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111. Ibid., 43/BPSS; "Egoismus," 16Iff./BPSS.


II~. '''fraditionelIe,'' 266/CT, 212.

l'

3. ~a~cuse, Triebstruktur und Gesellschalt (Frankfurt am Main 1965) E r h E


It'/ul 'vlll.atlOn(Boston, 1955).
'
. ng IS.
ros
14. "Moral," 173/BPSS.

The Program of Interdisciplinary Research


and the Beginnings of Critical Theory
Wolfgang BonB

115. Marcuse,
"Zur Kritik des Hedonismus," in Marcuse ' Sclmifiten 3 (Frankfurt am
mam,
1979), 284f.
116. "Rationalismusstreit," 51/BPSS.
1 7. "TraditionelIe," 259/CT, 204.
J

1 8. "Metaphysik," 32/CT, 45.


J

119. "Rationalismusstreit," 47/BPSS.


120. "Traditionelle," 264/CT, 209.
121. "Egoismus," 229/BPSS.
122. Ibid.
123. Ibid., 230/BPSS.
124. Ibid.,231/BPSS.

125. Dubiel, Wissenschaftsorganisation und politische Erfahrung, 122f.


!.26. Raymond ?euss, Die Idee einer kritischen Theorie (K6nigstein, 1983) 111 En lish'
ne Idea 01a Cntlcal Theory: Haberrnas and the Franklurt School (Cambridg~, 1981). g
.
127. [~dit~rs' note: Par~ons inrroduC/;dthe.A-G-I-L schema in his later work as a model
of soezetal Interchange In the four dlmenslons of adaptation (A), goal attainment (G)
Il1tegrauon (1), and pattern mainr~nance or "Iatency" (L). See Talcott Parsons, with
Rl905b3e)rt
Bales
,e Fh
aps.
3, and
5.] Edward A. ShIls, Working Papers in the Theory 01Action (New York,
.
128. For an explanation of the term quasi-transcendental see Brunkhorst "K
k(Nauve
yedrnunft
und
rachende
Gewalt,"
in
Sozialwissenschaltliche
Literatur
Run:S':/z:u~~
euwle ,1983), 13ff.
129. Cf. Geuss, Die Idee einer kritischen Theorie, 82ff.
130. "Metaphysik," 22f.1CT, 34.
131. "Rationalismusstreit," 47/BPSS.
132. "Anthropologie," 22/BPSS.
133. "Rationalismusstreit," 49f./BPSS.

Although it has often been declared dead, the critical theory of the
1930s and 1940s exhibits an astonishing ability to survive. If at times
it has appeared to be only of historical interest,l today there are more
and more who directly or indirectly link their work to the intentions
of its so.(}aJ~s.~<;,ntific
ro ramo The best-known recent example isJrgen Ha ermas, who has described "early critica1theory" as an important approach to explaining "those pathologies of modernity that other
approaches pass right by for methodological reasons."2\For Habermas, what "remains instructive" above al! is the "interdisCiplinary research program/' which in his eyes offers greater intel!ectual stimulus
for a critical theory of society than the later theses on the "dialectic of
enlightenment" and the concept of "instrumental reason."3 Neverthe1ess, Habermas himse1f concedes that this is only a "conjecture"
whose validity may wel! be contested.4
Th~sJLI2recise1 the starting point for this c!Iapt~r. It attempts to
explicate the interdisciplinary program of early critical theory from
thr~e persp~ctives. :he first ste is to rec~mstruct the basic arguments
and underl}'il!g concepts formulated EJ Horkheimer in his'reflections
on the p'ossibilit'i;;sand limits of scientific knowledge. He;;I will show
~nditiofl
..C?f~!:!ti<:<ll.~l1eory
in the ~arly 1930s.~s.~_~P.<:,9.fic
~.<>.f.tlJ,~50nt~Il).PC?.!~ry_~i?~i<:t.!
sciences, in both their ".~()ll.rg~ojs"
:'materiali~t" ~~r.~2!1s.,Se!:Qnd,according to these analyses, not
"--onlythe bourgeois (or idealist) paradigm but also the materialist version of science exhibits specific aporias, which are different but not
independent. A critical theory, Horkheimer concludes, must reflect

IDO

101

Wolfgang BonB

The Program of Interdisciplinary Research

these aporias and try to avoid them by developing a new form of


organizing scientific work. The concept of "interdisciplinary mate!:ialisrr( !:~presents an attempt to do so by c0l!lbiningsocial philos()p!ry
with social research from this "organizational" perspectiv_e.)n c~mch:.sion I will discuss the problems and shortcomings inherent in Hork~r's
earIy project. My thesis is that the revision of interdisciplinary materialism toward the end of the 1930s was by no means due
to changing circumstances alone. Contrary to what is often claimed
(by Habermas as well), it points to epistemological weaknesses whose
articulation appears particularly important at a time when the reactualization of critical theory could easily lead to the construction of a
myth.

"a productive power and a means of production," science also t!.a~forms societ}'since it expands the power of human control and pro-;ides the intellectual preconditions for a growing domination of outer
and inner nature.

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. ---

.- .

te::

The Critique of Science as Basis and J ustification for


Critica! Theory
~l~
From its beginnin~~~he basic concer~~f critical theory was to "deter mine the social role of science."5 This can be demonstrated particulady clearly with reference to the Zeitschri{J fr So~!!:.lf2!schung, where
emp-iricalaI!<ll}'s_es
and (me.t!2tlu:oreticalreflecti.9!lswere always cl<?s<o!J
related...!~_0!lem<?tl1e.!J~hatthe lat~er were ~ccorded decisive sig~ificance was evident even In the first Issue, WhIChwas to haye been Introduced with a piece by Horkheimer, uScience and Socie.ty."Due to
his illness, this essay was never written, and "Notes on Science and the
Crisis" was published in its place. These notes are of great importance
for the conception of interdisciplinary materialism; they contain in
highly condensed form the basic propositions of early critical theory's
interpretation of science, propositions that were elaborated in Horkheimer's later essays. From a systematic perspective, these basic pr0l2:
ositions present three~
on (fu.h~relation <:>f
ssi~!:ce to societ ,
(~_!:.titi.ol1
of-sEie.p<:.'e
totruttt,
and
(&~l!.e_<;.r.~ts_.teI:1~encies
qf --.
.
~..-.
~!!<;~:

---

1. Science, according to Horkheimer's first thesis, is always related tQ_


society in two ways. On the 0l!f..hand, it is a socially conditioned structure; its development obeys the imperatives of uimportance for [social] life" and the form in which it appears "itself changes as part of
the social process" (UBemerkungen," lICT, 3). On the oth~!..ha~, as

2. Insofar as the usefulness of science is not identical with its validhY,


~i;ntifi~kn;;l~dge is only !ncompl~~ely.~~~I.~i.!!~<!E~s:!~~!Qn
to'
~ejy.Jfo.!:~l:!.eimer therefore suppleJ!len,t~.t~efirst proposition with
the thesis of the truth relatedness of science, which is also spelled out
in t~~-;;~~ti~~~:--That-sci~~~~--~~;:;~ot
be-reduced to its relation to
society is shown, first, by t~~_'.:!l1ivers<lliz.ability
of scientific knowled.g,e,
since its "truth holds even for those who oppose it, ignore it, or de- .
dare it unimportant" ("Wahrheit," 239/"Truth," 423). On the other
hand, itsE.e.I~.!ion
t~..tr:.u!?.al~o_!~p-!ie~<I.
c~t:.!"taina,'.:!.~?E.2.!!!.Y;
despi!~_!ts
sociaLLn~~rt:st~
tocf.ecide_~hat is or ~
~~ial cOI!.ditioning~::!! !~J:I-2.~[or.
not tr'.:!~;J<lt.h~.!:L!l1.e.
<:r:it~E.ia.:.
f()E..~.tI!.':!-.h<l.ve
develop'~din connecti~n
;it!?-j>rr:.es~atthe theoret~caJ~~vel"(UBemerkungen," I1CT, 3).
s:-Fr~m thevlewpoint of its reIatlon to society as well as its relation
to trutn~ scienc<LPls~.nts".!he- otentlarforr6-ress
in t~owe e:'However, its realization depends on social conditions that can hinder
or encourage it. According to Horkheimer's third thesis, in advanced
capitalism those elements inhibiting progress achieve more and more
importance, necessarily resulting in an external and internal crisis.
F!:om the p~rspe~t.!ve.<:>L~_.~.lati().~_!~.
so<;it':ty,~~i~1?-_@_c
..knowled~
ushares the fate of.2!.h_erpr.og~ct.!vl':_
fo!ces and mC::<lll:s
o~prodll.c.ti<:>n-.:
!~ a.:ppli~~.9.BjsshaU!!Y.Qi~~..!t~!!'!!~-!2...i.!!1ev~~_<!~Y_C:!<2E!!!.e!!.t
and tQ...~ereal needs of humankind" ("Bemerkungen," 2/CT, 4). These
external hindrances carry over into an immanent ulimitation on science evident ... in its content and form, its subject matter and method"
(UBemerkungen," 7/CT, 9), resulting in a far-reaching crisis in its relation to truth.
These._.~h~~~s}!l.~~e
it cle.a~.tEatf~r..~~~lycritic:al.t~eo['r,_l~Ee'p~~s~!l.~s
a unitr, t:!lcO".lP.'!-.~~~ll~L~?..t!!._~<l~!~ang_!~e~.
Facts are facts
only in the context of theoretical interpretations, and the further development of theories depends on empirical investigation. ~unity.
of theoretical and empirical work, science is n01-onJy a .cognitive but
also a so~ialcontext, and its development can be described as a udou'Ole," social-cgnitive structure. Science appears as an externally con-

