The Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt facilitated the first publication of Friedrich Engels’s controversial Dialectics of Nature manuscripts in the 1920s. Yet the subsequent work of the institute’s most influential members almost entirely turned away from the approach to natural science that Engels had advocated. The result was an indispensably incisive critique of social domination and a deepening skepticism about natural-scientific contributions to the construction of the postcapitalist alternative. Through a new reading of the development of Max Horkheimer’s analysis of empiricism and an original reconstruction of Engels’s unjustly maligned philosophy of nature, this essay outlines how critical theory can move beyond the pessimism about technoscientific practice that characterized the Frankfurt School’s most influential early work—without forfeiting the historical insight such pessimism once animated.

You do not currently have access to this content.