Why is Enlightenment significant? Though originally an apprentice to Horkheimer and Adorno, Habermas’ was not entirely in agreement with the two theorists when it came to their views on the Enlightenment. He seemed to suggest that his mentors went too far in their examination, and he stressed that they gave scientific reason too much credit, choosing himself to base his arguments in the belief that human life and cognitive processes were stronger than simple scientific reasoning. One of the key issues in Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment is the idea of instrumental reason.
In Thomas McCarthy’s The Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas, McCarthy asserts that “the “critique of instrumental reason” became the principal task of critical theory, for in creating the objective possibility of a truly human society, the progressive mastery of nature through science and technology simultaneously transformed the potential subjects of emancipation” (McCarthy, 1978, p. 20). In terms of Enlightenment philosophy, one of the main principles was the belief that reason would induce liberation or, to quote McCarthy, “emancipation”. As Dr.
Leong Yew notes, in his Political Discourse – Theories of Colonialism and Postcolonialism, “reason elevates the individual from the stifling and oppressive medieval worldview, the individual was believed to be the producer of knowledge, and the individual’s liberties were protected by modern laws” (Yew, 2002). By “the medieval worldview,” Yew is not only referring to medieval philosophy, but also to beliefs such as religion and mythology. However, as McCarthy suggested, the advent of instrumental reason altered those who strove for emancipation.
Put simply, instrumental reason was a way of categorizing both man and object alike and assigning it a role within society. In Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, instrumental reason is classified like so, “in advance, the Enlightenment recognizes as being and occurrence only what can be apprehended in unity: its ideal is they system from which all and everything follows […] the multiplicity of forms is reduced to position and arrangement, history to fact, things to matter […] it provided the Enlightenment thinkers with the schema for the calculability for the world” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1944, p.
7). Under the regulations of instrumental reason, each single item was given a specific role. A decent representation of this would be a production line, whereby each person would be designated a different task in order to maximise productivity. Herbert Marcuse dissects this analogy thus, “Its productivity and efficiency, its capacity to increase and spread comforts, to turn waste into need, and destruction into construction, the extent to which this civilization transforms the object world into an extension of man’s mind and body makes the very notion of alienation questionable.
The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment” (Marcuse, 1964). In other words, instrumental reason was more a way of alienating and dehumanizing man, rather than an implicit technique in the strive for liberation. McCarthy asserts that Adorno and Horkheimer (as well as Marcuse) concluded that “human emancipation requires a radical break with “one-dimensional” thought” (McCarthy, 1978, p.
21). This conclusion stems from the theory that the progression of technology has taken over and society has become too reliant on further technological progress; Marcuse observes that “technology provides the great rationalization of the unfreedom of man and demonstrates the “technical” impossibility of being autonomous, of determining one’s own life” (Marcuse, 1964, cited by Habermas, 1968, p. 84). Habermas disagreed, in part, with this viewpoint.
His belief was not that a disregard for technical reason needed to take place in order to secure liberation, but that technical reason needed to be given a place within a mostly rational social sphere. McCarthy writes, “the real problem, Habermas argues, is not technical reason as such but its universalization, the forfeiture of a more comprehensive concept of reason in favour of the exclusive validity of scientific and technological thought, the reduction of praxis to techne, and the extension of purposive-rational action to all spheres of life” (McCarthy, 1978, p.
22). Praxis is the relationship between theories and work, whilst techne is a rational way of completing a task. So Habermas is suggesting that purposive-rational action (or labour) was applied specifically to “all spheres of life” in order to strengthen Enlightenment ideas (in the sense that knowledge of productivity was required to perform the allocated role, thereby enforcing the idea that greater knowledge paves the way for progress); but he believes that there was a necessity for reason to be given a place within the overall application of philosophy to society
and to production. Habermas saw the above mentioned production line model as the foundations for modern capitalism. He writes “a permanent pressure for adaptation arises from below as soon as the new mode of production becomes fully operative through the institutionalization of a domestic market for goods and labor power and of the capitalist enterprise. In the system of social labor this institutionalization ensures cumulative progress in the forces of production and an ensuing horizontal extension of subsystems of purposive rational action” (Habermas, 1968, p.
98). So, Habermas argues, with the introduction of a highly effective means of production, came a growing desire for more and more goods, thus a growing emphasis from the consumer on perfecting the production technique in order to meet demands. Thus, the basis for capitalism was created. In his A Discourse Upon the Origin and the Foundation Of The Inequality Among Mankind, Rousseau states that ‘the first man who, having enclosed a piece of land, thought of saying “This is mine” […
] was the true founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders; how much misery and horror the human race would have been spared if someone had pulled up the stakes and filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: “Beware of listening to this imposter. ” (Rousseau, 1755, p. 109) So Rousseau is arguing that the catalyst for the propagation of civil society was the advent of possession. He believed that in society there existed a passion, which he called l’amour proper.