102

103

WolfgangBonB

The Program of InterdisciplinaryResearch

ditioned and internalIy secured system for the development of


knowledge that increasingly impedes itself-not, to be sure, in the
sense of a "dialectic of enlightenment" but due to the sharpening contradictions of the capitalist organization of society.
. This argument was spelIed out more closely through various historical and systematicanalysesof the evolution of modern science in which
Horkheim~r wenton to distinguish between a bourgeois and a mate~Iist line of development. BOrgeois and matenalis SClencewere
conceived in this context as two social-cognitive structures that can be
clearly distinguished from one another but not in such a way that one
is clearly superior. Rather, embedded in the general dynamic of social
development, they included both merits and the potential for crises..
!hese di.vergent features would have to be precisely articulatedJ!!,
<;>rderto c~~'!..t~_~!!.~_ba~!s
f?t!!~~el:()R.i.!1ga,c!>J!lPIehensivesientific-

,arguments, developed in this context, cannot explain the.s,Qcial.order:


"The manner in which each individual contributes to the workmgs of
the entir~ society through his labor, and is at the same time influenced
by it, reinains completely obscure" ("Metaphysik," 167/CT, 91). For
just this reason it is also "idealistic": the entire s~cial fabric appears. as
a subjective-moral order, not as one codetermmed by structures mdependent of the subject. This view, typical of the Enlightenment,
begins to falter as the institutionalization of bourgeois society pro,gresses. The process of institutionalization makes it emphatically ~Iear
that social relations get established behind the backs of the subjects
without conforming to the idea of their rational constitution.
As is well known, within philosophy, this idea was interpreted as
"division: [Entzweiung]" and, at the same time, universalized.6 Corresponding to this figure of thought, familiar since early romanticism,
social objectivity no longer appears as the result of the subjects' own
rational action but rather confronts them as quasi-natural, external
coercion. As for the structure of the social production of knowledge,
this means a momentous separation of these spheres that persists even
if the division of subject and object is conceived as something produced, as it is for Hegel. Given this condition, the world of social
objects takes on, in reflective consciousness, a life of its own a~d increasingly attracts scientific interest. This trend forms the basls for
the emergence of the "positive," specialized sciences that enjoyed such
an undreamed-ofboom in the nineteenth century.
Horkheimer leaves open thespecifics of how this change in the production of knowledge is to be conceived. But as the later essays show
("Wahrheit," 326ff.l"Truth," 412ff.; "Traditionelle," 255ff.lCT, 199ff.),
he assumes a functional parallelism between social and scientific development. ))e external condition for the positivizi~,g~fscie~ce lies
in the universalization-of a mode of sociaLperceptlon m w.htch the
realitff the world of social objects is measured according t~ criteria
of utilization, exploitation, and administration. Within science this
structural change takes the form' of an intensive occupation with the
logic peculiar to specific object-domains; these ar~ investil?ated "wit.hout presuppositions," that is, independent of thelr place m the sOCIal
totality,' however this may be constituted. This epistemological perspective makes possible an expansion of research according to an ambiguous dynamic. On the one hand, reified structures, independent

p~raIJl,~ QI1,:' <;.mable_2lprovid~I!K.a-st~I:t~p.,g,g.<J!~t,


fo~ ~i~!:~9~!!w.
~c:.CIe!_~~lf-i~
posedim p'~dj~~E~t.<J.!ne_P.r2g~~,~Pr.kt:J:l)~!~.Qge
.
,
If we fifStconsldertl!~Q!1.[g~ois line of a~'yelRme..!!!,
we find, ac cording to Horkheimer, a systematichistory of decline, beginning with
epoch-making progress in knowledge and ending with a growing contradiction between science as a productive power and capitalist relations of production. The epochal achievement of bourgeois th~,>ught
consists in the ema?cipation orRnwledge from tta'di 'onal, feudal
conditions al : the formation ofew structures""'of perception;
bourgeois society no longer accepts the world as'God given; J5i recognizes it as something:pn:~d~and
capable of !?ei,.nzroduced. This
,change is most evident in modertura science, whicn aims at "increasing the knowledge of nature and achieving new powers of control over man and nature" ("Metaphysik," 14/CT, 24). And with respect
to inner nature, one can also see, since the development of early bourgeois law, a gradual "liberation ... from the comprehensive unity of
the Middle Ages" ("Metaphysik," 167/CT, 91),.culminating in the rational philosophy of the eighteenth century and, in particulr, in the
~notion of ;:.orrstu!!ve~sq!1. With this notion, the kno;~
.aS9,:~r~~!ou?e fi!:'t..!.i~~~consciousnes~f itself as an independent
being" ~(Ibid.) that osits the worlcl from otrt
--------o irseWan clainrst.
grod social objectivity rationally.
Althougli tlie se f-thematiiatlon bLsociety founded on ra,tional philosophy played a d~cisive role in the struggle against absolutism, its

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"

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104

105

WolfgangBon6

The Programof InterdisciplinaryResearch

of the subject, can be articulated in great detail; on the other hand,


the fiction of a "presuppositionless" analysis of social reality leads to
an uncritical reproduction of the dominant principies of utilization,
exploitation, and administration. The very impulse that initiates
progress in the specialized sciences thus makes them narrow-minded
and renders them blind to their own social constraints.
The limitation of research to the logic of external forms points, for
Horkheimer, to shortcomings that at first go unnoticed but eventually
grow into a "crisis" as the contradictions of capitalist society become
acute. With the accumulation of isolated knowledge of details, the
specialized disciplines fail to face "the problem of the social process as
a whole," which in effect seems unreal, although it "dominates reality
through deepening crises and social conflicts" ("Bemerkungen," 3/
CT, 5). The guantitative expansion of knowledge comes into contradiction with the qualita9v~eed for a rational anal)'sis of society. Thi~
~J1lanifestsitself in deficits in the organization of science as welr;;sin
epistemological aporias.
-__
~iPc:::ctt...Q....th.e-rganization of science, first to be noticed is the
~ha~ic ~p~.ci~iz~ti.on"(':Lage," 40) Q.fthe iniU~!~ualdisciplines that
leads ~ "negle~t of the dynamic relationships between the separate
object-domains" ("Bemerkungen," 4/CT:6). Kowledge expands, but
no deepening of knowledge results. Particular and sRecialized analyses,.~h.i<:h<i9no.tperJ!1itass~~tio.l1_S_S9.[l~c::;~i!i&;~&ty
.asa ~hol~'~~d
together co_Il~tituteonly an irrationalpicture 'of reality, emerge in place
of a systematic analysis of the social totalit of humanit and-nature.
Stillcl~a~er'~the ~hiftf;~~'~~~-;t~;~~ t~-;;~"';';~ternal
~risis"inthe
epistemological "narrowing" of scientific rationality, which takes the
form of a conflict between "empirical science" and "speculative social
philosophy" ("Bemerkungen," 4/CT, 6). Horkheimer addressed this
opposition in terms of a pobrrization between positivism and metaphysics.Justified concerns underlie both forms of knowledge: the true
core of the positivism of the individual sciences lies in its insistence on
deciphering social being as a positive, functional nexus, that of metaphysics in its fundamental inquiry "into the 'whither' of human existence" ("AbG," 70/BPSS). But the historical bifurcation and absolutizing
of both modes of knowledge turn their legitimate concerns into ideology. Since they confront one another as c10sed conceptions of science, bolstered by comprehensive worldviews, the conclusion is

