The Idea of Instrumental Reason

Authored by: J.M. Bernstein

The Routledge Companion to the Frankfurt School

Print publication date:  November  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138333246
eBook ISBN: 9780429443374
Adobe ISBN:


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Through its history, the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory argued that the formation of capital domination and exploitation that is realized through the rationalization of social relations was itself a product of the dominion of instrumental rationality (means-ends rationality, scientific reason) over and against all other modes of human reasoning and encounter. As a consequence, Critical Theory contends that in order to understand the structures of domination prevalent in the modern world one needs to understand the distinctive rationality deficit in all modern social practices caused by the hegemony of instrumental reason over all other modes of reasoning and rationality. After looking at the diagnosis of instrumental reason in Aristotle and Kant, this chapter provides a portrait of the critique of instrumental reason in the writings of Adorno and Horkheimer, Marcuse and Habermas, and, finally, formulates a claim that neoliberal reason as analyzed by Michael Foucault is the contemporary avatar of instrumental reason.

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