Natural history: The life and afterlife of a concept in Adorno

Critical Horizons 5 (1):227-258 (2004)
Abstract
Theodor Adorno's concept of 'natural history' [Naturgeschichte] was central for a number of Adorno's theoretical projects, but remains elusive. In this essay, I analyse different dimensions of the concept of natural history, distinguishing amongst (a) a reflection on the normative and methodological bases of philosophical anthropology and critical social science; (b) a conception of critical memory oriented toward the preservation of the memory of historical suffering; and (c) the notion of 'mindfulness of nature in the subject' provocatively asserted in Max Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment. These strands are united by the notion of transience and goal of developing a critical theory sensitive to the transient in history. The essay concludes by suggesting some implications of an expanded concept of natural history for issues in the discourse theory of Jürgen Habermas.
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