In this contribution I explore the importance of the philosophy of history in critical theory, and to do so I go back to the beginnings of critical theory as presented in Horkheimer's early work (Traditionelle und kritische Theorie, 1937). Critical and traditional theory are based on a different vision of time, history and the relationship between subject and object. For the question of whether and how the history of philosophy plays a role in the genealogy of criticism, I focus on Horkheimer's even earlier work on the history of bourgeois philosophy (Anfänge der bürgerlichen Geschichtsphilosophie, 1932). Horkheimer's reflections on history and the subject of the early years led to the later work written together with Adorno, Dialektik der Aufklärung (1947) in which, as is well known, the course of the European civilization process is reconstructed from the history of ideas. His belief in the potential of reason, science, philosophy, the social engineering of the world and chance for emancipation from slavery, is under pressure. At the root of all problems is the absolutized separation between man and nature, or in other words the alienation of man from nature is now the main insight that leads the authors to a much more pessimistic view than before. Instrumental rationality is the core concept of their interpretation and explains the origin and dynamics of the decline of civilization.
Translated title of the contributionPhilosophy, critique, and history. On Horkheimer's early writings
Original languageDutch
Title of host publicationRedelijkheid
Subtitle of host publication Enkele wijsgerige en ethische reflecties in tijden van polarisering
EditorsMarc Van den Bossche, Karl Verstrynge
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9789461174246
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Publication series



  • Horkheimer
  • critical theory
  • Early Frankfurter Schule
  • history of philosophy
  • philosophy of history


Dive into the research topics of 'Philosophy, critique, and history. On Horkheimer's early writings'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this