Philosophical Elements of a Theory of Society
Philosophical Elements of a Theory of Society
As an exile in America during the War, Theodor Adorno grew acquainted with the fundamentals of empirical social research, something which would shape the work he undertook in the early 1950s as co-director of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. Yet he also became increasingly aware of the ‘fetishism of method’ in sociology, and saw the serious limitations of theoretical work based solely on empirical findings.

In this lecture course given in 1964, Adorno develops a critique of both sociology and philosophy, emphasizing that theoretical work requires a specific mediation between the two disciplines. Adorno advocates a philosophical approach to social theory that challenges the drive towards uniformity and a lack of ambiguity, highlighting instead the fruitfulness of experience, in all its messy complexity, for critical social analysis. At the same time, he shows how philosophy must also realise that it requires sociology if it is to avoid falling for the old idealistic illusion that the totality of real conditions can be grasped through thought alone.

Masterfully bringing together philosophical and empirical approaches to an understanding of society, these lectures from one of the most important social thinkers of the 20th century will be of great interest to students and scholars in philosophy, sociology and the social sciences generally.
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  • March 2019
  • 192 pages
  • 155 x 232 mm / 6 x 9 in
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Table of Contents
  • Editors’ Foreword
  • Philosophy and sociology as scientific disciplines – Reflection and theory – Tasks of the lecture – Provisional conception of a theory of society – The crisis of theoretical thought; positivism – Weber’s relationship to theory – Weber’s concept of ‘understanding’ – Weber’s concept of ‘rationality’ – Bureaucracy and domination – Dialectics; theoretical aspects of atheoretical thinking
  • Facts and theory – Concretion and overcoming of the factual – Critique of the classificatory logic of positivism – The relationship between natural sciences and social sciences, nature and society – The anti-theoretical character of sociology – Hypothesis formulation and insight – The necessity of reflection; Darmstadt community studies – Theory formation presupposes a consideration of discontinuity; The status of facts within the complexion of society as a whole
  • Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler; Registering facts and productive imagination – The concept of tendency – Capitalist calculus – The exchange relationship – Tendency and prophecy; The new as the core of theory – The non-identical in theory – Theory and dynamics of society –Tendency and totality – Social reality and theory
  • Tendency and trend – Dependence of theory on its object; Distrust towards theory formation – Theory as a unified system of society; Liberalism, Marxism, German Idealism – System as tendency – Modifications of ‘market society’ as results of class struggles – Monopolizing tendency of capital; State interventionism as a crisis outlet – Integration of the proletariat
  • Announcement of a lecture by Lucien Goldmann on ‘Marxism and contemporary society’ – Problems of theory formation; ‘Work Climate’ study – The system-immanence of the proletariat – Class consciousness and integration – Ideology and experience: The phenomenon of personalization – Insight into society in theoretical thought – System-immanent consciousness – Politics as an aspect of ideology – The meaning of changes in reality and consciousness; concretism
  • The difficulty of theory formation – Concretism as an expression of powerlessness; ‘Levelled middle-class society’ – Exchange value as a source of pleasure – The meaning of concretism for labour organizations – The transformation of Marxian theory into state religion – Abstractism – Accusation of the bourgeoisification of the proletariat – Everyday class struggle
  • Everyday class struggle – The politics of small steps – The dual character of the workers’ realism; The consequences of mechanization – The dominance of conditions – Wage satisfaction – Subjectivism in sociological research – Communication research; The semblance of freedom in the exchange principle – Subjective experiences of the semblance of levelling – Supply and demand of labour
  • The thin crust of integrated society – Nuanced thinking – The shift of social pressure – Changes in nominalism and epistemology – Improvements within the work process – Loss of unambiguity; Social theory between dogmatic ossification and naïve faith in facts – Semblance of integration and increasing socialization – Disintegration; Rationalization and the reality principle – The function of the system; Antagonism of power and powerlessness: Disintegration through growing integration – Integration and powerlessness – False identity of the general and the particular
