Max Horkheimer

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When an active individual of sound common sense perceives the sordid state of the world, desire to change it becomes the guiding principle by which he organizes given facts and shapes them into a theory.
When even the dictators of today appeal to reason, they mean that they possess the most tanks. They were rational enough to build them; others should be rational enough to yield to them.
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.

Max Horkheimer (February 14, 1895July 7, 1973) was a German-Jewish philosopher-sociologist, famous for his work in critical theory as a member of the "Frankfurt School" of social research.

See also:
Dialectic of Enlightenment

Quotes[edit]

"The Latest Attack on Metaphysics" (1937)[edit]

As published in Critical Theory: Selected Essays (1982)
  • The complexity of the connection between the world of perception and the world of physics does not preclude that such a connection can be shown to exist at any time.
    • p. 133.
  • At present, when the prevailing forms of society have become hindrances to the free expression of human powers, it is precisely the abstract branches of science, mathematics and theoretical physics, which … offer a less distorted form of knowledge than other branches of science which are interwoven with the pattern of daily life, and the practicality of which seemingly testifies to their realistic character.
    • p. 133.
  • Although the formulations of science now offer the most advanced knowledge of nature, men continue to use obsolete forms of thought long discarded by scientific theory. In so far as these obsolete forms are superfluous for science, the fact that they persist violated the principle of the economy of thought, that characteristic trait of the bourgeois temper.
    • p. 133.
  • A man discovers what he is actually worth in this world when he faces society as a man, without money, name, or powerful connections, stripped of all but his native potentialities. He soon finds that nothing has less weight than his human qualities. They are prized so low that the market does not even list them. Strict science, which acknowledges man only as a biological concept, reflects man’s lot in the actual world; in himself, man is nothing more than a member of a species. In the eyes of the world, the quality of humanity confers no title to existence, nay, not even a right of sojourn. Such title must be certified by special social circumstances stipulated in documents to be presented on demand.
    • p. 137.
  • The disparagement of empirical evidence in favor of a metaphysical world of illusion has its origin in the conflict between the emancipated individual of bourgeois society and his fate within that society.
    • p. 138.
  • The characteristic activity of science is not construction, but induction. The more often something has occurred in the past, the more certain that it will in all the future. Knowledge relates solely to what is and to its recurrence. New forms of being, especially those arising from the historical activity of man, lie beyond empiricist theory. Thoughts which are not simply carried over from the prevailing pattern of consciousness, but arise from the aims and resolves of the individual, in short, all historical tendencies that reach beyond what is present and recurrent, do not belong to the domain of science.
    • p. 144.
  • No criticism can be brought against a branch of technical science from outside; no thought fitted out with the knowledge of a period and setting its course by definite historical aims could have anything to say to the specialist. Such thought and the critical, dialectical element it communicates to the process of cognition, thereby maintaining conscious connection between that process and historical life, do not exist for empiricism; nor do the associated categories, such as the distinction between essence and appearance, identity in change, and rationality of ends, indeed, the concept of man, of personality, even of society and class taken in the sense that presupposes specific viewpoints and directions of interest.
    • p. 145.
  • Notwithstanding their attacks on the basic conception of rationalism, on synthetic a priori judgments, that is, material propositions that cannot be contradicted by any experience, the empiricist posits the forms of being as constant.
    • p. 146.
  • The hypostasis of the particular methods of procedure employed by natural science … results in the view that all theoretical differences which rest on historically conditioned antagonisms of interest are to be settles by a “crucial experiment” rather than by struggle and counter-struggle. The harmonious relation of individuals to one another becomes a fact, therefore, that has even more general character than a law of nature.
    • p. 148.
  • Logical empiricism holds the view, notwithstanding some its assertions, that the forms of knowledge and consequently the relations of man to nature and to other men never change. According to rationalism, too, all subjective and objective potentialities are rooted in insights which the individual already possesses, but rationality uses existing objects as well as the active inner striving and ideas of man to construct standards for the future. In this regard, it is not so closely associated with the present order as is empiricism.
    • p. 148.
  • Leibniz’s theory on the subject as substantia ideans in the sense of a causative agent of decision and acts stands much closer to a materialist interpretation of history than does a philosophy which reduces the thinking subject to the role of subsuming protocol sentences under general propositions and deducing other sentences from them.
    • p. 149.
  • The endeavor of scientific research to see events in their more general connection in order to determine their laws, is a legitimate and useful occupation. Any protest against such efforts, in the name of freefom from restrictive conditions, would be fruitless if science did not naïvely identify the abstractions called rules and laws with the actually efficacious forces, and confuse the probability that B will follow A with the actual effort make B follow A.
    • p. 150.
  • When scientists take part in activity they transform themselves from scientists into acting beings, that is, they become elements, data, facts; as soon as they reflect on their activity, however, they are re-transformed into scientists. The trained specialist qua scientist looks upon himself as a chain of judgments and inferences; qua member of society, he regard himself as a mere object. The same holds for everyone. The individual is divided into innumerable functions, the interconnection of which are unknown. In society a man is pater familias under one aspect, business man under another, thinker under a third; to be more precise, he is not a human being at all, but all these aspects and many more in an inevitable succession.
    • p. 155.
  • When an active individual of sound common sense perceives the sordid state of the world, desire to change it becomes the guiding principle by which he organizes given facts and shapes them into a theory. The methods and categories as well as the transformation of the theory can be understood only in connection with his taking of sides. This, in turn, discloses both his sound common sense and the character of the world. Right thinking depends as much on right willing as right willing on right thinking.
    • p. 162.

