Prospects Beyond Ideology: Reason, Freedom and the Truth of the Subject: Towards Political Models for the Critical Thought of Theodor W. Adorno

Glenn W. Leaper

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The thesis has three objectives. First, to examine the relationship between reason and freedom, and their experience in modernity. Second, to employ Adorno’s critical philosophy to address the problem of ideology from a contemporary perspective. Third, to suggest what a ‘truth of the subject’ can amount to: how can the experience of the subject be a source of claims to truth under the conditions of modernity? The thesis investigates forms of ideology undergirding postmodern politics and the socio-historical experience of ‘instrumental’ forms of rationality, such as the objective determination of experience by modern technology. Elements of Adorno’s critique, such as his notion of the possibility of experience ‘unreduced’ by socially pervasive ideologies, are thereby introduced. The ideas of spontaneity, as related to the concept of freedom, and of causality, as related to the concept of ideology, are examined via Kant to show how contradictions between them can be reframed as a question of the epistemological relationship between nature and reason. The framework for a dialectical approach to experience is established via Adorno’s criticisms of the limitations of epistemology in explaining mediation of social phenomena. The centrality of mediation to a critical rationality and critique of normativity is demonstrated concretely via the historical example of the Holocaust. Consequently, Adorno’s theory of ‘negative dialectics’ is explained via and contra Hegel, in relation to his notion of non-identity between conceptual reflection and the objective world, and with regards to his “priority of the objective”, which refuses to ground knowledge and experience in consciousness. In demonstrating tensions between objectivity of truth on one hand, and the subject as that which constitutes truth on the other, a theoretical model becomes available for the critique of contemporary socio-political issues. The thesis concludes as an account of the truth of the subject in the context of modernity.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Bowie, Andrew, Supervisor
Award date1 Aug 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


  • Adorno
  • Critical Theory
  • Instrumental Rationality
  • Legitimacy
  • Normativity
  • Political Theory
  • Philosophy
  • German Philosophy
  • Frankfurt School
  • Politics
  • Technology Critique
  • Truth of the Subject
  • Global War on Terrorism
  • Mediation
  • Postmodernity

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