Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Subject of Emancipation: Critique, Reason and Religion in the Thought of Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Paul Tillich
by Wagoner, Bryan Lee, Ph.D., Harvard University, 2012, 440; 3495647
Abstract (Summary)

Through a focus on four rubrics: emancipatory rationality, anthropology, metaphysics and religion, the dissertation demonstrates clearly that with similar resources yet different emphases, Paul Tillich, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno uniquely structure what are largely complementary critical interpretations of a modernity which they see to be diseased, and whose subjects are unable to realize the promises of enlightenment. They shine similar lights on the ‘steel-hard cage’ of a modernity which they hope to overcome, and possibly to redeem, in largely compatible ways.

In demonstrating this, the dissertation unearths some striking similarities shared by the three thinkers, and simultaneously reveals clear lines of dissimilarity between them in other key areas. This includes important distinctions between Adorno and Horkheimer, not only in the 1930s, but also in the 1940s, by which time they claimed to be writing with a single mind and purpose. Key similarities which will be disclosed include an initial reliance upon Hegel’s dialectical structure and Marx’s emancipatory social vision and a trenchant critique of the reifying and dehumanizing forces of capitalism. The modern subject thinks itself free but cannot achieve the liberation promised by enlightenment; instead, the subject experiences alienation and estrangement.

Central shared goals include an increase in justice and the hope for not only ending barbarism and the suffering it causes, but also holding the memories of those who have died without justice alive. In a similar manner, major differences arise from common sources and hopes. The drive for transcendence takes a very different form in Tillich’s theological system than it does in the secular-Jewish longing for a hypothetical messianic moment found in the work of Adorno and Horkheimer during the period 1929-50, on which this study focuses.

When the writings of Adorno, Horkheimer and Tillich are placed along side of one another, and in conversation with one another, something greater than demonstrable intellectual influence is revealed. Despite some substantial differences in methodology and assumptions, there are remarkable consonances between the types of critical social theory developed, and when read in concert, new insights into each thinker’s oeuvre become clearer and increasingly reveal a kaleidoscopic consonance.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Fiorenza, Francis Schuessler
Commitee: Cox, Harvey G., Gordon, Peter E.
School: Harvard University
Department: Religion
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 73/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religion, Religion, Philosophy, Philosophy
Keywords: Adorno, Theodor W., Critical theory, Emancipation, Frankfurt School, Horkheimer, Max, Philosophical anthropology, Tillich, Paul
Publication Number: 3495647
ISBN: 978-1-267-19382-7
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