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Back to Adorno: Critical Theory’s Problem of Normative Grounding

The Challenge of Progress

ISBN: 978-1-78714-572-6, eISBN: 978-1-78714-571-9

Publication date: 26 November 2019


This chapter offers a review of Amy Allen’s The End of Progress: Decolonizing the Normative Foundations of Critical Theory (2016) and presents the book as having both a negative and positive aim. Its negative aim is to offer a critique of the Eurocentric narratives of historical progress that serves the function of normative grounding in the critical theories of Jürgen Habermas and Axel Honneth. Its positive aim is to provide a new approach to the normative grounding of critical theory that eschews Eurocentric narratives of progress through the idea of metanormative contextualism. For Allen, metanormative contextualism is developed through an engagement with the works of Adorno and Foucault. This chapter raises some critical questions concerning the position of metanormative contextualism, arguing that there are significant differences between Adorno and Foucault that render the position unstable. Specifically, Adorno’s normative conception of truth, alongside his critical naturalism presented through the notion of natural history, makes him ill-suited as a representative of Allen’s metanormative contextualism and complicates the contributions of Foucault’s genealogical analyses. The chapter concludes that a careful consideration of Adorno’s views reveals him to be opposed to the two central tenets of metanormative contextualism as defined by Allen.



Ng, K. (2019), "Back to Adorno: Critical Theory’s Problem of Normative Grounding", The Challenge of Progress (Current Perspectives in Social Theory, Vol. 36), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 49-59.



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