Max Horkheimer

Max Horkheimer

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Max Horkheimer was a German-Jewish philosopher-sociologist, famous for his work in critical theory
Critical theory
Critical theory is an examination and critique of society and culture, drawing from knowledge across the social sciences and humanities. The term has two different meanings with different origins and histories: one originating in sociology and the other in literary criticism...

 as a member of the 'Frankfurt School
Frankfurt School
The Frankfurt School refers to a school of neo-Marxist interdisciplinary social theory, particularly associated with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main...

' of social research. His most important works include The Eclipse of Reason (1947) and, in collaboration with Theodor Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947). Through the Frankfurt School, Horkheimer planned, supported and made other significant works possible.

Biography


Horkheimer was born in Stuttgart
Stuttgart
Stuttgart is the capital of the state of Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany. The sixth-largest city in Germany, Stuttgart has a population of 600,038 while the metropolitan area has a population of 5.3 million ....

 to a wealthy Jewish family. Due to parental pressure, Horkheimer left secondary school at the age of sixteen to work in his father's factory. In 1916, his manufacturing career ended and he was drafted into World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. After World War I, he enrolled at Munich University, where he studied philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 and psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

. After university, Horkheimer moved to Frankfurt am Main, where he studied under Hans Cornelius
Hans Cornelius
Johannes Wilhelm Cornelius was a German neo-Kantian philosopher.Born in Munich, he originally studied mathematics, physics, and chemistry, graduating with a Ph.D. in 1886, before turning to philosophy...

. There, he met Theodor Adorno, several years his junior, with whom he would strike a lasting friendship and a fruitful collaborative relationship.

In 1925, Horkheimer was habilitated
Habilitation
Habilitation is the highest academic qualification a scholar can achieve by his or her own pursuit in several European and Asian countries. Earned after obtaining a research doctorate, such as a PhD, habilitation requires the candidate to write a professorial thesis based on independent...

 with a dissertation entitled Kant's Critique of Judgement as Mediation between Practical and Theoretical Philosophy written under Hans Cornelius. He was appointed Privatdozent
Privatdozent
Privatdozent or Private lecturer is a title conferred in some European university systems, especially in German-speaking countries, for someone who pursues an academic career and holds all formal qualifications to become a tenured university professor...

the following year. When the Institute for Social Research
Institute for Social Research
The Institute for Social Research is a research organization for sociology and continental philosophy, best known as the institutional home of the Frankfurt School and critical theory....

's directorship became vacant in 1930, he was elected to the position. In the same year Horkheimer took over the chair of social philosophy at Frankfurt University. The following year publication of the Institute's Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung began, with Horkheimer as its editor.

Horkheimer's venia legendi was revoked by the new Nazi government, and the Institute closed its location in Germany in 1933. He emigrated to Switzerland
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

, and then to the USA the following year, where Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 hosted the Institute in exile.

In 1940, Horkheimer received American citizenship and moved to the Pacific Palisades
Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California
Pacific Palisades is an affluent neighborhood and district within the U.S. city of Los Angeles, California, located among Brentwood to the east, Malibu and Topanga to the west, Santa Monica to the southeast, the Santa Monica Bay to the southwest, and the Santa Monica Mountains to the north. The...

 district of Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...

, California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

, where his collaboration with Adorno would yield the Dialectic of Enlightenment
Dialectic of Enlightenment
Dialectic of Enlightenment , 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...

.
In the years that followed, Horkheimer published little, although he continued to edit Studies in Philosophy and Social Science as a continuation of the Zeitschrift. In 1949, he returned to Frankfurt, where the Institute reopened in 1950. Between 1951 and 1953 Horkheimer was rector
Rector
The word rector has a number of different meanings; it is widely used to refer to an academic, religious or political administrator...

 of the University of Frankfurt. He continued to teach at the University until his retirement in the mid-1960s.

He returned to America in 1954 and 1959 to lecture at the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

. He remained an important figure until his death in Nuremberg
Nuremberg
Nuremberg[p] is a city in the German state of Bavaria, in the administrative region of Middle Franconia. Situated on the Pegnitz river and the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal, it is located about north of Munich and is Franconia's largest city. The population is 505,664...

 in 1973. He is buried at the Jewish cemetery in Bern, Switzerland.

Philosophy and Writings


Horkheimer's work is marked by a concern to show the relation between affect (especially suffering) and concepts (understood as action-guiding expressions of reason). In this, he responded critically to what he saw as the one-sidedness of both neo-Kantianism
Neo-Kantianism
Neo-Kantianism refers broadly to a revived type of philosophy along the lines of that laid down by Immanuel Kant in the 18th century, or more specifically by Schopenhauer's criticism of the Kantian philosophy in his work The World as Will and Representation , as well as by other post-Kantian...