warranted that one is dealing with "two different phases of a single


philosophy
that downgradeselements
natural ofknowledge"
("Metaphysik," 28/{.)o.l
a negative deveIopmentallogic,~
rV:>
CT, 40). As complementary
they systematically paralyze the investigation of the total social
process.
, In contrast to the later models of critical theory, in the early 1930s
the aporias in eQ.!.~,mol~gy_'!..~<!..!he,.2-!,~f,li~~~.?n
of~~cie~$ are nol
explained as the result of an unalterable "dialectic of enlightenment."
For Horkheimer the ca~~~~_~,!y)n
s00~I_rt:lationsand_~~~.org~!lization
of scie~ce, with the result that "the prevailing practice of scienc J
is outdated in its form" ("Metaphysik," 23/CT, 34). Against this "out
dated" form stand the materialist anal ses; a~'!!!..<l!t~rnativ~to b 111'
~<?~cj_enc~,th~}l~<lte!ia!ist P'!E<l19!!l..<l
so offers the fundam nl (
Roint of departure fC?rOV~!~~f!lingth~.~p~r.!~s.This becomes vid 1\1,
however, only ifthe concept of"materialism" is not too narrowly 01\
ceived. Or, in a formulation counter to the contemporary orlh 1(1
materialism means more than "such definitive statem nlS a. 111 tt
'everything real is material' " ("Metaphysik," 9/CT, 19). A lIlI .llt I
native conception of science, itcefers to a cognitive and S al l' 1111 1\
process that goes beyond the principie of returning t mal.('1
1 lit
of affairs. It begins with the achievements of the b ur~'( i. (e lIt ,
transcends them, and leads to a more comprehensiv 01'11\ 01 (1111 I
tuting and appropriating reality.
This emphatic characterization should nOl b mi 1I11c1('1 towl
the history of materialism reveals, its chara l ri li f(H 11101 ((111 111
tion and appropriation has not been with III rI e' 01 I 11 '11 II1I
Horkheimer, an adequate concept ofmal~riali.lll ('111/1 I "d' 111
developed historically. As the pre urs r and pollll 01 d l' 1111110 1111
the materialist paradigm, he /irst tak s IIp 111(' "111'11 I
111 111 111
early bourgeoisie" ("Metaphysik," 23/ T, il3), wll, Ir e 1111 1 d 11 IIr
ntural law doctrines of the sixl nl.h ('111111 IlId Il 11, 1111 1 t 1
"Copernican revolution." Th m I110d. or oh 1 111111 1"111'11 I 1,
Copernicus, Galileo, and N wlon moy h,lV( II'JlII Illle d 1111111
terialism, conceiving th w Id o. 1 1>11111 1111 11111 I ,1 111 11 I
terial states. But its s I a fui n flOlllllllOl1l
.Itl
11\1111 1"'
111
the /irst tim a on. cie 11 I 1110111111 e tll',lllIl 11111111111 1 11 1111

11

11

11

is Iy h

fir

1",

Iw( 11111

II( I 1" lile.,


po ihl 1I1l111

fOl'

1,1
1.,1'

1 dI.

l'

111,111

111

11111111 1111 1111 t


111

1111

1.111

106

Wolfgang

107

BonB

The Program of Interdisciplinary Research

of nature, and the'''idea that we may have already passed the optimum leve! of technological productivity" is foreign to it ("Metaphysik," 16/CT, 26-27).
Such confidence in the positive possibilities of the deve!opment of
productive forces may seem almost naive today. But in contrast to
contemporary cultural pessimism a la Spengler, it is completely understandable, and the idea of the rational domination of nature retains its sense if conceived in noninstrumental terms as the possibiJity
of a rational alterability of the worId. Qne might welIdispute whether
this interpretation was actualIy Horkheimer's during the early 1930s.
In favor of such a reading, however, is the fact that he also accorded
the assumption of a potential and, in principIe, rational alterability
the stat~s of a fund.a~ental epistemological principIe. A~<:?rdi!$.-,,~
~~IIl.~!'!.fFlat(malist
tb,pllght jlo9.i.stjng!1~hed by.J~ fu~a.f.Il~
tally opent:.!:.~tl:lre; it refC:E~
..!(),a.'.'c?!1~~pt.ofknowledge as a nonindepe!1.gen~p~ce~~hi~h ~~ho~C:.
~.efi':ledonlt ionthe. co~t~xt of the
dr!!~mil: of s?~!::~"("MetaphysIl<.,"19/Cr, 30). lt~lealsneither t~a-solute truth nor to ultjmate~definitive ~tatement~b;';-t'~~ti~-~i~
-a..::d-ialec,~~al'_:.relati0lJshiP.~~!ll.~_()cial_~~~elopment.- . . 'o
For .f:I
__
2.r.!<-.h~!J.I1t':.!:!.
"di~lectics"constitutes (he ultimately.decisive key
to ch~.!:.ao<:!~!io~ing_tJ1e,
o..r.c:n-en<!e.dne.ss.?!:.
J!la!~riaIist kIl2wledz..e.He
distinguishes two stages in the develo mept?f the dialectical conc~
.ion o nowleCr-e:AccoraingtO his interpretation, the first"is found
10 fIege! who, in The Phenomenology 01 Sprit, worke ' ou f e processual character of scientific knowledge. Here truth is not an ontological
condition but is realized onl in the movement of though~ k-;;'O"wle eo
e conlitioned char~so
ate:rcontents and in t eIr
progressive transformation:
--

,..--(

----

Re~ognitio_Il2Lt~~conditional character of every isolated vie~ a,~dr~f.~


gf Its a?s~~~~, cl.lmtot~uttl does not destroy this conditional knowledg~
r~t~er, It ISmcorporated mto t~1'~2ftr..!:l.!J:1
at any given time as a condlt~o~al,.one-sided, an~isolated ~iew. Tl1roug!ulq~I:tiIlgl:J\l~!h.!u:.2!1!i!1uous
d~limltatJonand correctlOn oE partlal truths, the process itself evolvesits pr~p-er
c--I!!enL-~kI!Q!Yk<!K~_,9.f)if.Ilitt;(:I.
insights in their limits and connection.
..
-, ("Wahrheit," 328/"Truth," 414)

Nevertheless, Hegel himself undermines his own processual approach, since he conceives of an immediate identity of being and con- .

cept and "posits his system as absolute" ("Metaphysik," 21/CT, 32), so


that in the end, social truth becomes an emanation of absolute Spirit.
Here lies the point of departure for the second development, in__
Feuerbach, Marx, ,!nd Engels, through'which -cHa-Iectical
thougnt Be~IaliStlc
anc[ according to the welI-known formula, "stands
Hegel on his feet": "When Feuerbach, Marx, and Engels freed the
dialectic from its idealist form, materialism achieved an awareness of
the ever changing but irreducible tension between its own teaching
and reality, and acquired in the process its own conception of knowl\ eclge" ("Metaphysik," 23/CT, 32),tJust as t~teries
of theor ti d.
their solution in social praxis and a scientific understanding of it, 7 so
'ffie truth-ciam of"HegeIian philosophy-isf:rst realized for Marx in
the analysis of the political economy of capitalism, which carries Qut
its own material negationJThe critique of ideology applied to i~ealistic philosophy becomes identical with its sublation (Aulhebung) 10 the
critique of political economy as the "anatomy of bourgeois society."g
In Horkheimer's eyes, with this sublation understood as both "appropriation" and "critique," Marx formulates a "unification of philosophy and science" ("Metaphysik," 25/CT, 34) that brings with it a "maj~r
transformation of the supporting concepts" and "raises knowledge 10
general to a higher level" ("Rationalismusstreit," 49/BPSS). Wit~ th.e
replacemen~.of the spiritual ..principles of idealism by the real pnI!ClpIes of ~C!ciaL~~~oJ.l!ti<:>n!
gr~:)lmded in the economy, a "turrlJr0..!!l
\.

-t'q. }~E.l.J:y~<:_s
__
to.__
s<:~en@ctht:ory"

("Geschichte," 132/BPS~ti.s ac~i~~e~.