This was a comparative passion, whereby one person would judge another based on their appearance, wealth or possessions. It follows that this is an early example of Habermas’ point; it would be fair to claim that this passion describes early consumerism and is the basis for describing the necessity of having a perfected production industry, capable of meeting the demands of the consumer who wishes to outdo his nearest competitor by showcasing superior possessions.
In their Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno, continue the aforementioned discussion on instrumental reason thus, “to the Enlightenment, that which does not reduce down to numbers, and ultimately to the one, becomes illusion; modern positivism writes it off as literature” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1944, p. 7). They suggest that anything considered not worthwhile, in terms of its purpose within Enlightenment philosophy, is rendered obsolete and not assigned a role within the overall system of values. They continue their examination of this matter further, stating that “myth turns into Enlightenment, and nature into mere objectivity.
Men pay for the increase of their power with alienation from that over which they exercise their power. Enlightenment behaves toward things as a dictator toward men. He knows things in so far as he can manipulate them” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1944, p. 9). This raises the issue that mankind is becoming distant from nature because, as Enlightenment thinkers exercise their influence over society, only that which is understood is considered worthwhile and will be passed on as knowledge, whilst anything that cannot be explained by science will be ignored.
To further ratify this point, Lester Crocker, in his introduction to The Age of Enlightenment, puts forth the assertion that “separating science and philosophy from religion, [Descartes] proceeded as if the latter did not exist and deduced a system of the world on purely rational grounds. His great assumption was that sensory experience could and had to be reduced to mechanics and then to mathematics, that is, to measurables” (Crocker, 1969, p. 7).
Thus it is strongly evident that Enlightenment philosophers sought to provide solely scientific solutions and explanations for everything in the world, and that as a result, everything which could not be understood using such a method was disregarded, thus increasing alienation between man and the natural world. Habermas has a slightly different view on this alienation from nature. In his The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment, Habermas writes “the process of enlightenment leads to the desocialization of nature and the denaturalization of the human world” (Habermas, 1987, p.
115). Evidentially, Habermas believed that the natural world and society were two separate things. But his thoughts were not quite that simple; relating back to the idea of production as a means for propagating alienation between nature and mankind, McCarthy expresses Habermas’ views thus: “social systems expand their control over outer nature with the help of forces of production. For this they require technically utilizable knowledge incorporating empirical assumptions with a claim to the truth.
“Inner nature” is adapted to society with the help of normative structures in which needs are interpreted and actions prohibited, licensed, or enjoined. This transpires in the medium of norms that have need of justification” (McCarthy, 1978, p. 22). As such, it is clear that, according to Habermas, nature was controlled on one level by knowledge which claimed to have some understanding of whichever aspect of nature it sought to explain, whilst on-the-other-hand, nature is used on a different level to justify existing social norms, which otherwise have no purpose.
Habermas goes on to say that “the traditional world view ultimately gets temporalized and can be distinguished as a variable interpretation from the world itself. This external world is differentiated into the objective world of entities and the social world of norms (normatively regulated interpersonal relations); and they both stand in contrast to each person’s own internal world of subjective experiences” (Habermas, 1987, p. 115).
He implies that, whilst philosophy has created an alienated view of the world outside of society, and also provided a justification for the existing social “norms”, neither view is concurrent with actual personal experience. Thus, Enlightenment philosophy is merely an attempt to force the viewpoints of a select few upon society as a whole, without necessarily being grounded in fact, and without taking into account the issue that not everyone goes through life sharing the same experience.
Habermas extends this argument, stating that “a reified everyday praxis can be cured only by creating unconstrained interaction of the cognitive with the moral-practical and the aesthetic-expressive elements” (Habermas, 1981, cited by Gray, 1993, p. 93). Habermas suggests that self-emancipation is more attainable through unhindered freedom of thought and speech, and he gives less credit to scientific reasoning, instead choosing to put his belief in, as John Gray puts it, “an enhancement of the aesthetic dimensions of human life” (Gray, 1993, p.
93). Habermas, in The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment, points out that “in respect to science, morality, and art, the argument follows the same figure: Already the separation of cultural domains, the collapse of substantive reason still incorporated in religion and metaphysics, so greatly disempowers the moments of reason […] the critical capacity to take up a “Yes” or “No” stance and to distinguish between valid and invalid propositions is undermined as power and validity claims enter into a turbid fusion (Habermas, 1987, p. 112).
