Suffering and theory: Max Horkheimer's early essays and contemporary moral philosophy

Philosophy and Social Criticism 36 (9):1019-1037 (2010)
Max Horkheimer does not generally receive the scholarly attention given to other ‘Frankfurt School’ figures. This is in part because his early work seems contradictory, or unphilosophical. For example, Horkheimer seems, at various points (to use contemporary metaethical terms), like a constructivist, a moral realist, or a moral skeptic, and it is not clear how these views cohere. The goal of this article is to show that the contradictions regarding moral theory exist largely on the surface, and that one can go below the surface to reconstruct a coherent position. Part I will examine Horkheimer’s skeptical critique of morality, and show that it leads to the realist position discussed in part II. Part III then shows that such realism can only be understood within a larger constructivist project, which elaborates on a minimal normativity present in human experience. This reconstruction should make sense of Horkheimer’s work, and show its contemporary relevance
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DOI 10.1177/0191453710379027
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