As a consequence, a new relationship arises between the matenal and
ideal, normative and descriptive moments: the contradictions of real
being become the conditions for its transformation.
For Horkheimer, as for Lukcs, the subject and addressee of these
experiences of contradiction is the proletariat,9 and Marxist theory,
as the self-thematization of this cIass, appears as fundamentalIy "postbourgeois." This is true from the scientific as weIlas the political point
of view; as "a formulation of historical experience that corresponds
(
to the current state ofknowledge" ("Geschichte," 133/BPSS), the cri.,h.~')O~
tique of political economy provides the inteIlectual conditions for '~~"'~.~.,!.'
overcoming the social "misery of our times" ("Metaphysik," 14/CT, (.u
24) without defining praxis in an authoritarian fashion. Rather,j~
eroductivity lies preci~e!y..in its openness and i~ the .~n()y.r!~<!ge
~'cif

108

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WolfgangBon/3

The Programof InterdisciplinaryResearch

the ir~e.glvabl.ediff~!_ence
between concep~ and real!!y" ("Wahrheit,"
345/"Truth," 438). It refers to an experience of contradiction whose
truth is considered in scientific discourse and decided in social praxis.
Aware of this, it guides social praxis without being able to replace it.
From these characteristics, it also follows that Marxist theory can
hardly be reduced to a cognitively or strategicalIy "fixed" explanatory
model; if it serves "as a universal method of construction in place of
concrete investigations" ("Geschichte," 132/BPSS), then it transforms
itself into a "closed, dogmat;ic metaphysics," which seems just as suspect of being an ideology as its bt:>urgeoiscounterparts. On the other
hand, the critique of political,economy remains a valid model if, in a
historically reflective attitude, ,itis applied to itself and developed further. T~_:'!a,'Ys" ~f_social development worked out by Marx do n2..t
r~p.!~~.eJ:!t
I?wsin~,l1e sense of the .natur:al sciences" which ob!:<linil!d~!1der:!~!Y.,,2f.!I1~~~j~c;t,tct::_"Ygr<l~~~_,!g.e,"
..4.()~ff); r<1ther,,~~
represen~~~t:~_~i.~~e~<1r.:ching,str.:uctur.:al
..~nd fU,~.~,~~0!1(lJ
r.:.elationshjps
whose concr~~~J()!'.~must,constantly be worked out andjustified al1~w
accordi[lK.t.<?,a_
K~Y_~_[l
c~E..!.~!~~~~~~!issues.
In materialist theory after Marx, however, this demand was repressed rather than fulfilled-a repression that increased in tandem
with the integration of the working class into the bourgeois structure
of domination. This development, which became increasingly clear
after 1918, not only caIled into question the unity of theory and praxis;
it also affected the scientific claims of the materialist paradigm, which
had not anticipated the absence or failure of revolution. Horkheimer's sharpest formulation of this problem was his note, "The Impotence of the German Working Class," in which he emphatically
distinguished between a crisis of materialist praxis and a theoretical
deficit connected with it. The practical crisis, that is, the stagnation of
the workers' movement, was explained in terms of the developmental
dynamic of capitalismJ'which had destroyed the unity of the proletariat: "In our time, the gulf between the employed and those who only
work sporadicalIy or not at all is as wide as that between the entire
working dass and the lumpenproletariat at an earlier periodo ... Work
and misery no longer come together, people no longer experience
both .... But the employed worker is no longer typical of those who
most urgently need change" (Dam1lU!rung,282-83/DD, 61-62). Only
the unemployed still have an interest in socialism, but they lack "the

capacities for education and organization, the classconsciousness, and


the dependability of those who are more or less integrated into the
capitalist enterprise" (Dammerung, 282-83/DD, 61-62). By contrast,
the employed, who directly experience the contradictions of capitalist
production (and, according to Lukcs, should be the first to recognize
them), are uninterested since they fear the threat of unemployment.

I '

\,.}~

~~
'"
Out ()f this necessa.rily_~rises ".div~si?!l))~t,~e~n,tll~_~~()_t:~~olu,ti~'p. -f'\~~t....

3:ryelements: the dlrect mterest 10 ,~o<:~ahsm


and _~~<1!J:!I~!_etIC;<1Lc:()l?-J~
.rf" lrA
sciousness are found on different sides of the proletariat" (Dammerung, v
283/DD~-(2), ~11~<:I1_!!!.e~.p~r.:.a.lyz~.o~,e.,~!1()~h~r:';The
c;pitalist process
of production has thus driven a wedge between the interest in socialism and the human qualities necessary to its implementation .... In'
I

contemporary
Germany,
it expresses
through
the existence
of
two workers' parties
and the
wavering itself
of sizable
segments
of the unemployed between the Communist and the National Socialist parties.
It dooms the workers to practical impotence" (Dammerung, 283-84/

DD,62-63).

According to Horkheimer, these oppositions between the unemployed and the employed, interests and consciousness, radicalism and
reformism also result in a massive internal crisis of materialism, which
shows itself in a false connection to theory and in gaps in research and
\

theory construction. The1jnit of hil~ hical intenti~n_and sci~n- I


, tific p'rC::S,i~io.Il
tha.~Ma.!:~achiev.edapparently fa.llsapart ~incet e "two t
. elements of the dialectical me,thod-factual knowledge and clar~ ('
.) ~nCe!!!LIliJt.!!<!.~e_ntals" Y!.ii:!'L.rr:eru~g,?85/DiJ, 61) ;~;'i~:;~te.d, ,
!
frag~.e.!1.!~(ka-<!..91ten
u.l?-l!!~~Eg!?ly
opposeato oneanother "There
are those who recognize existing society' as bad, but they lack the
knowledge to prepare the revolution practically and theoretically. The
others might be able to produce that knowledge but lack the fundamental experience of the urgent need for change" (Dammerung, 28586/DD, 65). What ~!!l.e..r,g<::sjs,!h1Js
__
;; <!il.e~rI1?c:oIllP!<1l:>!.e_~o
th,e 2Ppositi()I:.!_!:>~t,'Y~_~J:l
..p.~,i!~\'!~~.-.JJ.-nI.!!.c::!~phys.i<=~,
which finds an immediate reflection in the various segments of the workers' movement.
Whereas the Communists make materialism into a dogma, limited to
a "mere repetition of slogans" (Diimmerung, 283/DD, 63), the Social
Democrats have lost their "grasp of all theoretjcal elements" (Dammerung, 284/DD, 63). They lapse into a positivistic, domesticated analy is
of praxis and reject the possibility of radical change. C~p_~ua~

110

III

Wolfgang BonE

The Program of Interdisciplinary Research

blind ~~VLll!!On~rLI.hetoric
and a!1.eqllally b~il1daccommodation to
~oor cQnditi<;msn~~~y~l'y.supplement 0n.eanother,just as do positivIsm and me~phys_~c.,J:lingeri.ng
,?()~h.a real explanation of the crisis
01 the~Q!:.~e.J::
movement and practical steps to overcome i!.'
The Construction of Interdisciplinary

Materialism

~h~t i~su~prising in the diagnosis I have sketched is undoubtedly the


slmllanty In the symptoms of crisis, which is quite significant for
Horkheimer's further argumento Insofar as the contradictions between the theory and the practice of the labor movement were seen
t? parall~l those .between positivism and metaphysics, it might be po;slble to hnk thelr reconstructions and to develop a comprehensive
solution that could be formulated in either bourgeois or materialist
terms, as needed.lo In order to work out the structure as well as the
problems of this proposal, it is useful briefty to recall once more the
aporias of both paradigms.
~~!erialism,
Horkheimer points first and foremost
to the theory-praxis problem as posed by the experience of a missed
revolution and a split in the working class. Thus, the central aporia is
the contradiction between the revolutionary claim and the partial integration of the proletariat. Insofar as this development remains unre~ognized within the labor movement, a second complex of problems
an.ses: the phenomenon of theoretical gaps that, according to Horkhelmer, result in either a dogmatization or dissolution of materialism,
calling ioto question its scientific character.
The aporias of th~ ~.2.~eois lineaf development are described not
~s a problem of praxis but as an immanent narrowing of the rationalIty of knowledge. This appears, on the one hand, as an epistemological problem: with the "division" of reason, the dimensions of factual
knowledge anc\,reftexive, theoretical knowledge are separated from
one another and become independent, contrasting modes of knowledge. Horkheimer also sees this dissociation carried over into a crisis
in the organization of science, which results in both a separation of
philosophy from science and an apparently haphazard differentiation
of specialized disciplines.
fihe connection of these separate arguments now results in a skillfuIly balanced translation of the materialist paradigm into the per-

,"
1I;...

