Vol. 23/No. l/1986
Against Epistemology: A Metacritique By Theodor W. Adorn0 Cambridge, MA: The MIT Reviewed
Press, 1983, 256 pp., $8.95.
by John W. Murphy,
Arkansas State University
From 1934-37 Adorn0 attended Oxford in order to receive the Doctor of Philosophy degree. His emigration to England, however, was not voluntary, for he was forced to leave Germany by the Nazis. During this period he wrote an extensive manuscript, large portions of which have been selected and reworked into this text. Chapters One, Two, and Four are based on the original Oxford piece, while the Introduction and Chapter Three were written in 1955-56 especially for this book. Originally Adorn0 wanted the title to be Die Phanomenologische Antinomien (7he Phenomenological Antinomies), yet this was changed to Zur Metakritik der Erkenntnistheorie (roughly, A Metacritique of a fie0r.y of Knowledge) as a result of a compromise he made with his initial publisher. For the English translation this title was rendered as Against Epistemology: A Metacritique. This work represents a critical examination of Husserl’s phenomenology. In 1924 Adorn0 received a doctorate from the University of Frankfurt for a dissertation on Husserl’s epistemology, and accordingly this manuscript contains an appreciably expanded treatment of this original topic. Although the focus of attention in each case is different, the general theme is the same. Specifically, Adorn0 understands Husserl to have reified the enterprise of philosophy, despite protestations from phenomenologists to the contrary. Husserl, in the classic style of Western philosophers, is cited as providing truth with a seignorial status, divorced from existential contingencies. Thus, the social world is objectivied and the search for truth deanimated, simply because valid knowledge is envisioned to be disassociated from human concerns. And in line with the philosophical tradition inaugurated by the “Frankfurt School,” Adorn0 eschews this type of theorizing. In general, this book is problematic. Although the Introduction provides essential insight into the neo-Marxist theory proffered by Adorn0 and his Frankfurt colleagues, the accuracy of his interpretation of Husserl’s work is questionable. That is, he reads Husserl as if he were Hegel, and thus thoroughly misses the shift phenomenology makes away from both crude empiricism and rationalism. Clearly Adorn0 did not have Husserl’s last work, Crisis in European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenolog.y, at his disposal, in which human praxis is referred to as the ground of all knowledge. Nonetheless, Adorn0 ignores the constitutive capacity of consciousness which Husserl illustrates in Ideas, if not earlier in his work on arithmetic. In short, Adorno’s portrayal of phenomenology distorts both the letter and spirit of this philosophy, and thus must be viewed by the reader with reservation. In summary, the use of philosophy by Adorn0 to unmask ideology is revealed in this book. In this sense, the impact of so-called Marxist critical theory is apparent. It should be remembered, parenthetically, that next to Negative Dialectics Adorn0 labelled The Philosophical Antinomies his most significant work. However, his understanding of Husserl is quite skewed and should be viewed skeptically.