Adorno – Lecture 10 on Negative Dialectics: “Philosophy and ‘Depth'” (12/9/1965)

This post is part of my ongoing blogging project called “Critical Theory Down to Earth.” In these posts I provide summaries of and brief reflections on writings throughout the wider critical theory landscape.

In this project I am only covering Adorno’s Lectures 1 – 10 on Negative Dialectics; my summaries of these particular lectures end with the present entry. In the book these summaries refer to, there are brief notes for a substantial number of further lectures. Given the brevity and density of these further lecture notes, summarizing them does not make a lot of sense.

Adorno is not impressed with “deep thoughts”, at least not as commonly construed in the 1960s. While depth is important, the ways people talk about it are elitist and hollow a good portion of the time. He notes people – importantly including philosophers, of course – tend to equate depth with a romanticized notion of suffering. But Adorno says happiness is not necessarily shallow, and suffering is not necessarily profound. Inwardness is also commonly associated with depth, and again, Adorno thinks this is bunk.

So then what is depth really? Adorno locates depth in modes of engagement rather than in surface products and conclusions. Depth occurs in refusing to buy into established truths at face value, and instead looking further than what is immediately apparent. Depth occurs in creativity, and in engagement with the social world. Depth goes beyond the surface.

Adorno wants us to look beyond appearances, and interrogate essences. He wants us to reflect as a mode of being; rather than as a means toward an end, only to be superseded at the journey’s completion. We should have our thinking extend beyond the façade of appearances, beyond the limits of established facts. We should maintain a “speculative surplus”, which constitutes the zone of freedom in thought. Preventing speculation holds back the power and expansiveness of thought’s potentiality.


Adorno, T. W. (2014). Lectures on negative dialectics: fragments of a lecture course 1965/1966. John Wiley & Sons.

Jeremiah Morelock

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