|Adorno T Introduction
[NB this is a very long piece, and I have summarised highlights only. I
think I have also already warned about the stupidity of trying to
Immanent critique can never remain at the level of formal logic alone without considering content. Thought is not equivalent just to formal logic. Methodological controversies are actually of a 'latently material nature', taking concrete forms [and including values?] (3). However, critical rationalism depends on logical procedures [alone], while holding these procedures as problematic. What is needed is a theoretical positional procedure to arbitrate between Adorno and Popper [Adotno finally claims he has just 'transcended' positivism instead] . Science is a social relation but it is also independent (4) leading to problems both for dialectical analysis and strict demarcationism.
Positivism sees itself as embracing objectivity but it is entangled in subjective instrumental reason (5). It faces similar problems to some objectivist philosophies such as Wittgenstein's. There is always a tension between the subjective circumstances of concepts and facticity. The problem of the grounded nature of logic is essential, since all empirical sciences do use it to connect statements [but this does not mean that logic occupies an abstract realm of its own divorced from social relations?]. The same problems arise with formal sociology like Simmel's -- terms are abstractions from the empirical, filled out, illustrated and then hypostatised. Adorno advocates instead an empirical sociology to show how adaptations to changed capitalist relations of production include those whose objective interests conflict [as opposed to seeing bureaucracy, for example as the development of formal rationality] (7).
Sociology is subjective in that categories are imposed on the material. Thus the dispute over matters such as whether status replaces class is not only methodological but is also political and concrete (8). This sense of the subjective (taking self understandings as data) is to be contrasted with the issue of objectivity of the social system itself. It is not possible to claim to have left this old issue behind in the interest of progress or some higher objectivity.
Dialectics is often accused of having no foundation, of being entirely speculative (this was actually once the ideal of philosophy!). The approach rejects subjectivist identity as in Hegel, so it is self-critical, not a closed system, not comprehensive and not a science (9). The dialectic is now justified in explaining objectivity and how it is experienced, how objectivity is becoming seemingly absolute via some totality which seems to mediate all individuals. Albert criticises this 'Hegelian' notion of totality in Habermas and appeals for theories of the middle range like Merton, but he must understand the context in which specifics take place, what the origins of stereotypes, for example are, the conditions making stereotyping possible (11). This seems to promise an infinite set of levels of explanation, leading to the temptation to banish the issue altogether from science -- however, ideology then triumphs.
Totality is a critical concept. It is also necessarily contradictory, referring to both the real and the illusory, to fact and interpretation. However, the concept is not decisionistic or arbitrary (12). Totality is immanent to facts and mediations [that is accounts for them, somehow lies behind them or transcends them?]. Totality is not factual in the positivist sense. For example the exchange relation mediates actual exchanges, the concrete actions of producers and consumers, even the mode of production itself. Totality here acts as a metatheory not just another general theory. It is a precondition, necessary to unite the disparate observations of positivism. Positivism itself can only unite its observations externally or formally (14). [This general argument for totality is expressed famously and clearly in Marx's Grundrisse, where the apparently separated spheres of production distribution and exchange only make sense against some totality. Try also Hall's commentary on the ideology effect]. [Only] in exchange, the subject recognises himself [almost like Althusser on the hailing mechanism]. This helps to explain why Weber focused on rationality as the key to social life -- an organising concept straddling the objective and subjective. The rationalisation of society opposes self to object, and apparently creates a set of 'facts', although these really reified. The rationalisation of society is the main object of criticism for the social sciences not just the rationality of subjects in such a society [which is a critique of action sociology as well, possibly] (16).
For Habermas, objectivity is mediated through the subject and vice versa. The subjective is a moment of social process. Scientism attempts to classify objects 'neutrally' and makes antagonisms between subject and object disappear in its methods. Parsons's sociology is a good example where the individual and society are equally technical categories on some continuum, whereas individuals and societies are really involved in a contradictory relation. Such classifications are elegant -- that is purely aesthetic -- but they then act as arbiters of truth and falsehood.
