Philosophy Max Horkheimer
by
J.C. Berendzen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0200

Introduction

Max Horkheimer (b. 1895–d. 1973) is one of the primary figures associated with the “Frankfurt School,” which is the name commonly given to the philosophers, social scientists, and other researchers associated with the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt. Horkheimer’s works hold a special place in the development of the Frankfurt School because he was the director of the Institute from 1930 to 1958 (this included an exile period, primarily in the United States, due to WWII). As the director, he developed a program for interdisciplinary research, oriented toward social change, which the work of the Institute was supposed to follow. That program would come to be known by the now-famous name “critical theory.” He is perhaps best known for his work during the 1940s, and especially for the co-authored Dialectic of Enlightenment (Horkheimer and Adorno 2002, cited under the Critique of Instrumental Reason). It is important, however, that Horkheimer’s works from the 1940s and later be studied in the context of his thought as a whole. In this regard, special attention should be paid to earlier works, such as his programmatic essays from the 1930s (see the Early Frankfurt School Program). Note that this article focuses on English-language and German-language scholarship (the former because it is the language of this article, and the latter because it is the language of most of Horkheimer’s own works and the most significant secondary literature). This is not meant to imply that there are no useful works in other languages, but much of the most important literature should be touched on here.

Introductory Overviews

The current English-language scholarship is lacking in general overviews of Horkheimer’s thought. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Horkheimer (Berendzen 2013) provides an accessible and comprehensive resource, but no other genuinely beginner-level English-language overviews exist. Because of this, it is advisable to also use general overviews of the Frankfurt School that in some way concentrate on Horkheimer. Jay 1996 is a good choice in this regard. It is an accessible and compelling intellectual history of the Frankfurt School that focuses quite a bit on Horkheimer. It is worth noting that Horkheimer wrote a brief but laudatory forward for the work. For a more standard work of philosophical scholarship, Held 1980 is appropriate as an introductory text, and it includes a chapter dedicated to Horkheimer. There are multiple introductory overviews of Horkheimer’s life and thought available in the German literature. Good examples are Rosen 1995 and Wiggershaus 2013.

  • Berendzen, J. C. “Max Horkheimer.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2013.

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    This is a helpful introduction to Horkheimer’s thought, which covers the entirety of his philosophical career in brief (although it says little about his pre-Frankfurt School works). It is arranged chronologically, and pays particular attention to Horkheimer’s thought as it developed in the 1930s.

  • Held, David. Introduction to Critical Theory: Horkheimer to Habermas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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    A readable and accessible introductory overview of the Frankfurt School. Chapters 1–5 give an overview of the main early Frankfurt School themes. Chapter 6 discusses Horkheimer’s individual contributions with a focus on his works from the 1930s and 1940s. The other chapters focus on Adorno, Marcuse, and Habermas.

  • Jay, Martin. The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923–1950. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

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    A highly readable intellectual history of the Institute of Social Research from its beginnings through its exile period in the United States. The bulk of the book focuses on the Institute after Horkheimer became its director, and Jay’s perspective on the Frankfurt School is highly influenced by Horkheimer’s views.

  • Rosen, Zvi. Max Horkheimer. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1995.

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    A brief (under 200 pages) overview that combines biography with an introductory analysis of Horkheimer’s thought, presented chronologically. In German.

  • Wiggershaus, Rolf. Max Horkheimer: Unternehmer in Sachen “Kritische Theorie.” Frankfurt: Fischer Verlag, 2013.

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    In German; the title roughly translates as “Max Horkheimer: Entrepreneur of Critical Theory.” Like Rosen 1995, this is a brief (just over 200 pages) introductory work that combines biography and basic philosophical analysis.

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