Adorno’s lectures on ontology and dialectics from 1960–61 comprise his most sustained and systematic analysis of Heidegger’s philosophy. They also represent a continuation of a project that he shared with Walter Benjamin – ‘to demolish Heidegger’. Following the publication of the latter’s magnum opus Being and Time, and long before his notorious endorsement of Nazism at Freiburg University, both Adorno and Benjamin had already rejected Heidegger’s fundamental ontology. After his return to Germany from his exile in the United States, Adorno became Heidegger’s principal intellectual adversary, engaging more intensively with his work than with that of any other contemporary philosopher. Adorno regarded Heidegger as an extremely limited thinker and for that reason all the more dangerous. In these lectures, he highlights Heidegger’s increasing fixation with the concept of ontology to show that the doctrine of being can only truly be understood through a process of dialectical thinking. Rather than exploiting overt political denunciation, Adorno deftly highlights the connections between Heidegger’s philosophy and his political views and, in doing so, offers an alternative plea for enlightenment and rationality. These seminal lectures, in which Adorno dissects the thought of one of the most influential twentieth-century philosophers, will appeal to students and scholars in philosophy and critical theory and throughout the humanities and social sciences.
Contents Editor’s Foreword LECTURE 1: ‘What Being Really is’ Against the philosophy of standpoints and philosophical world views; the meaning of rigour in philosophy and the positive sciences – the plan of these lectures; immanent critique – ‘What being really is’; ontology as structural interconnection – the doctrine of being contra idealism and methodology – the concept of meaning; the being of beings; the meaning of being – being and essence – categorial intuition versus abstraction LECTURE 2: On Ontological Difference The structure of being and being itself; regional ontologies and fundamental ontology – on the problem of ontological difference (I) – ontic questions and ontological questions – questions concerning the meaning of being – question of origin as petitio principii – circular reasoning (I) – critique of origins – circular reasoning (II) – fusion of mysticism and the claim to rationality – historical dimension of ‘the question of being’ LECTURE 3: History of the Concept of Being Circular reasoning (III) – the unreflected ‘question of being’ – being in the Pre-Socratics, in Plato and Aristotle – experience of being is not ‘prior’; being as product of abstraction – being and thought in Parmenides; abstraction and vital powers not distinguished for archaic thought; the most ancient not the truest – philosophy and the particular sciences; dialectic of enlightenment; residual character of being – two kinds of truth LECTURE 4: Being and Language (I) Prehistory of the new ontologies: Franz Brentano; ontology as counter-enlightenment – a double front against realism and conceptualism – fundamental ontology as hermeneutics; being and language; nominalist critique of language – analysis of the concept of being; positivism and language – conceptuality as domination of nature; inadequacy of concept and thing; thing in itself and being – functional understanding of concepts; double sense of being as concept and anti-concept LECTURE 5: Being and Language (II) Ambiguity of the concept of being (I) – arbitrariness in concept formation; Kant versus Spinoza - ambiguity of the concept of being (II) – ambiguity of the concept of being (III) – subjectivity as constitutive for ontology – substantial character of language; borrowing from theology – on the analysis of language; obligations regarding linguistic form – the wavering character of being LECTURE 6: Separating Being and Beings Examples from antiquity; on Aristotle’s terminology; the priority of the tode ti – genesis and validity; Heidegger’s being as third possibility; on Heidegger’s concept of origin – archaic dimension of Heidegger’s ontology; against genetic explanation; phenomenology and history – phenomenological method; red and redness; the inference to being-in-itself in Scheler and Heidegger – Husserl’s return to transcendentalism LECTURE 7: Mind in relation to Beings ‘Priority’ as petitio principii – critique of the possibility of ontology; on Cartesian dualism – phenomenological reduction of the subject; objectivity of the second level; shutting out beings – philosophical compulsion for cleanliness – allergy towards beings; an aura borrowed from theology; the story of Snow White – ontology as counterpart to nominalism and positivism LECTURE 8: Ontologizing the Ontic (I) The subject-object division not permanent; fundamental ontology and the loss of tradition; the ‘unintelligibility of Heidegger – oblivion of the numinous; material stuff and abstraction in the Pre-Socratics – ontology or dialectics; ‘being’ as ‘the wholly other’ – critique as differentiation; original non-differentiation; Heidegger’s anti-intellectualism – against postponement –Heidegger’s trick: ontologizing the ontic LECTURE 9: Ontologizing the Ontic (II) Conceptualizing the non-conceptual; philosophy of being and idealism, Heidegger and Hegel – ontologizing existence – spurious appeal of the new; fascination through ignorance – subreption of the nominalized verb ‘being’ – Dasein as being and a being – ‘Be who you are!’ – eidetic science and ontology – subjectivity as the site of being LECTURE 10: Ontological Need Heidegger and Kant; Kant’s ultimate intention – Heidegger’s thought as the site of being; a diminished concept of subject: absence of labour and spontaneity – initial observations on the ontological need – a sociological interjection – the ‘elevated tone’; Heidegger’s language and Adorno’s great grandfather; fundamental ontology as index of a lack LECTURE 11: The Abdication of Philosophy On the sociology of the ontological need – philosophy and society; distracting effect of Marxism; the relevance of morality – philosophy and the natural sciences; philosophy and art – Kant’s abdication before God, freedom, and immortality – the ‘resurrection of metaphysics’; impotence of philosophy in the face of the essential – Schelling, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche LECTURE 12: The Relation to Kierkegaard Science versus philosophy; accepted heresies – an anti-academic academy – licensed audacity – relation to Kierkegaard – ‘subjectivity is truth’ – history of the concept of ontology LECTURE 13: Critique of Subjectivism The anti-subjectivism of modern ontology – the problem of relativism (I); how questions vanish – the problem of relativism (II); ‘to the things themselves’ – transcendental subjectivism and egoity – the acosmism of post-Kantian idealism; the unreason of the world - the crisis of subjectivity and the development of cosmology – critique of the domination of nature; fundamental ontology and dialectical materialism; changes in the concept of reason LECTURE 14: Hypostasizing the Question The crucial role of subjectivity in Heidegger’s early thought; Heidegger and Lukács – need and truth; question and answer Ð the philosophical structure of the question; hypostasis of the question in Heidegger – the question as surrogate answer; the mechanism of subreption – the ideology of ‘man’ LECTURE 15: Time, Being, Meaning ‘Man’, ‘tradition’, ‘life’: indices of loss – philosophy of existence and philosophy of life – labour and the consciousness of time; phenomenology of ‘wisdom’; loss of historical continuity, America – antiques business and abstract time; ontologizing the concept of substance – time and being as complementary concepts; disenchantment of the world and the creation of meaning – raiding poetry LECTURE 16: Ontology and Society Heidegger’s archaic language; feigned origins; primordial history and petit bourgeois mentality – social presuppositions of ontology – ontology as philosophical neo-classicism – impossibility of ontology today – Heidegger’s strategy; sympathy with barbarism – phenomenological caprice – ‘project’ LECTURE 17: Mythic Content Regression to mythology – fate and hybris in the concept of being = blindness, anxiety, death; relation to religion – National Socialism and the homeland; National Socialism and the relation to history – the indeterminacy of myth and the longing for the concrete; the most concrete as the most abstract – being as ‘itself’ LECTURE 18: The Purity and Immediacy of Being Tautological determination of being; purity in Husserl; scholasticism and empiricism in Brentano – the method of eidetic intuition – intuition and the a priori – on the concept of ontological difference (II) – purity and immediacy irreconcilable; conceptuality as the Fall – idle talk and the forgetfulness of being; the experience of being, the language of nature and music LECTURE 19: The Indeterminacy of Being Pro domo – indeterminacy as determination – the ‘overcoming’ of nihilism; being as ens realissimum - the question of constitution versus the priority of being; synthesis and the synthesized; the physiognomic gaze – the particular transparent to its universal – being – the meaning of being (I) LECTURE 20: Meaning of Being and the Copula The meaning of being (II) – ontology as prescription – protest against reification; the problem of relativism (III) – structure of the lectures – the copula (I) LECTURE 21: The Copula and the Question of Being The copula (II) – the copula (III) – no transcendence of being – the childish question; language and truth – the question of being (I); ‘authenticity’ and the decline of civilisation – the question of being (II); LECTURE 22: Being and Existence Heidegger’s turn; the concept of ontological difference (III) – the mythology of being; archaism – function of the concept of existence – ‘Dasein is ontological in itself’ – ‘existence’ as authoritarian – ‘historicity’ – against the ontology of the non-ontological – history as the medium of philosophy – critique LECTURE 23: The Concept of Negative Dialectic ‘Peep hole metaphysics’ and negative dialectics - Left Hegelianism and the ban on images – priority of the object – reversing the subjective reduction – interpreting the transcendental – ‘transcendental illusion’; against hierarchy Editor’s Notes Index
‘Ontology and Dialectics is a work of the highest importance. These lectures allow us not only to gain a clearer understanding of Adorno’s critique of Heidegger but also to understand more fully the project of a German-Jewish thinker who, having returned to Germany after the Second World War, wonders if philosophy “after Auschwitz” is still possible. The course shows Adorno developing and assembling many of the major concepts that would inform the mature phase of his thinking, right up to his untimely death in August 1969.’Gerhard Richter, Brown University
Theodor W. Adorno (1903–1969), a prominent member of the Frankfurt School, was one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century in the areas of social theory, philosophy and aesthetics.