The history of scientism needs investigation. Different approaches have been called scientific at different times. For example, Hegel was once seen as doing science, and positivism then would have been seen as pre-scientific, offering only speculations about 'facts'. Fact-finding was then and stil is only a means to science (18). Science here becomes demarcated by the instrumental purpose behind fact gathering.
It is clear that there are lots of non-scientific bits left in science, which are not criticised. Science sometimes admits the influence of the social on its activities, but then opens itself to the danger of relativism after analysis by the sociology of knowledge. Alternatively, science has to postulate itself as Absolute, which is both wrong and inhibiting. Only a dialectical approach is helpful, clarifying both the bits which are dependent on social forces, and those which are independent. Sociological reductionism is attacked by all, but the independence of science, its logical abstraction from social circumstances is under a 'controlling will' [that is it is never value-free]. Such abstraction becomes unassailable [this argument seems to be linked to some general theory that human beings need to objective take the world and then forget it]. The same process is found in a more general 'reification of consciousness ' (21), based on the domination of nature.
It is necessary to reinterpret Kant: it is really subjectivity that dominates nature, then it forgets, then it rediscovers the relationship between humans and nature as 'natural'. Thus the categories of reason themselves are not natural or transcendental but based on a rediscovery of relations with nature (22). So the issues of the dependence or independence of science, its genesis and validity are not easily separated at this level of 'constitutional problems' [the same goes with other distinctions preserved in positivism such as the fact/value split? These distinctions can also be disentangled by dialectical analysis?].
Purely cognitive criticisms of thought are formal, while immanent critique is concrete. Concepts are never coterminous with reality [see the famed opening statement of Negative Dialectics], so attempts to grasp reality can never be purely logical. An irrational society cannot be grasped with formal rationality and logic. We have to direct criticism at what is intended by statements, not just at the statements themselves. Arguments must go 'back to the things themselves' (23) [recognised as a slogan belonging to phenomenology in the first instance]. This is instead of pursuing simple disputes as in Popper, where there is a danger of shifting real contradictions [moments of social life] into mere semantic contradictions. Argument must address itself to real conditions, truth must lie in real conditions rather than the mere structures or methods of science.
A critique of social relations is implicit in a marxist critique of political economy. Instead of conceiving social relations as based on contract, Marx argued that the exchange relation already dominates labour [one of the contracting parties supposedly enjoying formal equality] which permits subsequent inequality. In this example, exchange takes place both justly and unjustly [ the 'just'moment is at the actual discussion of the contract of employment --daily in Marx's day -- and the unjust moment is the rest of the working day, when the labourer does the capitalist's bidding]. Marx's logical critique is also a practical critique aimed at changing society. Concepts found in political economy pursued the goal of freedom from contradictions, but they were unable to withstand the critique of society which they reflected (26). These concepts might been free from crisis, but not society -- so an economic science with no contradictions is actually irrational! Similarly, Popper's Open Society offers harmony only in 'forms of knowledge' (27).
Dialectical analysis must avoid any notion of system or hypostasis, and it needs to do fact-finding to help (27). There is a role for empirical social science as long as it is not hypostatised too. Seeing critique as merely about inconsistency leads to a decisionism [that is, there no concrete or empirical grounds for choosing one approach rather than another, so you just opt for one?].
The traditions and practices of the scientific community are also corrupted by capitalism, so that cognitive competition also involves publication for money (28), and there is a deep intolerance even in universities. The failure to grasp this is indicative of the failure of critical rationalism in Popper. Absolutised logic becomes an ideology [in that claiming that science is purely about logic covers up the nasty competitive capitalist elements?]. The scientific community is important for Popper, providing the consensus on basic statements, and offering a critical tradition, but these are liberal notions. Actual practices are full of 'mediations' [meaning both compromises and social effects?] and yet these are uninvestigated. The partisanship of the procedures is obvious in social science, however, for example when administrative research, with the goals of administration at its heart, is imposed upon the community of scholars [education research is a great example, but British sociology also been squashed flat by a number of government onslaughts. As for Psychology and its 'practical applications'...]. Positivism itself becomes very vulnerable to this pressure because of its 'material indeterminacy, classificatory method... and... preference for correctness rather than truth' (30).