 (with its focus on concepts) and Lebensphilosophie (with its focus on expression and world-disclosure). Horkheimer did not think either was wrong, but insisted that the insights of each school could not on their own adequately contribute to the repair of social problems. Horkheimer focused on the connections between social structures, networks/subcultures, and individual realities, concluding that we are affected and shaped by the proliferation of products on the market place. It is also important to note that Horkheimer collaborated with Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin.

Eclipse of Reason



Horkheimer's book, Eclipse of Reason, published in 1947 is broken into five sections: Means and Ends, Conflicting Panaceas, The Revolt of Nature, The Rise and Decline of the Individual and On the Concept of Philosophy and deals with the concept of reason within the history of western philosophy
Western philosophy
Western philosophy is the philosophical thought and work of the Western or Occidental world, as distinct from Eastern or Oriental philosophies and the varieties of indigenous philosophies....

. Horkheimer defines true reason as rationality
Rationality
In philosophy, rationality is the exercise of reason. It is the manner in which people derive conclusions when considering things deliberately. It also refers to the conformity of one's beliefs with one's reasons for belief, or with one's actions with one's reasons for action...

, which can only be fostered in an environment of free, critical thinking. He details the difference between objective
Objectivity (science)
Objectivity in science is a value that informs how science is practiced and how scientific truths are created. It is the idea that scientists, in attempting to uncover truths about the natural world, must aspire to eliminate personal biases, a priori commitments, emotional involvement, etc...

, subjective
Subjectivity
Subjectivity refers to the subject and his or her perspective, feelings, beliefs, and desires. In philosophy, the term is usually contrasted with objectivity.-Qualia:...

 and instrumental
Instrumental
An instrumental is a musical composition or recording without lyrics or singing, although it might include some non-articulate vocal input; the music is primarily or exclusively produced by musical instruments....

 reason, and states that we have moved from the former through the center and into the latter (though subjective and instrumental reason are closely connected). Objective reason deals with universal truths that dictate that an action is either right or wrong. It is a concrete concept, and a force in the world that requires specific modes of behavior. The focus in the objective faculty of reason is on the ends, rather than the means. Subjective reason is an abstract concept of reason, and focuses primarily on means. Specifically, the reasonable nature of the purpose of action is irrelevant - the ends only serve the purpose of the subject (generally self-advancement or preservation). To be "reasonable" in this context is to be suited to a particular purpose, to be "good for something else". This aspect of reason is universally conforming, and easily furnishes ideology
Ideology
An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things , as in common sense and several philosophical tendencies , or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to...

. In instrumental reason, the sole criterion of reason is its operational value or purposefulness, and with this, the idea of truth becomes contingent on mere subjective preference (hence the relation with subjective reason). Because subjective/instrumental reason rules, the ideal
Ideal (ethics)
An ideal is a principle or value that one actively pursues as a goal. Ideals are particularly important in ethics, as the order in which one places them tends to determine the degree to which one reveals them as real and sincere. It is the application, in ethics, of a universal...

s of a society, for example democratic ideals, become dependent on the "interests" of the people instead of being dependent on objective truths. Nevertheless, Horkheimer admits that objective reason has its roots in Reason ("Logos
Logos
' is an important term in philosophy, psychology, rhetoric and religion. Originally a word meaning "a ground", "a plea", "an opinion", "an expectation", "word," "speech," "account," "reason," it became a technical term in philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus ' is an important term in...

" in Greek) of the subject. He concludes, "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, the emancipation from fear - then denunciation of what is currently called reason is the greatest service we can render."

Horkheimer in 1941 outlined how the Nazis had been able to make their agenda appear "reasonable", but also issued a warning about the possibility of this happening again. Horkheimer believed that the ills of modern society
Society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

 are caused by misunderstanding of reason: if people use true reason to critique their societies, they will be able to solve problems they may have.

Despite the explicit common referrals to "subjective" reason in the book, his frequent connecting of it with relativism
Relativism
Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration....

 could be an indication that by "subjective reason" Horkheimer also means "relativist reason".

Between Philosophy and Social Science


Appeared between 1930–1938, during the time the Frankfurt school moved from Frankfurt to Geneva to Columbia University. It included: Materialism and Morality, The Present Situation of Moral Philosophy and the Tasks of an Institute for Social Research, On the Problem of Truth, Egoism and the Freedom Movement, History and Psychology, A New Concept of Ideology, Remarks on Philosophical Anthropology, and The Rationalism Debate in Contemporary Philosophy. It also included The Present Situation of Social Philosophy and the Tasks for an Institute of Social Research, Egoism and Freedom Movements and Beginnings of the Bourgeois Philosophy of History. These essays within Between Philosophy and Social Science were Horkheimer’s attempts to “remove the individual from mass culture, a function for philosophy from the commodification of everything”. Horkheimer was extremely invested in the individual.

