Theodor W. Adorno – Introduction to Dialectics

Image: Jan van der Zee


Presentation of the recently launched Brazilian edition of the course given by the German philosopher

“In its peculiar determinacy, the dialectic is, rather, the proper and true nature of the determinations-of-the-understanding-of things and of the finite as such. Reflection is above all the going beyond isolated determinacy and a reference of the latter through which it is put in relation – as long as it is preserved in its isolated value. Thus, the dialectic is, on the other hand, this immanent surpassing, in which the unilaterality and limitation of the determinations-of-understanding are exposed as what they really are, namely: as their negation. Everything finite is this: suspending itself. The dialectic constitutes, therefore, the driving soul of scientific progress and is the only principle through which connection and immanent necessity are inserted in the content of science, just as the true, non-external elevation over the finite resides in it as such” ( Hegel, Bd. 8, p.171-2).

The present translation of Introduction to dialectics makes available to the Portuguese-speaking public the text corresponding to the course taught by Theodor W. Adorno on the subject in the summer semester of 1958, at the University of Frankfurt. I think that both students and researchers will be able to benefit from the discussions proposed by these classes, even more so because it is a text that expands the bibliographic material available in Portuguese on Adorno's conception of dialectics - a fundamental theme for a more fruitful understanding of his work. broad, multiple, thought-provoking and ever-present contribution to contemporary thought, in areas as diverse as metaphysics, literary theory, sociology, psychology, practical philosophy, philosophy of history, philosophy of music and aesthetics.

In what follows, I would like to propose a general introduction, by no means exhaustive, to the text of this Introduction to dialectics. I'll do this in three steps. First, I will quickly recall the biographical context that marks the course taught by Adorno. Next, I will run very quickly and superficially through some landmarks of Adorno's interpretation of the Hegelian dialectic – something that constitutes the backdrop for the course proposed further by Adorno. Finally, I try to summarily anticipate the thematic connection intended by Adorno in his classes to Introduction to dialectics.

I hope to be able to contribute, with this modest general introduction, to the integration of the contents developed by Adorno in this course with the bibliographic material already available in Portuguese – and that, in fact, from the more specific point of view of his reformulation of the paradigm of critical rationality by through an exposition of the Hegelian dialectic. It is precisely as they are integrated into this broader panorama that the themes dealt with here by Theodor W. Adorno can provide their greatest informative and hermeneutic subsidy.

The biographical context

The classes that gave rise to this Introduction to dialectics were conducted at an intermediate moment in the final phase of Adorno's theoretical production, interrupted by his death. Theodor W. Adorno is part of a select group of outstanding thinkers who died in frank production and, I dare say, in their moment of greater intellectual maturity.

After more than 15 relatively itinerant years, a period predominantly marked by his North American exile, provoked by the rise of National Socialism, Theodor W. Adorno returned more or less definitively to Germany in October 1949. eminently professional reasons for the decision to return specifically to Frankfurt were linked to the objective of resuming the position of Privatdozent, from which he was exonerated in 1933. After a phase still marked by a certain restlessness and hesitation, by academic trips abroad and by university courses, Theodor W. Adorno had, at the end of 1953, the consolidation of his professional position as a “permanent extraordinary professor”, becoming a civil servant and teaching, starting in the winter semester, two courses per semester, with classes in the afternoon.

Many of the courses offered by Theodor W. Adorno in the following years gravitated around different areas of philosophy, although, thanks to the expertise demonstrated and perfected in the years of American exile, as well as in the subsequent collaboration with empirical research in the United States, Theodor W. Adorno also took, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, recurrent sociology courses at the University of Frankfurt .

Adorno's polyvalence in teaching, as well as in theoretical production and research, was definitely sharpened when, in 1958, the year of the classes gathered here, due to Horkheimer's early retirement, Adorno took over as director of the Institute for Social Research. Thus, the 1950s marked, from a biographical point of view, the consolidation of Theodor W. Adorno as a professor, acting and producing prodigiously in at least two professorships, philosophy and sociology, while, from a broader point of view, in the 1960s, the definitive feature of his public performance as a prominent intellectual, recurrently heard, consulted, present in radio and television programs and in newspaper articles, was prepared.

Theodor W. Adorno's trajectory in the 1950s explains a lot his own consolidation as a kind of theoretical quintessence, a living intellectual summation, of what was most pertinent produced and discussed in philosophy and sociology since the “between wars” period. , in Germany and abroad.

