Thursday, September 29, 2005

Late Merleau-Ponty, revived

Eric Matthews
Radical Philosophy
July/Aug 2005

Not only has he retained a following among philosophers, but he has attracted considerable attention from psychologists, sociologists and literary theorists, inspired in part, perhaps, by the reflection of some of his central themes in the contemporary analytic debates between such figures as Evans, McDowell and Peacocke. Much of the revived interest focuses on Merleau-Ponty’s later thought, as expressed in the posthumously published The Visible and the Invisible, and other works written in the last years of his life.

  • Merleau-Ponty’s later philosophy is often presented as a move away from the Husserlian phenomenology of his major early work, Phenomenology of Perception, in the direction of more Heideggerian ontological concerns. But this is rather oversimplified.
  • Even in Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty was a ‘phenomenologist’ only in the sense that he had an aversion to abstract theorizing; but, as Carman and Hansen rightly point out in their Introduction to the Cambridge Companion, he was already dissatisfied with Husserl’s sharp distinction between subject and object.
  • In The Visible and the Invisible, he chides himself for not being sufficiently dissatisfied on this issue in his earlier work, and tries to set out more plainly a rejection of the distinction.
  • But, despite what he says there, the basis for such a rejection was already present in his earlier conceptions of embodied subjectivity and of human being as being-in-the-world.
  • In The Visible and the Invisible we can see his attempt, never completed because of his death, to develop the logical implications of these conceptions; and in his lectures on Nature, written at the same time, we can find clues to help us in interpreting his aims in that work.

So what was going on in Merleau-Ponty’s later thought? Carbone several times cites a remark of Merleau-Ponty’s from another late text, Eye and Mind. Merleau-Ponty there says that he feels that a ‘mutation of the relationship between humanity and Being’ is taking place in our age, and that what is needed is to develop a ‘new ontology’ to give expression to that mutation.

  • What is meant by an ‘ontology’ here seems to be an account of the relation between consciousness and what we are conscious of. ‘The ontological problem’, Merleau-Ponty says in Nature, is ‘the problem of the relation between subject and object’.
  • In the Cartesian ontology, which provided the framework for classical physics (and so for science in general in the early modern period), this relation was conceived of as holding between a disembodied and timeless subject and an entirely external objective reality.
  • Classical science is thus based on an ‘objectivist’ conception of nature, as an ‘in-itself’ to which we, as subjects, have access only from the outside. This objective reality, which includes our own bodies and living matter in general, is seen as existing in an absolute space and time, and as operating in accordance with causal laws.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Involution - Evolution

Posted by Daniel O'Connor
Thanks to Marginal Revolution for raising the issue of evolution vs. creationism and offering this interesting perspective:

  • The scientific evidence for evolution is solid but it doesn't follow that creationism is irrational in the way that many evolutionists assume. Creationism follows rationally from theism. I recognize that this argument is not likely to please many people. The evolutionists fear to question the premise while modern/moderate theists fear to question the conclusion.Thus for someone who knows, really knows, that god(s) exists (and there are many people who claim to know that god(s) exists) then some form of creationism (see the extension) follows as a rational deduction from the premises. It's no point telling these people that creationism is unscientific because given the premise that god(s) exists creationism is scientific. If god(s) exists then evolution is almost certainly false, if not in every particular then surely in the grand claims of a undesigned nature.

I generally agree and I think Alex has his finger on two underlying value systems that have been described rather well by various psychologists, particularly Clare Graves and his students Don Beck and Chris Cowan, who designate them DQ-Blue and ER-Orange. Bottom line: People who see, think, judge, and act primarily through one or the other of these value systems will find it very difficult to resolve their ideological differences. More to the point, we are far more likely to find devout creationists centered at absolutistic DQ-Blue and devout evolutionists centered at multiplistic ER-Orange. But what about the prospect of an integral theory that bridges and unites the essence of both evolution and creationism? What if the pattern that we observe as evolution was the explicit unfolding of an implicit pattern of latent potentials previously involved in the human and natural world? What if we and our world are simultaneously involved or enfolded Spirit and evolved or unfolded Matter, Life, Mind, etc.? This hypothesis was beautifully articulated nearly 100 years ago by Sri Aurobindo in The Life Divine.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Improvement of the Understanding by Benedictus de Spinoza

After experience had taught me that all the usual surroundings of social life are vain and futile; seeing that none of the objects of my fears contained in themselves anything either good or bad, except in so far as the mind is affected by them, I finally resolved to inquire whether there might be some real good having power to communicate itself, which would affect the mind singly, to the exclusion of all else: whether, in fact, there might be anything of which the discovery and attainment would enable me to enjoy continuous, supreme, and unending happiness.

I could see the benefits which are acquired through fame and riches. For the ordinary surroundings of life which are esteemed by men (as their actions testify) to be the highest good, may be classed under the three heads - Riches, Fame, and the Pleasures of Sense: with these three the mind is so absorbed that it has little power to reflect on any different good. By sensual pleasure the mind is enthralled to the extent of quiescence, as if the supreme good were actually attained, so that it is quite incapable of thinking of any other object; when such pleasure has been gratified it is followed by extreme melancholy, whereby the mind, though not enthralled, is disturbed and dulled. The pursuit of honours and riches is likewise very absorbing, especially if such objects be sought simply for their own sake, inasmuch as they are then supposed to constitute the highest good.

