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International Convention

Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment in a historical-philosophical perspective

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org.: Prof. Dr. Sonja Lavaert (Brussel) / Prof. Dr. Winfried Schröder (Marburg)

The ideals of the Enlightenment – emancipation, autonomy, progress, rational critique of traditional values and truth-claims – have always stirred vivid controversy. The most rigorous attack launched against them was elaborated in Max Horkheimer’s and Theodor W. Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947) which still inspires contemporary critics of modernity and rationality. Their charge that the Enlightenment, instead of promoting emancipation and humanistic values, had in fact catastrophic effects is based both on a general critique of rationality and an analysis of the thought of philosophers whom they regarded as protagonists of the Enlightenment: Bacon, Spinoza, Kant and de Sade. Though, in Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s understanding, ‘Enlightenment’ is not identical with the philosophical movement of the siècle des Lumières, but rather a phenomenon originating in the very beginning of the occidental civilization, only 17th- and 18th-century philosophers fully revealed its ambivalent and even detrimental essence which ultimately paved the way to the anti-humanism of the subsequent periods and even to the fascist ideologies of the 20th century.

While Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s general critique of rationality has been intensely discussed in recent decades, historians of philosophy have rarely paid attention to the question whether the named protagonists of the Enlightenment are in fact appropriate witnesses for the central thesis of the Dialectic of Enlightenment. The aim of this conference is therefore to assess the adequacy of Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s overall picture of the Enlightenment movement and of their interpretation of Bacon, Spinoza, Kant and de Sade. Furthermore, other philosophers – e.g. Bentham – who might warrant Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s claims will be included, as well as authors who offered similar diagnoses of a ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’, like e.g. Moses Mendelssohn. Speakers: Timo Airaksinen (Helsinki), Samuel Fleischacker (Chicago), Petra Gehring (Darmstadt), Willi Hofmann (München), Pierre-François Moreau (Lyon), Gunzelin Schmid Noerr (Mönchengladbach), James Schmidt (Boston), Dietrich Schotte (Marburg), Else Walravens (Brussels).

The conference is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), attendance free.
Please find the schedule here.


Prof. Dr. Sonja Lavaert


Prof. Dr. Winfried Schröder


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