With this, it is somewhat easier to understand, in a biographical context such as this, that since the end of the 1950s, already under the sign of professional consolidation, Theodor W. Adorno has entered a kind of trajectory of self-reflection and “methodological” self-purification. , which finds its apex precisely with the appearance of its magnum opus, negative dialectic, from 1966. The present Introduction to dialectics has to be understood, therefore, from the perspective of this movement that converts the Adornian notion of dialectic, already considerably discernible in Dialectic of Enlightenment, in the very object of his philosophical reflection, in the very target of investigative decantation.

It is a trajectory in which the reflections contained in the various courses on the subject [for example, in 1958, 1960/61, 1965/66, 1969], as well as in intermediate texts related to them, have to be considered as fulfilling something of the role, so to speak, laboratory, very important stages in the itinerary by which the author would reach, in the 1960s, both the consolidation of his autonomous theoretical point of view, based on his own conception of dialectics, and the fierce and conscious defense from this perspective – as it happens in the famous positivismusstreit, triggered precisely when Theodor W. Adorno was, after being elected in November 1963, director of the German Sociological Society.

In the specific case of classes Introduction to dialectics, delivered in 1958, these seem to reverse the strategy pursued by Theodor W. Adorno in the seminars offered in the mid-1950s, attended by, among others, Max Horkheimer, Jürgen Habermas and Hebert Schnädelbach – who, by the way, became recalls the lectures suggestively: “seminars on Hegel generally dealt with very little text in the course of a semester: never more than a few pages of essence doctrine da logic. The strategy was … to start by accepting Hegel's critique of Kant, but then to draw on Marx's critique of Hegel. However, in this critique of Hegel, Kantian elements recur. We always stayed on the inside of that triangle.”

Na Introduction to dialectics as the reader will see, not only the essayist's astuteness, not only the researcher's tenacity and the philosopher's depth, but also the professor's precision and pace.

Some milestones in the interpretation of Hegel

A Introduction to dialectics proposed by Adorno pervades several of the themes that make up the general spectrum of his critical appropriation of Hegel. When we compare the content of these classes with other texts on the subject, it becomes even clearer the intimate relationship that Adorno's dialectic, his version of the critical rationality paradigm, has with the Hegelian dialectic, of which the first intends to be, in fact, , the most consequential realization, what can and should be expected, in terms of an immanent critique model, under the prevalence of advanced capitalism.

Em Aspects, originally a 1956 lecture and which became the opening text of the collection Three Studies on Hegel, Adorno maintains that: “Although dialectics demonstrates the impossibility of reducing the world to a fixed subjective pole and methodically pursues the reciprocal negation and production of the objective and subjective moments, Hegel's philosophy, as a philosophy of Spirit, remained in idealism. Only the doctrine of the identity between subject and object inherent to idealism – which, according to its simple form, anticipates privileging the subject – grants it that force of totality that allows the work of the negative, the fluidization of particular concepts, the reflection of the immediate and then again the overcoming [repeal] of reflection”.

Theodor W. Adorno is guided in this discussion by something close to the famous and influential impression of the young Marx on the reach of the Hegelian dialectic, in order to underline the fact that, despite the dynamics of the Watch, claimed by Hegel in the Phenomenology and elsewhere, stubborn idealism prevents the frank granting of primacy to the object. Adorno advances the Marxian thesis in a way that deepens and differentiates the materialist incursion into the philosophical meaning of German idealism. Thus, Theodor W. Adorno accepts Marx's critique of Hegel, according to which the dialectic is mystified because the totality only articulates the spiritualized moments of the social work system – so that, even if he has captured the conceptual understanding as “work of the negative”, the Hegelian dialectic would be, since it itself requires capturing the synthesis from the side of the object, the conceptual reflection of the division between intellectual work and material work.

“Apart from what is not identical with itself, work becomes ideology. […] This social relationship dictates non-truth in Hegel, the masking of the subject as subject-object, the negation of the non-identical by the totality, no matter how much the non-identical is recognized in the reflection of each particular judgment”.

However, in an in-depth reading of German idealism and its fundamental question – namely, overcoming the dichotomy between the pure self and the empirical self –, Adorno broadens the reach of this critique in a materialist recomposition of the theory of experience and cognition, capable of accessing the which has to remain indissoluble in concepts, while constituting the material, even somatic and psychic basis of experience itself. Indeed, Theodor W. Adorno relates to the Hegelian dialectic through an immanent critique, which is surely connected to Marx's materialist attitude towards it, but, in a certain way, already accesses it in a different way, or perhaps more enriched. , the materiality of the experience.

