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Values of Enlightenment


Remembering the course on „Values of Enlightenment“ which was given as part of Humanities 100 at LaVerne in the Fall '93, it should be said that „Dialectic of Englightenment“ published by Adorno and Horkheimer in 1944 entails a very crucial anticipation. For they stated „even when Fascism has been defeated, there shall still be the need to deal with xenophobic forces.“ Given the experiences in Europe made by the Roma and Jews during Second World War, and what now migrants and Roma experience today, with a majority of them being kept in Greece in detention centres, all that underlines what Kant foresaw when not human reason but fear prevails. Naturally there is also not to forget such figures as Voltaire, while in the Benaki museum in Athens, there is a special part in the collection depicting books and letters sent by Greeks living in Paris at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, and who wished to carry thoughts of the Enlightenment into Greece. This took place before 1821 when the freedom was gained from the Ottoman Empire. In part, it refutes the notion that Greece remained largely untouched by periods Central and especially Western Europe went through.

HF 22.6.2014


At that time, in fall 1993, following course outline was given:

  1. As an undergraduate course, Humanities 100 serves the purpose to bring students into contact with classical literature and important works dealing with human values related issues. Humanities differs from science of religion, historical of political thought (e.g. Sabine) or philosophical courses on ethics and logic, insofar as underlying value issues experienced in daily, practical life situations are examined by searching for particular texts and using them to discuss on the basis of an enriched self-understanding in more concrete terms these issues. It should broaden the student's intellectual horizon beyond mere specialization and help in developing a sound character needed for later life and professional work, that is when faced by human issues and hence in need of resolving potential and real conflicts of values.

  2. Course description: In this course, students shall appraise a particular philosophical approach and learn to assess whether or not they consider the historical period of 'enlightenment' to be a failure or not. As basic text shall be used the philosophical prism called “Dialetics of Enlightenment”, a book which the German philosophers Adorno and Horkheimer wrote while in exile in the United States , that is during a time when Hitler and Fascism made many people think about 'human nature' or what amounts to a failure to be enlightened. It is not only something in need of explanation, namely this collapse of state institutions usually there to protect rather than to destroy human lives, but even more so a complicate phenomena pertaining to human thought, hence reason linked to values such as 'liberty, solidarity, brotherhood', the three main values of the French Revolution, are in need of further understanding. If something goes beyond the limits of human understanding, then it pertains to something which is equally outside the scope of human values as shown by Kafka who tried to follow scientists common people could no longer comprehend. The period of Enlightenment started in the hope to improve living conditions by enhancing rational thoughts leading to scientific discoveries and hence to technology, but its very core contained already, so the thesis of Adorno and Horkheimer, the seeds of its own destruction. This thesis will be focused upon in this course by explaining and elaborating upon the failure to translate rational thoughts into non violent actions and therefore technology being seized upon to advance forces of destruction. The aim of the course is to try to come to terms with what what studies of history, psychology, sociology, political science etc. have repeatedly tried to explain and failed as well, namely 'hatred of foreigners, violence in the streets and at home, extreme indeed authoritarian rulership through a dictatorial or tyrannical state, in short: a destruction of a 'rational approach to politics' and hence a destruction of the 'reason to live'.

  3. Students should learn how to use such a philosophical text like “Dialectic of Enlightenment”, so that they are in a position to discuss and analyse 'human values' related issues.

    They should be able to identify human values as to what has become of them, and therefore what is the making of conflicts centred around value issues remaining unresolved or in dispute. At the same time, this should be linked to an evaluation of different solutions being offered to these conflicts.

    Through the course, they must come to some kind of assessment about the importance of human values and beyond that, to understand the deeper implications of Humanities as part of their studies especially in an age demanding of education systems to specialize students only in certain fields of knowledge – itself a value premise predetermining much of the business only orientated private schools and universities.

