An Introduction to Dialectics
An Introduction to Dialectics
Translated by Nicholas Walker

This volume comprises Adorno?s first lectures specifically dedicated to the subject of the dialectic, a concept which has been key to philosophical debate since classical times. While discussing connections with Plato and Kant, Adorno concentrates on the most systematic development of the dialectic in Hegel's philosophy, and its relationship to Marx, as well as elaborating his own conception of dialectical thinking as a critical response to this tradition.

Delivered in the summer semester of 1958, these lectures allow Adorno to explore and probe the significant difficulties and challenges this way of thinking posed within the cultural and intellectual context of the post-war period. In this connection he develops the thesis of a complementary relationship between positivist or functionalist approaches, particularly in the social sciences, as well as calling for the renewal of ontological and metaphysical modes of thought which attempt to transcend the abstractness of modern social experience by appeal to regressive philosophical categories. While providing an account of many central themes of Hegelian thought, he also alludes to a whole range of other philosophical, literary and artistic figures of central importance to his conception of critical theory, notably Walter Benjamin and the idea of a constellation of concepts as the model for an 'open or fractured dialectic' beyond the constraints of method and system.

These lectures are seasoned with lively anecdotes and personal recollections which allow the reader to glimpse what has been described as the 'workshop' of Adorno?s thought. As such, they provide an ideal entry point for all students and scholars in the humanities and social sciences who are interested in Adorno?s work as well as those seeking to understand the nature of dialectical thinking.

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  • March 2017
  • 336 pages
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Table of Contents

Editor’s Foreword

LECTURE ONE
Prejudices against the dialectic
the double character of the dialectic
the dialectic as method of articulating the Ideas (Plato)
the order of concepts expresses the order of things
the vital nerve of the dialectic
the dialectic as necessary ‘exaggeration’
the positivist element of the dialectic

LECTURE TWO
‘The movement of the concept’ (Hegel)
the dialectic hypostasizes the identity of thought and being
Hegel’s dialectic as the union of identity and non-identity
non-identity in the process, identity in the result
introduction to the dialectic as a model of dialectic
the movement of the concept is not sophistical
the movement of the concept as the path of philosophical science
the object of knowledge is internally dynamic
the movement of the object is not arbitrary
the metaphysical concept of truth
the inevitable reification of truth
historical movement is not the movement of being but is concrete
the dialectic is not a philosophy of foundations
the temporal core of dialectic

LECTURE THREE
Critique of prima philosophia
matter no first principle either 
Hegel’s dialectic also a preservation of first philosophy
all determination implies mediation
the movement of the concept is no external contribution of thought
a sophistical displacement of meaning in Gehlen
the whole is the true solely as the result of all mediations Ð the idea of an open dialectic
the whole is neither a pantheistic totality of nature nor a seamless unity
‘the truth is essentially result’
individual phenomena only intelligible in terms of the whole
recourse to the whole is mediated through the self-movement of the individual
the concept of the whole as already given

LECTURE FOUR
The traditional concept of system: derivation of the whole from one fundamental principle
the dialectical concept of system
determinate negation
contradiction in Kant
contradiction in Hegel
antithesis arises from thesis
the measure of the absolute lies in objectivity
dialectical criticism is necessarily immanent
refutation of a thought as development of the thought
the emergent absolute is essentially temporal
the interaction of theory and practice
the truth as result is concrete

LECTURE FIVE
The charge of universal rationalization
dialectical thought is not rationalistic thought
the dispute over rationalism
conceptual thought is indispensable
the truth moment of irrationalism
the irrational as a moment of ratio
suffering and happiness are immanent to thought
being in itself, being for itself, being in and for itself
relationship of thesis, antithesis, synthesis
dialectical method concerns the contradictory life of the object
the dialectic not immune to ideological abuse

LECTURE SIX
Dialectical method not a formal conceptual schema
the objectivation of truth
every true thought becomes untrue once it is isolated
the triadic schema irrelevant in Hegel
the charge of universalizing contradiction
contradiction is not a first principle
Hegel’s critique of Kant’s transcendental dialectic

LECTURE SEVEN
Hegel’s dialectical principle of development is a principle of real being
dialectic in Kant is only the negative side of the critique of reason 
the positive moment of the critique of reason
reflection as the principle of the speculative self-knowledge of reason
knowledge of knowledge also the principle of substantive knowledge
dialectic and formal logic – the ‘example’ in Hegel
logical form of the judgement and the ‘emphatic concept’
dialectical contradiction expresses the disparity of thought and world

LECTURE EIGHT
Dialectic names the negative state of the world by its proper name
contradiction not only in thought, but is objective
contradiction as principle of diremption is also the principle of unity
dialectic as union of the a priori and experience
the objective order of the world also conceptual in character
coercive character of dialectic – the systematic claim of dialectic
dialectical contradiction in Hegel’s political philosophy
dialectical system not a seamless deductive structure
the concept of experience in Hegel

LECTURE NINE
The paradoxical task of knowledge: identifying the non-identical
identity of thought and being (Hegel)
non-identity and contradiction not resolvable in thought (Marx)
the materialist priority of being over consciousness is problematic
the whole and the parts presuppose one another
the materialist critique of literature cannot proceed from unmediated instances of particular experience (Benjamin)
dialectical materialism is not vulgar materialism
the charge of metaphysically hypostasizing the totality (Weber)

LECTURE TEN
Knowledge of the social whole precedes individual experience
prior awareness of the whole not unique to human beings
rejection of Hegel’s attempted restoration of immediate experience
the congruence of whole and parts as result of a process
intuition – theory neither static nor complete
the danger of a dogmatic ossification of dialectic (Lukács)
tracing knowledge back to origins is undialectica
survival of obsolete philosophical notions in the individual sciences

