Max Horkheimer

From Academic Kids

Max Horkheimer (front left),  (front right), and  in the background, right, in  at
Max Horkheimer (front left), Theodor Adorno (front right), and Jrgen Habermas in the background, right, in 1965 at Heidelberg

Max Horkheimer (February 14, 1895 - July 7, 1973) was a German philosopher and sociologist, known especially as the founder and guiding thinker of the Frankfurt School of critical theory.



Horkheimer was born in Stuttgart to an assimilated Jewish family; due to parental pressure, he did not initially pursue an academic career, leaving gymnasium at the age of sixteen to work in his father's factory. After World War I, however, he enrolled in Mnchen, where he studied Philosophy and Psychology; he subsequently moved to Frankfurt am Main, where he studied under Hans Cornelius. He would meet there Theodor Adorno, many years his junior, with whom he would strike a lasting friendship and one of the most fruitful collaborative efforts in contemporary philosophy.

In 1925 he was habilitated with a dissertation on Kant's Critique of Judgement as Mediation between Practical and Theoretical Philosophy under Cornelius' direction. He was appointed as Privatdozent the following year; when the Institute for Social Research's direction became vacant in 1930, he was elected for the position, making him the first outspoken Marxist — if of a critical persuasion — to hold such an important position; among the founding members of the Institute were also Herbert Marcuse and Erich Fromm. The following year publication of the Institute's Zeitschrift fr Sozialforschung was begun, with Horkheimer as its editor. Besides the Institute's members, contributors included Adorno and Walter Benjamin.

In 1933 his venia legendi was revoked by the Nazi government, and the Institute closed. Horkheimer emigrated to Switzerland, from where he would leave for the USA the following year. The generous offer of Columbia University to host the Institute in exile allowed for the continued publication of the Institute's journal.

In 1940 Horkheimer received American citizenship and moved to Berkeley, where his collaboration with Adorno would yield the first major contribution of the Frankfurt School, the Dialectic of Enlightenment. Unlike Adorno, Horkheimer was never a prolific writer, and in the following twenty years he published little, although he continued to edit Studies in Philosophy and Social Science as a continuation to the Zeitschrift. In 1949 he returned to Frankfurt, where the Institute was reopened the following year. Between 1951 and 1953 Horkheimer was Rektor of the University of Frankfurt.

He would return to America between 1954 and 1959 to lecture at Chicago. He retired in 1955. He remained an important figure until his death in Nrnberg in 1977.

Philosophy and writings

Eclipse of Reason

Horkheimer's book, Eclipse of Reason deals with the concept of "reason" within the history of Western philosophy. Horkheimer defines true reason as rationality. He details the difference between objective and subjective reason and states that we have moved from objective to subjective. Objective reason deals with universal truths that dictate that an action is either right or wrong. Subjective reason takes into account the situation and social norms. Actions that produce the best situation for the individual are "reasonable" according to subjective reason. The movement from one type of reason to the other occurred when thought could no longer accommodate these objective truths or when it judged them to be delusions. Under subjective reason, concepts lose their meaning. All concepts must be strictly functional to be reasonable. Because subjective reason rules, the ideals of a society, for example democratic ideals, become dependent on the "interests" of the people instead of being dependent on objective truths.

Horkheimer is writing in 1946 and is influenced by Nazi power in Germany. He is outlining how the Nazis were able to make their agenda appear "reasonable". He is also issuing a warning against this happening again. Horkheimer believes that the ills of modern society are caused by the misuse and misunderstanding of reason. If people use true reason to critique their societies, they will be able to identify and solve their problems.

Select bibliography

  • Authority and the Family (1936)
  • Critique of Instrumental Reason (1967)
  • Dawn & Decline
  • Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947) - with Theodor Adorno
  • Eclipse of Reason (1947)
  • Egoism and the Freedom Movement
  • The Authoritarian State
  • The Longing for the Totally Other

External links

  • Max Horkheimer Internet Archive ( contains complete texts of Enlightenment as Mass Deception (1944), Theism and Atheism (1963) and Feudal Lord, Customer, and Specialist (1964).

he:מקס הורקהיימר ja:マックス・ホルクハイマー pl:Max Horkheimer sk:Max Horkheimer sv:Max Horkheimer


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