Sociology offers a pseudo-objectivity based on perceptions of an active subject which are then used to reconstruct the social structure. Instead, it needs to focus on the objectivity which produces such subjectivity in the first place! Dahrendorf argues that this is knowable only through subjectivity, and Albert says that such grounding is pre-scientific and therefore irrelevant. However, the role of such objectivity is implicit in Popper's notions of rational theory choice [I must say I still don't quite see how, unless this is a repetition of the point that theories really change for all sorts of non-logical reasons?] (32). In practice, any notion of objectivity is peripheral, and in important processes like operationalism, almost irrelevant. In turning to laboratory conditions and experiments, scientists implicitly recognise the imperfections and contradictions of the real world and are in fact coping through 'abstractions and changing the object' (32).
Sociological interpretation must involve relating to the totality. The 'social' is difficult conceptualise but it is 'recognized... in the extent to which is apprehended in the factual and the individual' (32) [not the first echo of Durkheim -- earlier discussions of totality did refer to Durkheim explicitly and his notions of methodological holism and social facts]. Both empirical observation and the force of theory is needed to reveal the effects of the social. Society is both subjective [the result of human consciousness, including the consciousness of observers] and objective, to such an extent that it cannot perceive its own subjectivity nor 'install such a [fully comprehending] subject' [a reference to Lukacs and his hope for the proletariat?]. Positivism simply objectivates this objectivating process and sees the social as a simple object, even when calculated from subjective facts as above (33). Reifying tendencies are the major characteristic of modern societies, but these are ignored as contradictory by positivism. This harnesses positivism to the interests of social control, at its clearest in Comte who saw an inevitable eventual alliance between social scientists and controlling groups.
[For political as well as theoretical reasons] we must retain some idea of those characteristics which cannot be reduced to science, such as an 'unliteralness', Art, 'theoretical flair' (35), something which is 'imperfectly present in objective circumstances' (35). Such characteristics may be impossible to bring to light --'knowledge is an exaggeration' (35). They offer a resolutely negative presence, a sense of not-being, of other than a particular.
'Truth is the articulation of this relationship' [between negative presence and concrete appearance, being and not-being] (36). German Idealism claimed it had the answer to the identity between subject and object. Positivism takes its revenge by criticising this idealism. Interpretation took the place of method [under Idealism], and was not seen as arbitrary but aimed at revealing essential elements in phenomena -- the 'expression which emergent social processes receive in what has emerged' (36). Interpretation obviously reflected interests, as Habermas notes. It was also driven to moments of reification rather than investigating the subjective meaning of actors alone, leading to some notion of societal essence which shapes, appears and conceals itself (37) [There is also a reference here to Marx's laws of crisis, but I'm not quite sure how it fits -- as a material substratum to explain the apparent progress of ideas in Idealism, or maybe as another example of a complexity ignored by positivism?].
Categories such as essence or totality are 'theological' for positivists, and society is a system rather than some dubious totality. Their system is an assemblage, an 'atomised plurality' (37), integrated only by the exchange relation. Social systems have a mechanical character, which is found in various models in sociology including that of the organisation, and in American functionalism. Positivists cannot accept this notion either. Totality can not be seen as a primary thing in itself: functionalist notions of systems are rejected as being idealized, but so are any notions of totality. However, Adorno's totality is different -- it is not a synthesis of the general and particular 'from above'as in functionalism. Totality is not some infinite or metaphysical whole.
Instead, there is a necessary indeterminacy about the social totality -- 'No social knowledge can profess to being the master of the unconditioned' (38). The concept itself might well have origins in metaphysics, but so do all the categories of social science. Totality is not to be prioritised as a concept above or before concrete moments of it. These concrete moments are not just raw data as in positivism or a mere example, but each moment 'conceals in itself the whole society' (39).
