extent he can make them. Their “in-itself” becomes “for him.”
      • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 6
  • The essence of things is revealed as always the same, a substrate of domination. This identity constitutes the unity of nature. Neither it nor the unity of the subject was presupposed by magical incantation.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 6
  • Das Prinzip der Immanenz, der Erklärung jeden Geschehens als Wiederholung, das die Aufklärung wider die mythische Einbildungskraft vertritt, ist das des Mythos selber. Die trockene Weisheit, die nichts Neues unter der Sonne gelten läßt, weil die Steine des sinnlosen Spiels ausgespielt, die großen Gedanken alle schon gedacht, die möglichen Entdeckungen vorweg konstruierbar, die Menschen auf Selbsterhaltung durch Anpassung festgelegt seien—diese trockene Weisheit reproduziert bloß die phantastische, die sie verwirft; die Sanktion des Schicksals, das durch Vergeltung unablässig wieder herstellt, was je schon war.
    • The principle of immanence, the explanation of every event as repetition, that the Enlightenment upholds against mythic imagination, is the principle of myth itself. That arid wisdom that holds there is nothing new under the sun … merely reproduces the fantastic wisdom that it supposedly rejects: … fate that … remakes what has already been.
      • John Cumming trans., p. 12
  • Bezahlt wird die Identität von allem mit allem damit, daß nichts zugleich mit sich selber identisch sein darf.
    • The identity of everything with everything else is paid for in that nothing may at the same time be identical with itself.
      • John Cumming trans., p. 12
  • Aufklärung zersetzt das Unrecht der alten Ungleichheit, das unvermittelte Herrentum, verewigt es aber zugleich in der universalen Vermittlung, dem Beziehen jeglichen Seienden auf jegliches.
    • Enlightenment dissolves the injustice of the old inequality—unmediated lordship and mastery—but at the same time perpetuates it in universal mediation, in the relation of any one existent to any other.
      • John Cumming trans., p. 12
  • Aufklärung … schneidet das Inkommensurable weg. Nicht bloß werden im Gedanken die Qualitäten aufgelöst, sondern die Menschen zur realen Konformität gezwungen.
    • Enlightenment ... excised the incommensurable. Not only are qualities dissolved in thought, but men are brought to actual conformity.
      • John Cumming trans., p. 12
  • The arid wisdom which acknowledges nothing new under the sun, because all the pieces in the meaningless game have been played out, all the great thoughts have been thought, all possible discoveries can be construed in advance, and human beings are defined by self-preservation through adaptation—this barren wisdom merely reproduces the fantastic doctrine it rejects: the sanction of fate which, through retribution, incessantly reinstates what always was. Whatever might be different is made the same.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 8
  • The identity of everything with everything is bought at the cost that nothing can at the same time be identical to itself. Enlightenment dissolves away the injustice of the old inequality of unmediated mastery, but at the same time perpetuates it in universal mediation, by relating every existing thing to every other. ... It amputates the incommensurable. Not merely are qualities dissolved in thought, but human beings are forced into real conformity
    • E. Jephcott, trans., pp. 8-9
  • Die Wohltat, daß der Markt nicht nach Geburt fragt, hat der Tauschende damit bezahlt, daß er seine von Geburt verliehenen Möglichkeiten von der Produktion der Waren, die man auf dem Markte kaufen kann, modellieren läßt.
    • The blessing that the market does not enquire after one’s birth is paid for by the barterer, in that he models the potentialities that are his by birth on the production of the commodities that can be bought in the market.
      • John Cumming trans., p. 13
  • The blessing that the market does not ask about birth is paid for in the exchange society by the fact that the possibilities conferred by birth are molded to fit the production of goods that can be bought on the market.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 9
  • The unity of the manipulated collective consists in the negation of each individual and in the scorn poured on the type of society which could make people into individuals.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 9
  • Den Menschen wurde ihr Selbst als ein je eigenes, von allen anderen verschiedenes geschenkt, damit es desto sicherer zum gleichen werde. Weil es aber nie ganz aufging, hat auch über die liberalistische Periode hin Aufklärung stets mit dem sozialen Zwang sympathisiert. Die Einheit des manipulierten Kollektivs besteht in der Negation jedes Einzelnen, es ist Hohn auf die Art Gesellschaft, die es vermöchte, ihn zu einem zu machen.
    • Because the unique self never wholly disappeared, … the Enlightenment has always sympathized with the social impulse. The unity of the manipulated collective consists in the negation of each individual: for individuality makes a mockery of the kind of society which would turn all individuals into one collectivity.