“It would only take a minimum – the memory of the moment at the same time mediated and irreducibly natural of the work – and the Hegelian dialectic would have lived up to its name.” Be that as it may, Adorno's philosophy, in so far as it concretizes and materializes the dialectic in different dimensions, has to be understood, first of all, as an effort to go beyond the “unconscious work on oneself”. “Only the self-awareness of all this could lead the Hegelian dialectic beyond itself, and it is precisely this self-awareness that it is refused: this means pronouncing the name that has bewitched it”.

Theodor W. Adorno then seeks, in the “anti-idealist” facet of the Hegelian dialectic, the impetus to reconsider the “consciousness of the contradiction in the thing itself”, because “such criticism is the strength of the theory, with which it turns against itself. same". Indeed, instead of conceiving the “non-identity of the antagonistic” in a mystified, subjective and merely spiritual way, Adorno integrates materiality into cognition, seeking in it the “non-identity of the whole”. “Hegel's philosophy wants to be negative in all its particular moments; but if it becomes negative against its own intention, also as a totality, then it recognizes in this the negativity of its object”.

Obviously, the immanent critique of the Hegelian dialectic, “the idealist dialectic [which] turns against idealism” and which constitutes the Adornian paradigm of critical rationality, passes through the experience of the affectation of the totality by the system of social work, but gives the basis of this model of critical theory even greater sensitivity to what in cognitive experience exceeds the “dialectic of socialization and individualization,” namely: the suffering, the injustice inflicted on the singular as the price paid for its own absorption in the dialectic.

“Perhaps nothing says more about the essence of dialectical thought than the fact that its self-awareness of the subjective moment of truth, the reflection of reflection, must reconcile the injustice that mutilating subjectivity does to truth only by supposing and positing as truth what never it is entirely true”.

The immanent criticism provoked by Adorno in Hegel's dialectic – which after all remains “faithful to his own philosophy, to the desire for an immanent criticism, which is a central part of his method” – has interesting consequences for an improved and differentiated hermeneutics of the Hegelian text , which, as a matter of fact, permeate and enormously enrich his Introduction to dialectics. The first of these is the revelation of the “experiential content” [Erfahrungsgehalt] of Hegel's dialectic, that is, in an Adornian materialist reading, the revelation of what constitutes the content experienced by her, of what she is, so to speak, affected by, her “sense of reality”, “those experiences incorporated by her ” and which she therefore articulates conceptually.

According to Theodor W. Adorno, the “Hegelian mediation of the beforehand and a posteriori” commits Hegel to an “anti-positivist view”, with a critique of what, in contemporary epistemological discussion, including “analytical neo-Hegelianism”, could be called the “myth of the given”. “Hegel's thought as a whole maintains itself in an oblique relationship with the program of immediate acceptance of the so-called given as a fixed basis of knowledge”. Thus, the experiential content of the Hegelian dialectic consumes the experience of German idealism itself, contained in the pathos [and on suspicion of hybris] of the word spirit, the feeling of loss of the total human being, the reaction to the modern paradigm of science and its correlates: the “reified consciousness” and the “compartmentalization of life and organized knowledge carried out within the division of labor”.

Theodor W. Adorno therefore suggests that the Hegelian dialectic experiences modernity by reacting to it in the form of an ontological critique of atomism, an ethical-political critique of methodological individualism, and an epistemological critique of foundationalism. Therefore, as an experience of the modern paradigm of rationality, as well as its stubborn positivism and naive realism, the Hegelian dialectic is “the self-reflection of formal philosophizing, which had rejected and prohibited philosophizing focused on content as merely dogmatic”. Also for Adorno, as well as for Habermas and Honneth after him, “Left Hegelianism” is the resumption of this movement of self-criticism of rationality which, by criticizing its insufficiency, also criticizes the harmful effect of its unconscious incompleteness on the content of experience.

This intrinsic capacity of Hegelian philosophy is due, according to Adorno, to the “determined negation”, the “nerve of the dialectic as a method”, the internal tensioning of the concept that makes it deny itself as an abstract concept and, denying its abstraction, access “its content: society”, releasing the “force stored in its own object” as something that “is not yet itself”. This is why the circumscription of the experiential content is to go with Hegel beyond himself, it is to make the immanent critique of the Hegelian dialectic, committing himself even more radically than Hegel himself does with the determined negation - in this specific case, with the very negativity of the whole: “the ray of light that reveals the whole in all its moments as the untrue is nothing but the utopia of all truth, a utopia that still needs to be realized”.