spective of the bourgeois line of development. This 12rocessp.!ocee~


in two ste,P-sthat refer to a gradual withdrawallnto the immanence of
sciillfc ex erience. First, in view 'f the absence of a revolutionary labor movement, the prletariat is redefined not as the subject but as
the addressee of theory, and the theory-praxis dilemma is transformed into the problem of a theory of society that encompasses factual and theoretical knowledge. The reformulation of the concept of
materialism thus ap...Eearsuncoup e from the dimenslOn of praxis "'"
~ting
between fa~e
sciece an reftection-oriented "philo Qph~" Then, on t ISrounda ion, die crisis'of Marxism appears in
an alterec!.!Qrm, asa .proble}!!.o{i~adquate explanations; it i.sinterpret~
as the result of deficient theoretical and empirical distinctions
and, at the same time, translated into a question of scientific organi~
since these theo~tica.1 gaps can, according to Rorkheimer, be
~y
thro.Jl.gh-~ninterdisciplinary ~xtension (or differentiation)
of the materialist paradigm.
--TheOTwing oT a paral]e! between the a orias Q;heory-praxis dilemma/separation of factual and theoretical knowledge) thus leads to
-a connction betw~en the suboTdinate complexes of problems (theo'"'i=eticalgaps/deficits in the organization of science), and out of this transformatlon the concept of "interdisciplinary' ~terialism" as a
programmatic guideline is developed. Tlie justification of the pro. gram results from the redefinitions at the first level. Its formulation,
by contrast, begins on the second level, that is, from a perspective
strictly immanent to science, and proceeds in three separate steps.
The point of departure is the thesis of theoretical gaps, which is explicated both descriptively and prescriptively. Building upon this, the
decision for interdisciplinary differentiation (or extension) of the materialist paradigm is speIled out more precisely, and the goals and
methods of the disciplines involved are justified. The third step is a
metatheoretical extension of the argument: the interdisciplinary choice
is framed in an analysis of the connection between "social philosophy"
and disciplinary "social research" and developed so as to make it suitable for concrete research.
~claiDJ. ab~ut Marxism's theoretical gaps produced not only arguments concerning the organization of science but substantive starting points"for r~~archas weIl. H're ihe vigorous critique of the
orthoclox base-superstructure model should be noted, a model whose

(1, 3

112

Wolfgang BonB

The Program of Interdisciplinary Research

shortcomings, for Horkheimer, lay not so much in theory as in its


empirical consequences. The revolutionary transformations
Marx
predicted occurred only in Russia, where they were least to be expected according to his own assertions.11 In advanced capitalist societies such as Great Britain, the United States, or Germany, a potential
for stabilization was evident, des pite deepening economic crises.
Moreover, developments such as the emergence of fascism in the
Weimar Republic pointed to unexpected, regressive developments in
the social superstructure.
For precisely these reasons, it was necessary
to rethink "the view that cultural disorder is connected with economic

Rather, it is a question ... of organizing investigations on the basis of current

relationships" ("Bemerkungen,"
6/CT, 9). On the side of the eco nomy, what had to be considered above all were "the pressures tending
toward the planned regulation of the economy" ("Vorwort," 111), which
gained importance with the transition to monopoly capitalism.12 Along
with this, the apparent decline in class consciousness, the growing role
of conservative and reactionary attitudes, and the obviously retarding
influence of cultural traditions would have to be elucidated. As
Horkheimer stated in his inaugural address as director of the Institute for Social Research, against this background the substantive work
of interdisciplinary materialism should center on one question, "that
is, on the question of the connection between the economic life of
society, the psychological development of the individual, and the
transformations of the cultural spheres in a strict sense, to which belong not only the 'intellectual' matters of science, art, and religion, but
also law, morality, fashion, public opinion, sport, leisure, lifestyle, and
so on" ("Lage," 43). This formulation already makes clear the Frankfurt citcle's strong "fixation on the superstructure."
They were less
lferested in the internal transformations of the economic structure
tnanin xtra-economic processes, whose social detenination
(in ac-cordance with the Marxist
distinction
between
the
essence
and
ap.,.~
pearance of capitalist relations) was to be investigated as well as their
intrinsic logic of development. For Hor!heimer, making good on this
~was
less a theoretical problem than a problem of die organization of science. Psychological, cultural, and historical arguments must
e emp oyed alongside economic arguments, since the autonomy and
nonsynchronic character of the extra-economic processes could no
longer be understood
through further refinements in economic
explanation:

cal economists, historians, and psychologistsjoin together in ongoing working


philosophical issues, investigations in which philosophers, sociologists, politi~
groups and do in common .... what proper researchers have always done(
nameIy, to pursue philosophical questions directed at the big picture with.thc
most rcfincd scicntific methods; to reformulate and sharpen these questlons
in the course of '4e work; to devise new methods; and yet not lose sight of
4I1BPSS)
the larger contextorLage,"
-c'

lA

With this emphasis, the problem of materialist. theory construction


shifted to reintegrating the individual disciplines, which were to e
dealt with from a social-theoretical standpoint in order to~make toem
compatible with th~ materialist paradigm. Tne eleme-hts of-rne mterdisciplinary extension arose out of the explanatory deficits, which also
established their hierarchical arrangement.
According to Horkheimer, social psychology was to provide the principal contribution to
explaining the "powerlessness of the working class" and, in view of
the "lost revolution," to advance to the position of a second basic discipline, alongside economics: "The economic appears as comprehensive and primary, but knowledge of conditionedness
in detail, the
working out of the mediating processes themselves, and thus also
comprehension of the results depend upon psychological work ... ,
since the present is characterized more by the unknown effect of economic relations upon the whole form of life than by conscious economic motives" ("Geschichte," 140-41/BPSS).
The task of clarifying the nonsynchronic relation between base and
superstructure
falls to social psychology conceived as an (individualistic) "psychology of the unconscious" ("Geschichte," 135/BPSS).13 From
this key position, it prestructured
the order and orientation of th
other disciplines, which, therefore, were seen in almost functional terms.
The cultural disciplines as represented in the Institute by Adorno's
sociology of music and L6wenthal's sociology of literature are not worthy in this respect.14 According to Horkheimer, within the interdisciplinary context, their task consisted of analyzing the production
of economically generated and social-psychologically mediated cultural objectivations, in order to supplement the "subjective" (or psychological) side of the superstructure
with a grasp of its "objectiv "
(or sociological) structures.
This claim remained selective in more than one respect. For instance, transindividual social structures could not be comprehend d

115

114

The Program of lnterdisciplinaryResearch

WolfgangBonB

on .the basi.sof individual psychology's presuppositions, a defect that


ulomately ~ndicates a critical "sociological deficit." 15Moreover, both
~ro~ramatlcally and factually, the emphasis lay on problems of the
. sO~IO~~lturalsystem," whereas the second major sphere of the "obJectlve s~pers~ructure, the political system, was neglected. Of course,
t~e Ins~ltute mcluded highly competent specialists' such as Otto
Klrchhelmer and Franz Neumann, but Horkheimer did not feel compelled to accord political sociology or political scienc~ a independent
status wit~in th~ p~0~ram.16 In contrast to history, these were not
even mentl~n~d III hstmg.sof t~e various components of interdisciplinary matenahs~ .. On thls pomt, Horkheimer clearly remained depe~~ent on ~rad1tlonal Marxism, which had dealt with the realm of
pohocs but dld not regard it as an independent entity:""l
. Nevertheless, his concept went beyond orthodox m~rialism just as
It went beyond those conceptions of interdisciplinary social analysis
developed by contemporary sociology from Weber to Tonnies.17 In
c?n~rast to the "bourgeois" models, Horkheimer's concept of interdisCIph~ary research was explicitly grounded in social theory, and overc~~m~ the chaotic specialization ("Lage," 40/BPSS) of the individual
dlsclplme~ see~ed possible only to the extent that they were opened
up. to a hlst?ncally sensitive, materialist approach. Horkheimer descnbed the hnk~g~ a~d the social-theoretical turn given to the partial
results of the dlsCIplmes more precisely as a process of coordinating
res~arch strategy that consists of three elements: social philosophy,
sOCIalre~earch,. and the t~eory of the course of history. By thiLvi~,
t~e ~g
pomt for SOCIaltheory is social philosophy, which,.as a
~I!.ferentlated, materialistic critique, formulates the "theoretical in~
tention ori:n~ed to what is universal and 'essential' " ("Lage," 41/BPSS).
.It <!~.LtJllSm the. fonp of ~~neral assumptions about the structure
~
the social totality. According to Horkheimer, such
assum Oon _..c.,l)J~o.t
inl~?yc1aim'sci~rtificobjectivity, although they
~ ~ot.:! all.partl.c~~ar~s:1C
or subiectivist!c. Rather, thy appear with'
a ~!.l~ to.ulllversahzablhty b'!-ted upon prescientific experience. This
c!~~~ca_~,bescientifica!lyreformulated to the extl?nt that the assump5!9-ns...ar.~suessfuUy
t.es.tt~d_at
th~ J~vel of economics, social psychology, or t~e cu!t~~I.:ci:~c:: ..18 .!h~"~:..~:ntIfic" status of socIa pIiIlo:--'
sop ya ready m<hcatesthe Importance of social rese"rcn.Its taskis to'"
.-trasf~~