In the case of fame the mind is still more absorbed, for fame is conceived as always good for its own sake, and as the ultimate end to which all actions are directed. Further, the attainment of riches and fame is not followed as in the case of sensual pleasures by repentance, but, the more we acquire, the greater is our delight, and, consequently, the more are we incited to increase both the one and the other; on the other hand, if our hopes happen to be frustrated we are plunged into the deepest sadness. Fame has the further drawback that it compels its votaries to order their lives according to the opinions of their fellow-men, shunning what they usually shun, and seeking what they usually seek

I thus perceived that I was in a state of great peril, and I compelled myself to seek with all my strength for a remedy, however uncertain it might be; as a sick man struggling with a deadly disease, when he sees that death will surely be upon him unless a remedy be found, is compelled to seek a remedy with all his strength, inasmuch as his whole hope lies therein. All the objects pursued by the multitude not only bring no remedy that tends to preserve our being, but even act as hindrances, causing the death not seldom of those who possess them, and always of those who are possessed by them.

But love towards a thing eternal and infinite feeds the mind wholly with joy, and is itself unmingled with any sadness, wherefore it is greatly to be desired and sought for with all our strength. As the true good became more and more discernible to me, they became more frequent and more lasting; especially after I had recognized that the acquisition of wealth, sensual pleasure, or fame, is only a hindrance, so long as they are sought as ends not as means. However, human weakness cannot attain to this order in its own thoughts, but meanwhile man conceives a human character much more stable than his own, and sees that there is no reason why he should not himself acquire such a character.

Friday, September 09, 2005

A Confession

by Leo Tolstoy
First distributed in Russia in 1882

My life came to a standstill. I could breathe, eat, drink, and sleep, and I could not help doing these things; but there was no life, for there were no wishes the fulfillment of which I could consider reasonable. If I desired anything, I knew in advance that whether I satisfied my desire or not, nothing would come of it. Had a fairy come and offered to fulfil my desires I should not have know what to ask. If in moments of intoxication I felt something which, though not a wish, was a habit left by former wishes, in sober moments I knew this to be a delusion and that there was really nothing to wish for. I could not even wish to know the truth, for I guessed of what it consisted. The truth was that life is meaningless. I had as it were lived, lived, and walked, walked, till I had come to a precipice and saw clearly that there was nothing ahead of me but destruction. It was impossible to stop, impossible to go back, and impossible to close my eyes or avoid seeing that there was nothing ahead but suffering and real death — complete annihilation.

And all this befell me at a time when all around me I had what is considered complete good fortune. I was not yet fifty; I had a good wife who lived me and whom I loved, good children, and a large estate which without much effort on my part improved and increased. I was respected by my relations and acquaintances more than at any previous time. I was praised by others and without much self-deception could consider that my name was famous. And far from being insane or mentally diseased, I enjoyed on the contrary a strength of mind and body such as I have seldom met with among men of my kind; physically I could keep up with the peasants at mowing, and mentally I could work for eight and ten hours at a stretch without experiencing any ill results from such exertion. And in this situation I came to this — that I could not live, and, fearing death, had to employ cunning with myself to avoid taking my own life.

My mental condition presented itself to me in this way: my life is a stupid and spiteful joke someone has played on me. Though I did not acknowledge a “someone” who created me, yet such a presentation — that someone had played an evil and stupid joke on my by placing me in the world — was the form of expression that suggested itself most naturally to me. Involuntarily it appeared to me that there, somewhere, was someone who amused himself by watching how I lived for thirty or forty years: learning, developing, maturing in body and mind, and how, having with matured mental powers reached the summit of life from which it all lay before me, I stood on that summit — like an arch-fool — seeing clearly that there is nothing in life, and that there has been and will be nothing. And he was amused. . . .

But whether that “someone” laughing at me existed or not, I was none the better off. I could give no reasonable meaning to any single action or to my whole life. I was only surprised that I could have avoided understanding this from the very beginning — it has been so long known to all. Today or tomorrow sickness and death will come (they had come already) to those I love or to me; nothing will remain but stench and worms. Sooner or later my affairs, whatever they may be, will be forgotten, and I shall not exist. Then why go on making any effort? . . . How can man fail to see this? And how go on living? That is what is surprising! One can only live while one is intoxicated with life; as soon as one is sober it is impossible not to see that it is all a mere fraud and a stupid fraud! That is precisely what it is: there is nothing either amusing or witty about it, it is simply cruel and stupid.