However, the immanent critique of Hegel's dialectic, to the extent that it circumscribes the experienced content, does not leave the form untouched, leading, secondly, to a reflection around the exposition, the relationship between the Hegelian language and the dialectic, which, as experience, is now pushed beyond itself. In this reflection, Adorno ends up giving a philosophically relevant meaning to Hegel's writing, normally seen as refractory to understanding.

Theodor W. Adorno relates to Hegel's “style” two of the most important guidelines of his critique of traditional philosophy: his anti-foundationalism, that is, his refusal to follow the path trodden by Reinhold and Fichte in outlining fundamental principles, or by empiricism and its doctrine of the immediate given; and, in connection with this, the necessary incompleteness of the isolated proposition as an expression of truth. Due to his general thesis that the Hegelian dialectic does not have, despite everything, the radical relationship with the determined negation that, as a dialectic, it would be forced to have, Adorno sees in those guidelines the indelible marks of Hegel's reaction to the "positivist" principle. of clarity, which, from a logical-formal point of view, serves as the bourgeois principle of equivalence and exchange value.

In a memorable passage, Hegel makes the perception of the intrinsic inability of the singular judgment to express the truth the counterpart both of his conception of the plasticity of language as a “speculative sentence” and also of the conception holistic that “the real thing is the Bacchic delusion [Bacchantischer Taumel], in which there is not a member who is not drunk.” Thus, in Hegel, the insufficiency of the isolated proposition reminds us of the necessary insufficiency of the philosophical language itself, so that the “lack of clarity that is tirelessly reproached in him is not a simple weakness, but is also the engine that leads him to correct the untruth”. of the particular, an untruth that manifests itself in the absence of clarity of the singular”.

Indeed, from this perspective, Adorno sees Hegel as a precursor of a position regarding the relationship between philosophy and language that he himself claims to have developed more fully: “all philosophical language is a language against language, marked by the stigma of its own impossibility”. ”.

The Adornian critique of Hegel's dialectic offers us, in fact, something like a model for his conception of dialectic, since, by circumscribing, by the force of determined negation, the experiential content that suits Hegel's dialectic, it allows one to see it outside. of idealism, of the mysticism of the concept, and, consequently, as the articulation, in terms of the expressive and communicative functions of language, of the irreducible “vertical” and “horizontal”, Kantian and Hegelian, subjective and intersubjective axes, which, while remaining irreducible, must constitute the authentic dialectical experience. For Theodor W. Adorno, in his interpretation of Hegel, it is a “dialectic [that] takes place in the very medium of language”. Adorno conceives Hegelian “stylistics” as reacting to the cleavage, sponsored by the logic of the market, between expression and communication, and which invades, under the primacy of the latter, the modern paradigm of rationality, translating into a philosophical demand for linearity, completeness and clarity.

As much as Hegelian idealism has partially succumbed to the communicative paroxysm of formal rationality, Adorno still perceives in Hegel the critical commitment to extreme nominalism, to the use of “verbal definitions as mere labels” – a “conception [that] energetically resists experience who wants to make the thing itself speak” – but also to its bourgeois counterpart, “the hypostasis of the particular”. In the Hegelian “holism”, in the demonstration of the necessary insufficiency of concepts, judgments and syllogisms, Adorno traces the genuinely philosophical effort of plastic and unfinished linguisticification of the ineffable, of the extraconceptual, of “thinking the intended even where all its implications cannot be represented in a way clear and distinct” – the maintenance of the anti-bourgeois nature of philosophy, of its resistance to the principle of equivalence.

That which in Hegel still remains, due especially to its historical and experiential content, averse to the system, directed to the “constellation”, the element that Theodor W. Adorno deploys in his conception of the dialectic, constitutes, from the point of view of his interpretation of Hegel's thought, the perception that "also Hegel's texts are anti-texts".

Reasons like these, taken from the confrontation of Theodor W. Adorno with Hegelian philosophy, undoubtedly remain directive in its further development, although they were also present earlier. From a historical-cultural point of view, for example, the enlightenment was seen as introducing into language, as a means of cultural reproduction, the differentiation between sign and image, a process by which language has been gradually separating itself from reality, and the conventional sign moves away from the semantic content. Therefore, only language in its dialectical scope, capable of tensioning itself between the identical and the non-identical, is the conceptual visualization of the opaque background of things, as well as the genealogical process of differentiation between name and thing, between one and multiple, between subject and object. In nominalism and atomism, marked by the split between thought and thing, by the “forgetting” of the dialectical genesis of the concept, dialectics is therefore found in its moment of impotence.

