Archive for the ‘Marcuse’ Category

This secondary source begins by introducing the Frankfurt School and Marcuse’s differentiation from earlier thinkers. It continues as an analysis of Marcuse’s thought, especially as outlined in On Dimensional Man, with comparison to the works of Adorno and Horkheimer in particular. It is broken down into the following subsections:


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By Ben Daly and Rose Mackey

In his essay On Science and Phenomenology Herbert Marcuse attempts to lay out the ways in which a split has occurred between the scientific and philosophical views on the world, and how this split has been detrimental to the development of human society in the west. For Marcuse this split is located in the relationship between human subjects and the concept of reason, which has been present in the discourses on science and philosophy since the ancient Greeks. (more…)

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          In “Some Social Implications of Modern Technology” Herbert Marcuse examines technology in a broader sense. He defines technology as more than just “the technical apparatus,” which he calls “technics”; for Marcuse technology is “a social process” in which men are inseparably involved (138). The most significant implication of the technological process is the creation of dominative “technological rationality,” similar to but distinct from Horkheimer’s idea of subjective reason.




           Marcuse traces the change in the individual and his rationality. He constructs the rationality of the individual in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and contrasts this “individualistic rationality” with the modern “technological rationality” (Marcuse 141). Individualism was based on autonomous self-interest, whereas technology makes self-interest completely heteronomous, achieved only by “adjustment and compliance” (Marcuse 146). Individualistic, rational self-interest was motivated towards finding “forms of life”; therefore, in the service of the realization of this interest, reason was critical of the world as it is (Marcuse 139-40). Technological rationality is instrumental; it is motivated towards efficiency, and technology makes any critical protest irrational. Marcuse uses Lewis Mumford’s phrase, “matter-of-factness” to describe an attitude of empirical rationality that in the age of technology becomes a dominating force over man. Through these social dominations of technology over the individual, man’s autonomy is erased—not by force, but rather by his identification with the apparatus, by a fetish of technique.

            Marcuse is primarily concerned with the fate of the individual. One of the methods by which technology removes the dignity of the individual is by sublimating him into a crowd. Marcuse is critical of the crowd, which reduces the individual to a “standardized subject of brute self preservation” (150); that is, he is an atomic and standardized force whose only expression is self-interest. The specialization of professions does not contradict this standardization, because a man merely becomes one of several replaceable tools in the toolbox. Thus, specialization is simultaneously a force for standardization as well as division.

            Truth, which as individualistic truth was once whole, is split into technological and critical truth. Technological truth is that set of values that “hold good for the functioning of the apparatus—and for that alone” (Marcuse 146). It is a truth concerned only with the goals of technological rationality, namely efficiency. Critical truth is antagonistic to the apparatus; it is autonomous and objective. However, Marcuse points out, the two truths are not completely contradictory, as technological truth often transforms critical truths for its own purposes. Critical truths are adopted by their opposition and thereby made impotent. This adoption is symptomatic of the way critical forces have been “incorporated into the apparatus itself—without losing the title of opposition” (Marcuse 149). Marcuse cites the example of the labor movement, which has changed from a truly critical force into a “business organization with a vested interest of its own” in the system (Ibid.).

            But technological rationality does affirm critical rationality in two cases. First, technology “implies a democratization of functions” (Marcuse 152). Democratization is subverted, however, by hierarchical private bureaucracies that enforce division. Second, technics’ potential triumph over scarcity could allow for a “free human realization,” in which man can realize his true self in the freedom from “the hard struggle for life, business and power” (Marcuse 160). Marcuse closes with an imagination of this state, in which humans “are nothing but human” and allowed to live on their own terms. This autonomy of man is Marcuse’s Utopia, characterized not by “perennial happiness” but by the affirmation of man’s “natural individuality” (Marcuse 161). Technology, though it constricts individuality in the many ways Marcuse describes, is also necessary for its full realization.

Works Cited


Marcuse, Herbert. “Some Social Implications of Modern Technology”. The Essential Frankfurt School Reader. Ed. Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt. New York: Continuum, 1982. 138-162.

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“Critical Theory has a narrow and a broad meaning in philosophy and in the history of the social sciences. “Critical Theory” in the narrow sense designates several generations of German philosophers and social theorists in the Western European Marxist tradition known as the Frankfurt School. According to these theorists, a “critical” theory may be distinguished from a “traditional” theory according to a specific practical purpose: a theory is critical to the extent that it seeks human emancipation, “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them” (Horkheimer 1982, 244). Because such theories aim to explain and transform all the circumstances that enslave human beings, many “critical theories” in the broader sense have been developed. They have emerged in connection with the many social movements that identify varied dimensions of the domination of human beings in modern societies. In both the broad and the narrow senses, however, a critical theory provides the descriptive and normative bases for social inquiry aimed at decreasing domination and increasing freedom in all their forms.” Continue reading…

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Introducing Marcuse

“Herbert Marcuse was born in Berlin to a Jewish family and served in the German Army, caring for horses in Berlin during the First World War. He then became a member of a Soldiers’ Council that participated in the aborted socialist Spartacist uprising. After completing his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Freiburg in 1922 on the German Künstlerroman, he moved back to Berlin, where he worked in publishing. He returned to Freiburg in 1929 to write a Habilitation with Martin Heidegger, which was published in 1932 as Hegel’s Ontology and Theory of Historicity in spite of Heidegger’s rejection. With his academic career blocked by the rise of the Third Reich, in 1933 Marcuse joined the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, emigrating from Germany that same year, going first to Switzerland, then the United States, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1940.” Continue reading…

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