"l5igque~"('::Lage,"

4iiBps~

~tandards

o'

the individual disciplines and treat them comprehensivel with the


availi5remetiro-dolu-gtcaltools:,Wi'K:l the idividual sce"itcesresuhs iii. a transfonaiion
and securing of the universalizable concepts
of social philosophy, which acquire a new form through their objectivation in the sciences and receive a deeper grounding. What Horkheimer calls the "theory of the historical course of the pre~tePOCl"
("Vrwort,." III) can then arise fro~ the collaborative effort of social philosophy and social research, that is, an analysis that summarizes
me various dimensions of capitalistic relations. This analysis synthes'izes sciiltificand philosophical claims to objectivity in such a way that
the whole social process becomes visible as a "concrete totality."
The Revival of Interdisciplinary

Materialism-and

Its Limits

Horkheimer's argument as a whole comes down to three points than


comprise the constructive logic of the programo The starting point
lies in the thesis that science is a social-cognitive structure, that is, one ~
that is relative to both society and truth;' science enters a crisis to the
extent that these two defining moments come into conflict with one ,
another. The elaboration of this thesis proceeds through a historicalsystematic reconstruction of two types of science, the bourgeois and ,
the materialist paradigms, whose differing courses of development
lead to the formation of their own aporias. Finally, from the analysis I
and reciprocal translation of these ,aporias, Horkheimer derives the
program of interdisciplinary materialism, conceived in terms that en- .
compass the paradigms; this program is meant to reintegrate the mo-/
ments relating to truth and to society. The interconnection of these
three steps becomes more visible when they are graphically repre-\
sented (figure 5.1).
By comparison with other contemporary assessments of the possi-'
bility of critical social analysis, this line of argument is both refined
and ambitious. Unlike orthodox Marxism, Horkheimer does not treat
discussions about science and crisis as a problem limited to "bourgeois
science," and unlike the sociology of knowledge, 19he does not abandon social-theoretical claims and settle for an epistemological relativism that makes reduced truth-claims. Rather, the interdisciplinary
model was to make possible a productive handling of aporias that,
according to Horkheimer, cannot be overcome but can be managed

1:

.,

l'

i.

il
;1

r.

.J

I
'\

116

117

WolfgangBonB

The Program of InterdisciplinaryResearch

Science and crisis


science as social-<:ognitive
andlolruth

slruclure

crisis as aporelic conlradiclion


and lo Irulh

wilh momenls relaling lo society

between momenls

relaling lo society

maleril-list

bourgeois

theory-practice

separation

dilemma

laclual and Iheorelical

between

knowledge

theorelical

fragmentalion

gaps

organization

Interdisciplinary
tween:

materialism

social phiJosophy

(=

within Ihe
01 science

as the connection

be-

general assumptions

about Ihe structure and development

01 society

asawhole)
social research

(=

disciplinary

scienlilic

search in the domains 01 economics,


chology, and culture)
theory 01 the course 01 history

Figure 5.1

re

social psy.

through the organization of science. PreciseIy here lay his decisive,


innovative achievement. This accomplishment is all the more impressive if one bears in mind that the social sciences were still insufficiently
differentiated from the domains of philosophy, jurisprudence, and
ublic administration in the German-speaking world in the early 1930s.
With this shift to the organization of science and the redefinition of
substantive problems as procedural ones, Horkheimer anticipates developmental trends whose systematic formulation first became possible with the methodological turo constitutive of today's versions of
critica1theory (Habermas, Wellmer).2oSuch anticipatory moments have
formed the basis for ascribing to interdisciplinary materialism a "very
timely and reIevant potential, as yet unrealized in the history of sience,"21 a potential to e made good on in the present-a c1aimthat
Habermas has adopted. Of course, both Habermas and others have
pointed out that early critical theory was concerned with an "interpretation of Marx's work under conditions that belong irretrievably to
the past," an interpretation that as such can hardly be simply revived.22But this reservation is generally intended less systematically
than historically and can even serve to strengthen c1aimsfor its contemporary significance; the fact that the interdisciplinary program
encountered obstacles to its realization in practical research, and thus
was silently abandoned at the end of the 1930s, is traced not to systematic weaknesses but to "historical contingencies."23 The implicit
thesis is that if these "historical contingencies" are overcome, a direct
reactivation is possible.
With resEect_to the e.pistemological structure of interdisciQlinar
materialism, however, such an assessment is too limited, and it seems
signifcant that attempts at reactivating it, like that of Habermas, 'invok.e Horkheimer more rhetorically than substantivel . That Horkheimer's program remained bound to those fronts on which it toiled
can be seen first of all in a frequently overlooked "rupture" between
the critique of science and the proposed solution to it. This rupture
becomes more apparent in figure 5.1. However plausible the individual elements of interdisciplinary materialism (social philosophy, social
research, theory of the course of history) may be at first sight, their
seIection and ordering are only indirectly conpected to the preceding
critique of science. The directional arrowS between the individual steps
in the argument make it c1ear that the transformation of the aporias

118

119

WolfgangBonB

The Program of lnterdisciplinaryResearch

~n the cent~al, "theoreti~al" (or foundational) section of the diagram


lS ~ot co~tl~u~d be!ow m the presentation of the scientific program
of mterdlsClplmary materialism. Nor is this undarity simply an artifact of th.e figure, since it does not disappear if one attempts, as Helmut Duble.1has, to spell out the logic of the interdisciplinary program
more pr~Clsely.24Horkheimer's concept can be interpreted from this
perspectlve as a reformulation of Marx's view of the relation between
"researc~" ando"~r~sentation,"25 but this does not begin to explain
ho~ the mterdlsclphnary production of knowledge can lead to a soIU~l~nof those aporias that, according to Horkheimer's own analysis,
ongmated after or apart from Marx's own work.
~ac~_~~?_
of social,..E!!iJk>so,;>h.y,.
socia:I.research, apd the
_tbe2I.:r oLt!:lec01;1rs:of hisiOrywas not as well thought through as it
..:pp~r~o_~<~ows ltS~~t ot~~rE?il1Js, s__
ch-anlie-f~entlx
used
m_etap~?f
~nter Isqplmary research. The notion of inteJ~iscip..linar: rese~rch. lSgenerally defined as an "ongoing working group" of
'yanous sCl<:..nUsts
tha..t.arises"on the basis of current philQsQ.phkalis. s~~s" ("Lage,'~ 411BPSS) and almost automatically transforms the condltlons of knowledge.)nsofar as the representatives of the various
-discIplines join together in a prC)DTem:orientedreari"anddoin com- .
~n ... wht proper ;esea~chers have always done" (ibid.), ~hey tran~
.t~e fragmentation of science and contribute to overcoming the
Oppos.ltlOnbetween positivism and metaphysics. The emphatic formulann o~ this ~hesi.smay at first seem to carry conviction, but upon
sober conslderatlon It can be conceded only limited validity. Apart
fram the shared set of problems, in Horkheimer's conception the work
of the disciplines remains unchanged. In the end, the interdiscipli~ary dai~ amounts to no more than an external formula for integrauon, a Vlewthaf is certainly vulnerable to objections. This is all the
more true since the magic words interdisciplinary research have lost much
of their critical connotation. It has long since become fashionable in
~olitic~1~ci~nce'fo immunize oneself against criticism by invoking an
mterdlsClphnary orientation. In light of such experiences, an unarticu.lated trust in the procedural-transformative dynamic of interdisciph~a.ry "worki~g .groups" seems both naive and distorting, for the
envIsloned qualltatlvechanges do not result automatically. Rather, these
changes can be realized only by going beyond the mere collaborative