Faced with the radicalization of enlightenment as a nominalist philosophy of language, which tends to treat every proper name as a generic name, breaking the link between name and being, the Dialectic of Enlightenment had already suggested a strong approximation with the Hegelian concept of “determined negation”, which helps to glimpse how the splendor of the image is preserved, in its right of autonomy, in the faithful execution of its prohibition, that is, in the conscious prohibition of access conceptual or nominalist to its richness. This leads us to a dialectical conception of language as going beyond the simple system of signs.

Indeed, Theodor W. Adorno's “negative dialectic” will be compromised, as a theory of experience, language and concept, with the reversal of the resignation and obfuscation caused by the misunderstood interdiction of conceptual access to the non-conceptual element. His way of reversing this tendency inherent in Logos Western is to promote the conceptual exposition of the non-identical, accepting its refractory character to intellectual compulsion. Here's why the loci privileged of the dialectic is mediation, the place of intervention to understand the non-conceptual in the concept. In this way, in this dimension where concept, language and history merge, the mediation of matter leads, suggests Adorno, to the exposition of its implicit history. “Even together with the extreme effort to express linguistically such a history coagulated in things, the words employed remain concepts [...] Only concepts can accomplish what the concept prevents”.

It is the insufficiency of nominalism as a non-reified cognitive access strategy that dialectically transforms the one into multiple, the concept into concepts, the name into language. This dialectical operation, which in a very schematic way composes the Adornian theory of the concept exposed in the negative dialectic, allows him a beautiful programmatic condensation: “The determinable error of every concept forces one to evoke others; it is from there that those constellations emerge to which only something of the hope contained in the name passes. It is through the negation of the name that philosophical language approaches the name. Thus, with a scathing critique of the name's claim to an immediate truth, the conceptual interior that knowledge encompasses evokes, thinks Adorno, a decidedly extrinsic and heterogeneous element, something genuinely exterior that, from an experiential point of view, will do justice, evoking the the most ambitious and unrealized pretensions of classical German philosophy, to the cognitive potential of even the somatic processes of an individualized knowing subject, existing in its unique historicity.

A path and a model for dialectics

At a certain point in his course, Theodor W. Adorno refers to it as a “propaedeutics to dialectics” (Class 4). Certainly, it is not just a path to dialectics, guarantees Adorno, since this propaedeutics would also provide a “model of dialectics” (Class 2). The itinerary proposed by Adorno as a Introduction to dialectics it is undoubtedly engaging and thought-provoking, but it is also, above all, rich and comprehensive, composing, together with the apparatus of notes prepared by the German editor, an extraordinary set of information.

Theodor W. Adorno takes as his starting point the ambivalence, already unreflectively present in dialectical considerations that go back to classical antiquity, between the “subjective” and “objective” dimensions, that is, between dialectics as a method and as a structuring of the experienced object. It is already under the sign of friction between these dimensions that Adorno builds the preamble to his discussion of dialectics as an experience of the limited nature of concepts by comparison with data and, therefore, the rectification of categories through the self-denial triggered by the embracement, in them own, of the non-conceptual element (Class 1).

Having thus established his broader strategy for interpreting the program advocated by the Hegelian dialectic, Adorno makes use of the idea of ​​tension, to be recognized conceptually, between the identity and non-identity of concept and object, in order to offer an understanding of the theme of the “concept movement”. This ends up unraveling the central dialectical notion of the “historical core of truth”, connected to the “criticism of reification” and developed not only in the company of Hegel, but also with Kant and Benjamin, as well as in an already intense opposition to the claims of ontology. contemporary to Adorno (Class 2).

This critical motif, which, in truth, permeates all of Adorno's efforts in this Introduction to dialectics, is then accentuated by the characterization of the position that dialectics generally assumes in relation to the traditional idea of ​​“first philosophy”. The moment in which Adorno exposes his seminal notion of an “open dialectic” is also the context in which the Hegelian dialectic is revealed in its disconcerting and problematic ambiguity with respect to the traditional program of cousin philosophy. However, with the critical appropriation of the Hegelian dialectic, Adorno's arsenal against the phenomenology and ontology that are contemporary with him also intensifies (Class 3).