"The End of Reason" (1941)[edit]

As published in The Essential Frankfurt School Reader (1982)
  • When even the dictators of today appeal to reason, they mean that they possess the most tanks. They were rational enough to build them; others should be rational enough to yield to them.
    • p. 28.
  • Whoever desires to live among men has to obey their laws—this is what the secular morality of Western civilization comes down to. … Rationality in the form of such obedience swallows up everything, even the freedom to think.
    • p. 29.
  • The inversion of external compulsion into the compulsion of conscience … produces the machine-like assiduity and pliable allegiance required by the new rationality.
    • p. 34.
  • Calvin’s theocentric irrationalism eventually revealed itself as the cunning to technocratic reason which had to shape its human material. Misery and the poor laws did not suffice to drive men into the workshops of the early capitalistic era. The new spirit helped to supplement external pressures with a concern for wife and child to which the moral autonomy of the introverted subject in reality was tantamount.
    • p. 34.
  • With the abolition of otium and of the ego no aloof thinking is left. … Without otium philosophical thought is impossible, cannot be conceived or understood.
    • p. 39.
  • The world is so possessed by the power of what is and the efforts of adjustment to it, that the adolescent's rebellion, which once fought the father because his practices contradicted his own ideology, can no longer crop up. … Psychologically, the father is … replaced by the world of things.
    • p. 41-42.
  • The new order contradicts reason so fundamentally that reason does not dare to doubt it. Even the consciousness of oppression fades. The more incommensurate become the concentration of power and the helplessness of the individual, the more difficult for him to penetrate the human origin of his misery.
    • p. 44.
  • Men have been released from [concentration] camps who have taken over the jargon of their jailers and with cold reason and mad consent (the price, as it were, of their survival) tell their story as if it could not have been otherwise than it was, contending that they have not been treated so badly after all.
    • p. 45.
  • If this truth has once and for all been discarded and men have decided for integral adjustment, if reason has been purged of all morality regardless of cost, and has triumphed over all else, no one may remain outside and look on. The existence of one solitary "unreasonable" man elucidates the shame of the entire nation. His existence testifies to the relativity of the system of radical self-preservation that has been posited as absolute.
    • p. 45.

Dialektik der Aufklärung [Dialectic of Enlightenment] (1944)[edit]

  • 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.
  • 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 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.

Eclipse of Reason (1947)[edit]

