Critique and Rescue: Adorno’s Dialectical Diagnosis of Aristotle’s Metaphysics

In John Finamore & Robert Berchman (eds.), Metaphysical Patterns in Platonism. University Press of the South. pp. 209-224 (2007)
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The notes for Theodor Adorno’s courses in the 1960’s are important resources not only for an understanding of his magnum opus, Negative Dialectics, but also for developing critical responses to this problematic philosophical heir of idealism. Particularly noteworthy among the volumes that have appeared so far is from Adorno’s 1965 course on metaphysics where he engages in a sustained reading of Aristotle’s Metaphysics and explicitly connects it with the project of Negative Dialectics. Adorno’s chief concern is to demonstrate, by way of Eduard Zeller’s work, that Aristotle is indeed a proto-idealist and that his ontology is comprised of a fundamental dualism. Adorno is not an informed reader of Aristotle, as his reliance on Zeller makes clear, but he succeeds in drawing the reader’s attention to the organizing force exerted by  upon . The interest in this organizing force is motivated by an interest in the ethics that is consequent upon it: an ethics that ignores the sufferings of the concrete in the name of a rational ideal. While there are echoes of this in Aristotle’s ethical writings, his account of imagination in De Anima ought to give pause to an account as reductive as Adorno’s. In De Anima, Aristotle provides an account of the imagination () that makes it a power reducible neither to  nor to . The imagination, a power of the bodily senses, and especially sight, is a power that grants to thinking its power but is itself the unmotivated actualization of the purely potential. This essay argues that such a power resists interpretation into any dialectical schema insofar as it constitutes a distinct power of the human animal. At the same time, such an interpretation provides a possible route out of the ethical impasse of the unthinkable concrete.



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Russell Ford
Elmhurst University

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