Negative Dialectics Criticisms
by Theodor Wiesengrund

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(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

In the chapters on “The Ontological Need” and “Being and Existence,” Adorno critiques philosophers Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, jabbing at Being and existentialism with caustic wit. The “need” he identifies is for a materialism that is not “shrouded in vapors.” Hegel’s idealism, embodied in the mind’s increasing control of nature, threatens the world with “the very calamity [technology] is supposed to protect us from.” Adorno’s contempt for Heidegger appears in references to “the corny tremolo of the phrase obliviousness of Being’” and to the existentialists’ “posturing as metaphysically homeless and nothingness-bound” as “ideology, an attempt to justify the very order that drives men to despair and threatens them with physical extinction.” Heidegger’s Being is an “aura without a light-giving star.” Heidegger’s account of the word “Being” implies transcendence, not “entwinement,” the appropriate understanding; and it abandons dialectics to achieve an immediacy beyond subject and object. Heidegger’s assertion of a Being without entity is hocus-pocus, and in ontologizing the ontic, he made something out of nothing. Adorno’s final verdict is brutal. Characterizing existentialism as a “Platonic prejudice” for power without Gorgias’s saving devotion to the ideal of justice, he says, “Of the eternal idea in which entity was to share . . . nothing remains but the naked affirmation of what is anyway—the affirmation of power.”

Only some idea can be given of the tortuous arguments in “Negative Dialectics: Concept and Categories,” which often have a theological cast to them, their burden being a scrutiny of Kant’s and Hegel’s views on the subject-object relationship. Kant represents Western “peephole metaphysics,” in which the pure “in-itself” peeps out. However, there is “no peeping out” from the object, says Adorno. In Hegel’s idealism, thought (the subject) somehow creates, or is identical to, matter (the object), and the perceived domination of matter by mind becomes in Adorno analogous to the dominance of individuals by an exploitative...

(The entire section is 498 words.)