What is the Frankfurt School, Philosophers of the Frankfurt School

What is the Frankfurt School, Philosophers of the Frankfurt School

June 29, 2021 Off By Felso

Frankfurt School is the expression of the Social Research Institute, which was founded in Germany in 1923 and brings together people from different disciplines such as sociology, political science, psychoanalysis, history, aesthetics, philosophy and musicology. The general approach of the Frankfurt School is called critical theory.

The Frankfurt School was founded by several thinkers in Germany and took its name from the “Social Research Center” established at the University of Frankfurt.

All of the names in the school are the children of wealthy families belonging to the Jewish middle class. Adorno and Horkheimer wanted to re-establish the research centre; but they were not as active in this school as before.

The Institute for Social Research, which was established on February 3, 1923 under the Frankfurt University in Germany, began to be called the “Frankfurt School” in the 1960s. The members of this school made important studies on subjects such as fascism, authoritarianism, bureaucracy, art and popular culture in the period after the Second World War.

The three prominent names of this school are Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Herbert Marcuse. Although they have different interests and fields of study, the point that connects the representatives of the Frankfurt School is their concern with human freedom and how freedom is limited by different forms of domination and social oppression in the modern world.


Frankfurt School theorists aimed to understand the nature of social changes necessary to create a just and democratic society by identifying the disturbances of modern society (Layder, 2006, p.250).

The term “Frankfurt School”, as a term covering various members of the institute, was first used in the 1960s after some of the institute members returned to Frankfurt, and was subsequently proudly adopted by Adorno (Jay, 1989).

In the history of thought, the term “School” has two interrelated meanings. The first of them corresponds to the institution in which education and training takes place. The second indicates a trend or tradition with a certain internal integrity.

When the word “Frankfurt School” is mentioned, it can be said that these two meanings are together. Because the Frankfurt School was both one of the most important currents of thought of the age and a research-oriented institutional structure (although not mainly in education and training) (Dellaloğlu, 2003, p.15).

However, the work of members of the Frankfurt School is not always interdependent or complementary. A legitimate mention of this school is possible only with reference to the work of Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, and Fromm. Moreover, there are fundamental differences of opinion among these names (Held, 1991, p.247).

Felix Weil is the founder of the Frankfurt School.

The person considered to be the founder of the institute is Felix Weil, who was a doctoral student at the time. Due to the absence of a professor among Weil and his other friends, Carl Grünberg (1861-1940) was invited to Frankfurt and became the founding director of the Institute.

Friedrich Pollock, Leo Löventhal, Thedor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Franz Neumann, Eric Fromm and Jurgen Habermas are among the important members of the Institute. However, when the Frankfurt School is mentioned in a narrower sense, when generalizations are made as “according to the Frankfurt School theorists”, Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse should come to mind to a large extent.

It should be noted, however, that the Frankfurt School does not form a whole. The tradition of thought that can be gathered under this name is divided into two branches.

First, Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Löwenthal gathered around the “Institute for Social Studies” founded in Frankfurt in 1923, exiled in 1933, settling in America shortly thereafter, and re-established in Frankfurt in the early 1950s. includes names such as Benjamin, Neumann, and Fromm.

The second branch is the recent works of Jurgen Habermas in the fields of philosophy and sociology, which reshape the concept of critical theory (Held, 1991, p.247).


The Frankfurt School forms one of the currents known as Western Marxism, which seeks to give a critically different interpretation of (classical) Marxism. While posing an important challenge to the orthodox interpretation of Marxism, they also questioned the connections of Marxism with modernism, in which it was born and developed.

Thus, the theorists of the Frankfurt School both tried to create an alternative way for social development and focused on issues such as culture, bureaucracy and authoritarianism that were excluded by Orthodox Marxism. They criticized Soviet Socialism, as they criticized capitalism, and they also criticized Stalinism as they criticized fascism.

Frankfurt School theorists considered themselves Marxists. Undoubtedly, because theorists treat Marxism not as a rigid and unquestioned set of doctrines, but in a flexible and critical way, for example, the working class is integrated into capitalist society and