Causality and Critical Theory: Nature's Order in Adorno, Cartwright and Bhaskar

Journal of Critical Realism 8 (3):316-342 (2009)
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In this paper I argue that Theodor W. Adorno 's philosophy of freedom needs an ontological picture of the world. Adorno does not make his view of natural order explicit, but I suggest it could be neither the chaotic nor the strictly determined ontological images common to idealism and positivism, and that it would have to make intelligible the possibility both of human freedom and of critical social science. I consider two possible candidates, Nancy Cartwright 's ‘patchwork of laws’, and Roy Bhaskar 's critical realism. Arguing that Cartwright 's position conflicts with the spirit of Adorno 's philosophy, I suggest that Bhaskar 's realism is compatible with and to a significant extent implicit in Adorno 's position. Whilst Adorno is clearly not a critical realist, Bhaskar 's position does provide the best overall account of the ontological commitments of Adorno 's critical theory. It becomes possible in turn to locate Bhaskar 's arguments in a broader critical tradition and give fuller expression to the concerns that structure his work, in particular by locating the epistemic fallacy in the narrative account of the natural history of subjective reason and its tendency towards ‘identity thinking ’. The discussion goes on to consider the interdependence of reason, nature and freedom in the idea of emancipatory critique, confirming the deeper affinities between critical realism and critical theory.


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Craig Reeves
Birkbeck College

References found in this work

How the laws of physics lie.Nancy Cartwright - 1983 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Ethics and the limits of philosophy.Bernard Williams - 1985 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science.Nancy Cartwright - 1999 - New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
A realist theory of science.Roy Bhaskar - 1975 - New York: Routledge.

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