  4. Literature list:

    Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment

    Adorno, Minima Moralia

    Martin Jay, Adorno

    Alex Honneth (editor) Cultural Political Intervention in the Unfinished Project of Enlightenment, MIT Press (ISBN 0-262-58116-7

    Harry Kunneman (editor) (1989) The Actuality of the 'Dialectic of Enlightenment'. New York. ISBN 3-593-34012-7

    Willem van Reijen (ed.) (1988) Grand Hotel am Abgrund. Hamburg: Junius Publication. ISBN 3-88506-165-1

   Carol Gilligan (1982) In a different Voice. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press




It is expected of the students that the reference to this particular concept of Enlightenment is reflected upon. For continuation of work in class will be based upon which concepts everyone shall work with, in order to reach a deeper understanding of human value issues.

Two premises are most crucial to remember throughout the course:

“Values are set premises, and therefore cannot be discussed; and

any attempt to change these set values or to impose upon others one's own values shall lead to conflict, if not to war.”


Concept of Enlightenment

Although there exist various definitions of what Enlightenment entails, it pertains mainly to a value orientation which includes reason. The latter has been made in a modern sense to be 'rational' i.e. something akin to being normal by leading a healthy life.

As in all concepts, there reigns always some confusion as there prevails a mixture of presumptions and assumptions with a certain epistemological criticism missing to help clarify the meaning of the concept over time.

Since philosophy works with nuances of understanding by using one and the same concept but with different meanings in specific contexts, there prevails already a difference when claiming something something of having value compared with presupposing that if this value premise would be respected, then it would make all the differences in the world.

Hence the concept of Enlightenment is a qualitative term in need to be clarified as to what presuppositions it entails, and why failure may mean the inability to reason with such a given or set value premise.

Indeed, all value issues can be related to in only qualitative terms, even though happiness seems to depend in the minds of many to depend on how much money one has or can be made available to one in case of need. Already this example of presupposition shows already that one has entered a race for the benefit of doubt, in order to keep open the possibilities of realizing something in connection with this value premise. It is a matter of dexterity or not i.e. to be careful in what one presupposes.

Still, the claim to be enlightened, this implies in philosophy a mature person. It is like an adolescent claiming that he or she knows now about sex and does not need any further enlightenment from the parents or any other peer. Thus the very criterion of maturity places an important role in the concept of man and how his developments over the past centuries can be assessed. Obviously this means engaging thoughts in the direction of such questions as to what is the purpose of life? Is there any such given purpose, or according to what values (value premises) does one have to structure one's mind, in order to survive?


Enlightenment nowadays is understood much more in terms of having been a 'failure', than still being an aspiration of the future. Implied in this sense is as well that so far no really good lessons have been learned out of this failure – itself something in need of further explanation.

Failure involves in particular politics, including its making and difficulties. Rational attitudes towards politics are not easily found and more often than not decision making processes in society are based on other things than on the analytical approach.

This is especially the case when difficult questions exist and which are in need of being resolved before being able to make a decision. All too often recourse is taken to all kinds of nearly superstitious ways of making up the mind.

There is, for example, the Cretan city of Chania. When wishing to build a new hospital but no one could decide where to locate the hospital, they resorted to the old Turkish method which consists in leaving raw meat in various places. This was done in order to see where the meat decomposes the fastest. For this was taken as indication in that area more pollution prevails and therefore would not be a good place to locate there a hospital.

Quite another challenge needs to be faced once work places guaranteeing a livelihood for many people has to be closed down as has been the case with the shipyards on the island of Syros. How will the now unemployed face the crisis since their lives and futures have been put into jeopardy. A solution can only be imagined when the entire community adjusts accordingly and allows everyone, including those made unemployed, to participate in society and its ongoing decision making process to reallocated resources and jobs so as to fulfil other, newer tasks.

All this means there is a need to know how to use philosophy and 'theories' to understand human behaviour, actions of people. It goes without saying that this requires a continual critical reflection of social tendencies. Critical means here in the way Adorno understands it: not to affirm anything, but to show what even the best solution still lacks since everything, and especially the human being is far from being perfect.

In that sense, the analysis Adorno and Horkheimer did make of the 'dialectic of enlightenment' needs to be evaluated in terms of choices mankind has when faced by issues /challenges, with clues being given as to how things can be understood by heeding the observations of life being made in due course of their analysis. For that is needed a grasp of the general laws governing both society and the individual within that specific society, a hunting tribe different from an agricultural, industrial or post modern society.

