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Bhaskar, Adorno and the Dialectics of Modern Freedom

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Through dialectical critical realism, Roy Bhaskar has made an important contribution to two different theoretical traditions. One is the philosophy of critical realism, where he aims for a more supple and reflexive approach. The other is dialectical theory, which he seeks to undergird and recast by locating on a realist terrain. Here an important question is how recasting affects existing dialectical thought. Bhaskar's own writings focus in this regard on dialectical critical realism's relation to Hegel. This paper addresses it by comparing and contrasting dialectical critical realism with Theodor Adorno's negative dialectics, the approach which probably comes closest to dialectical critical realism. The first two main sections are accordingly directed to developing an account of Bhaskar's dialectical critical realism and comparing it to Adorno's negative dialectics. My argument is that what Bhaskar and Adorno have in common is a commitment to a realist ontology, but that Adorno's account is limited by a competing tendency towards irrealism. This gives his negative dialectics an unstable foundation, and this is brought out by the comparison with dialectical critical realism. The third and fourth sections bring out the implications of this tension for Adorno's account of modern freedom in his Negative Dialectics. Three competing views are identified, and it is argued that these coher on the basis of a realist reading of his analysis. An irrealist reading reduces them to incoherence.


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