As I continue to read Adorno’s lectures on Kant, I find myself increasingly impressed by the depth of Adorno’s thought. Not only that, but at moments in his discussion of Kant’s thought that seem so disconnected from what might be superficially associated with Adorno and the Frankfurt School-or at least with whatever vague topics I imagined they engaged before I got to know their material better.
One example of finding Adorno’s brilliance in his interpretation comes about in his discussion of the relation between subject and object, specifically on the question of constituens and constitutum. Adorno introduces the problem:
I think we have now reached the point where we need to consider these criteria [for the definition of objectivity] a little more closely, particularly since, if I understand the situation rightly, this leads us to the heart of one of the central problems of the Critique of Pure Reason, one that we have not really discussed as thoroughly as it deserves. I am talking about the problem of constituens and constitutum. To give you the keywords: the criteriea Kant gives for synthetic a priori judgements and thus for genuine, valid knowledge with a substantive content, are the concepts of necessity and universality, universality and necessity (138).
In dealing with what is considered an idealist system of knowledge, Adorno first reveals one of its contradictions in a way that shows the seemingly isolated subject actually presupposes itself within a society of peers. Adorno states,
[…] if my starting-point is a multiplicity rather than the connections between what is immediately given in each specific individual consciousness—then do I not just presuppose the very thing I had set out to prove, namely, something like a subjective world? Do I not simply presuppose for the entire argument the thing that has to be constituted—society and with it an empirical reality? Kant has shown great wisdom in leaving this question unresolved (145).
After introducing society in through the cracks of Kant’s structure, Adorno explains the importance of history in the understanding of knowledge.
With these glimpses of knowledge and an implied history, Adorno extrapolates his own interpretation to become an argument against the fashionable, destructive ontology of his contemporaries, such as Martin Heidegger.
Here we see some of the inspiration for Adorno’s project of Negative Dialectics.