Hegel and the Logic of Decay. A Genealogy of Adorno's Negative Dialectics

Seminar Paper, 2017

12 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Content

I. Introduction

II. A Synopsis of Negative Dialectics

III. Hegel’s Heritage

IV. The Original Sin - Identity and non-identity of the Concept

V. The »Logic of Decay« and double Negation

VI. Negative Dialectics and Society

VII. Conclusion


Register of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

I. Introduction

In the first essay of the collection Hegel: Three Studies, Adorno evaluates Hegel's philosophy in the following way: "Hegel, in many respects, [is] a Kant who came to himself"1 (HTS, 255). He justifies this verdict with the claim that Hegel succeeded in following the inner logic of the transcendental philosophy much more consistently than Kant himself. His idealism was not simply imposed on Kant's philosophy and thus using it as a shaky foundation for a foreign superstructure. Instead, Hegel had sensitively reacted to Kant's inherent contradictions and resentments and subsequently presented them coherently in his dialectics and made them usable for him - or one might even say, he ‘sublated’ it (cf. HTS, 255).

In my examination of the negative dialectics, I have repeatedly come to a similar assessment towards Adorno. He too was able to react productively on the inconsistencies and gross misconceptions in Hegel’s philosophy in his critical approach to Hegel, by which he measured and instructed his own dialectical philosophy on the Hegelian. He was always aware of the danger that the productive reception of Hegelian motifs and dialectical methods would lead to a dull epigonism if it did not consistently align itself with the original contents of his philosophy (HTS, 253).

In the present work, I would like to prove that Adorno's assessment of the relationship between Hegel and Kant also applies to his relationship to Hegel, i.e. that Adorno can and should be called - in a certain polemic way - a Hegel who came to himself. His negative dialectics convert Hegel's speculative philosophy into the modern philosophical discourse without being guilty of cherry picking. It does so by clearing Hegelian philosophy of its imperfections and enriching it with the political experience of the twentieth century. It is my goal to show with a genealogy (in the widest sense) of negative dialectics, its reference points to Hegel and to prove that Adorno's dialectic is a legitimate heir of Hegelian philosophy. In addition to Adorno's work Negative Dialectics, I will pay special attention to his Lectures on Negative Dialectics, because, as Adorno states himself, not only the "methodical observation" and the "fundamental considerations" of his negative dialectics are presented there, but also the development process of Negative Dialectics is considered. The lectures thus offer the advantage, that the references to Hegel come to light quite clearly - and incidentally, in my examination of the Lectures, I can also do justice to the Hegelian verdict, that the whole is only understandable if the result and its process are take into account (PS, 13).

Since I used the German editions of the works of Hegel and Adorno in preparation for this work, source-references are valid only for the German editions. Citations have been translated either by myself or by other authors. The author of the translation is indicated in the footnotes.

II. A Synopsis of Negative Dialectics

Negative dialectics - or the ‘logic of decay’ as Adorno uses the terms interchangeablyis Adorno’s oldest idea, as stated by himself, and has already been developed during his time as a student (ND, 409). From his point of view, dialectics is the program of a philosophy in which theory and practice are inextricably interlocked together (DE, 338). Based on this view he specifies that negative dialectics “sets out to be a dialectics not of identity but of non-identity” (LND, 15-16). He explains this non-identity as follows:

We are concerned here with a philosophical project that does not presuppose the identity of being and thought, nor does it culminate in that identity. Instead it will attempt to articulate the very opposite, namely the divergence of concept and thing, subject and object, and their unreconciled state”2 (ibid.)

What is important here is to mention the divergence between the concepts and things, and the subject and object, as Adorno does not belief in the possibility of reconciliation in a higher state at the end of a dialectic process; which is his main difference in contrast to Hegel and the essence of his own notion of dialectics. The large-scale project of negative dialectics in differentiated form begins 1947 with the Dialectic of Enlightenment, written in cooperation with Max Horkheimer during their period in exile. Another important stage on the way to his late work are his essays Hegel: Three Studies, written between 1956 and 1963, in which Adorno critically appropriates the methodological and substantive basics for his dialectic project (Wesche 2011, 317).

