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Max Horkheimer (February 14, 1895 – July 7, 1973) was a Germanmarker philosopher and sociologist. He is well known for being a leader in the Frankfurt School, for his work with critical theory and his most important works: The Eclipse of Reason (1947), The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947) and Critical Theory: Selected Essays (1972). Through the Frankfurt School, Horkheimer also planned, supported and made other works possible."Horkheimer, Max" Dictionary of the Social Sciences. Craig Calhoun, ed. Oxford University Press 2002. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. College of the Holy Cross. 14 October 2009 />


Horkheimer was born in Stuttgartmarker to a wealthy, Jewish family. Due to parental pressure, Horkheimer left secondary school at the age of sixteen to work in his father's factory. In 1916, his manufacturing career ended and he was drafted into World War I. After World War I, he enrolled at Munich Universitymarker, where he studied philosophy and psychology. After university, Horkheimer moved to Frankfurt am Mainmarker, where he studied under Hans Cornelius. There, he met Theodor Adorno, several years his junior, with whom he would strike a lasting friendship and a fruitful collaborative relationship.

In 1925, Horkheimer was habilitated with a dissertation entitled Kant's Critique of Judgement as Mediation between Practical and Theoretical Philosophy written under Hans Cornelius. He was appointed Privatdozent the following year. When the Institute for Social Research's directorship became vacant in 1930, he was elected to the position. In the same year Horkheimer took over the chair of social philosophy at Frankfurt Universitymarker. The following year publication of the Institute's Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung began, with Horkheimer as its editor.

Horkheimer's venia legendi was revoked by the new Nazi government, and the Institute closed its location in Germany in 1933. He emigrated to Switzerlandmarker, and then to the USAmarker the following year, where Columbia University hosted the Institute in exile.

In 1940, Horkheimer received American citizenship and moved to the Pacific Palisadesmarker district of Los Angelesmarker, Californiamarker, where his collaboration with Adorno would yield the Dialectic of Enlightenment. In the years that followed, Horkheimer he published little, although he continued to edit Studies in Philosophy and Social Science as a continuation of the Zeitschrift. In 1949, he returned to Frankfurt, where the Institute reopened in 1950. Between 1951 and 1953 Horkheimer was rector of the University of Frankfurtmarker. He continued to teach at the University until his retirement in the mid-1960s.

He returned to America in 1954 and 1959 to lecture at the University of Chicagomarker. He remained an important figure until his death in Nurembergmarker in 1973. He is buried at the Jewish cemetery in Bernemarker, Switzerland.

Philosophy and Writings

Horkheimer's work is marked by a concern to show the relation between effect (especially suffering) and concepts (understood as action-guiding expressions of reason). In this, he responded critically to what he saw as the one-sidedness of both neo-Kantianism (with its focus on concepts) and Lebensphilosophie (with its focus on expression and world-disclosure). Horkheimer did not think either was wrong, but insisted that the insights of each school could not on their own adequately contribute to the repair of social problems. It is also important to note that Horkheimer collaborated with Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin "Horkheimer, Max" Dictionary of the Social Sciences. Craig Calhoun, ed. Oxford University Press 2002. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. College of the Holy Cross. 14 October 2009 />.

Eclipse of Reason

Horkheimer's book, Eclipse of Reason, published in 1947 is broken into five sections: Means and Ends, Conflicting Panaceas, The Revolt of Nature, The Rise and Decline of the Individual and On the Concept of Philosophy "Horkheimer, Max" Dictionary of the Social Sciences. Craig Calhoun, ed. Oxford University Press 2002. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. College of the Holy Cross. 14 October 2009 /> and deals with the concept of reason within the history of western philosophy . Horkheimer defines true reason as rationality, which can only be fostered in an environment of free, critical thinking. He details the difference between objective, subjective and instrumental reason, and states that we have moved from the former through the center and into the latter (though subjective and instrumental reason are closely connected). Objective reason deals with universal truths that dictate that an action is either right or wrong. It is a concrete concept, and a force in the world that requires specific modes of behavior. The focus in the objective faculty of reason is on the ends, rather than the means. Subjective reason is an abstract concept of reason, and focuses primarily on ends. Specifically, the reasonable nature of the purpose of action is irrelevant - the ends only serve the purpose of the subject (generally self-advancement or preservation). To be "reasonable" in this context is to be suited to a particular purpose, to be "good for something else". This aspect of reason is universally conforming, and easily furnishes ideology. In instrumental reason, the sole criterion of reason is its operational value or purposefulness, and with this, the idea of truth becomes contingent on mere subjective preference (hence the relation with subjective reason). Because subjective/instrumental reason rules, the ideal of a society, for example democratic ideals, become dependent on the "interests" of the people instead of being dependent on objective truths. Nevertheless, Horkheimer admits that objective reason has its roots in Reason ("Logos" in Greek) of the subject. He concludes, "If by enlightenment and intellectual progress we mean the freeing of man from superstitious belief in evil forces, in demons and fairies, in blind fate - in short, the emancipation from fear - then denunciation of what is currently called reason is the greatest service we can render."

