The humanism of critical theory: The Frankfurt School’s ‘realer humanismus’

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Downloads (Pure)


Theodor Adorno has been quoted as responding to the Humanist Union stating ‘I might possibly be willing to join if your club had been called an inhuman union, but I could not join one that calls itself “humanist”’. Adorno’s opposition to forms of humanism (both liberal and Marxist) which posit the existence of our humanity is reflected in readings of The Frankfurt Institute’s history such as that produced by Martin Jay. While this is the case, one of Adorno’s highly admired students, Alfred Schmidt, commemorated his teacher by proclaiming him a ‘philosopher of Real Humanism’. In categorising Adorno’s work as embodying a ‘Real Humanism’, Schmidt points towards an understanding and orientation towards the human (and our understanding of it) which cannot be accurately characterised through the philosophies of Humanism and Anti-Humanism as oppositional viewpoints. Rather, the Real Humanism of Adorno (as well as some of his fellow travellers) understands the human as the negative image of our currently existing society’s inhumanity, and urges us to take an ethical orientation towards the constitution of the human through the abolition of our inhumanity. If we, like Adorno, are to believe in the new categorical imperative that we must make sure ‘that Auschwitz never repeats itself, so that nothing similar ever happen[s] again’, then we must fundamentally orient ourselves towards the goal of ‘real humanism’ – a society free from the domination of ourselves and the other.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalPhilosophy and Social Criticism
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Apr 2023


  • Frankfurt School
  • critical theory
  • Theodor Adorno
  • humanism
  • anti-humanism
  • Alfred Schmidt


Dive into the research topics of 'The humanism of critical theory: The Frankfurt School’s ‘realer humanismus’'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this