This article discusses two critical attempts to historicize Kant’s concept of synthesis: Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s theory that the basis of cognitive synthesis is the social synthesis through commodity exchange and Theodor W. Adorno’s considerations on the role of synthesis in the domination of nature. As is pointed out in the first section, Sohn-Rethel’s approach has certain relativist implications whereas Adorno’s is, to some extent, inevitably realist. In section 2 the author first analyzes Adorno’s agreement with Sohn-Rethel’s social synthesis and then demonstrates how the opposing epistemological implications are reconciled. In the final section the resulting continuity between self-preservation and exchange is found to be epistemologically promising although it carries the danger of naturalizing capitalism.
Keywords: Adorno, Sohn-Rethel, Critical Theory, second nature, exchange, abstraction.