There is a connection back to the dispute with Benjamin about immediacy or mediations from the whole society in response to art. Benjamin was 'too immediate'[see Erato and Gebhardt on this], and did not reflect sufficiently on the social mediations of art.
The abstractions in dialectics are different from those in positivism. In positivism concepts are seen as mere 'abbreviations' of facts, 'dictated by the object', and underpinned by the constancy of the society which 'drearily repeats itself in the details' (39). Yet individual phenomena are not just logical representatives of general ones [which would be an example of identity thinking], and individual determinacy is not to be sacrificed to comparative generalisation. This is realized even in empirical sociology where 'case-studies'show something decisive about the general level as it appears in the specific.
Positivism has a problem in shifting levels of explanation -- positivism assumes that specific and particular data are somehow simpler and thus better, or that they should be prioritised (41). Popper's insistence that science focuses upon determinable and specific problems ignores the role of scientists themselves in selecting these problems from the complexity of the material world. Popper's focus on individual under domestic problems is too restrictive -- it rules out the context. This actually makes hypothesis testing more problematic, since the context is founded by a agglomerations of individuals, for Popper. [this comment arises in discussing Popper's attempt to falsify Marx's prediction of the imminent collapse of capitalism]. It is the contradictions of social facts that need to be analysed rather than used in simple refutations.
Scientism depends upon a great deal of common sense consensus about procedures -- 'empathetic reconstructability', but this is of course penetrated by false consciousness. It is similar to the difficulties that modern youth has in grasping Critical Theory's critique of mass culture -- it is difficult to gain knowledge of social invariants. We can appeal to the common sense of others only in an undeformed society. The current appeal to simplicity is therefore repressive, turning away from complexity instead of trying to understand it. Positivism breaks down complexity into nice simple slices which are then used to 'illustrate' the simple mechanisms deployed by positivism. It is not really even just an appeal to simple facts but to simplifications of facts.
How should dialectic proceed in its attempts to study meaningfulness? One model here is offered by Kraus [unknown to me I am afraid] and his critique of language. Apparently, it is an aesthetic criticism of the impoverishment of language which reflects the real impoverishment of capitalism [which seems to depend on the restriction of human possibilities] (45). This approach is actually more insightful than empirical sociology, more insightful than 'science'. The approach echoes Lukacs's suggestion that journalism shows an extreme of reification, compared to popular writing or language as the most responsive indicator of social trends. [There is a long footnote on positivists' contempt for art, even though it can 'express the essential which eludes science... At heart, the hostility to art and hostility to theory is identical, at least in that neither is understood by positivism] (46). Themes in Kraus concur with those of Weber on bureaucratic domination, or Freud, whose small number of cases is dismissed as 'unscientific', although he did understand social behaviour and did provide 'intra-scientifically practical hypotheses' for explanations of the otherwise unexplained (47) Freud did study the willingness of individuals to hold beliefs counter to their self-interest, and buried himself in detail to get to these.
Albert admits that models like Freud's are acceptable, but he insists on the notion of empirical testability directly. [Adorno says insights can 'crystallise' into thought structures which can then be itemised and tested -- presumably as in the Authoritarian Personality studies?]. However, Albert objects to the absence in Critical Theory of 'binding rules'to govern the production of sociological knowledge and act as an independent guarantee. But this presupposes some separation of method and reality. By contrast, fully grasping objectivity means there is no 'method independent of the object' (48).
Adorno offers his own model of dialectical analysis in the sociology of music. This work is fully aware of the interplay between the material and the methodological. For example, jazz expressions notions of subjectivity and integration: the 'jazz subject' rebels against conformity but is revealed as helpless, subject himself to music and reintegrated. In this way, studying jazz leads to deeper meaning. This sort of analysis is more revealing than empiricist surveys. The analysis could yield some sort of empirical test -- whether contradictions like this are actually present in consciousness, for example, or it could link to other studies in film. The analysis is intelligible at least, even if it is not empirically falsifiable [this seems a weak argument here, where the plausibility of the theory is to be judged by appealing to common-sense after all, albeit the common sense of intellectuals], and even if these effects are not present in the consciousness of listeners. Actual consciousness does not need to immediately coincide with real effects [looks like quite a bit more weaselling here].
