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Language, critique, and the non-identical: Nietzsche and Adorno on the ethics of thinking

posted on 28.03.2022, 16:51 by Paolo A Bolanos
The overarching aim of this thesis is the articulation of a philosophical notion of an "ethics of thinking," a kind of thinking that is receptive to the non-identical character of the world of human and non-human objects. In order to conceptualize such notion of ethical thinking, I turn to the works of two important German thinkers, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969). The thesis, however, will not present a conventional comparative study of the two philosophers. I would rather figuratively call my approach an experimentation with Nietzsche and Adorno, which is to be done by emphasizing and activating the strong theoretical links between the two philosophers: 1) language, 2) critique, and 3) the nonidentical. -- In Part One, I first revisit the profound influence of the early German Romantics on the basic philosophical temperament in Nietzsche- and Adorno's thinking. I highlight the German Romantics' anti-foundationalist stance and their keen sensibility to the role of language in philosophy. This prefigures a more elaborate discussion of their individual engagement with language and how both philosophers criticize and redeem philosophical language from metaphysics (Nietzsche) and identity thinking (Adorno). I consider Nietzsche's reinscription of "metaphorical language" and Adorno's stress on "configurative language" as examples of what Nikolas Kompridis refers to as "receptivity to the new." -- Part Two is an attempt to locate the place of the Nietzsche-Adorno tandem in contemporary critical theory and to argue that their style of critique could be considered instances of "disclosing critique," a notion I borrow from Axel Honneth and Kompridis. I begin by recounting Max Horkheimer's basic assumptions in "Traditional and Critical Theory" as ground for discussing the main critical and emancipatory thrust of the Dialectic of Enlightenment. Then I respond to the criticisms leveled against Adorno by Jürgen Habermas, arguing that Habermas totally misses the redemptive and emancipatory potential of the Dialectic of Enlightenment. I argue for a rehabilitation the notion of mimesis via the notion of disclosing critique: the re-description of social pathologies (Honneth) which requires our receptivity to the particularity and plurality of our experiences (Kompridis) within a given social matrix. -- In Part Three, I highlight Honneth's recent claim that the survival of critical theory partly rests on a revisionist take on the role of Nietzschean genealogy. I use Honneth's position as a counterclaim against Habermas' dismissal of the critical and redemptive potential of the genealogical method. I also discuss the profound ethical thrust and utopian vision of Adorno's negative dialectics and argue that, against the conventional Habermasian position, negative dialectics is exemplary of what I refer to as the ethics of thinking. Finally, in the last chapter, I articulate more explicitly the nature of the "ethics of thinking." It is in this juncture where the Nietzsche-Adorno relation comes into full force. I will demonstrate that the ethics of thinking is linked to aesthetic experience inasmuch as the redemptive dimension of mimesis is only gleaned from an emphatic immersion into damaged life. The experience of damaged life brings to the fore the moments of critical disclosure, possibility and creativity, and redemption.


Alternative Title

Nietzsche and Adorno on the ethics of thinking

Table of Contents

Introduction -- Part One: On philosophical praxis and language --1. The prospect of philosophical romanticism -- 2. Reinscribing metaphor: Nietzsche's theory of language -- 3. Adorno and the revaluation of the language of philosophy -- Part Two: The practice of critical theory -- 4. Early critical theory and the 'Dialectic of enlightenment' -- 5. Habermas and the battlefield of theoretical leverages -- 6. Disclosing critique and the renewal of critical theory -- Part Three: Reinscribing the non-identical -- 7. Genealogy: Nietzsche's dialectic of enlightenment -- 8. Thinking the other of reason: Adorno's negative dialectics -- 9. Possibility, aesthetic experience, and the damaged life -- Epilogue: Articulating an ethics of thinking.


Bibliography: p. [346]-365 October, 2009

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Dept. of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Dept. of Philosophy

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Robert Sinnerbrink

Additional Supervisor 1

Jean-Philippe Deranty


Copyright disclaimer: http://www.copyright.mq.edu.au Copyright Paolo A. Bolanos 2010.




1 online resource (vi, 365 p.) ill

Former Identifiers

mq:26292 http://hdl.handle.net/1959.14/221630 1878126