It should be stressed that a main failure is not recognizing in the present something as having value. As this includes also the value of Humanities within the general course program of universities, such a failure must be first comprehended before it can be corrected.

Thus, this introduction is very much an attempt to give an outline to the work required before we can perceive the meanings of things, and thereby comprehend on how philosophy works and to what extent this ties in with the 'value issues' faced by present society and the people living in it.


The key topics of the course shall be as follows:

  1. Concept of Enlightenment

  2. Odysseus or Myth and Enlightenment

  3. Juliette or Enlightenment and Morality

  4. The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception

  5. Elements of Anti-Semitism

  6. Conclusion : resume of notes and evaluation

As all of these topics involve certain methodological issues, such as realizing what it takes to comprehend the impact of films produced by Hollywood, analysis thereof should concentrate on what values are being portrayed or what values are brought across to people by following a certain pattern of telling the 'narrative' e.g. with a happy ending.

Schedule of the course:


Subject matter

7 Sept.

First day: introduction into the course

9 Sept.

Discussion shall centre on expectations placing upon philosophy to help clarify value-related issues.

14 Sept.

Adorno's philosophy – 'Actuality of Philosophy'

16 Sept.

'Dialectic of Enlightenment' to be discussed in terms of one failure familiar to many, namely the failure to find a true love so that this can be transformed into the question as to whether life is a question of faith in oneself, in order to stand up to oneself?

21 Sept.

What questions relate to 'self understanding' and what are value issues encountered when studying other sciences, especially if Jürgen Habermas postulated that the only science which allows self-understanding is Psychoanalysis?

23 Sept.

Adorno's concept of 'unconsciousness' which he made into his dissertation to prove that Freud's use of the term has scientific validity

28 Sept.

Homer's Odysseus, methods of survival – the art of listening to advice by challenging the advisor

30 Sept.

Adorno and Horkheimer made an interesting interpretation of Odyssey when he passes the sirens and stated this to be the first division between work without pleasure, and pleasure as if the arts devoid of the need to work. This separation of two worlds has marked society till today. What implications does this have on how we view and value work compared to the arts?

5 Oct.

(on trip to Brussels) Study groups take up their work

7 Oct.

(on trip to Brussels) Study groups continue their work

12 Oct

Report of the study groups and a first assessment of the findings.

Note: deadline for your first papers on Enlightenment

14 Oct

“Juliette or Enlightenment and Morality” - joint reading of the the chapter and class engagement in text interpretation by naming issues and then showing a comprehension of the the programmatic statements made by philosophy on this subject matter, in order to examine value issues centred around the concept of 'pleasure' e.g. hedonism as a negative term used by those wishing people to just work and not merely pursue pleasure as if this would not require work when doing a work of art.

19 Oct

Follow-up to the discussion centred around the concept of pleasure as to whether it can be considered to be an adverse or supportive force, and especially in consideration that pleasure most often works in a subversive and 'unconscious' way

21 Oct

What is entailed when someone seems to go against 'morality'. Give examples thereof in literature, and can this be understood as a history of consequences e.g. Dostoevsky dispute with God being dead, hence everything being allowed.

26 Oct

Joint reading of the chapter on “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”

28 Oct

Continuation of discussion about mass deception as a result of the cultural industry and what implications this has for value dispositions

2nd Nov

Defining the concept of culture and what values relates to the arts, and are derived from them – with reference to art teacher at LaVerne, Mari Pizanis, who demands from her students to stay honest even when doing abstract art

4th Nov

Impacts of modern media upon life: radio, television

9th Nov

Examination of movies produced by Hollywood

11th Nov

The role of advertisement and what are 'suggestive values' in life e.g. not having a car it is suggested that then it is impossible to be happy

16th Nov

Joint reading of chapter on Anti-Semitism

18th Nov

Why does there exist xenophobic forces e.g. Racism?

