Adorno on Positivism – Minima Moralia unrealtwinhead

In contrast to fundamental ontology and positivism, Adorno argued that thought can never purport the truth once and for all (David Sherman, Dialectics of Subjectivity, 2007). What Adorno’s negative dialectics shows us is the horizon of an alternative epistemology and theory of truth, the latter being historically rooted and subject to change. Whereas positivism today reduces all of life and experience to the realm of facts, manifesting as the logic of instrumental reason and coinciding of course with ‘identity thought’ (i.e., to perceive a phenomenon as identical to its concept without leaving a remainder, or, more practically, to absolutise the identity of a phenomenon) and reductionism (i.e., to reduce  a phenomenon to the status of ‘mere object’ that can therefore be dominated), Adorno’s philosophical project is about freeing thought from this distorted cognitive paradigm, liberating not only phenomena from their preconceived (false) general concepts but also the subject, whose relation with the concrete world of things is governed by a rotten, coercive and experientially distorting ‘objectivity’.

R.C. Smith

**“Cowed into wanting to be no more than a mere provisional abbreviation for the factual matter beneath it, thought loses not only its autonomy in the face of reality, but with it the power to penetrate reality. Only at a remove from life can the mental life exist, and truly engage the empirical. While thought relates to facts and moves by criticizing them, its movement depends no less on the maintenance of distance. It expresses exactly what is, precisely because what is is never quite as thought expresses it. Essential to it as an element of exaggeration, of over-shooting the object, of self-detachment from the weight of the factual, so that instead of merely reproducing being it can, at once rigorous and free, determine it. Thus every thought resembles play, with which Hegel no less than Nietzsche compared the work of the mind. The unbarbaric side of philosophy is its tacit awareness of the element of irresponsibility, of blitheness springing from the volatility of thought, which forever escapes what it judges. Such licence is resented by the positivistic spirit and put down to mental disorder. Divergence from the facts becomes mere wrongness, the moment of play a luxury in a world where the intellectual functions have to account for their every moment with a stop-watch. But as soon as thought repudiates its inviolable distance and tries with a thousand subtle arguments to prove its literal correctness, it founders…. Vis-á-vis positivism it is fitting neither to insist on being right nor to put on airs of distinction, but rather to prove, by criticism of knowledge, the impossibility of a coincidence between the idea and what fulfills it. The passion for equating the non-synonymous is not the ever-striving toil that at last attains redemption, but naive and inexperienced. Thought has known and forgotten the reproaches of positivism a thousand times, and only through such knowing and forgetting did it first become thought.” [s82] – Theodor Adorno, Minimia Moralia.

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