What did Frankfurt School offer as alternative to rationality?



Many in the Frankfurt School, notably Adorno and Horkheimer, regarded rationality with criticism as, in their view, led to dehumanization and enslavement. But what did they offer as an alternative principle or ethos in guiding personal or social heuristics? I assume not religion/god, as they were mostly Marxist.


Posted 2017-06-01T21:07:19.950

Reputation: 1 398

1would it be churlish to say "critical theory" ? – None – 2017-06-01T22:38:47.823

How is that an alternative? – amphibient – 2017-06-01T22:50:07.843


  • Consider "rationality" in the context of instrumentality and industrialisation here. 2) Do you only ask for the first generation of Frankfurt School, or later proponents as well?
  • < – Philip Klöcking – 2017-06-01T22:54:09.700

    @amphibient a better question, i think, and won i would not try answering. would it be assinine to say 'dialectics'? – None – 2017-06-01T23:02:40.147

    @amphibient another good question could be what instrumental rationality is. not sure if i have a definition, for it. i suppose means-end thinking, especially in terms of use value (the quality of an object which gets used, its "utility" for marx). so we sell our labour to live, e.g.. – None – 2017-06-01T23:15:42.267

    4Well, Adorno is known for his negative dialectic, the non-unity of the opposites, and both are known for "pessimism". Dialectic of Enlightenment was a postmodernist manifesto that anticipated much of cultural relativism from 1970-s onward. So in place of rationality came cultural politics and historicism with some existentialist overtones. – Conifold – 2017-06-02T02:34:18.123

    3That could be an answer @conifold – amphibient – 2017-06-02T02:39:22.950

    1I gathered that they hinted at, even if they didn't actually advocate for, a return to some sort of mythology. – Alexander S King – 2017-06-02T20:50:21.473

    1it's a rather similar question – amphibient – 2017-06-02T21:21:14.887



    Adorno and Horkheimer proposed a problem with no alternative, in the first generation of the Frankfurt School.

    Then later, in the second generation, Habermas offered something new.

    1. Rationality, that led to dehumanization, is the domination of monological-instrumental rationality, and has an interest in controlling -- technically.
    2. This domination reduces dialogic-practical and emancipated rationality, which has an interest to mutual understanding and emancipation.

    So, as an alternative, he prposes that: practical and emancipation rationality.

    Please see the book Knowledge and Human Interest, by Jurgen Habermas.


    Posted 2017-06-01T21:07:19.950

    Reputation: 11

    This is exactly why I asked which generation of Frankfurt School is meant. The question speaks only about first generation authors, Habermas is second/third generation, depending on who you ask. – Philip Klöcking – 2017-06-02T19:54:30.013

    @PhilipKlöcking yes correct – father – 2017-06-29T23:29:28.417

    gosh i hope the edit is fine :) – None – 2017-06-30T01:39:24.817


    The book The Idea of Critical Theory, is old and a primer. But it totally blew me away, despite the skeptical and heavy underlining of its previous owner. It works mostly with early critical theory, and the answer is mundane, simplified, but

    • ideological critique

    For me, I think this centres on

    1. Justifying the idea that ideology can be critiqued
    2. Asking if we are happier


    Posted 2017-06-01T21:07:19.950