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Theodor Adorno

(1903—1969) German philosopher, sociologist, and musicologist

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German philosopher and sociologist, a leading member of the Frankfurt school.

Born in Frankfurt, the son of a Jewish wine merchant, he took his mother's maiden name, Adorno, during World War I. He was educated at the University of Frankfurt and went on to study musical composition in Vienna under Alban Berg before returning to Frankfurt to teach. Banned from teaching by the Nazis in 1933, Adorno spent three unhappy years in Oxford before moving in 1938 to the USA. He first worked in New York but in 1941, with his Frankfurt colleagues Horkheimer and Marcuse, moved to California. Although Adorno produced much of his best work during his stay in the USA, he was keen to return to Europe, and when the University of Frankfurt announced plans to reopen the Institute for Social Research in 1949 Adorno willingly agreed to serve with Horkheimer as its joint director.

With Horkheimer he had earlier written Die Dialektik der Aufklärung (1947; translated as Dialectic of the Enlightenment, 1972), in which they argued that the rationalism of the Enlightenment had led not only to the domination of nature but also of man. The crucial weapon of this enslavement had been the concept of reason itself. There thus seemed to Adorno to be an inevitable oppression in any form of philosophical theorizing. Marxism could not be exempted from this general complaint, nor could science. The only remedy, Adorno proposed in his Negative Dialektik (1966; translated as Negative Dialectics, 1972), was the systematic and conscious rejection of all theories. Adorno's views were seized upon and adopted by the student revolutionaries of the 1960s.

Adorno also wrote extensively on problems of aesthetics and music, notably in The Philosophy of Modern Music (1949), which champions the work of Schoenberg.

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