I
I
I
i

work of various specialized disciplines to interact in a way that transforms the disciplines themselves.
With his "naive" understanding of interdisciplinary research,
Horkheimer also faBs short of the leve! on which his own critique of
science operates. If his argument is taken seriously, one must assume
that, along with the breakdown of the connection once posited between philosophy and science, the forms of scientific-rational appropriation developed within the context of the Enli~~tenme~t concept
of reason are also brought into question. The cnsls of SClencethus
also lll~ans a crisis of its methods, and overcoming the aporias Horkheimer described correspondingly presupposes the development of
an alternative methodology. However, this issue is never raised; from
a methodological point of Vlew, Horkheimer's conception rem~ins
largely conventional. He was, of course, well aware of the se1ect~vity
of the work within the individual disciplines, but he hardly took mto
account that this se!ectivity is conditioned by the way the disciplines
constitute their objects and is continually reproduced at the methodologicallevel. Instead, Horkheimer caBed for social research to go on
applying the "most refined scientific methods" ("Lage," 411BPSS) as
if they were value neutral and would be given a critical turn ex post
through their integration with social philosophrl
,From today's point of view, such a conceptlon seems more than
problematic. It also indicates decisive weaknesses in t~e program ~s a
whole. Quite apart from the fact that the reformulauon of maten~lism was achieved at the cost of separating materialist critique (= sOClal
philosophy) from material analysis (= social research), this conception amounts to a tacit upgrading of social philosophy that is both
undear and ambiguous. To be sure, Horkheimer be!ieves that after
Marx philosophy as material theory can no longer be justified, but in
his eyes it was not thereby overcome or, as in the case of Habermas,
reduced to the status of an inquiry concerned with justification. Instead, philosophy appears as a loose bundle of convictions drawn from
the philosophy of history-the normative remains of the critique of
political economy, which functions as a kind of "court of final appeal."
It is hardly surprising that this "court" remained remarkably vague,
apart from a few associative references to historical materialism, since
even then Horkheimer's conception amounted to a history of the de-

11

i
1

120

Wolfgang BonB

121
The Program of Interdisciplinary Research

cline of philosophY.;.But at the programmatic level, he did not draw


the consequences. Despite his own postulates Horkheimer was in no
position to think t rough the concept of philosophy in a post-Hegelian form, nor could he imagine an autonomous development of so-

r
J

cial research]
Fromofthis
perspective,
Adorno
was more
consisten
lo His "The Actuality
Philosophy"
(1931)
at times
suggests
an alternative
model

for the program of interdisciplinary materialism.26 Adorno interpreted the crisis of science and philosophy as a transformation of the
, conditions of the possibility of knowledge. He assumed that after the
breakdown of the Enlightenment's concept of reason, knowledge can
only be produced negatively. To the extent that the universalization
of the commodity form eliminates the potential of sociallife to oppose
the existing structures, "only history now vouches for the images of
our lives."27They appear only in traces, splinters, and fragments, and
deciphering them requires a concept of "preserving traces" that goes
beyond the "most refined scientific methods" in Horkheimer's sense
and points to a different form of scientific appropriation.28
....Of course, one may argue whether Adorno's version of the concept
of "preserving traces" can be reconciled at all with the program of an
interdisciplinary social science, but it can hardly be contested that his
argument took Horkheimer's critique of science more seriously and
even radicalized it. As Susan Buck-Morss has shown, on this point
Adorno stood much closer to the "dialectic of enlightenment" than to
the concept of "interdisciplinary materialism,"29 and precisely this
emphasis was probably what hindered his line of thought from
achieving more influence on the development of early critical theory.
For Horkheimer at the beginning of the 1930s, there could be no
question of anticipating the "dialecticof enlightenment." Like Adorno,
he saw an increaslng trend toward irrationalism but did not interpret
these symptoms of a crisis as an irreversible destruction of reason.
Rather, they appeared as a temporary, sociallyconditioned regression
that was to be illuminated by the positive, specialized sciences. And
the integration of these sciences, in turn, was understood to be fundamentally rational, inasmuch as the "detour" of analyzing the
regression would uncover the possibility of bringing about a realization of reason.

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This perspective resulted in a selective perception of the individual


disciplines. Notice was taken only of what appeared to be useful for
the envisioned explanatory goal. Of interest was less their internal
logic (including their respective social-theoretical merits and deficits)
than their suitability for being integrated into a theory of the "lost
revolution." The unclarities and ambiguities this involved can be seen
particularly clearly in the case of the economy, which ultimately appears in two different forms. On the one hand, it constitutes an indispensable, fundamental concept of social theory; on the other hand,
according to the interdisciplinary program, it must be identifiable as
an individual scientific discipline. In the work of the Institute, these
two aspects were carefully separated from one another and assigne?
their own jurisdictions. Thus, the social-theoretical implications of political economy, such as the formulations on class and revolution, were
integrated into the basie assumptions of Horkheimer's social philosophy. On the other hand, in the domain of social research, Pollock
worked at developing a conventional, positive economics with a funetionalist stamp, in which economic processes were conceived as isolated functional complexes apart from all politieal connotations.30
Consequently, the reception of political economy remained ambivalent. Although it constituted a basic element in the theoretical framework as wellas the self-eonception of the Frankfurt circle, the unpolitical
economic functionalism represented by Pollock implicitly ran countcr
to this self-conception, though none of the members reflected on this
contradiction at the time.
The selectivity and the functionalist bias in the analyses of the in
dividual disciplines are also discernable in social psychology, whi h
was to research the psychic proeessing of economically induced b
havioral imperatives and their transformation into specifie culturfll
meanings. Such an explanation of "ideology as arising from the int 'l'.
action between the apparatus of psychic drives and socio-economi .
conditions"31 seemed indispensable in view of the increasing dis r p.
ancy between the "objective" economic situation and the "subje tiv'"
readiness for action, but the explanation never went beyond prc is Iy
this discrepancy. The constitutional issue of the conditions of pos j.
bility of proletarian class consciousness was not .discussed, nor w 1'(
cncealed counterstructural attitudes systematicallyinquired into. Whllt

122

123

WalI'gangBanB

The Pragram aI'InterdisciplinaryResearch

remained was an analysis af the functional character of consciousness


for an oppressive economic base and its one-dimensional channeling
ioto authoritarian patterns of thought and behavior, a theme that
governed the empirical work of the 1930s as well as the 1940s.32
considering the problema tic points already outlined abovethe "break" between [he critique of science and the s~ietlficpragram,
th~iv<::' conception of interdisciplinary research, the lack of meth~gical
reRection, the ambiguous concept of philosophy, the hmction~ist bias and s_electivityof the individual disciplines-it becomes
cIear that the "capsizing" of interdisciplinary materialism, which first'
-l5ecame visible iri Hrkheimer's treatment"of the relationship between'
~tional
an.-dcritic~!h<:OJY,wa~ n~ith~r acciC!.<;;ntal
nor historically
conting.~ Given these weaknesses, the program -;hose epistemoogical inconsistencies should be noted above all-eould hardly have
resolved the crisis of science, quite apart from the traumatic experiences of fascism and emigration. The interdisciplinary conception remains relevant, for it attempted to compre ena-fIiCourseof society
as a crisis-~~n n~x~ ~fy'~~~~salm~sionS1ht 'tc>daya;e s;ilI"usua Iy described in isol~tion as differenLslJ.dal iystems~-Blt tne'1neaiaIon o these systems, and thus the social totality, cannot be adequately
grasped in the manner Horkheimer proposed. A direct conoection
with early critical theory does not seem promising. It would be better
to learn fram the shortcomings of ioterdisciplinary materialism and
to inquire into epistemologically more adequate means for mastering
the fundamental aporas, which remain in force. Critical theory is an
open-ended project whose solutions must continually be conEronted
"with the state oE awareness in which we find ourselves."33

}!p~~

7'ranslated by Kenneth Baynes and John MeCole

Notes
Ilol'kheimcr's texts are cited and English translations, where available, are cross-refer. d a ording to the following key (in some cases the translations have been modifI'<I):

(Cambridge, 1993).
"~b ". "AnP.ingedel' brgerlichen Geschichtsphilosophie"(Stuttgart, 1930);"Origins
t)f 110 BourgeOls Philosophy of Hlstory," in BPSS.
IIP$S Between Philosophy and Social Science: Selected Early Writings