Theodor W. Adorno develops his critical appropriation of the central motif contained in the “concept movement” by resuming fundamental traits of the path of classical German philosophy, both Hegel's relationship with Fichte's idealism and also Hegel's interpretation of the relationship between dialectics and transcendental analytic in Critique of Pure Reason. The Adornian idea that dialectics would be, especially in its Hegelian formulation, “the Kantian philosophy that reached its self-awareness” (Class 4) undoubtedly finds excellent support throughout several of Hegel's works.

In revisiting Hegel's critique of Kant, Adorno finds an opportunity to elaborate his idea of ​​an “open dialectic”. Now, the unfolding of this notion ends up making possible not only an inspiring reinterpretation of anthological excerpts from the phenomenology of the spirit, as well as a defense of the dialectic in relation to the criticism that it would conspire in favor of the eradication, in the cognitive experience, of the irrational, unconscious and non-conceptual element. Thus, by thematizing the peculiar interaction between the irrational and rationality, Adorno ends up proposing the first more extensive discussion, within the framework of this Introduction, about his own notion of non-identical.

Readers will be surprised by the way in which Theodor W. Adorno's critical appropriation of the Hegelian dialectic leads to interesting moments of a hermeneutic nature, but not only that: in addition to having adopted a thoughtful position with respect to the debate around “irrationalism” , by anticipating the risk of ideological abuse of dialectics by the automatism of the “triadic scheme”, Hegel would have glimpsed the hard core of the conception of dialectics as “Critical Theory” (Class 5).

Indeed, Hegel's criticism of the limitations of understanding demonstrated by Kant about his own discoveries in the “transcendental dialectic” continues to constitute the guiding thread for the discussion, proposed by Adorno, about the dialectical notion of contradiction. And this discussion is conducted in such a way as to unmask the mechanical application of the principle of contradiction, which ends up impoverishing and reifying dialectics in terms of a stiff and inflexible “triadic scheme” between thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Adorno returns to the Kant-Hegel debate to revitalize the dialectic, especially in the face of the threats perpetrated by dogmatic materialism (Class 6).

The fact that Adorno used Hegel's critique of transcendental dialectics as a guiding principle in at least three classes underscores not only the undisputed historical-philosophical value of this topic, but also the centrality it assumes in the way Theodor W. Adorno exposes it. your Introduction to dialectics – and, why not, since Adorno maintains a correlation between these dimensions, their centrality to the way he elaborates his model of an “open dialectic”. Indeed, after delineating, from the reception of transcendental dialectics, the multiple contours of the Hegelian concept of contradiction, he explores it within the framework of a dialectical understanding of the classical theory of predication and declarative proposition (Class 7).

One of the far-reaching lessons Hegel gleaned from his critical appropriation of the “Antithetics of Pure Reason” consists in rethinking the relationship between subject and object in such a way as not to endorse even the compassionate triviality of the Kantian solution to the antinomies, which he attributes solely to reason. subjective the need for contradiction, nor give vent to what Kant seemed to fear most: the attribution of the contradictory character exclusively to the world. For Hegel, contradictory is primarily spirit, this unity of contradictory determinations, the identity of subject and object in their non-identity. Incidentally, Adorno's fascination with the theoretical-critical potential made available by the Hegelian concept of “spiritual experience” is quite noticeable at this stage of the exposition (Class 8). This is why, following Hegel's critique of Kant, Adorno finds the opportunity, in his recovery of the Antithetic, to expose the way in which the dialectic of the concept throws us into understanding the contradictory nature of the world.

Adorno thus anticipates, from the unfolding of the dialectic of the concept in terms of a “negative theory” of the system or of totality, his celebrated topic of the “ontology of the false state” – an expository modulation that will be articulated in terms both of critical understanding from social coercion under the aegis of exchange value and from the point of view of an interpretation of the extrinsic character, demonstrated by the Hegelian notion of state, in relation to the dialectical and self-corrosive dynamics of capitalist society (Class 8).

From the outlining of the conditions under which the dialectic intends, from Hegel's critique of Kant, to understand the cognitive process as such and the experience of the world, Adorno promotes an inflection in his exposition. First, he intends to present, from the reconstruction of the Hegelian notion “of experience, the differentiation between the idealist and materialist perspectives of dialectics. In this exercise, Adorno begins to find opportunities, which become more and more frequent until the end of the course, to show the more specific contours of his model of materialist dialectics in comparison with Marx, or also with what he calls “ vulgar materialism” – associated, say, with “Eastern Marxism” –, but also recovering his famous debate with Benjamin about “mediation”, as well as his own responses to the criticisms made by Weber to the materialist dialectic” (Class 9).