      • John Cumming trans., p. 13
  • Mit der sauberen Scheidung von Wissenschaft und Dichtung greift die mit ihrer Hilfe schon bewirkte Arbeitsteilung auf die Sprache über. Als Zeichen kommt das Wort an die Wissenschaft; als Ton, als Bild, als eigentliches Wort wird es unter die verschiedenen Künste aufgeteilt, ohne daß es sich durch deren Addition, durch Synästhesie oder Gesamtkunst je wiederherstellen ließe. Als Zeichen soll Sprache zur Kalkulation resignieren, um Natur zu erkennen, den Anspruch ablegen, ihr ähnlich zu sein. Als Bild soll sie zum Abbild resignieren, um ganz Natur zu sein, den Anspruch ablegen, sie zu erkennen.
    • With the clean separation between science and poetry the division of labor which science had helped to establish was extended to language. For science the word is first of all a sign; it is then distributed among the various arts as sound, image, or word proper, but its unity can never be restored by the addition of these arts, by synaesthesia or total art. As sign, language must resign itself to calculation and, to know nature, must renounce the claim to resemble it. As image it must resign itself to being a likeness and, to be entirely nature, must renounce the claim to know it.
      • E. Jephcott, trans., pp. 12-13
  • The prevailing antithesis between art and science ... rends the two apart as areas of culture in order to make them jointly manageable as areas of culture.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 13
  • Wer die Symbole verletzt, verfällt im Namen der überirdischen den irdischen Mächten.
    • Anyone who affronted the symbols fell prey in the name of the unearthly powers to the earthly ones.
      • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 15
  • Die Herrschaft tritt dem Einzelnen als das Allgemeine gegenüber, als die Vernunft in der Wirklichkeit.
    • Power confronts the individual as the universal, as the reason which informs reality.
      • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 16
  • As a means of reinforcing the social power of language, ideas became more superfluous the more that power increased, and the language of science put an end to them altogether. Conscious justification lacked the suggestive power which springs from dread of the fetish.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 17
  • Die metaphysische Apologie verriet die Ungerechtigkeit des Bestehenden wenigstens durch die Inkongruenz von Begriff und Wirklichkeit. In der Unparteilichkeit der wissenschaftlichen Sprache hat das Ohnmächtige vollends die Kraft verloren, sich Ausdruck zu verschaffen, und bloß das Bestehende findet ihr neutrales Zeichen. Solche Neutralität ist metaphysischer als die Metaphysik.
    • The metaphysical apologia at least betrayed the injustice of the established order through the incongruence of concept and reality. The impartiality of scientific language deprived what was powerless of the strength to make itself heard and merely provided the existing order with a neutral sign for itself. Such neutrality is more metaphysical than metaphysics.
      • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 17
  • Thought is reified as an autonomous, automatic process, aping the machine it has itself produced, so that it can finally be replaced by the machine. Enlightenment pushed aside the classical demand to “think thinking.” ... . Mathematical procedure became a kind of ritual of thought.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 19
  • Dem Positivismus, der das Richteramt der aufgeklärten Vernunft antrat, gilt in intelligible Welten auszuschweifen nicht mehr bloß als verboten, sondern als sinnloses Geplapper. Er braucht—zu seinem Glück—nicht atheistisch zu sein, weil das versachlichte Denken nicht einmal die Frage stellen kann. Den offiziellen Kultus, als einen erkenntnisfreien Sonderbereich gesellschaftlicher Betriebsamkeit, läßt der positivistische Zensor ebenso gern wie die Kunst passieren; die Leugnung, die selbst mit dem Anspruch auftritt, Erkenntnis zu sein, niemals. Die Entfernung des Denkens von dem Geschäft, das Tatsächliche zuzurichten, das Heraustreten aus dem Bannkreis des Daseins, gilt der szientifischen Gesinnung ebenso als Wahnsinn und Selbstvernichtung, wie dem primitiven Zauberer das Heraustreten aus dem magischen Kreis, den er für die Beschwörung gezogen hat, und beidemale ist dafür gesorgt, daß die Tabuverletzung dem Frevler auch wirklich zum Unheil ausschlägt.
    • For positivism, which has assumed the judicial office of enlightened reason, to speculate about intelligible worlds is no longer merely forbidden but senseless prattle. Positivism—fortunately for it—does not need to be atheistic, since objectified thought cannot even pose the question of the existence of God. The positivist censor turns a blind eye to official worship, as a special, knowledge-free zone of social activity, just as willingly as to art—but never to denial, even when it has a claim to be knowledge. For the scientific temper, any deviation of thought from the business of manipulating the actual, any stepping outside the jurisdiction of existence, is no less senseless and self-destructive than it would be for the magician to step outside the magic circle drawn for his incantation; and in both cases violation of the taboo carries a heavy price for the offender.
      • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 19
  • To grasp existing things as such, not merely to note their abstract spatial-temporal relationships, by which they can then be seized, but, on the contrary, to think of them as surface, as mediated conceptual moments which are only fulfilled by revealing their social, historical, and human meaning—this whole aspiration of knowledge is abandoned.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 20
  • Not only is domination paid for with the estrangement of human beings from the dominated objects, but the relationships of human beings, including the relationship of individuals to themselves, have themselves been bewitched by the objectification of mind. Individuals shrink to the nodal points of conventional reactions and the modes of operation objectively expected of them.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 21
  • The economic apparatus endows commodities with the values which decide the behavior of people. ... Commodities have forfeited all economic qualities except their fetish character, this character has spread like a cataract across the life of society in all its aspects.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 21
  • The more heavily the process of self-preservation is based on the bourgeois division of labor, the more it enforces the self-alienation of individuals, who must mold themselves to the technical apparatus body and soul.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 23
  • The technical process, to which the subject has been reified after the eradication of that process from consciousness, is as free from the ambiguous meanings of mythical thought as from meaning altogether, since reason itself has become merely an aid to the all-encompassing economic apparatus.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 23
  • Reason serves as a universal tool for the fabrication of all other tools, rigidly purpose-directed and as calamitous as the precisely calculated operations of material production, the results of which for human beings escape all calculation. Reason’s old ambition to be purely an instrument of purposes has finally been fulfilled.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 23
  • ... subordinating life in its entirety to the requirements of its preservation
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 24
  • Since, under the work-pressure of the millennium now ending, pleasure has learned to hate itself, in its totalitarian emancipation it remains mean and mutilated through self-contempt.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 24
  • With the spread of the bourgeois commodity economy the dark horizon of myth is illuminated by the sun of calculating reason, beneath whose icy rays the seeds of the new barbarism are germinating.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 25
  • Furchtbares hat die Menschheit sich antun müssen, bis das Selbst, der identische, zweckgerichtete, männliche Charakter des Menschen geschaffen war, und etwas davon wird noch in jeder Kindheit wiederholt.
    • Humanity had to inflict terrible injuries on itself before the self, the identical, purpose-directed, masculine character of human beings was created, and something of this process is repeated in every childhood.
      • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 26
  • The way of civilization has been that of obedience and work, over which fulfillment shines everlastingly as mere illusion, as beauty deprived of power. ... [Odysseus] knows only two possibilities of escape. One he prescribes to his comrades. He plugs their ears with wax and orders them to row with all their might. Anyone who wishes to survive must not listen to the temptation of the irrecoverable, and is unable to listen only if he is unable to hear. Society has always made sure that this was the case. Workers must look ahead with alert concentration and ignore anything which lies to one side. The urge toward distraction must be grimly sublimated in redoubled exertions. Thus the workers are made practical. The other possibility Odysseus chooses for himself, the landowner, who has others to work for him. He listens, but does so while bound helplessly to the mast. ... The bonds by which he has irrevocably fettered himself to praxis at the same time keep the Sirens at a distance from praxis: their lure is neutralized as a mere object of contemplation, as art. ... Odysseus is represented in the sphere of work. Just as he cannot give way to the lure of self-abandonment, as owner he also forfeits participation in work and finally even control over it, while his companions, despite their closeness to things, cannot enjoy their work because it is performed under compulsion, in despair, with their senses forcibly stopped.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 26-27
  • The more complex and sensitive the social, economic, and scientific mechanism, to the operation of which the system of production has long since attuned the body, the more impoverished are the experiences of which the body is capable.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 28
  • On the way from mythology to logistics, thought has lost the element of reflection on itself.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 29
  • Machinery mutilates people today, even if it also feeds them.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 29
  • This illusion, in which utterly enlightened humanity is losing itself, cannot be dispelled by a thinking which, as an instrument of power, has to choose between command and obedience.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 31
  • Precisely by virtue of its irresistible logic, thought, in whose compulsive mechanism nature is reflected and perpetuated, also reflects itself as a nature oblivious of itself.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 31
  • ... truth neutralized as cultural heritage.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 32
  • Diese Irrationalität der Ratio hat ihren Niederschlag in der List gefunden als der Angleichung der bürgerlichen Vernunft an jede Unvernunft, die ihr als noch größere Gewalt gegenübertritt.
    • This irrationality of reason has been precipitated in cunning, as the adaptation of bourgeois reason to any unreason which confronts it as a stronger power.
      • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 48
  • In the world of exchange the one who gives more is in the wrong; but the one who loves is always the one who loves more.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 57
  • As solid citizens, philosophers ally themselves in practice with the powers they condemn in theory.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 67
  • Whereas the unconscious colossus of real existence, subjectless capitalism, inflicts its destruction blindly, the deludedly rebellious subject is willing to see that destruction as its fulfillment, and, together with the biting cold it emits toward human beings misused as things, it also radiates the perverted love which, in the world of things, takes the place of love in its immediacy.
    • E. Jephcott, trans., p. 89
  • Der Animismus hatte die Sache beseelt, der Industrialismus versachlicht die Seelen.
    • Animism spiritualized the object, whereas industrialism objectifies the spirits of men.
      • John Cumming trans., p. 28

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