"Lage" = "Die gegenwartige Lage der Sozialphilosophie und die Aufgaben eines
Instituts fr Sozialforschung," in Sozialphosophische Studien (Frankfurt, 1972), 33ff.;
"The Present Situation of Social Philosophy and the Tasks of an Institute for Social
Research," inBPSS.
"Vorwort" = "Vorwort," leitschriftfr Sozialforschung [=llSl 1 (1932):lff.
"Bemerkungen" = "Bemerkungen ber Wissenschaft und Krise," lIS 1 (1932): lff.;
"Notes on Science and the Crisis," in Critical Theory: Selected Essays [= Cn (New York,
1972).
"Geschichte" = "Geschichte und Psychologie," lIS 1(1932): 125ff./"History and Psychology," in BPSS.
"Metaphysik" = "Materialismus und Metaphysik," ZIS 2 (1933): lff.; "Materialism
and Metaphysics," in CT
"Moral" = "Materialismus und Moral," lIS 2 (1933): 161ff.; "Materialism and Morality," in BPSS.
"Rationalismusstreit" = "Zum Rationalismusstreit in del' gegenwartigen Philosophie," lIS 3 (1934): lff.; "The Rationalism Dispute in Current Philosophy," in BPSS.
"Voraussage" = "Zum Problem del' Voraussage in den Sozialwissenschaften," lIS 2
(1933): 407ff.
Diimmerung = Diimmerung. Notizen in Deutschland, in Notizen 1950 bis 1969 und Diimmerung. Notizen in Deutschland (Frankfurt, 1974); DD = Daum and Decline: Notes 19261931 and 1950-1969 (New York, 1978)."(Contains only selections from Diimmerung.)
"Wahrheit" = "Zum Begriff del' Wahrheit," lIS 4 (1935): 32lff.; "Truth" = "On
the Problem ofTruth," in Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt, eds., The Essential Frankfurt
School Reader (New York, 1982).
"Traditionelle" = "Traditionelle und kritische Theorie," ZIS 6 (1937): 245ff.; "Traditional and Critical Theory," in CT.
1. Martin jay, The Dialectical1magination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the 1nstitute
ofSocialResearch, 1923-1950 (Bostan, 1973).
2. j rgen Habermas, TheoTe des kommunikativen Handelns (Frankfurt, 1981), 2: 554/Theory of Communicative Action [= TCA] (Boston, 1987),2:378.
3. Ibid., 562/TCA, 2:383; 1:489ff./TCA,

1:366ff.

4. Ibid., 2:562/TCA, 2:383.


5. Alfred Schmidt, "Die kritische Theorie. Denkmotive von Horkheimer, Adorno und
Marcuse. Referate gehalten auf del' Tagung am 23. juni 1973 in Bad-BolI" (unpublished manuscript, n. d.), 2.
6. joachim Ritter, Hegel und die franzijsiche Revolution (Frankfurt, 1972), 7ff. English
translation: Hegel and the French Revolution (Cambridge, 1982).
7. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Werke 1845-1{J46 (Marx-Engels Werke, vol. 3) (Berlin/DDR, 1969),7.
8. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Werke 1859-1860
DDR, 1969), 8.

(Marx-Engels Werke, vol. 13) (Berlin/

9. On Lukcs's thesis of the speculative identity of proletarian c1assconsciousness and


social theory in History and Class Consciousness, see Lukcs, Geschichte und Klassen-

i
125

124
I

Wolfgang BonB

The Program of Interdisciplinary

Research

11

111

bewuf1tsein (NeuwiedlBerlin, 1968), esp. 342ff.; see also Martinjay, "Positive und negative Totalitat. Adornos Alternativenwurf zur interdisziplinaren Forschung," in Wolfgang
BonG and Axel Honneth, eds., Sozialforsehung als Kritik (Frankfurt, 1982), 69f. English
translation: "Positive and Negative Totalities: lmplicit Tensions in Critical Theory's
Vision of lnterdisciplinary Research," in jay, Permanent Exiles: Essays on the lntelleetual
Migration from Germany to Ammca (New York, 1985). Helmut Dubiel, WissenschaftsMganisation und politisehe Erfahrung. Studien zur frhen Kritsehen Theorie (Frankfurt, 1978),
39ff. English translation: Theory and Politics: Studies in the Development of Critical Theory
(Cambridge, 1985).

the "methodological skeleton" of critical social theory. See C. Grossner, Verfall der Phi-

losophie (Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1971), 15.

21. Sllner, Geschichte und Herrschaft, 220.

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10. Thus, Horkheimer employed an exclusively "bourgeois" terminology in his inaugural address as director of the lnstitute (1931), whereas in the aphorisms of Diimmerung (1926-1931) he used primarily materialist language. In most of his essays,however,
these paradigms appear alongside one another, resulting in the well-known "Aesopian
language" whose ambiguity was as significant for early critical theory as it was for its
reception by the student movement.

11. From this perspective, it is perhaps not surprising that the revolutionary transformation in Russia did not succeed but was perverted and collapsed.
12. See chapter 9 in this book.
13. See Erich Fromm, "ber Methode und Aufgabe einer analytischen Sozialpsychologie," in ZS 1 (1932): 28ff. English translation: ''The Method and Function of an
Analytical Social Psychology," in Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt, eds., The Essential
Frankfurt School Reader (New York, 1982), 477ff.; Wolfgang BonG, "Psychoanalyse als
Wissenschaft und Kritik," in Wolfgang BonG and Axel Honneth, eds., Sozialforsehung
als KriJ.ik. Zum sozialwissensehaftliehen Potential der Kritisehen Theorie (Frankfurt, 1982):
367ff.

von Horkheimer, Adorno und

Marcuse," 1.

23. Dubiel, Wissenschaftsorganisation und politische Erfahrung, 206.


24. lbid., 170ff.
25. Ibid.

26. Seejay, "Positive and Negative TOlalities."

27. Adorno, "Die Aktualitat der Philosophie," in Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften (Frankfurt, 1973), 1:325. English lranslation: "The Actuality of Philosophy," Telos 31 (1977).

28. On the co~cept of )reser~ing traces" in general, see Carlo Ginzburg, "Spurensicheru~g: D~rja.ger enlzlffert dIe Fahrte, Sherlock Holmes nimmt die Lupe, Freud liest
Morelh-Dle Wlssenschaft auf der Suche nach sich selbst," Freibeuter, 3, no. 4 (1980):
,~Iff. ~?r an atte~pt. to interpret Ad~rno's project in this way, see Wolfgang BonG,
~mpme a~sDechlffnerung von Wlrkhchkelt. Zur Methodologie bei Adorno," in LudwIg von Fnedeburg and jrgen Habermas, eds., Adorno-Konl'erenz (Frankfurt 1983)

14. T. W. Adorno, "Zur geselIschaftlichenLage der Musik," ZS 1 (1932): 103ff., 356ff.;


Leo Lewenthal, "Zur gesellschaftlichen Lage der Literatur," in ZS 1 (1932): 85ff.

22. Schmidl, "Die Kritische Theorie-Denkmotive

W~

"

"

29. Susan Buck-Morss, The Origin of Negative Dialeeties: Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and the Frankfurt lnstitute (New York/London, 1977).

30. On the problem of the social-theoretical "neutrality" of Pollock's economics see


chapter 9 in this book.
'

15. See Axel Honneth, "Max Horkheimer's Original Program: The SociologicalDeficit
of Critical Theory," chapter 8 in this book.

~I. Fromm, "ber .Methode und Aufgabe einer analytischen Sozialpsychologie," 54/
Method and Functlon of an Analytical Social Psychology," 496.

16. See Alfons Sellner, Gesehuhte und Herrsehaft: Studien zur materia/istisehen Sozialwissensehaft 1929-1942 (Frankfurt, 1979), 165ff.

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32. Wolfgang BonG, Die Einbung des Tatsachenblicks. Zur Struktur und Veranderung empirischer Sozialforsehung (Frankfurt, 1982), 167ff.

33. T. W. Adorno, Philosophisehe Terminologie (Frankfurt, 1973), 1:69.

17. See Susanna Schad, Empirical Social Research in Weimar Germany (P~rislDen Haag,
1972), 76ff., and Rainer M. Lepsius, ed., Soziologie in Deutscland und Osterreich 19181945. Materialien ,zur Entwicklung, Emigration und WirkungsgesehUhte (KelnlOpladen, 1982).
o,.
18. Viewed in this way, moreover, Horkheimer's concept of social philosophy shows
parallels to that of Weber, who in rus essay "'Objectivity' in Social Science and Social
Policy" characterized social philosophy as a system of "speculative value judgements"
that are to be emphatically distinguished from social research. Max Weber, "'Objectivity' in Social Science and Social Policy," in The Methodology of the Social Sciences (New
York, 1949), 49ff.
19. See, for instance, Karl Mannheim,ldeology

and Utopa (New York,1954).

20. The trend toward method is especially true of Habermas (e.g., Zur Logik der Sozialwissenschaften [Frankfurt, 1967]), who also made the remarkable comment, on the occasion of Adorno's death, that now Adorno's "theoretical veil" would no longer conceal

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