The effort to situate his conception of an “open” and interrupted dialectic within the broader horizon formed by nineteenth-century dialectics also constitutes the passage to another stage in Adorno's exposition, namely: the resumption of the discussion on the contemporary challenges to dialectics. The “epistemological” consideration of dialectics, which highlights its experiential contribution and, therefore, the thematization of the cognitive process, leads Theodor W. Adorno's presentation to the treatment of the dialectical view of the relationship between whole and part. If, on the one hand, Adorno radicalizes Hegel's anti-foundationalism in a critique of the “affirmative” character of totality in the speculative dialectic, on the other hand, this same radicalization leads to a confrontation with philosophical positions that give primacy to immediate access to singularity, whether in the format of Henri Bergson's “intuitionism”, or that of “logical atomism” typical of contemporary empiricism.

In the development of this strategy, Theodor W. Adorno ends up revealing the need for the dialectic to settle accounts with a relatively remote philosophical position – against which, according to him, the very phenomenology of the spirit – and whose legacy is alive in contemporary “philosophies of immediacy”, namely: the Cartesian notion of clear and distinct perception (Class 10).

Interestingly, Theodor W. Adorno seems to see in this Cartesian notion a kind of unconfessed sponsor of two of the main philosophical currents that are contemporary with him, in relation to which he tenaciously seeks to differentiate his rescue from dialectics: ontology and positivism. This is why he seeks, at first, to detach the dialectic, even the Hegelian one, from any undue appropriation by ontology (Class 11). In a second moment, starting his closer involvement with positivism, Adorno seeks not only to show in what sense the “immediacy”, advocated by empiricist and positivist epistemology, is indebted to the paradigm of cousin philosophy, but also the way dialectics can be related to the practice of empirical sciences – in a way that this is revealed not as a heteronomous structure to the processing of scientific data, but as a dimension of self-reflexivity, intrinsically triggered by the very dynamics of investigation (Class 12).

In the last two-fifths of its Introduction to dialectics, Theodor W. Adorno performs two precious and vital argumentative movements for the elaboration of his model for dialectical thinking. The first of them concerns a kind of reckoning of the dialectic, rehabilitated by the proposed path, with the Cartesian rules of the method. Thus, after having identified, despite crucial differences, the perspective that dialectics would share with positivism – the appreciation for the “micrological” –, Adorno shows that falling victim to a dogmatic use of the Cartesian postulate of the “absence of precipitation” would mean the renunciation to the notion of a “temporal nucleus of truth”.

Furthermore, Adorno seeks to mobilize the most structuring teachings of dialectics in an attempt to unmask the clear and distinct perceptio not only as an emblematic form of foundationalism, but also as a precept that makes the dynamicity of the experienced object inaccessible. And, in this exercise, Adorno makes it clear that the dialectic is not consistent with the immediate rejection of the “postulate of evidence”, rather it overcomes it precisely through its most radical observance (Class 13). Theodor W. Adorno then shows that immediate evidence, presupposed by clear and distinct perception, constitutes the soul of all philosophical efforts connected, in a broad sense, to the nominalist treatment of concepts and, consequently, also to the procedures of ' elementary analysis' of cognitive experience.

On the other hand, at this point, the propaedeutic model of dialectics developed by Theodor W. Adorno, marked by openness and ruptures, is demonstrated, in an enlightening digression, as deeply attached to conceptions of society and the historical process in which they find themselves irreducible and reciprocally mediated continuity and discontinuity – something that constitutes the occasion for a dialectical critique of the third rule of the Cartesian method and its long history of effects: the postulate of continuous and staggered progress in the production of objective knowledge (Class 14).

Adorno's critique of the Cartesian postulate of continuity in the experience of objects is modulated in such a way as to accept De Maistre's critical expedient against Francis Bacon – something that gives Theodor W. Adorno the possibility of touching on an important thematic core of his dialectic. Under the sign of the materialist commitment to the “primacy of the object”, Adorno allows himself to consider, from the dialectic between continuity and discontinuity, the articulation between immanent and transcendent criticism and, from there, the question of the relationship between knowledge and "new". In this itinerary, it becomes possible to resignify, from the model of an “open and interrupted dialectic”, the Hegelian topic of the “leap from quantity to quality” in terms of the idea of ​​a dialectical reordering of concepts, provoked by the discovery, in the course of the experiential process, of the unprecedented facets of the object (Class 15).