  • If by enlightenment and intellectual progress we mean the freeing of man from superstitious belief in evil forces, in demons and fairies, in blind fate—in short, emancipation of fear—then denunciation of what is currently called reason is the greatest service reason can render.
  • The idea that an aim can be reasonable for its own sake—on the basis of virtues that insight reveals it to have in itself—without reference to some kind of subjective gain or advantage, is utterly alien to subjective reason, even where it rises above the consideration of immediate utilitarian values and devotes itself to reflection about the social order as a whole.
    • p. 4.
  • In the subjectivist view, when ‘reason’ is used to connote a thing or idea rather than an act, it refers exclusively to the relation of such an object or concept to a purpose, not to the object or concept itself. It means that the thing or the idea is good for something else. There is no reasonable aim as such, and to discuss the superiority of one aim over another in terms of reason becomes meaningless. From the subjective approach, such a discussion is possible only if both aims serve a third and higher one, that is, if they are means, not ends.
    • p. 6.
  • If the subjectivist view hold true, thinking cannot be of any help in determining the desirability of any goal in itself. The acceptability of ideals, the criteria for our actions and beliefs, the leading principles of ethics and politics, all our ultimate decisions are made to depend upon factors other than reason. They are supposed to be matters of choice and predilection, and it has become meaningless to speak of truth in making practical, moral or esthetic decisions.
    • pp. 7-8.
  • Reason has never really directed social reality, but now reason has been so thoroughly purged of any specific trend or preference that it has finally renounced even the task of passing judgment on man’s actions and way of life. Reason has turned them over for ultimate sanction to the conflicting interests to which our world actually seems abandoned.
    • p. 9.
  • In most cases, to be reasonable means not to be obstinate, which in turn points to conformity with reality as it is. The principle of adjustment is taken for granted. When the idea of reason was conceived, it was intended to achieve more than the mere regulation of the relation between means and ends: it was regarded as the instrument for understanding the ends, for determining them.
    • p. 10.
  • Subjective reason … is inclined to abandon the fight with religion by setting up two different brackets, one for science and philosophy, and one for institutionalized mythology, thus recognizing both of them. For the philosophy of objective reason there is no such way out. Since it hold to the concept of objective truth, it must take a positive or a negative stand with regard to the content of established religion.
    • p. 12.
  • Spinoza, for example, thought that insight into the essence of reality, into the harmonious structure of the eternal universe, necessarily awakens love for this universe. For him, ethical conduct is entirely determined by such insight into nature, just as our devotion to a person may be determined by insight into his greatness or genius. Fears and petty passions, alien to the great love of the universe, which is logos itself, will vanish, according to Spinoza, once our understanding of reality is deep enough.
    • p. 14.
  • Reason as an organ for perceiving the true nature of reality and determining the guiding principles of our lives has come to be regarded as obsolete.
    • p. 18.
  • Having given up autonomy, reason has become an instrument.
    • p. 21.
  • It is as if thinking itself had been reduced to the level of industrial process, subjected to close schedule—in short, made part and parcel of production.
    • p. 21.
  • In the world of action, we know that it is disastrous to treat animals or human beings as though they were stocks and stones. Why should we suppose this treatment to be any less mistaken in the world of ideas?
    • p. 21.
  • The more ideas have become automatic, instrumentalized, the less does anybody see in them thoughts with a meaning of their own. They are considered things, machines. Language has been reduced to just another tool in the gigantic apparatus of production in modern society.
    • pp. 21-22.
  • In so far as words are not used obviously to calculate technically relevant probabilities or for other practical purposes, … they are in danger of being suspect as sales talk of some kind.
    • p. 22.
  • The quality of the human that precludes identifying the individual with the class is ‘metaphysical’ and has no place in empiricist epistemology. The pigeon hole into which a man is shoved circumscribes his fate.
    • p. 23.
  • As soon as a thought or word becomes a tool, one can dispense with actually ‘thinking’ it, that is, with going through the logical acts involved in verbal formulation of it. As has been pointed out, often and correctly, the advantage of mathematics—the model of all neo-positivistic thinking—lies in just this ‘intellectual economy.’ Complicated logical operations are carried out without actual performance of the intellectual acts upon which the mathematical and logical symbols are based. … Reason … becomes a fetish, a magic entity that is accepted rather than intellectually experienced.
    • p. 23.
  • The more the concept of reason becomes emasculated, the more easily it lends itself to ideological manipulation and to propagation of even the most blatant lies. … Subjective reason conforms to anything.
    • pp. 24-25.
  • The basic ideals and concepts of rationalist metaphysics were rooted in the concept of the universally human, of mankind, and their formalization implies that they have been severed from their human content. How this dehumanization of thinking affects the very foundations of our civilization can be illustrated by analysis of the principle of the majority, which is inseparable from the principle of democracy. In the eyes of the average man, the principle of the majority is often not only a substitute for but an improvement upon objective reason: since men are after all the best judges of their own interests, the resolutions of a majority, it is thought, are certainly as valuable to a community as the intuitions of a so-called superior reason. … What does it mean to say that “a man knows his own interests best”—how does he gain this knowledge, what evidences that his knowledge is correct? In the proposition, “A man knows [his own interests] best,” there is an implicit reference to an agency that is not totally arbitrary … to some sort of reason underlying not only means but ends as well. If that agency should turn out to be again merely the majority, the whole argument would constitute a tautology. The great philosophical tradition that contributed to the founding of modern democracy was not guilty of this tautology, for it based the principles of government upon … the assumption that the same spiritual substance or moral consciousness is present in each human being. In other words, respect for the majority was based on a conviction that did not itself depend on the resolutions of the majority.
