Max Horkheimer

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Horkheimer's work is marked by a concern to show the relation between affect (especially suffering) and concepts (understood as action-guiding expressions of reason). In this, he responded critically to what he saw as the one-sidedness of both neo-Kantianism (with its focus on concepts) and Lebensphilosophie (with its focus on expression and world-disclosure). Horkheimer did not think either was wrong, but insisted that the insights of each school could not on their own adequately contribute to the repair of social problems. Horkheimer focused on the connections between social structures, networks/subcultures, and individual realities, concluding that we are affected and shaped by the proliferation of products on the market place. It is also important to note that Horkheimer collaborated with Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin [6].

Eclipse of Reason

Horkheimer's book, Eclipse of Reason, published in 1947 is broken into five sections: Means and Ends, Conflicting Panaceas, The Revolt of Nature, The Rise and Decline of the Individual and On the Concept of Philosophy [7] and deals with the concept of reason within the history of western philosophy [8]. Horkheimer defines true reason as rationality[8], which can only be fostered in an environment of free, critical thinking. He details the difference between objective, subjective and instrumental reason, and states that we have moved from the former through the center and into the latter (though subjective and instrumental reason are closely connected). Objective reason deals with universal truths that dictate that an action is either right or wrong. It is a concrete concept, and a force in the world that requires specific modes of behavior. The focus in the objective faculty of reason is on the ends, rather than the means. Subjective reason is an abstract concept of reason, and focuses primarily on means. Specifically, the reasonable nature of the purpose of action is irrelevant - the ends only serve the purpose of the subject (generally self-advancement or preservation). To be "reasonable" in this context is to be suited to a particular purpose, to be "good for something else". This aspect of reason is universally conforming, and easily furnishes ideology. In instrumental reason, the sole criterion of reason is its operational value or purposefulness, and with this, the idea of truth becomes contingent on mere subjective preference (hence the relation with subjective reason). Because subjective/instrumental reason rules, the ideals of a society, for example democratic ideals, become dependent on the "interests" of the people instead of being dependent on objective truths. Nevertheless, Horkheimer admits that objective reason has its roots in Reason ("Logos" in Greek) of the subject. He concludes, "If by enlightenment and intellectual progress we mean the freeing of man from superstitious belief in evil forces, in demons and fairies, in blind fate - in short, the emancipation from fear - then denunciation of what is currently called reason is the greatest service we can render."[9][10]

Horkheimer in 1941 outlined how the Nazis had been able to make their agenda appear "reasonable", but also issued a warning about the possibility of this happening again. Horkheimer believed that the ills of modern society are caused by misunderstanding of reason: if people use true reason to critique their societies, they will be able to solve problems they may have.

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