Friday, December 2, 2011

Theodor Adorno on Theory and Practice.

Theodor Adorno, Self-portrait.

Theodor Adorno on Theory and Practice.
From Problems of Moral Philosophy.  Stanford University Press, 1995: 4-5. [Lectures: May 7, 1963 - July 23, 1963.]

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I urge you therefore to exercise a certain patience with respect to the relations between theory and practice.  Such a request may be justified because in a situation like the present - one about which I do not entertain the slightest illusion, and nor would I wish to encourage any illusion in you - whether it will be possible ever again to achieve a valid for of practice may well depend on not demanding that every idea should immediately produce its own legitimizing document explaining its own practical use.
The situation may well demand instead that we resist the call of practicality with all our might in order ruthlessly to follow through an idea and its logical implications so as to see where it may lead.  I would even say that this ruthlessness, the power of resistance that is inherent in the idea itself and that prevents it from letting itself be directly manipulated for any instrumental purposes whatsoever, this theoretical ruthlessness contains - if you will allow this paradox -- a practical element within it.  Today, practice - and I do not hesitate to express this in an extreme way - has made great inroads into theory, in other words, into the realm of new thought in which right behavior can be reformulated.  This idea is not as prardoxical and irritating as it may sound, for in the final analysis thinking is itself a form of behavior.  In its origins thinking is no more than a form in which we have attempted to master our environment and come to terms with it - testing reality is the name given by analytical psychology to the function of the ego and of thought - and it is perfectly possible that in certain situations practice will be referred back to theory far more frequently than at other times and in other situations.  At any rate, it does no harm to air this question.
It is no accident that the celebrated unity of theory and practice implied by Marxian theory and then developed above all by Lenin should have finally degenerated in [Stalinist] dialectical materialism to a kind of blind dogma whose sole function is to eliminate theoretical thinking altogether.  This provides an object lesson in the transformation of practicism into irrationalism, and hence, too, for the transformation of the practicism into a repressive and oppressive practice.  That alone might well be a sufficient reason to give us pause and not be in such haste to rely on the famous unity of theory and practice in the beleif that it is guaranteed and that it holds good for every time and place.  For otherwise you will find yourself in the position of what Americans call a joiner, that is to say a man who always has to join it, who has to have a cause for which he can fight.  Such a person is driven by his sheer enthusiasm for the idea that something or other must be done and some movement has to be joined about which he is deluded enough to believe that it will bring him a kind of hostility towards mind that necessarily negates a genuine unity of theory and practice."