Habermas is expressing the view that science does not explore man; instead man, like any inanimate object, is reduced down to a value and stripped of the ability to execute a reasoned response or solution to a given task. Scientific reason, suggests Habermas, has become too wrapped-up in the exertion of power of society, and has damaged its claim to the development of knowledge grounded in truth. Horkheimer and Adorno make similar statements in the Dialectic of Enlightenment; “every spiritual resistance [the Enlightenment] encounters serves merely to increase its strength.
Which means that Enlightenment still recognizes itself in myths. Whatever myths the resistance may appeal to, by virtue of the very fact that they become arguments in the process of opposition, they acknowledge the principle of dissolvent rationality for which they reproach the Enlightenment. Enlightenment is totalitarian” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1944, p. 6). Referring here to Enlightenment ideas that mythology (and religion) can be explained in scientific terms, Horkheimer and Adorno make clear the fact that the Enlightenment commands too much power over the outside world.
Like Habermas’ suggestion that the Enlightenment became too preoccupied with forcing its controlling power over society, Horkheimer and Adorno propose the argument that the Enlightenment was too encompassing and, in effect, operated like a dictatorship, devouring any opposition and utilising hostile opinion in a way which served to strengthen its own ideas. In order to oppose the Enlightenment, there is an inherent necessity for a rational argument. Thus there is also a necessity for enlightened thought processes. Therefore in opposing Enlightenment philosophy, one is in fact strengthening its foundations.
As such, Horkheimer and Adorno suggested that “Enlightenment still recognizes itself in myths,” and this is because any myth which still resisted abolition at the hands of Enlightenment philosophy must have defended itself with rational arguments, thus making itself a part of Enlightenment anyway. Bringing the argument into a more modern context, Horkhemier and Adorno tackle the notion of anti-Semitism and the advent of the Holocaust, stating that “the Fascists do not view the Jews as a minority but as an opposing race, the embodiment of the negative principle.
They must be exterminated to secure happiness for the world” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1944, p. 168). Already this sounds like the errant philosophising of an Enlightenment thinker; believing that that which does not conform to the stipulated “norm” must in some way be devoured, or otherwise made normative. They continue by saying that “the harmony of society which the liberal Jews believed in turned against them in the form of harmony of a national community. They thought that anti-Semitism would
distort that order which in reality cannot exist without distorting men. The persecution of Jews, like any other form of persecution, is inseparable from that system of order. However successfully it may at times be concealed, force is the essential nature of this order” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1944, p. 170). So here is a further link between the persecution of Jews and the Enlightenment – the notion that force is necessary in maintaining a control in the face of adversaries.
To refer back to the beginning of the Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno assert that “Enlightenment behaves toward things as a dictator toward men. He knows things in so far as he can manipulate them” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1944, p. 9). Here are the two sides of their argument: Enlightenment forces itself upon society, and crushes opposition by a distinct requirement for enlightened thought in the first place. It dehumanizes people by assigning them values and roles.
One hundred and fifty years later, the Holocaust carried with it the same impetus; propaganda and brainwashing techniques convinced people that Jews were the enemy. They were then subjugated and persecuted by brute force, before being imprisoned in concentration camps, where they were assigned a number and a role within a communal production line. To conclude, Horkheimer and Adorno placed a lot of the emphasis of their investigation on the controlling power of science over society, and its ability to curtail individual thought and mere superstition.
Habermas, on-the-other-hand, stipulated that scientific reason was too preoccupied with exhibiting its commanding presence over the world, thus it damaged its own claim that everything could be proved by rational thought processes. Whilst Horkhemier and Adorno place impetus on the idea that anti-Semitism and Enlightenment shared similar ideals, Habermas argues that a similar “genocide” could not occur in modern society, along the lines of Enlightenment action, because of cultural diversity and a more widespread acceptance of modern races, beliefs and religions.
Habermas also recognises the development of capitalism and consumerism, based on the foundations put in place by Enlightenment principles, and applies his theory to western modernity. Bibliography • Adorno, T. W. , Horkheimer, M. (1973) Dialectic of Enlightenment. Tr. J. Cumming. London: Penguin Books. • Crocker, L. G. (1969). Introduction. In L. G. Crocker (Ed. ), The Age of Enlightenment. London: Macmillan. • Gray, J. (1993). Post-liberalism: Studies in Political Thought. London: Routledge. • Habermas, J. (1987). The Philosophical Discourses of Modernity.
Tr. F. Lawrence. Oxford: Polity. • Habermas, J. (1977). Towards a Rational Society. Tr. J. J. Shapiro. London: Heineman. • McCarthy, T. (1978). The Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas. Cambridge: Polity. • Rousseau, J. J. (1755) A Discourse on Inequality. London: penguin Books. • Yew, L. (2002). Political Discourse – Theories of Colonialism and Postcolonialism. Retrieved 18th May, 2010, from http://www. postcolonialweb. org/poldiscourse/liberation. html. Word Count = 2265 (excluding title, citations and bibliography)