LECTURE ELEVEN
Terminological remarks on the concept of role
neither whole nor part enjoys priority over the other
metaphysics as science of the ultimate ground
origin as merel beginning (Hegel)
the ontological appropriation of Hegel
‘abstract’ in Hegel
the dialectic not a dynamic ontology
‘being’ in Hegel
philosophy of immediacy as regress to mythology
dialectic and positivism
the ‘natural’ appearance of a reified world

LECTURE TWELVE
Affinity between dialectic and positivism
the constitutive distinction of essence and appearance
dialectic exposes the apparent immediacy of ultimate givens
the Darmstadt investigation – motivational analysis in industrial sociology
opinion research, empirical and critical
transition from positivism to dialectic
contradiction in the given as the principle of dialectical movement
 
ECTURE THIRTEEN
Scientific method in Descartes
rationalism as the will to control nature
the postulate of self-evidence (Descartes)
a hermeneutic intervention
self-evidence as a form of ultimate metaphysical grounding
evidence of sense-perception already mediated
the order of knowing, the order of the known
experience and conceptuality
emphasis on analysis destroys the crucial interest of knowing
philosophy of nature and natural science
philosophy always bound to the material knowledge of the sciences

LECTURE FOURTEEN
Analysis alone yields no knowledge
the universal concretized through the particular
attitude of dialectic to the concept of development
the family not merely a remnant
society not an organism, but antagonistic in character
knowledge as a continuity of steps
the unity of society constituted by discontinuity
the presumption of continuity is merely affirmative
‘enthusiasm’ a necessary moment of knowledge
the positive aspect of continuity

LECTURE FIFTEEN
The coercive character of logic
immanent and transcendent critique
mobility of thought is not an evasion
contradictions are constitutive
against relativism
dialectical cognition of the particular object requires explicit self-reflection
the charge of groundlessness
a sociological excursus on the mobility of thought
the substance of philosophy lies in the vital source of its concepts
arrested movement in Heraclitus and Hegel

LECTURE SIXTEEN
The dogmatic character of the axiom of completeness
the fulfilment of this demand in German Idealism
dialectical clarification of the objective by recourse to models
'ideal types’ in Weber
‘intuition of essences’ in Husserl
thinking in models
labyrinthine communication in literary works (Kafka, Balzac, von Doderer)
historical transformations in the concept of system

LECTURE SEVENTEEN
Consciousness as unifying principle in the modern conception of system
critique and renewal of the concept of system in 19th century
contemporary appeal of the concept of system
the spectral afterlife of the concept of system
the need for system and the closed experience of the world
no categorical continuum amongst the particular sciences (Talcott Parsons)
apologetic character of the functionalist concept of system – ‘frame of reference’
the logic of science and debased metaphysics complement one another today
dialectic a beneficent anachronism

LECTURE EIGHTEEN
Dichotomous consciousness
dialectical mediation not a matter of Both/And
mediation as the critical self-reflection of extremes
role of Either/Or in the social sciences
dialectic and the negative concept of truth
values are neither transcendent nor merely relative
the criterion of truth is immanent to the object
the dialectic is not a matter of ‘standpoints’
dialectic furnishes no recipes
definition as logical form

LECTURE NINETEEN
The limits of deixis and definition with respect to the concept
the concept is not a tabula rasa – concept and constellation
life and fluidity of the concept as the object of dialectic
verbal definitions and philosophical definitions
philosophical definition requires prior knowledge of the matter in question
it extends concepts into force fields
abbreviation as specific feature of philosophical definition
operational definitions in the particular sciences
forfeiting the synthetic moment of knowledge
operational definitions and their field of application
dialectic as a critical mediation of realism and nominalism
truth moment of the phenomenological analysis of meaning

LECTURE TWENTY
Dialectical articulation of concepts as constellation and configuration
the order of ideas in Plato as an expression of the social division of labour
the exposition of the matter in question not external
exposition guarantees the objectivity of knowledge
contradiction in the identifying judgement as starting point of dialectic
truth and untruth of the logical judgement form
subjective synthesis and objective reference in the judgement
an immanent critique of logic – the phenomenological critique of inference
surrender of logical subordination as index of dialectical thought
is knowledge possible without assuming the identity of subject and object?

Adorno’s Lecture Notes

Abbreviations

Editor’s Notes

Index

About the Author
Theodor Adorno (1903-1969), a prominent member of the Frankfurt School, was one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century in the areas of social theory, philosophy and aesthetics.
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Reviews

"Despite Adorno's abiding suspicion of easy communicability, he was fully capable of explaining complex ideas lucidly and accessibly, never more so than in the lecture hall. There can be few concepts that demand as much careful exposition as 'dialectics,' whose multiple uses and frequent abuses have frustrated countless attempts to render it comprehensible. Still fewer exponents of dialectical thought have been as skilled in unpacking its meaning, while at the same time performatively demonstrating its virtues, as Adorno."
Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley

"The twenty lectures that Adorno held in 1958 constitute the first comprehensive articulation of his thinking. The challenge to which he responds is that of wresting conceptual thinking from its narcissistic tendencies, as outlined in Dialectics of Enlightenment. 'Suffering and Happiness,' he insists, must be recognized as 'the immanent substance of dialectics'. Adorno?s effort to turn thinking inside-out by revealing the affective origin of its transformative potential, remains his most enduring legacy."
Samuel Weber, Northwestern University
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