an alternative to instrumental reason » Al Poniente

“With reason instrumentalized by technology, by industrialization, and by capitalist society, conscience in the subject is amputated. A subject without conscience is an unemancipated being who is at the mercy of any power or force that can compel him.


The philosopher Max Horkheimer at work (1973) Critique of instrumental reason, reveals how modern reason has become a simple tool in the service of industry and technology, that is, it has become instrumentalized reason. As a result, the German sociologist Jürgen Habermas postulated a kind of emancipatory reason against this type of instrumentalized reason that reduces the thinking character of modern society. This type of reason, promoted by the sociologist of the Frankfurt School, has the main purpose of promoting a critique that seeks to condemn technical and instrumentalized reason. To reason absorbed and/or reduced by the society of technical control.

In this new society of technical control and instrumental reason arose Critical Theory, based on analyzing from a critical point of view the traditional theories of science and especially the knowledge of time (the modern era) that was at the service of this new industrialized and capitalized society, thereby suppressing nature itself.

Imprisonment of the natural man for this reason, instrumentalized, led to the imprisonment of the nature of modern society and therefore of the modern. The constitution of this new model of reason produced beings submissive to the dominant political system, submissive to the head of factories and industries, created an alienated being unable to think of freedom as a supreme goal to which man must yearn or appeal through his reason, as set forth in the illustration. This new reason, instead of being an emancipatory reason, has become an execution reason for freedom, and this is because the instrumentalized reason placed at the service of technology, of fascist governmental systems such as that of the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, in the words to Habermas “served more to fetter nature than to free it.” (Habermas, 1998, p. 471).

Reason, that beautiful human gift which has since ancient times given man the ability to question all that his senses perceive and take for granted, is today nullified and/or diminished by the means by which They have forced it. Reason, from its beginning, as we have been able to demonstrate in the first chapters of this work, has always had the intention of seeking truth, of finding what is hidden from us and confused with simple appearances, but “since reason has become the instrument of domination of human and inhuman nature by man – that is, from his earliest beginnings – his own intention to discover truth was thwarted. (Habermas, 1998, pp. 486-487).

Reason as the search for truth was man’s first liberating process. The role of reason was crucial in completing the process of emancipation in man, mainly from the myths, religious beliefs and superstitions with which he proceeded to explain every natural or social phenomenon presented to him. This was the main task of reason. Here is reason as an emancipating force that plays a major role in the search for a great goal, that of truth as freedom.

With reason instrumentalized by technology, by industrialization, and by capitalist society, the subject’s consciousness is amputated. A subject without conscience is an unemancipated being who has left himself at the mercy of any force or power that can compel him. This amputation of consciousness simulates an attack on human nature itself, on the ultimate goals that modern man began and succeeded in achieving in antiquity (with the Greeks) and in modernity (with the Enlightenment). This attack on conscience and its nature itself invalidates any attempt or act of emancipation. According to this fact, Habermas claims:

The moment a person amputates his consciousness of himself as nature, all the goals for which he is sustained in life, social progress, the growth of all material and spiritual forces, including consciousness itself, become zero. (Habermas, 1998, pp. 484-485).

This nothingness of modern man’s consciousness makes the subject a completely unemancipated being. In itself, such a process leads to the complete loss of the emancipatory character of reason, that character with which it has been educated since the Enlightenment, and the loss of its true essence as an alternative, for “the essence of the Enlightenment is the alternative, the inevitability of which is that of domination”. (Horkheimer & Adorno, 1998, p. 85).

For this reason, Habermas has proposed an emancipatory reason that causes the modern subject to reconsider everything that has hitherto been obvious to him in the face of it. After the process of consolidating reason as a tool, emancipating reason can make man see everything around him, everything that is obvious to them from a critical point of view, as it has been done since the beginning of modern philosophy.

Habermas’ emancipatory reason is an invitation to the idea of ​​enlightenment. Illustration as an ideal of using reason from a critical point of view, which makes the modern subject rethink everything that has been done or seemed obvious to him up to that point. Emancipating reason is the door which opens before modern man in order to get out of that grave error into which instrumental reason has led him.


Other columns by the author: https://alponiente.com/author/numasgonzalez/

Bibliographic references:

Habermas, J. (1998). Theory of communicative action. Taurus Editions.

Habermas, J. (1989). The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Taurus Editions.

Horkheimer, M. (1973). Critique of instrumental reason. Southern Publisher.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *