THEODOR W. ADORNO

ON THE LOGIC OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES

Second Contribution

Generally, the discussant has to choose between behaving like a pedant or a parasite. First of all, I should like to thank Popper for freeing me from such an embarrassing situation. I can take up what he has said without having to begin with elementary matters, but also without having to adhere so closely to the text of his paper, that I would be dependent upon it. With authors of so diverse intellectual origins, this is no less astonishing than are the numerous substantive points of agreement. Often, I do not need to oppose his theses with counter‑theses, but instead I can take up what he has said and attempt to reflect on it further. However, I interpret the concept of logic more broadly than Popper does. I understand this concept as the concrete mode of procedure of sociology rather than general rules of thought, of deduction. Here, I do not wish to touch upon the problems of the latter in sociology.

Instead, I shall commence with Popper's distinction between the abundance of knowledge and boundless ignorance. It is plausible enough, certainly in sociology. At any rate, the latter is continually admonished for not so far having produced a corpus of acknowledged laws comparable to that of the natural sciences. But this distinction contains a dubious potential, that of a current view which Popper surely does not have in mind. According to this view, sociology, on account of its conspicuous retardedness in relation to the exact sciences, should initially content itself with collecting facts and elucidating methods before it raises the claim to reliable and, at the same time, relevant knowledge. Theoretical reflections on society and its structure are then frequently tabooed as an impermissible anticipation of the future. But if one views sociology as beginning with Saint-Simon rather [105/106] than with its godfather Comte then it is more than 160 years old. It should no longer flirt bashfully with its youth. What appears as temporary ignorance is not to be simply replaced in progressive research and methodology by that characterized in such an awkward and inappropriate term as synthesis. Rather, reality [die Sache] opposes the clean, systematic unity of assembled statements. I do not have in mind the traditional distinctions between the natural and cultural sciences [Geisteswissenschaften], such as Rickert's distinction between the nomothetic and idiographic method, which Popper views more positively than I do. But the cognitive ideal of the consistent, preferably simple, mathematically elegant explanation falls down where reality itself, society, is neither consistent, nor simple, nor neutrally left to the discretion of categorial formulation. Rather, on the contrary, it is anticipated by its object as the categorial system of discursive logic. Society is full of contradictions and yet determinable; rational and irrational in one, a system and yet fragmented; blind nature and yet mediated by consciousness. The sociological mode of procedure must bow to this. Otherwise, out of puristic zeal to avoid contradiction, it will fall into the most fatal contradiction of all, namely, that existing between its own structure and that of its object. Society does not elude rational knowledge; in so far as its contradictions and their preconditions are intelligible, they cannot be conjured away by means of intellectual postulates abstracted from a material which is, as it were, indifferent with regard to knowledge—a material which offers no resistance to scientific activities that usually accommodate themselves to cognitive consciousness. Social‑scientific activity is permanently threatened by the fact that, out of its love for clarity and exactness, it could fail to apprehend that which it intends to apprehend. Popper objects to the cliché that knowledge passes through a series of stages from observation to the ordering, processing and systematization of its materials. This cliché is so absurd in sociology because the latter does not have unqualified data at its disposal but only such data as are structured through the context of societal totality. To a large extent, the alleged sociological ignorance merely signifies the divergence between society as an object and traditional method. It can therefore hardly be outstripped by a knowledge which denies the structure of its object in deference to its own methodology. On the other hand, however—and undoubtedly Popper would also concede [106/107] this—the usual empirical asceticism with regard to theory cannot be sustained. Without the anticipation of that structural moment of the whole, which in individual observations can hardly ever be adequately realized, no individual observation would find its relative place. This is not to advocate anything similar to the tendency in cultural anthropology to superimpose upon Western civilization the centralistic and total character of some primitive societies by means of a selected co‑ordinate system. One may even cherish as few illusions as I do about its gravitation towards total forms and about the decline of the individual, but the differences between a pre‑ and post‑individual society are still decisive. In the democratically governed countries of industrial societies, totality is a category of mediation, not one of immediate domination and subjugation. This implies that in industrial market societies by no means everything pertaining to society can simply be deduced from its principle. Such societies contain within themselves countless non‑capitalist enclaves. At issue here is whether, in order to perpetuate itself under the present relations of production, it necessarily needs such enclaves as that of the family. Their specific irrationality compliments, as it were, that of the structure as a whole. Societal totality does not lead a life of its own over and above that which it unites and of which it, in its turn, is composed. It produces and reproduces itself through its individual moments. Many of these moments preserve a relative independence which primitive‑total societies either do not know or do not tolerate. This totality can no more be detached from life, from the co‑operation and the antagonism of its elements than can an element be understood merely as it functions without insight into the whole which has its source [Wesen] in the motion of the individual himself. System and individual entity are reciprocal and can only be apprehended in their reciprocity. Even those enclaves, survivals from previous societies, the favourites of a sociology which desires to unburden itself of the concept of society—as it might of an all too spectacular philosopheme—become what they are only in relation to the dominant totality from which they deviate. This is presumably under estimated in the present most popular sociological conception, that of middle-range theory.

In opposition to the view held since Comte, Popper advocates the priority of problems, of the tension between knowledge and ignorance. I am in agreement with every criticism Popper makes [107/108] of the false transposition of natural scientific methods, of the 'misguided and erroneous methodological . . . naturalism or scientism'. If he accuses his social anthropologist of extracting himself from the problem of truth or falsehood by means of the allegedly greater objectivity of someone who observes social phenomena from outside, then this is surely good Hegel. In the preface to the Phenomenology of Mind, Hegel scorns those who only stand above things because they do not stand amidst things. I hope that König will not chide me and will not criticize the discussion with Popper for being philosophy and not sociology. It seems to me worth mentioning that a scholar, for whom dialectics is anathema, finds himself reduced to formulations which reside in dialectical thought. Moreover, the problems of social anthropology examined by Popper are presumably closely associated with a method rendered independent of reality. Like Veblen's theory of a barbaric culture, a comparison of the frictionless mores of a late capitalist society with the rights of the Trobrianders, who by now have presumably been overstudied, certainly has its merits. Yet the alleged freedom in the choice of a system of co‑ordinates is transformed into a falsification of the object, since for every member of the modern state the fact that he belongs to the latter's economic system means, in real terms, far more than the finest analogies with totem and taboo.

In my agreement with Popper's critique of scientism, and with his thesis concerning the primacy of the problem, I must perhaps go further than he would approve. For the object of sociology itself, society, which keeps itself and its members alive but simultaneously threatens them with ruin, is a problem in an emphatic sense. This means, however, that the problems of sociology do not constantly arise through the discovery 'that something is not in order with our supposed knowledge; ... from the discovery of an apparent contradiction between our supposed knowledge and the facts'. The contradiction must not, as Popper at least presumes here, be a merely 'supposed' contradiction between subject and object, which would have to be imputed to the subject alone as a deficiency of judgment. Instead, the contradiction can, in very real terms, have its place in reality and can in no way be removed by increased knowledge and clearer formulation. The oldest sociological model of such a contradiction which necessarily develops in reality is the now‑famous section 243 in Hegel's Philosophy of Right: 'The amassing of wealth is intensified [108/109] by generalizing (a) the linkage of men by their needs, and (b) the methods of preparing and distributing the means to satisfy these needs, because it is from this double process of generalization that the largest profits are derived. That is one side of the picture. The other side is the subdivision and restriction of particular jobs. This results in the dependence and distress of the class tied to work of that sort. [1] It would be easy to accuse me of equivocation, namely, that for Popper a problem is something merely epistemological and for me, at the same time, it is something practical—in the last instance, even a problematic condition of the world. But we are concerned here with the legitimacy of precisely this distinction. One would fetishize science if one radically separated its immanent problems from the real ones, which are weakly reflected in its formalisms. No doctrine of logical absolutism, Tarski's no more than formerly Husserl's, would be in a position to decree that the facts obey logical principles which derive their claim to validity from a purgation of all that pertains to reality. I must content myself with a reference to the critique of logical absolutism in Metakritik der Erkenntnistheorie [2] which is there associated with a critique of sociological relativism, in which respect I am in agreement with Popper. The conception of the contradictory nature of societal reality does not, however, sabotage knowledge of it and expose it to the merely fortuitous. Such knowledge is guaranteed by the possibility of grasping the contradiction as necessary and thus extending rationality to it.

Methods do not rest upon methodological ideals but rather upon reality. Popper implicitly acknowledges this in the thesis concerning the priority of the problem. When he establishes that the quality of social scientific achievement stands in an exact relationship to the significance or to the interest of its problems, then unquestionably one can detect here the awareness of an irrelevance to which countless sociological investigations are condemned in that they follow the primacy of the method and not that of the object. They either wish to develop methods further for their own sake or, from the outset, they so select objects that they can be treated with already available methods. When Popper talks about significance or interest one can sense the gravity of the [109/110] matter to be dealt with. It would only have to be qualified by the fact that it is not always possible to judge a priori the relevance of objects. Where the categorical network is so closely woven that much of that which lies beneath is concealed by conventions of opinion, including scientific opinion, then eccentric phenomena which have not yet been incorporated by this network at times, take on an unexpected gravity. Insight into their composition also throws light upon what counts as the core domain but which often is not. This scientific‑theoretical motive was surely involved in Freud's decision to concern himself with the 'fragments of the world of appearance' [Abhub der Erscheinungswelt]. Similarly, it proved to be fruitful in Simmel's sociology when, mistrustful of the systematic totality, he immersed himself in such social specifics as the stranger or the actor. Nor would one be able to dogmatize about the demand for problem relevancy; to a large extent, the selection of research objects is legitimated by what the sociologist can read from the object which he has selected. This should not, however, provide an excuse for the countless projects merely carried out for the good of one's academic career, in which the irrelevance of the object happily combines with the pedestrian mentality of the research technician.

I should like, however, to urge a certain caution concerning the attributes which Popper ascribes, together with the relevance of the problem, to the true method. Honesty—or, in other words, that one does not cheat, that one expresses what has been apprehended without tactical considerations—ought to be a matter of course. In the actual course of science, however, this norm is frequently terroristically misused. Completely abandoning oneself to reality then implies that one confronts reality with nothing of oneself but instead one merely reduces oneself to a piece of registering apparatus. The renunciation of fantasy or the lack of productivity is passed off as scientific ethos. One should not forget what Cantril and Allport have contributed to the critique of the ideal of sincerity in America. Even in the sciences, honesty is frequently attributed to the person who thinks what everyone thinks, devoid of the supposed vanity of desiring to perceive something special and, for this reason, prepared to bleat sheeplike with the others. Similarly, directness and simplicity are not unquestionable ideals when the matter [Sache] is complex. The replies of common sense derive their categories to such an extent from that which immediately exists that they tend to strengthen its [110/111] opacity instead of penetrating it. As far as the directness is concerned, the path along which one approaches knowledge can hardly be anticipated. In view of the present state of Sociology, I would place, from amongst the criteria of scientific quality mentioned by Popper, the greatest emphasis upon the boldness and originality [Eigenart] of the suggested solution, which naturally, in its turn, has to be constantly criticized. In the last instance, the category of the problem should not be hypostatized. Anyone who checks his own work in an unbiased manner will encounter a state of affairs which only the taboos of alleged presuppositionlessness make it difficult to admit. It is not uncommon that one has solutions; something suddenly occurs to one and one subsequently constructs the question. But this is not fortuitous. The priority of society as that of something all‑encompassing and consolidated above its individual manifestations is expressed in societal knowledge by means of insights which stem from the concept of society and which are only transformed into individual sociological problems through the subsequent confrontation of what was anticipated with the particular material. Expressed in more general terms, the epistemologies, as they were developed and handed down relatively independently by the great philosophical tradition since Bacon and Descartes, are conceived from above even by the empiricists. They have frequently remained in appropriate to the living tradition of knowledge; they have trimmed the latter in accordance with a conception of science, as an inductive or deductive continuum, which is alien and external to this living tradition. By no means the last of the necessary tasks of epistemology—and Bergson sensed this—would be to reflect upon the actual process of cognition instead of describing in advance the cognitive achievement in accordance with a logical or scientific model to which, in truth, productive knowledge in no way corresponds.

In Popper's categorial framework, the concept of a problem is associated with that of a solution. Solutions are to be suggested and criticized. With the key nature of criticism, a decisive point is reached in opposition to the primitive doctrine of observation, a doctrine estranged from knowledge. Sociological knowledge is, indeed, criticism. But crucial nuances are involved here, such as how the decisive distinctions between scientific positions are often more likely to be found in the nuance than they are to be expressed in grandiose concepts expressive of a view of life [Weltanschauung]. [111/112] According to Popper, if an attempted solution is not accessible to factual criticism, then it will be excluded as unscientific for this reason even if, perhaps, only temporarily. This is, to say the least, ambiguous. If such criticism implies reduction to so‑called facts, the complete redemption of thought through what is observed, then this desideratum would reduce thought to hypothesis and would rob sociology of that moment of anticipation which essentially belongs to it. There are sociological theorems which, as insights into the mechanisms of society which operate behind the façade, in principle, even for societal reasons, contradict appearances to such an extent that they cannot be adequately criticized through the latter. Criticism of them is incumbent upon systematic theory, upon further reflection but not, for instance, upon the confrontation with protocol statements. (Popper, incidentally, does not formulate it this way either.) For this reason, facts in society are not the last thing to which knowledge might attach itself, since they themselves are mediated through society. Not all theorems are hypotheses; theory is the telos not the vehicle of sociology.

One could also enlarge upon the equation of criticism and the attempt at refutation. Refutation is only fruitful as immanent criticism. Hegel already knew that. The second volume of the larger Logic provides statements on the 'judgment of the notion' which must simultaneously outweigh most of what has been proclaimed about values since then: '. . . the predicates good, bad, true, beautiful, correct, etc. express that the thing is measured against its universal Notion as the simply presupposed ought‑to‑be and is, or is not, in agreement with it.' [3] Viewed from without, everything and nothing is refutable. Scepticism is appropriate in discussion. It testifies to a confidence in organized science as an instance of truth confronted with which the sociologist should show reserve. In the face of scientific thought control, whose preconditions sociology itself names, it is particularly important that Popper grants the category of criticism a central position. The critical impulse is at one with the resistance to the rigid conformity of each dominant opinion. This motive also occurs in Popper. In his twelfth thesis, he strictly equates scientific objectivity with the critical tradition which, 'despite resistance, often makes it possible [112/113] to criticize a dominant dogma'. Like Dewey and previously Hegel, he appeals for open, unfixed, unreified thought. An experimental, not to say a playful, moment is unavoidable in such thought. I would hesitate, however, both to equate it simply with the concept of 'attempted solution' [Lösungsversuch] and even to adopt the maxim of trial and error. In the climate from which the latter stems, the phrase 'attempted solution' is ambiguous. It is precisely this phrase which carries with it natural‑scientific associations and is directed against the independence of every thought which cannot be tested. But some thoughts and, in the last instance, the essential ones recoil from tests and yet they have a truth content—Popper agrees even with this. Probably no experiment could convincingly demonstrate the dependence of each social phenomenon on the totality for the whole which preforms the tangible phenomena can never itself be reduced to particular experimental arrangements. Nevertheless, the dependence of that which can be socially observed upon the total structure is, in reality, more valid than any findings which can be irrefutably verified in the particular and this dependence is anything but a mere figment of the imagination. If, in the last analysis, one does not wish to confuse sociology with natural‑scientific models, then the concept of the experiment must also extend to the thought which, satiated with the force of experience, is projected beyond the latter in order to comprehend it. In sociology, in contrast to the situation in psychology, experiments in the narrower sense are, in any case, mainly unproductive. The speculative moment is not a necessity of societal knowledge but is, rather, an indispensable moment of it even though idealist philosophy, which once glorified speculation, may be a thing of the past. To the above, one might add that criticism and the solution can in no way be separated from one another. Solutions are at times primary and direct; they instigate the criticism through which they are mediated in order to advance the process of knowledge. Above all, however, the construct [Figur] of criticism, if it fulfils its latent possibilities, can, conversely, already imply the solution; the latter hardly ever appears from without. It was to this that the philosophical concept of determinate negation referred, a concept which is in no way alien to Popper although he is in no way enamoured of Hegel. Insofar as he identifies the objectivity of science with the critical method, he raises the latter to the organon of truth. No dialectician today would demand more.

From this, however, I would draw a consequence which is not [113/114] mentioned in Popper's paper, and I am not sure whether he would accept it. He calls his standpoint, in a very un‑Kantian sense, 'the critical approach' [Kritizistisch]. Yet, if one takes the dependency of the method upon reality [Sache] as seriously as is inherent in some of Popper's definitions, such as in that of relevance and interest as measures for societal knowledge, then the critical work of sociology could not be restricted to self‑criticism—to reflection upon its statements, theorems, conceptual apparatus and methods. It is, at the same time, a critique of the object upon which, in fact, all these subjectively localized moments are dependent—subjectively, that is, in the sense of subjects united for the purpose of organized science. No matter how instrumentally the moments of the mode of procedure are defined, their adequacy for the object is still always demanded, even if this is concealed. Procedures are unproductive when they are lacking in such adequacy. In the method, the object [Sache] must be treated in accord with its significance and importance, otherwise even the most polished method is bad. This involves no less than that, in the very form of the theory, that of the object must appear. The content of the theorem which is to be criticized, decides when the critique of sociological categories is only that of the method, and when the discrepancy between concept and object is to the latter's detriment since it claims to be that which it is not. The critical path is not merely formal but also material. If its concepts are to be true, critical sociology is, according to its own idea, necessarily also a critique of society, as Horkheimer developed it in his work on traditional and critical theory. Kant's critical philosophy also contained something of this. The arguments he advanced against scientific judgments on God, freedom and immortality were in opposition to a situation in which, long after these ideas had lost their theological binding force, people endeavoured to preserve them for rationality by surreptitious means. The Kantian term, 'subreption' confronts the apologists' lie in its intellectual error. Critical philosophy [Kritizismus] was militant enlightenment. The critical impulse, however, which halts before reality and is satisfied with work in itself, would, in comparison, hardly be an advanced form of enlightenment. By curtailing the motives of enlightenment, it would itself also be retarded, as is so convincingly demonstrated by the comparison of administrative research with critical theories of societies. It is time that sociology resisted such atrophy which is entrenched behind the intangible method. For, [114/115] knowledge lives in relation to that which it is not, in relation to its other. This relation will not of itself suffice as long as it prevails merely indirectly in critical self‑reflection; it must become a critique of the sociological object. If social science—and, for the moment, I do not prejudge the content of such statements—on the one hand, takes the concept of a liberal society as implying freedom and equality and, on the other hand, disputes, in principle, the truth-content of these categories under liberalism—in view of the inequality of the social power which determines the relations between people—then these are not logical contradictions which could be eliminated by means of more sophisticated definitions, nor are they subsequently emergent empirical restrictions or differentiations of a provisional definition, but rather, they are the structural constitution of society itself. Thus criticism does not merely mean the reformulation of contradictory statements for the sake of consistency in the scientific realm. Such logicity, by shifting the real substance, can become false. I should like to add that this change in approach likewise affects the conceptual means of sociological knowledge. A critical theory of society guides the permanent self-criticism of sociological knowledge into another dimension. I would simply recall what I implied about naïve trust in organized social science as a guarantor of truth.

But all this presupposes the distinction between truth and falsehood to which Popper so strictly adheres. As a critic of sceptical relativism, he argues polemically against the sociology of knowledge and, in particular, against that of Pareto and Mannheim just as sharply as I have always done. But the so‑called total concept of ideology, and the elimination of the distinction between true and untrue, does not correspond to the classical doctrine of ideologies, if one might call it that. It represents a degenerate form of the latter. It allies itself with the attempt to blunt the critical edge of that doctrine and to neutralize it to a branch in the domain of science. Once ideology was called socially necessary illusion. Then the critique of ideology was under obligation to provide concrete proof of the falsehood of a theorem or of a doctrine; the mere mistrust of ideology, as Mannheim called it, was not sufficient. Marx, in keeping with Hegel, would have ridiculed it as abstract negation. The deduction of ideologies from societal necessity has not weakened judgment upon their falseness. It sought to submit their derivation from structural laws such as that of the fetish character of commodities, which denotes the πợωτσυ ψευδος, to [115/116] the very standard of scientific objectivity which even Popper applies. Even the now customary reference to superstructure and base renders this trite. Whilst the sociology of knowledge, which dissolves the distinction between true and false consciousness, believes that it is advancing the cause of scientific objectivity, it has, through such dissolution, reverted to a pre-Marxian conception of science—a conception which Marx understood in a fully objective sense. Only through embellishment and neologisms such as perspectivism, and not through material determinations [sachhaltige Bestimmungen], can the total concept of ideology distance itself from the empty rhetorical world‑view of vulgar relativism. For this reason, one has the open or concealed subjectivism of the sociology of knowledge which Popper rightly denounces, and in criticizing which the great philosophical tradition is at one with concrete scientific work. The latter has never seriously allowed itself to be misled by the general stipulation of the relativity of all human knowledge. When Popper criticizes the fact that the objectivity of science is confused with the objectivity of the scientist, he seizes upon the concept of ideology which has been degraded to a total one, but does not apprehend its authentic conception. The latter implied the objective determination of false consciousness, a determination largely independent of the individual subjects, and of their much-quoted standpoints, and verifiable in the analysis of the social structure; a notion, incidentally, which dates back to Helvétius, if not to Bacon. The zealous concern for the standpoint‑boundedness [Standort gebundenheit] of individual thinkers emanates from the powerlessness to hold fast the insight gained into the objective distortion of truth. It has little to do with the thinkers and nothing at all with their psychology. In short, I am in agreement with Popper's critique of the sociology of knowledge; but it also is the undiluted doctrine of ideology.

Popper, like Max Weber before him in his famous essay, connects the question of social‑scientific objectivity with that of value freedom. It has not escaped him that this category, which has been dogmatized in the meantime and which comes to terms all too well with pragmatistic scientific activity, must be thought out anew. The disjunction between objectivity and value is not so secure as it seems in Max Weber's writings. In his texts, it is, however, more qualified than his slogan might lead one to expect. When Popper calls the demand for unconditional value freedom [116/117]

paradoxical, since scientific objectivity and value freedom are themselves values, this insight is hardly as unimportant as Popper regards it. One might draw philosophical‑scientific consequences from it. Popper underlines the fact that the scientist's evaluations could not be prohibited or destroyed without destroying him as a human being and also as a scientist. This, however, is to say more than merely something about the practice of knowledge; 'destroying him . . . as a scientist' involves the objective concept of science as such. The separation of evaluative and value‑free behaviour is false in so far as value, and thus value freedom, are reifications; correct, in so far as the behaviour of the mind cannot extricate itself at will from the state of reification. What is referred to as the problem of value can only be constituted in a phase in which means and ends are split asunder for the sake of a frictionless domination of nature in which the rationality of means advances with a constant or, if possible, increasing irrationality of ends. Kant and Hegel did not use the concept of value already current in political economy. Presumably it first entered philosophical terminology with Lotze; Kant's distinction between dignity and price in practical reason would be incompatible with it. The concept of value is formed in the exchange relationship, a being for the other. In a society in which every relationship has become an exchange relationship, has become fungible—and the denial of truth which Popper observes reveals the same state of affairs—this 'for the other' has been magically transformed [verhext] into an 'in itself', into something substantial. As such, it then became false and was suited to fill the sensitive vacuum by following the caprice of dominant interests. What was subsequently sanctioned as a value does not operate externally to the object, does not oppose it χωρις, but rather is immanent to it. Reality, the object of societal knowledge, can no more be imperative‑free [Sollensfreies] or merely existent [Daseiendes]—it only becomes the latter through the disections of abstraction—than can the values be nailed into a firmament of ideas. The judgment upon an entity [Sache], which certainly requires subjective spontaneity, is always simultaneously prescribed by the entity and is not exhausted in subjectively irrational decision, as it is in Weber's conception. Every judgment is, in the language of philosophy, a judgment of the entity upon itself, the judgment recalls the fragmentariness of the entity. It is constituted, however, in each relation to that whole which is contained in it, without being immediately given, without being [117/118] facticity; this is the intention of the statement that the entity must be measured against its concept. The whole problem of value, which sociology and other disciplines haul about with them like a ballast, is accordingly falsely posed. Scientific awareness of society, which sets itself up as value‑free, fails to apprehend reality just as much as one which appeals to more or less preordained and arbitrarily established values. If one assents to the alternative, then one becomes involved in antinomies. Even positivism was not able to extricate itself from them. Durkheim, whose chosisme outstripped Weber in positivist sentiments—the latter himself had his thema probandum in the sociology of religion—did not recognize value freedom. Popper pays his tribute to the antinomy in so far as, on the one hand, he rejects the separation of value and knowledge but, on the other hand, desires that the self-reflection of knowledge become aware of its implicit values; that is, he desires that self‑reflection does not falsify its truth content in order to prove something. Both desiderata are legitimate. But the awareness of this antimony should be incorporated into sociology itself. The dichotomy of what is [Sein] and what should be [Sollen] is as false as it is historically compelling and, for this reason, it cannot be ignored. It only achieves an insight into its own inevitability through societal critique. In actual fact, value‑free behaviour is prohibited not merely psychologically but also substantively. Society, the knowledge of which is ultimately the aim of sociology if it is to be more than a mere technique, can only crystallize at all around a conception of the just society. The latter, however, is not to be contrasted with existing society in an abstract manner, simply as an ostensible value, but rather it arises from criticism, that is, from society's awareness of its contradictions and its necessity. When Popper says, 'For although we cannot justify our theories rationally and cannot even prove that they are probable, we can criticize them rationally', then this is no less true for society than for theories about society. The result would be a form of behaviour which neither doggedly entrenches itself in a value freedom that blinds one to the essential interest of sociology, nor permits itself to be guided by abstract and static value dogmatism.

Popper sees through the latent subjectivism of a value‑free sociology of knowledge, which is especially proud of its scientistic lack of prejudice, and consequently he attacks sociological psychologism. Here too, I share his view and may perhaps draw attention to my essay in the Horkheimer Festschrift in which the [118/119] discontinuity of the two disciplines is developed, both of which are subsumed under the vague encompassing concept of the science of man. But the motives which lead Popper and myself to the same result differ. The division between man and social environment seems to me to be somewhat external, much too orientated towards the existing map of the sciences, whose hypostatization Popper basically rejects. The human subjects, whom psychology pledges itself to examine, are not merely, as it were, influenced by society but are in their innermost core formed by it. The substratum of a human being in himself who might resist the environment—and this has been resuscitated in existentialism—would remain an empty abstraction. On the contrary, the socially active environment, no matter how indirectly and imperceptibly, is produced by human beings, by organized society. Despite this, psychology may not be regarded as the basic science of the social sciences. I would simply point out that the form of socialization [Vergesellschaftung], in English termed 'institutions', has, on account of its immanent dynamics, made itself independent of real people and their psychology. It has confronted them as something so alien, and yet so overpowering, that reduction to primary modes of human behaviour, in the manner in which psychology studies them, cannot even be equated either, with typical behaviour patterns which can be plausibly generalized or with societal processes which take place over people's heads. Nevertheless, I would not conclude from the priority of society over psychology that there is such a radical independence of the two sciences as Popper seems to believe. Society is a total process in which human beings surrounded, guided and formed by objectivity do, in turn, act back upon society; psychology, for its part, can no more be absorbed into sociology than can the individual being be absorbed into its biological species and its natural history. Certainly, fascism cannot be explained in social psychological terms, but the 'Authoritarian Personality' has occasionally been misunderstood as just such an attempt. But if the authoritarian character type had not been so widespread for reasons which, in their turn, are sociologically intelligible, then fascism, at any rate, would not have found its mass basis, without which it would not have achieved power in a society like that of the Weimar democracy. The autonomy of social processes is itself not an 'in itself' but rather it is grounded in reification; even the processes estranged from human beings remain human. For this [119/120] reason, the boundary between the two sciences is no more absolute that that between sociology and economics, or sociology and history. Insight into society as a totality also implies that all the moments which are active in this totality, and in no way perfectly reducible one to another, must be incorporated in knowledge; it cannot permit itself to be terrorized by the academic division of labour. The priority of what is societal over what is individual is explained in reality itself, that is, that powerlessness of the individual in the face of society which for Durkheim was precisely the criterion for the faits sociaux. The self‑reflection of sociology, however, must be on guard against its historical‑scientific inheritance which induces one to overstrain the autarchy of the recent science, still not accepted in Europe as an equal by the universitas literarum.

In our correspondence which preceded the formulation of my reply, Popper characterized the difference in our positions by saying that he believed that we live in the best world which ever existed and that I did not believe it. As far as he is concerned, he presumably exaggerated a little for the sake of sharpening the discussion. Comparisons between the degree of badness in societies of various epochs are precarious. I find it hard to assume that no society is claimed to have been better than that which gave birth to Auschwitz and, to this extent, Popper has unquestionably given a correct characterization of my view. But I do not regard the difference as one of mere standpoint but rather as determinable. Both of us surely adopt an equally negative attitude towards a philosophy based on standpoints and, consequently, to a sociology based on standpoints. The experience of the contradictory character of societal reality is not an arbitrary starting point but rather the motive which first constitutes the possibility of sociology as such. In Popper's language, only the person who can conceptualize a different society from the existing one can experience it as a problem. Only through that which it is not, will it reveal itself as that which it is and this would presumably be fundamental in a sociology which, unlike the majority of its projects, would not be satisfied with ends laid down by public and private administration. Perhaps we find here precisely the reason why, in sociology, as the finding of an individual science, society has no place. If in Comte, the outline of a new discipline was born out of the desire to protect the productive tendencies of his age, the unleashing of productive forces, [120/121] that is, from the destructive potential which was emerging in them at that time, then subsequently nothing has altered in this original situation unless it has become more extreme, in which case sociology should take this into account. The arch-positivist Comte was aware of the antagonistic character of society as the decisive aspect which the development of later positivism desired to conjure away as metaphysical speculation. Hence the follies of his late phase which, in turn, demonstrated how much societal reality scorns the aspirations of those whose profession it is to apprehend it. In the meantime, the crisis, to which sociology must prove itself equal, is no longer that of bourgeois order alone but rather it literally threatens the physical continuance of society as a whole. In view of the nakedly emergent coercive force of relations, Comte's hope that sociology might guide social force reveals itself as naïve except when it provides plans for totalitarian rulers. Sociology's abandonment of a critical theory of society is resignatory: one no longer dares to conceive of the whole since one must despair of changing it. But if sociology then desired to commit itself to the apprehension of facts and figures in the service of that which exists, then such progress under conditions of unfreedom would increasingly detract from the detailed insights through which sociology thinks it triumphs over theory and condemn them completely to irrelevance. Popper concluded his paper with a quotation from Xenophanes which is symptomatic of the fact that neither of us is satisfied with the separation of philosophy and sociology, a separation which nowadays ensures the sociology's peace of mind. But Xenophanes too, despite his Eleatic ontology, represents the enlightenment. It is not without good reason that, even in him, one can find an idea which recurs in Anatole France, namely, that if an animal species could conceive of a deity it would be in its own image. Criticism of this type has been handed down by the entire European enlightenment from antiquity onwards. Today its inheritance has fallen to a great extent to social science. Criticism implies demythologization. This, however, is no mere theoretical concept nor one of indiscriminate iconoclasm which, with the distinction between true and untrue, would also destroy the distinction between justice and injustice. Whatever enlightenment achieves in the form of disenchantment it must necessarily desire to liberate human beings from such spells—formerly from that of the demons, nowadays from the spell which human relations exert [121/122] over them. An enlightenment which forgets this, which disinterestedly takes the spell as given and exhausts itself in the production of utilizable conceptual apparatuses sabotages itself, along with the very concept of truth with which Popper confronts the sociology of knowledge. The just organization of society is incorporated in the emphatic concept of truth without being filled out as an image of the future. The reductio ad hominem which inspires all critical enlightenment is substantiated in the human being who would first have to be produced in a society which was master of itself. In contemporary society, however, its sole indicator is the socially untrue.

[NOTES]

1  Hegel, WW7, Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, ed. Glockner (Stuttgart, 1927 onwards), p. 318. English trans. T. M. Knox, Hegel's Philosophy of Right (Oxford/New York, 1969), pp. 149‑50.

2  T. W. Adorno, Zur Metakritik der Erkenntnistheorie (Stuttgart, 1956).

3  Hegel, WW5, Wissenschaft der Logik, part 2, ed. Glockner, loc. cit., pp. 110f. English trans. A. V. Miller, Hegel's Science of Logic (London/New York, 1969), pp. 657f.


SOURCE: Adorno, Theodor W. "On the Logic of the Social Sciences," in The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology, translated by Glyn Adey and David Frisby (London: Heinemann, 1976), pp. 105-122.

Note: Footnotes have been converted into endnotes on this web page.


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