Philosophy and Social Criticism 46 (2):183-202 (2020)

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Key representatives of the dialectical tradition, Hegel and Adorno conceived philosophy as a critical tool, directed both at the naive realism of ordinary reason and the more sophisticated realism of modern scientific discourse. For the two authors, philosophy’s main task is to question received ideas and practices and to expose their underlying contradictions, thereby enabling meaningful forms of cultural and political change. But while for Hegel this procedure takes the form of a systematic enquiry, leading from a spurious to a true account of reality, Adorno rejects the idea that reason and reality can be reconciled. On the one hand, he praises Hegel for having developed a truly dialectical form of criticism, set into motion by the immanent unfolding of reality’s intrinsic contradictions. On the other hand, he views Hegel’s emphasis on systematic integration as a form of dogmatism, which must itself be criticized. Instead of a ‘positive’ or ‘closed’ dialectic, fuelled by the expectation of a final overarching synthesis, Adorno calls for a ‘negative’ or ‘open’ dialectic, radically averse to all forms of unification. In doing so, however, he is led to question the very limits of conceptual reason, leaving criticism vulnerable to new forms of attack.
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DOI 10.1177/0191453719839451
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