The Present Situation of Social Philosophy and the Tasks for an Institute of Social Research was not only included in this volume but it was used as Horkheimer’s inaugural speech as director of the Frankfurt School. In this speech he related economic groups to the struggles and challenges of real life. Horkheimer often referenced human struggle and used this example in his speech because it was a topic he understood well.

Egoism and Freedom Movements and Beginnings of the Bourgeois Philosophy of History are the longest of the essays. The first is an evaluation of Machiavelli, Hobbes and Vico; the latter discusses the bourgeois control. In Beginnings of the Bourgeois Philosophy of History, Horkheimer explained “what he learned from the bourgeois rise to power and what of the bourgeois he thought was worth preserving.

The volume also looks at the individual as the “troubled center of philosophy.” Horkheimer expressed that “there is no formula that defines the relationship among individuals, society and nature for all time”. To understand the problem of the individual further, Horkheimer included two case studies on the individual: one on Montaigne and one on himself.

Theoretical Perspective


Through critical theory
Critical theory
Critical theory is an examination and critique of society and culture, drawing from knowledge across the social sciences and humanities. The term has two different meanings with different origins and histories: one originating in sociology and the other in literary criticism...

, Horkheimer "attempted to revitalize radical social, and cultural criticism" and discussed authoritarianism, militarism, economic disruption, environmental crisis and the poverty of mass culture. Horkheimer helped to create Critical Theory through a mix of radical and conservative lenses that stem from radical Marxism and end up in "pessimistic Jewish transcendentalism" Horkheimer developed his critical theory by examining his own wealth while witnessing the juxtaposition of the bourgeois and the impoverished. He was convinced of the need to "examine the entire material and spiritual culture of mankind" in order to transform society as a whole. Horkheimer sought to enable the working class to reclaim their power in order to resist the lure of fascism. Horkheimer stated himself that "the rationally organized society that regulates its own existence" was necessary along with a society that could "satisfy common needs".

See also

  • Theodor W. Adorno
    Theodor W. Adorno
    Theodor W. Adorno was a German sociologist, philosopher, and musicologist known for his critical theory of society....

  • Critical Theory
    Critical theory
    Critical theory is an examination and critique of society and culture, drawing from knowledge across the social sciences and humanities. The term has two different meanings with different origins and histories: one originating in sociology and the other in literary criticism...

  • Herbert Marcuse
    Herbert Marcuse
    Herbert Marcuse was a German Jewish philosopher, sociologist and political theorist, associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory...

  • Gerhard Stapelfeldt
    Gerhard Stapelfeldt
    Gerhard Stapelfeldt is a German sociologist. He was a university teacher at University of Hamburg until December 2010....

  • Walter Benjamin
    Walter Benjamin
    Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin was a German-Jewish intellectual, who functioned variously as a literary critic, philosopher, sociologist, translator, radio broadcaster and essayist...

  • Jürgen Habermas
    Jürgen Habermas
    Jürgen Habermas is a German sociologist and philosopher in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He is perhaps best known for his theory on the concepts of 'communicative rationality' and the 'public sphere'...


Select bibliography

  • Authority and the Family (1936)
  • Traditional and Critical Theory
    Critical theory
    Critical theory is an examination and critique of society and culture, drawing from knowledge across the social sciences and humanities. The term has two different meanings with different origins and histories: one originating in sociology and the other in literary criticism...

    (1937)
  • Critique of Instrumental Reason (1967) ISBN 978-0826400888
  • Dialectic of Enlightenment
    Dialectic of Enlightenment
    Dialectic of Enlightenment , 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...

    (1947) - with Theodor Adorno ISBN 978-0826400932
  • Eclipse of Reason (1947) (orig. 1941 "The End of Reason" Studies in Philosophy and Social Sciences Vol. IX) ISBN 978-1443730419
  • Egoism and the Freedom Movement
  • The Authoritarian State
  • The Longing for the Totally Other
  • Dawn & Decline (1978) ISBN 978-0816493296

Articles

  • “The Authoritarian State”. Telos 15 (Spring 1973). New York: Telos Press.

Further reading

  • Jay, Martin. The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950. Second edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
  • Schirmacher, Wolfgang
    Wolfgang Schirmacher
    Wolfgang Schirmacher is an editor and educator in the field of philosophy and the program director at the European Graduate School. He has edited many journals and written books, as well as developed curriculum in philosophical disciplines at major universities.-Biography:Schirmacher has taught...

    . German 20th Century Philosophy: The Frankfurt School. New York: Continuum, 2000.
  • Wiggershaus, Rolf. The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theories, and Political Significance. Boston: MIT Press, 1995.

External links