Many in the Frankfurt School, notably Adorno and Horkheimer, regarded rationality with criticism as, in their view, led to dehumanization and enslavement. But what did they offer as an alternative principle or ethos in guiding personal or social heuristics? I assume not religion/god, as they were mostly Marxist.

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    would it be churlish to say "critical theory" ?
    – user25714
    Commented Jun 1, 2017 at 22:38
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    Well, Adorno is known for his negative dialectic, the non-unity of the opposites, and both are known for "pessimism". Dialectic of Enlightenment was a postmodernist manifesto that anticipated much of cultural relativism from 1970-s onward. So in place of rationality came cultural politics and historicism with some existentialist overtones.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 2:34
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    That could be an answer @conifold
    – amphibient
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 2:39
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    I gathered that they hinted at, even if they didn't actually advocate for, a return to some sort of mythology. Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 20:50
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2 Answers 2


Adorno and Horkheimer proposed a problem with no alternative, in the first generation of the Frankfurt School.

Then later, in the second generation, Habermas offered something new.

  1. Rationality, that led to dehumanization, is the domination of monological-instrumental rationality, and has an interest in controlling -- technically.
  2. This domination reduces dialogic-practical and emancipated rationality, which has an interest to mutual understanding and emancipation.

So, as an alternative, he prposes that: practical and emancipation rationality.

Please see the book Knowledge and Human Interest, by Jurgen Habermas.

  • This is exactly why I asked which generation of Frankfurt School is meant. The question speaks only about first generation authors, Habermas is second/third generation, depending on who you ask.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 19:54
  • @PhilipKlöcking yes correct
    – father
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 23:29
  • gosh i hope the edit is fine :)
    – user25714
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 1:39

The book The Idea of Critical Theory, is old and a primer. But it totally blew me away, despite the skeptical and heavy underlining of its previous owner. It works mostly with early critical theory, and the answer is mundane, simplified, but

  • ideological critique

For me, I think this centres on

  1. Justifying the idea that ideology can be critiqued
  2. Asking if we are happier

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