The weaker test is still available -- does theory 'illuminate questions which are otherwise obscure?... [Are]... diverse aspects of the same phenomenon mutually elucidated?'. For example, others have used Adorno's own work by analogy and then found empirical support [an example is given of work on radio soap operas]. [Again this strikes me as weak. Mere consensus between like-minded critics is hardly a test for theory. Adorno seems to have in mind some determinist view that the social conditions and organisation of popular culture must produce such responses. Indeed, a note on page 40 suggests rephrasing social laws to read not 'if - then', but 'since - must', to illustrate the power of social systems. There are also hints of ideal type analysis].
It is not clear whether these forms of argument are allowed by positivism or not, but sociology needs to explore these possibilities. The work on authoritarianism is another good example. It would have been impossible if it had adhered strictly to psychological scale procedures. In another example, Pascal argues for pre-scientific creativity in mathematics.
The so called methodological purity of positivism really arises from the rationalisation of the process of research (50). This makes it helpless in the face of bureaucratic rigidity, seen best in the rigidity of the US military in Vietnam as a result of their deployment of 'scientific management'. [Great example -- and lots more to be found in the scientific management universities currently].
Fantasy was once seen as a process producing knowledge, until Comte banished it along with metaphysics. The rejection of fantasy is a clear example of bourgeois regression and fatalism. However, fantasy is still implicit in art and science, although under threat. One example is the demand for linguistic clarity as in Wittgenstein [the most reflexive positivist according to Adorno]. However, indeterminacy remains in every abstraction, since language can never fully be specified: in fact, Wittgenstein presupposes the clarity of real events (51). Such clarity can only be achieved gradually, unless there is to be dogmatism or metaphysics involving some transparent perceptions in thought. Clarity is a moment in the process of knowledge not knowledge itself. Wittgenstein himself is ready to accept unclear poems, and to accept that in poetry it is possible to express what is otherwise inexpressible (52). [Further contradictions apparent in Wittgenstein follow, pp 53 and 54 -- for example there will no logical atoms no fully clear statements in his own work, nor any 'firsts'. Language is always in a 'magic circle of reflection', and Wittgenstein's apparent breakthrough is really a 'forgetting'of old philosophical categories, issues, and problems].
Perception is undiscussed for positivists and plays the role of an 'unnoticed presupposition'. Clearly, however, it influences the effects of protocols, including those of evidence gathering or recognition of basic statements. Perception has classically been ignored by philosophers of science, which is rather anti-intellectual of them: they should be interested in reasons for different perceptions.
Thought is only allowed in positivism as a kind of 'reconstruction', as 'copies of impressions' (55). Positivism internalizes those constraints on thought which are really imposed by society, and appear to produce a drive to purity. [This seems to include the struggle to consolidate different academic disciplines. Sociology is mentioned in a footnote (55 - 56) but Adorno thinks that Freudian psychology is the best example at present]. There are probably puritan roots to these taboos on thought (56), producing the idea of knowledge as mere reproduction, the desirability of a closed system as in deductive logic, and the notion of work as operating on materials provided by others. More generally, '[positivism's] categories are latently the practical categories of the bourgeoisie'who are always interested in limiting reason and Enlightenment to that which suits the status quo (57).
This consciousness operates only with sanitised experience, experience which is gained only through a particular methodology. Such 'regimented experience'serves to abolish the [creative ] subject too. It has an appeal because it is seemingly radical, critical of mythology and outdated ideologies, but it never concretely takes on and opposes such thought, preferring to attempt to surpass it in favour of a new beginning [compare with Bourdieu's description of the operation of the petty bourgeois deploying their cultural capital tactically against groups both above and below them, and constantly announcing change to destabilise others]. Positivism poses as radical in demands for evidence. It promises absolute certainty, and thus relief from anxiety [but certainty is only possible through identity thinking]. It's empty formalism can accommodate any aspect of existence. It appeals especially to 'new functionaries... empty beings lacking experience' (59). The Open Society is contradicted by these closed demarcations and regimentation. Positivism fits best the administered world. It was critical once but is now systematised.