Horkheimer in 1941 outlined how the Nazis had been able to make their agenda appear "reasonable", but also issued a warning about the possibility of this happening again. Horkheimer believed that the ills of modern society are caused by misunderstanding of reason: if people use true reason to critique their societies, they will be able to solve problems they may have.

Despite the explicit common referrals to "subjective" reason in the book, his frequent connecting of it with relativism could be an indication that by "subjective reason" Horkheimer also means "relativist reason".

Between Philosophy and Social Science

Appeared between 1930 – 1938, during the time the Frankfurt school moved from Frankfurt to Geneva to Columbia University. It included: Materialism and Morality, The Present Situation of Moral Philosophy and the Tasks of an Institute for Social Research, On the Problem of Truth, Egoism and the Freedom Movement, History and Psychology, A New Concept of Ideology, Remarks on Philosophical Anthropology, and The Rationalism Debate in Contemporary Philosophy. It also included The Present Situation of Social Philosophy and the Tasks for an Institute of Social Research, Egoism and Freedom Movements and Beginnings of the Bourgeois Philosophy of History. These essays within Between Philosophy and Social Science were Horkheimer’s attempts to “remove the individual from mass culture, a function for philosophy from the commodification of everything” . Horkheimer was extremely invested in the individual.

The Present Situation of Social Philosophy and the Tasks for an Institute of Social Research was not only included in this volume but it was used as Horkheimer’s inaugural speech as director of the Frankfurt School. In this speech he related economic groups to the struggles and challenges of real life. Horkheimer often referenced human struggle and used this example in his speech because it was a topic he understood well.

Egoism and Freedom Movements and Beginnings of the Bourgeois Philosophy of History are the longest of the essays. The first is an evaluation of Machiavelli, Hobbes and Vico; the latter discusses the bourgeois control. In Beginnings of the Bourgeois Philosophy of History, Horkheimer explained “what he learned from the bourgeois rise to power and what of the bourgeois he thought was worth preserving.

The volume also looks at the individual as the “troubled center of philosophy.” Horkheimer expressed that “there is no formula that defines the relationship among individuals, society and nature for all time” . To understand the problem of the individual further, Horkheimer included two case studies on the individual: one on Montaigne and one on himself.

Theoretical Perspective

Critical Theory

Through critical theory, Horkheimer "attempted to revitalize radical social, and cultural criticism" and discussed authoritarianism, militarism, economic disruption, environmental crisis and the poverty of mass culture. Horkheimer helped to create Critical Theory through a mix of radical and conservative lenses that stem from radical Marxism and end up in "pessimistic Jewish transcendentalism" Horkheimer developed his critical theory by examining his own wealth while witnessing the juxtaposition of the bourgeois and the impoverished. He was convinced of the need to "examine the entire material and spiritual culture of mankind" in order to transform society as a whole. Horkheimer sought to enable the working class to reclaim their power in order to resist the lure of fascism. Horkheimer stated himself that "the rationally organized society that regulates its own existence" was necessary along with a society that could "satisfy common needs".

See also

Select bibliography

  • Authority and the Family (1936)
  • Traditional and Critical Theory (1937)
  • Critique of Instrumental Reason (1967)
  • Dawn & Decline
  • Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947) - with Theodor Adorno
  • Eclipse of Reason (1947) orig. 1941 "The End of Reason" Studies in Philosophy and Social Sciences Vol. IX
  • Egoism and the Freedom Movement
  • The Authoritarian State
  • The Longing for the Totally Other


  • “The Authoritarian State”. Telos 15 (Spring 1973). New York: Telos Press.


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