  • The relationship between economy and power – The negative unity of society in general unfreedom – The culture industry and analysis of ideologies – Positivism as a manifestation of ideology – The concept of the ‘human being’ and the ‘jargon of authenticity’; ideology critique and language critique – The mythologization of antagonisms in socialist countries – The dialectic and rupture of theory and experience – Loss of experience – Theory as system and non-system; The irrationality and rationality of society; Weber’s theory of science
  • LECTURE 10
  • Contradictory object and contradiction-free theory; Rationality and irrationality – Changes in the concept of reason – The whole, in its rationality, is irrational – Dialectical theory – Critique of undialectical thought – Critique of unified sociology and the fetishization of science – The historical change in the function of science; Openness as a key concept – Functional change in the concept of science: Leibniz, Fichte, Hegel, Kant – The equation of science with truth – The danger of intuitionism; The relationship between method and matter – Announcement of the next topic: Critique of Parsons’s methodology
  • LECTURE 11
  • Critique of the ideal of the scientific method – Descartes; The postulation of method and the structure of the matter – Parsons’s unified conceptual system – The relationship between psychology and sociology: Karen Horney, Erich Fromm – Freud: Sociology as applied psychology; The concept of role – Critique of the psychological reduction of social processes: Marx, Durkheim – Subject and socialization in Weber’s ‘understanding’ sociology – The antagonistic relationship between the individual and society – The necessity of a critical reflection on method
  • LECTURE 12
  • Fetishization of methodology instead of insight into the matter – Method I; Spontaneity of thought – Formal and transcendental logic in Kant; The character of reason – Method II; Dialectical philosophy and self-determination – Didactics; The complexity of capitalism and the Marxian method – Marx’s toying with dialectics – The disastrous consequence of the primacy of method – Two meanings of the concept of method
  • LECTURE 13
  • The dispute between positivist and critical thinking – Scientific fetishism and the acquisition of naïveté – Perfectionism of method and irrelevance of results – Weber: Material and spirit collecting – Instrumentalization of reason – The defamation of spirit – Self-examination of thought in the material – Causes of scientific fetishism – Ego weakness as a subjective reason for scientific fetishism – On the ‘fear of freedom’; The employee mentality – Theory and system
  • LECTURE 14
  • The ideal of system in rationalism: Reduction of the many to the one – Critique of systems that proceed from the subject: Hegel, Erdmann; Spinoza and Leibniz – The empiricist critique of rationalism – System frenzy and the disintegrated cosmos – The problem of the concept of system in Kant’s idealism – Nietzsche and Kierkegaard; Rejection of system – On dogmatic attitudes – Systems regress to modes of representation – Systematic thinking and the administered world; Equation of theory and system in Parsons – Focus on the essence
  • LECTURE 15
  • Inspiration and spontaneity – The reified consciousness – Kant: The worldly and scholastic concepts of philosophy; Unregulated experience – Empiricism as a corrective – The relationship between knowledge and democracy; Experimental situations – Realism and power relations; Objectivity and subjectivity
  • LECTURE 16
  • Elements of a theory of society – ‘Transcendental reflection’ – The classes and the production process – The irrationality of the whole and particular rationality in the administered world – The armament apparatus – Class character and unfreedom – ‘Pluralism’ as a phenomenon of concealment – Changes in the sphere of competition and consumption – The intertwinement of rationality and irrationality in the processes of concentration and disintegration
  • LECTURE 17
  • Rationality and irrationality – Power relations and control over production; Bureaucracy and domination; Sociological concept formation – Personalized epiphenomena and fascism – The independence of bureaucracy in Russia – Armament and overall social structure – The position of ideology today: De-ideologization; The consumer world – The ‘consciousness industry’: The change in ideology and its contemporary production – The technological veil – Language critique and reified consciousness – Critique
  • Editors’ Notes
  • Index
About the Author
Theodor W. 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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"a joy to read"
Marx & Philosophy Review of Books

"Against the alleged waning of Adorno’s radical commitments in his last years, these lectures of 1964 on the relationship between social theory and empirical research testify to his abiding Marxist loyalties. Exhorting his students to pierce the “technological veil” of their “administered world,” he insists on the power of class, reified consciousness, and the impoverishment of experience in the irrational totality of late capitalism."
Martin Jay, Berkeley
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