The fact/value distinction is posed wrongly. Value neutrality merely subordinates science to what is accepted as valid value systems (59). Value freedom strictly applied would prohibit the very relevance which positivists advocate. Values are inevitably involved in this stance of value freedom -- even in Weber's work, where the Protestant Ethic... was aimed deliberately at Marx. Value-free analysis was always anti-marxist, and serves only to forbid the examination of the social origins of belief. However, valuing in the sense of evaluation is implicit in any cognitive activity (61). The elimination of values altogether is possible only if social phenomena are reified and abstracted first, and can then be relativises and reduced. The operation of such abstraction is seen in the concept of value in political economy: this is an abstraction, a fetishism of exchange value alone.
Values themselves arise as historical problems, as a series of normative influences on thought. For example, increased productivity lead to the normative intends to abolish hunger, which led to modern 'values'. Only immanent critique can disentangle the normative and the cognitive in the development of values (62). It features undogmatic reason, so it is 'value- free' in an important sense, and it merely expresses differences between reality and performance. However, it does have a 'value moment'because it offers a practical challenge to society in that it requires societal theory. The so-called value/fact distinction is thus better formulated as a matter of theory/practice (62), [where the state of social powers and practices determine what is factual]. The contradictions in these powers provides the gap between performance and principle, which guarantees the status of critique, since the desire for an alternative society cannot be grounded if the potential is not there: if there is no potential for change theory would just aim reproducing itself and there would be no need for value freedom, since there would be no alternatives, no values to be avoided.
So dialectical analysis transcends the issue of value freedom, and it should also transcend positivism. Marx's materialism is sufficient to critique idealism and warns us not to disregard facts. Indeed, we must attend to facts but not reified ones. Nor should we reify our own concepts such as collectivity, society or totality, which is a danger if there is no empirical test or referent for theory. Durkheim's notion of collective consciousness became reified but still remains true, although it lacks a theory of domination and tends to regard itself as pre-given. Social constraint may be necessary in conditions of scarcity, but there is no need to hypostatise it as natural. Similarly, social facts only seem to dominate in societies where there is domination and the lack of subjective freedom already. Positivism cannot grasp this apparent negativity which appears conceptless. Grasping it requires reflection. Luckily, positivism has not entirely colonised thought -- the very existence of this Dispute shows it is uncertain of its success.
It is important to avoid stereotyping the protagonists in this Dispute, especially by pointing to a lack of solution [it is stereotyping philosophers as hopeless windbags that concerns Adorno here?]. Any consensus is likely to be phoney, and criticism is good in itself. There are still some underlying currents in the Dispute: since political differences are determined by different theories of science, this is bound to be central. None of the protagonists have appealed to praxis as decisive, and the debate remains at the logical and epistemological level. [Is Adorno suggesting that only praxis can be decisive?]. Advocates of dialectic want to continue debate rather than close it before the 'unquestioned authority of the institution of science'.
Finally, disputes like this also show the 'practical' elements in philosophy. They're not just motivated in the abstract by philosophical problems per se. They are concretised, focused on disputes, and clarified in terms of opposing positions. This was Marx's position too, shown in his Marginal Notes on Wagner [about the last thing he wrote]. This context is forgotten, especially by British sociologists, so that hypostatised accounts result [poor old Adorno -- what a good thing he didn't live to see this particular account!]. This has led to some interpreters seeing Critical Theory as [poor] sociology, or as inadequate for politics in the British context [a classic rebuke from Gramscians, especially in the days of their own high confidence that a few radical teachers and social workers were about to constitute a new political movement].