Ulysses' reason, nobody's fault: Reason, subjectivity and the critique of enlightenment

Philosophy and Social Criticism 26 (6):47-59 (2000)
Drawing on notions of alienation, reification and rationalization in their book Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer explored the phenomenon of reason as such concerning the subject and the species, and diagnosed the pathologies of occidental societies. Reason provides the means for a vulnerable being to subordinate nature and serve its desire for self-preservation. However, this reason is instrumental since it objectifies the world and reifies other beings in order to render them manipulable. It is a subjective reason because it promotes the subject's own ends and aims at the subject's survival at the expense of the individual's inner world of unconscious desires and instincts and the reconciliation of human beings with the external world. The myth of Ulysses is magnificantly interpreted by Horkheimer and Adorno along such anthropological lines. As I see it, this anthropology inexorably connects the advent of civilization with the reifying power of reason from the start. Against the early Frankfurt School anthropological explanation of reason, I defend the distinction between communicative and strategic rationality that presupposes a different anthropology from the Freudian one that informed the Dialectic of Enlightenment. Key Words: Adorno • alienation • critique • culture • Enlightenment • Freud • Habermas • Horkheimer • Lukács • Marcuse • paradox of reason • reason • self-preservation • subjectivity.
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DOI 10.1177/019145370002600603
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