23rd Nov

Final Exam




Research papers to be handed in by 1 Dec. 1993

Final Exam given on 21.11.1993

The questions have to be answered within two hours:

  1. What are 'enlightened' words in your opinion? For purpose of analyses, use text examples citing Homer and discuss the importance of different interpretations thereof, in order to come close as to what enlightenment is all about. It means you have to make explicit the concept of Enlightenment an show how this applies to use of language when naming value issues. Explain why it is crucial to Adorno and Horkheimer to step thereby “out of the grip of mythology”? As this explains the relationship between myth and rational thinking, give an indication as to what a figure like Odyssey implies in terms of what kind of organisation society adopts over time and what consequences this has in turn as to what attitudes towards life are adopted i.e. what has value. Show how this holds still for contemporary life?

  2. Would you still link 'progressive thought' (see Adorno and Horkheimer's reference to 'thought' in 'Dialectic of Enlightenment' p. 244) to the movement of the Enlightenment as known for a particular period of time in history? Is in your opinion still hope in man to become enlightened? And if so, does this mean to become 'rational' towards his own fears and therefore sovereign i.e. not determined by fear but by rational thought? If so, what sort of political attitude would you consider to be in need of, if the enlightened man is to become reality?

  3. Make a text interpretation of what Adorno and Horkheimer write in 'Dialectic of Enlightenment' under the aphoristic title: “Avalanches” (p. 220-221). In particular, state if you think this analyses still holds today, and how would you relate to the 'imaginary witness', that is in which sort of context would that kind of witness become concrete to pass on the truth?

  4. If you have to tell children a story about values, what would you tell them? Write a little narrative of your own, in which certain value issues become explicit, and differ that from other forms of instructions given to children e.g. like pointing the finger in an imperative way to let them know they must watch out for cars when crossing streets as there is always traffic. What do you think has gone wrong in terms of how children are brought up, and can this be linked to the failure of the Enlightenment?

  5. State briefly what you found most important when studying 'Dialectic of Enlightenment' and what would you wish to work on further, if given the time to do so?

Good luck

Hatto Fischer

Athens 23.11.1993


Additional explanations:

Enlightened words: selfish compared to responsibility

Carol Gillgan, author of the book called "In a different voice" uses "women's construction of the abortion dilemma" in the chapter titled 'Concept of Self and Morality' "to show "the existence of a distinct moral lnaguage whose evolution traces a sequence of developlment. This is the language of selfishness and responsibility, which defines the moral problem as one of the obligation to exercise care and avoid hurt. The inflicting of hurt is considered selfish and immoral in its reflection of unconcern, while the expression of care is seen as the fulfillment of moral responsibility. The reinterative use by the women of the words selfish and responsible in talking about moral conflict and choice, given the unerlying moral orientation that this language reflects, sets the women apart from the men whom Kohlberg studied and points toward a different understanding of moral development." (p.73)


Further studies:

Ernst Bloch and the Enlightenment:

"He maintained a belief in the Enlightenment and modernity as well as the enlightened religious impetus in human beings all as expressions of the human "invariant of direction" which would eventually carry us forward to a place, as he put it, where we had never yet been but would feel at home. Along the way we would be stripped of our belief in gods and reinvest that belief back into ourselves and only then could we fully realise our potential. The belief in gods and the transcendental, however, was not some sort of delusion or junk DNA but was an essential carrier of the utopian ideal for as long as the world was not yet ready for it. Indeed he maintained that the communist idea of the withering away of the state was merely a secular version of the idea of loving your neighbour and a putting into practice of the old religious phrase, adopted by Marx too, of "from each according to their ability and to each according to their needs"."


"Kritik schafft den Freiraum zum Philosophieren, Kritik als philosophische Voraussetzung, die im Übergang vom kritischen zum staatsopportunistischen Marxismus sich ins drohende Gegenteil verkehrte: Im Staatssoialismus ist die Kritik ein Privileg der Obrigkeit. Sie ist der Warnschuß vor den Bug. Gibt der Gemeinte jetzt nicht klein bei, wird man ihn in Klump schießen. Das ist nicht Kritik als Aufklärung, sondern als Einschüchterung, Strafankündigung, Demütigung. Bei Nietzsche wie Bloch bekam Kritik weniger den Charakter einer Züchtigung als den der Bestätigung, der Anfeuerung, der Faszination."

Quelle: Gerhard Zwerenz (1987) Bloch zwischen Nietzsche und Gorbatschow, Frankfurter Rundschau, Samstag, 11. Juli 1987, Seite ZB 3

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