    • pp. 26-27.
  • Once the philosophical foundation of democracy has collapsed, the statement that dictatorship is bad is rationally valid only for those who are not its beneficiaries, and there is no theoretical obstacle to the transformation of this statement into its opposite.
    • p. 29.
  • Every philosophical, ethical, and political idea—its lifeline connecting it with its historical origins having been severed—has a tendency to become the nucleus of a new mythology, and this is one of the reasons why the advance of enlightenment tends at certain points to revert to superstition and paranoia. The majority principle … has become the sovereign force to which thought must cater. It is a new god, not in the sense in which the heralds of the great revolutions conceived it, namely, as a power of resistance to existing injustice, but as a power of resistance to anything that does not conform.
    • p. 30.
  • The pathfinders of modern thought did not derive what is good from the law. … Their role in history was not that of adapting their words and actions to the text of old documents or generally accepted doctrines: they themselves created the documents and brought about the acceptance of their doctrines.
    • p. 33.
  • When the great religious and philosophical conceptions were alive, thinking people did not extol humility and brotherly love, justice and humanity because it was realistic to maintain such principles and odd and dangerous to deviate from them, or because these maxims were more in harmony with their supposedly free tastes than others. They held to such ideas because they saw in them elements of truth, because they connected them with the idea of logos, whether in the form of God or of a transcendental mind, or even of nature as an eternal principle.
    • p. 34.
  • We cannot credit our enjoyment of a flower or of the atmosphere of a room to an autonomous esthetic instinct. Man’s esthetic responsiveness relates in its prehistory to various forms of idolatry; his belief in the goodness or sacredness of a thing precedes his enjoyment of its beauty. The applies no less to such concepts as freedom and humanity.
    • p. 36.
  • The French symbolists had a special term to express their love for things that had lost their objective significance, namely, ‘spleen.’ The conscious, challenging arbitrariness in the choice of objects, its ‘absurdity’ and ‘perverseness,’ as if by a silent gesture discloses the irrationality of utilitarian logic, which it then slaps in the face in order to demonstrate its inadequacy with regard to human experience. And while making it conscious, by this shock, of the fact that it forgets the subject, the gesture simultaneously expresses the subject’s sorrow over his inability to achieve an objective order. Twentieth-century society is not troubled by such inconsistencies. For it, meaning can be achieved in only one way—service for a purpose.
    • p. 38.
  • If it were not for the founder of the school, Charles S. Pierce, who has told us that he ‘learned philosophy out of Kant,’ one might be tempted to deny any philosophical pedigree to a doctrine that holds not that our expectations are fulfilled and our actions successful because our ideas are true, but rather that our ideas are true because our expectations are fulfilled and our actions successful.
  • Long after Plato’s time the concept of the Ideas still represented the sphere of aloofness, independence, and in a certain sense even freedom, an objectivity that did not submit to ‘our’ interests.
    • p. 46.
  • The significance of God, cause, number, substance or soul consists, as James asserts, in nothing but the tendency of the given concept to make us act or think. If the world should reach a point at which it ceases to care not only about such metaphysical entities but also about murders perpetrated behind closed frontiers or simply in the dark, one would have to conclude that the concepts of such murders have no meaning, that they represent no ‘distinct ideas’ or truths, since they do not make any ‘sensible difference to anybody.’
    • describing the pragmatist view, pp. 46-47.
  • All things in nature become identical with the phenomena they present when submitted to the practices of our laboratories, whose problems no less than their apparatus express in turn the problems and interests of society as it is. This view may be compared with that of a criminologist maintaining that trustworthy knowledge of a human being can be obtained only by the well-tested and streamlined examining methods applied to a suspect in the hands of the metropolitan police.
  • Answers determined by the social division of labor become truth as such.
    • describing the pragmatist view, p. 50.
  • Pragmatism, in trying to turn experimental physics into a prototype of all science and to model all spheres of intellectual life after the techniques of the laboratory, is the counterpart of modern industrialism, for which the factory is the prototype of human existence, and which models all branches of culture after production on the conveyor belt.
    • p. 50.
  • Thought must be judged by something that is not thought, by its effect on production or its impact on social conduct, as art today is being ultimately gauged in every detail by something that is not art, be it box-office or propaganda value.
  • In the face of the idea that truth might afford the opposite of satisfaction and turn out to be completely shocking to humanity at any given historical moment, … the fathers of pragmatism made the satisfaction of the subject the criterion of truth. For such a doctrine there is no possibility of rejecting or even criticizing any species of belief that is enjoyed by its adherents.
    • p. 52.
  • Pragmatism … reflects with almost disarming candor the spirit of the prevailing business culture, the very same attitude of ‘being practical’ as counter to which philosophical meditation as such was conceived.
    • p. 52.
  • Plato and his objectivistic successors … preserved the awareness of differences that pragmatism has been invented to deny—the difference between thinking in the laboratory and in philosophy, and consequently the difference between the destination of mankind and its present course.
    • p. 53.

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