The famous opening lines of the Negative Dialectics, “Philosophy, which once seemed outmoded, remains alive because the moment of its realization was missed“3 (ND, 15), have to be understood in relation to the assertion of Hegel (and even more strongly that of Marx) that the transition of theoretical philosophy into practice is inevitably, as it has been proven wrong by history (LND, 87). The question why it did not happen has to be included into philosophy in form of constant self-criticism (LND, 86). In this way, the union of reality and theory is restored indirectly. Negative dialectics thus not only comprises epistemology, social criticism, moral philosophy and aesthetics, it is the knot which holds all of it together indissolubly (Wesche 2011, 317). The purpose of negative dialectics is to break open the continuity of the whole, but this negation does not itself set a new positive one, nor does it constitute a new whole. The positive of the freed particularity consists solely in the determinate negation, i.e. in the critique itself (ND, 159). In this sense the dialectics gain their possibility to critique due to the immanent difference of the phenomenon and along with the determinate negation it also opens up the opportunity to spontaneity and freedom. As I already mentioned, Adorno hasn’t built up his dialectics on a tabula rasa, instead he owes to his predecessors - most importantly Hegel.

III. Hegel’s Heritage

The term ‘negative dialectics’ expresses both tradition and rebellion. In a productive critique of Hegel’s logic of dialectics, Adorno realizes his goal to retrieve dialectics in its seriousness for the philosophical discourse. For him, the only correct philosophy must be dialectical (Adorno 2003, 338). His notion of negative dialectics builds upon the critique of two key points in Hegel’s systematic philosophy, namely the idea of the positive and the claim of the identity of being and thinking. I will present these two aspects shortly and then go over to elucidate Adorno’s confrontation with Hegel in more detail.

In Hegel’s philosophy the drive and manifestation of dialectics is the negative in all its different forms. It includes the untrue, illusion, deception, ignorance, suffering, injustice and alienation. He holds a special interest for the false and bad, albeit not in a relational sense, but as an independent reality which is not simply a mere lack of being. With the recognition of such an autonomous negativity, Hegel’s dialectical philosophy stands in opposition to the Aristotelian metaphysics and Kant’s transcendentalism, since Aristotle and Kant recognize the negative as accidental, caused by the deviation from the truth and good to which everything strives. From the verdict of an independent negativity results the notion of an inner correlation between the positive and the negative. The positive is mediated via the negation of the negative. In contrast to the Aristotelian self-movement and the Kantian spontaneity, the positive in Hegel’s philosophy is not timeless - it must develop in the process of double negation. In this regard, the positive in Hegel is the telos, i.e. the aim of dialectics and it holds precedence over the negative (Wesche 2011, 318).

Hegel’s posit of the identity of being and thinking is closely linked to his notion of the speculative concept (LND, 90). Hegel points to a totality of knowledge or rather to the concept as the epitome of knowledge. By this, he means both the method and the movement of reflection. The method consists in the construction of the mediations, in which the concept is shown as a unity of determinations in relation to others. As a result, the movement of reflecting yields the concept: the comprehending thought in its progression develops a general concept with which the thing itself can be brought into accordance (Prechtl / Burkard 2008, 66). This is the expression of the rational character of reality for Hegel: everything that happened needed to happen - a terrible assertion considering the Nazi deathcamps, as Adorno’s rightfully objected.

IV. The Original Sin - Identity and non-identity of the Concept

For Kant the concept stands in opposite to apperceptions, because the concept is a generalized idea of what is common to several objects. Its matter is the object, its form just the generality (Kant 1977, 1). Every concept is universal. Classifications into general, individual, abstract and concrete concepts always only concern their use, which is why every concept can be used abstractly and concretely in relation to others in various degrees. Only in connection with sensuality and reason do concepts refer to certain objects. Only where the concept corresponds to apperceptions is knowledge in relation to the objective reality possible (CPR B, 335). Based on Kant's conception of the concept, Hegel develops a speculative theory of concepts in which the conception of the concept becomes dynamic. Concepts are thought of as giving rise to reality or to put it in Hegel’s terms: “Things are what they are through the activity of their inherent and manifesting concept”4 (EPS, 313). Freedom, totality, determinacy, essence, substance, truth, and reality are among the determinations that characterize a self-evolving concept (cf. EPS, 313-317).


1 Translated by L. H.

2 Translated by Rodney Livingstone.

3 Translated by Dennis Redmond.

4 Translated by L. H.

Excerpt out of 12 pages


Hegel and the Logic of Decay. A Genealogy of Adorno's Negative Dialectics
University of Vienna  (Institut für Philosophie)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Adorno, Hegel, Negative Dialektik, negative dialectics, Dialektik, dialectics, Logic of Decay
Quote paper
Linus Hellwig (Author), 2017, Hegel and the Logic of Decay. A Genealogy of Adorno's Negative Dialectics, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/437598


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