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negative dialectic


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A new form of dialectical thinking developed by Theodor Adorno in Negative Dialektik (1966), translated as Negative Dialectics (1973), which many regard as his magnum opus. Written with the explicit aim of radicalizing western philosophy as a whole by generating a mode of what he termed non-identity thinking, Negative Dialectics offers a bold programme for an immanent and self-reflexive critique of philosophy rather than a specific concept. This programme can be understood as the attempt to resolve, though not once and for all, two different problems: first, if concepts are not identical with their objects then in a certain sense they are inadequate to the task of defining objects; second, if we are aware of this, but accept that philosophy has no other resource for understanding and defining objects except the concept, then we have to figure out how to create an adequate form of philosophy using means we know to be inadequate. Concepts cannot be identical with objects by definition. So this isn't simply a problem of a poorly conceived concept that could be remedied by creating a better concept. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that both concepts and objects change over time. Thus, every concept has a history and is embedded within history. Adorno's solution to this twofold problem is to build a critique of concepts into his critique of philosophy. Since this is a working with (rather than a resolving of) the fundamental problem of the inadequacy of concepts it is described as negative dialectics. That is to say, it is a restless form of thinking which does not proceed from, or expect to arrive at a transcendental or transcendent ground or principle. Negative dialectics directs philosophy to confront the interfaces between concepts, objects, ideas, and the material world.

Further Reading:

D. Held Introduction to Critical Theory (1980).S. Jarvis Adorno: A Critical Introduction (1998).

Subjects: Sport and Leisure — Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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