Theodor W. Adorno concludes his Cartesian reflections by discussing how Kant and the philosophies that followed him implement and radicalize the postulate of completeness formulated by Descartes and forged, on the other hand, under the inspiration of the cognitive chain coming from mathematics. With this classic history of the modern concept of system as a background, Adorno explores the interaction between universal and particular intended by his concept of “model”, in contrast to the efforts contained in the Weberian concept of “ideal type” and in the notion, developed by Husserl's phenomenology, of “intuition of essences” (Class 16).

All of this creates the context for an inflection that will occupy the entire last quarter of classes to Introduction to dialectics – a redirection that begins with a critical approach to the contemporary, analytical and logical-positivist version of the concept of system: the frame of reference (Class 17). Incidentally, the consideration of the transformations experienced by the bourgeois notion of system allows not only an enlightening recovery, in the face of current epistemological postures and predominantly administrative, of the dialectical notions of mediation, truth and immanent criticism, but also triggers the ultimate movement in the symphonic Adornian propaedeutics to dialectics: dialectical criticism of traditional logical forms (Class 18).

The dialectical critique, proposed by Adorno, of the logical conception of definition, which starts, as in Wittgenstein, from a tension between its deictic and verbal meanings, leads, as in other developments by Adorno, to a reflection of broad consequences on language, as well as on the “inferential” and “contextual” relationship of singular concepts in terms of the famous and inexhaustible concept of “constellation”. In this exercise of dialectical criticism of modern nominalism, dialectics can once again be glimpsed, from the point of view of the history of philosophy, as the attempt, rescued from its idealist failure, to propose a non-reductionist articulation between nominalism and realism.

Behold, placing itself in the tradition of the “great philosophy” (Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche, as Adorno says) that criticizes the operational conception of definition, attributing to it the draining of the inseparable historical contents constitutive of the concepts, the energies are renewed from the Adornian model to a materialist discussion on the dialectical structure of language and to a revisitation of the critique of the stagnant opposition between ontology and positivism (Class 19).

The journey traced by Theodor W. Adorno, which should play the role of both a propaedeutics to dialectics and a model of “open and interrupted” dialectics, could not, in fact, have found a more open conclusion. In the last stage of his reflection, the critique of traditional logical forms is preceded by the thematization of the relationship between “concept” and “constellation” from the point of view of “presentation” (presentation), that is, the interventions of language in reified concepts. Thus, after exploring the broader consequences of his dialectical critique of nominalism, which revolves around the expectation of restoring life to singular concepts – the residual objectivity that was repressed in them – by reconquering the configurations and constellations to which they flow, and which they reproduce through their reciprocal game, Adorno takes up the dialectical critique of those logical forms bequeathed by the philosophical tradition.

Theodor W. Adorno recovers and unfolds the Hegelian theme of the inappropriate character of the singular judgment as an expression of truth and, with that, of the implicit non-identity in every predicative proposition and of the constitutive negativity of truth itself, thus placing himself in the context of the post-Hegelian critiques of the self-sufficiency of λόγος άποφαντικός. He then moves on to his dialectical reconstruction of the theory of inference. “I believe that a reformulation of the dialectical critique of inference [ending] would be an essential task for the new dialectical logic. It has not yet been, at least not in the way I represent it, undertaken until now” (Class 20).

Interestingly, Theodor W. Adorno points to a reformulation of “inference theory” in terms of the notions of “presentation” and “constellation”. Moreover, in his discussion, Adorno tries to reconfigure the Hegelian inversion of the relationship between the logical dimensions as it is shaped by the “Aristotelian logic of terms”: not from the concept to the syllogism, passing through the proposition, but rather the opposite. The "inference is truth of the judgment, and all things are the inference."

Adorno turns against the axiomatic character of the traditional theory of the syllogism and its propositional hierarchy. In the thought that the singular concept does not exist as a basal and isolated instance, but only acquires its meaning properly speaking in the proposition and, ultimately, in the “constellation”, we find the compromise “contextualist” and “inferentialist”, not atomist and not axiomatic, not only of the authentic dialectic, but also, curiously, of the pragmatic and hermeneutic “overcoming” of formal semantics and referentialism in the XNUMXth and XNUMXst centuries. It may well be, then, that the innovations recently proposed by the Hegelian-inspired “material inferentialism” will still serve for a future exploration of the apparently inexhaustible richness present in the Adornian conception of “constellation”.

I dedicate this translation to Marcos Lutz Müller, in memoriam.

*Erick Calheiros de Lima Professor at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Brasilia (UnB).


Theodor W. Adorno. Introduction to dialectics. Translation: Erick Calheiros de Lima. São Paulo, Unesp, 2022, 520 pages (

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