The deception of the joys of life which formerly allayed my terror of the dragon now no longer deceived me. No matter how often I may be told, “You cannot understand the meaning of life so do not think about it, but live,” I can no longer do it: I have already done it too long. I cannot now help seeing day and night going round and bringing me to death. That is all I see, for that alone is true. All else is false. “But perhaps I have overlooked something, or misunderstood something?” said to myself several times. “It cannot be that this condition of despair is natural to man!” And I sought for an explanation of these problems in all the branches of knowledge acquired by men. I sought painfully and long, not from idle curiosity or listlessly, but painfully and persistently day and night — sought as a perishing man seeks for safety — and I found nothing. I sought in all the sciences, but far from finding what I wanted, became convinced that all who like myself had sought in knowledge for the meaning of life had found nothing. And not only had they found nothing, but they had plainly acknowledged that the very thing which made me despair — namely the senselessness of life — is the one indubitable thing man can know.

“What will come of what I am doing today or shall do tomorrow? What will come of my whole life?” Differently expressed, the question is: “Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?” It can also be expressed thus: “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?” In my search for answers to life’s questions I experienced just what is felt by a man lost in a forest. Schopenhauer says:

“Having recognized the inmost essence of the world as will, and all its phenomena — from the unconscious working of the obscure forces of Nature up to the completely conscious action of man — as only the objectivity of that will, we shall in no way avoid the conclusion that together with the voluntary renunciation and self-destruction of the will all those phenomena also disappear, that constant striving and effort without aim or rest on all the stages of objectivity in which and through which the world exists; the diversity of successive forms will disappear, and together with the form all the manifestations of will, with its most universal forms, space and time, and finally its most fundamental form — subject and object. Without will there is no concept and no world. Before us, certainly, nothing remains. But what resists this transition into annihilation, our nature, is only that same wish to live — Wille zum Leben — which forms ourselves as well as our world. That we are so afraid of annihilation or, what is the same thing, that we so wish to live, merely means that we are ourselves nothing else but this desire to live, and know nothing but it. And so what remains after the complete annihilation of the will, for us who are so full of the will, is, of course, nothing; but on the other hand, for those in whom the will has turned and renounced itself, this so real world of ours with all its suns and milky way is nothing.”

“Vanity of vanities”, says Solomon — “vanity of vanities — all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation commeth: but the earth abideth for ever. . . . The thing that hath been, is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. there is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after. I the Preacher was King over Israel in Jerusalem. And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. . . . I communed with my own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me over Jerusalem: yea, my heart hath great experience of wisdom and knowledge. And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

“I said in my heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and behold this also is vanity. I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? I sought in my heart how to cheer my flesh with wine, and while my heart was guided by wisdom, to lay hold on folly, till I might see what it was good for the sons of men that they should do under heaven the number of the days of their life. I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards; I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kinds of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therefrom the forest where trees were reared: I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of herds and flocks above all that were before me in Jerusalem: I gathered me also silver and gold and the peculiar treasure from kings and from the provinces: I got me men singers and women singers; and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments and all that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever mine eyes desired I kept not from them. I withheld not my heart from any joy. . . . Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit from them under the sun. And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly. . . . But I perceived that one even happeneth to them all. Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me, and why was I then more wise? then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool. Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: seeing that I must leave it unto the man that shall be after me. . . . For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, even in the night his heart taketh no rest. this is also vanity. Man is not blessed with security that he should eat and drink and cheer his soul from his own labour. . . . All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked; to the good and to the evil; to the clean and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth and to him that sacrificeth not; as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one event unto all; yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead. For him that is among the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.”

So said Solomon, or whoever wrote those words.7

I then only felt that however logically inevitable were my conclusions concerning the vanity of life, confirmed as they were by the greatest thinkers, there was something not right about them. Whether it was in the reasoning itself or in the statement of the question I did not know — I only felt that the conclusion was rationally convincing, but that that was insufficient. All these conclusions could not so convince me as to make me do what followed from my reasoning, that is to say, kill myself. And I should have told an untruth had I, without killing myself, said that reason had brought me to the point I had reached. Reason worked, but something else was also working which I can only call a consciousness of life. A force was working which compelled me to turn my attention to this and not to that; and it was this force which extricated me from my desperate situation and turned my mind in quite another direction. This force compelled me to turn my attention to the fact that I and a few hundred similar people are not the whole of mankind, and that I did not yet know the life of mankind.

I understood, in the first place, that my position with Schopenhauer and Solomon, notwithstanding our wisdom, was stupid: we see that life is an evil and yet continue to live. That is evidently stupid, for if life is senseless and I am so fond of what is reasonable, it should be destroyed, and then there would be no one to challenge it. Secondly, I understood that all one’s reasonings turned in a vicious circle like a wheel out of gear with its pinion. However much and however well we may reason we cannot obtain a reply to the question; and o will always equal o, and therefore our path is probably erroneous. Thirdly, I began to understand that in the replies given by faith is stored up the deepest human wisdom and that I had no right to deny them on the ground of reason, and that those answers are the only ones which reply to life’s question.

I turned from the life of our circle, acknowledging that ours is not life but a simulation of life — that the conditions of superfluity in which we live deprive us of the possibility of understanding life, and that in order to understand life I must understand not an exceptional life such as our who are parasites on life, but the life of the simple labouring folk — those who make life — and the meaning which they attribute to it. The simplest labouring people around me were the Russian people, and I turned to them and to the meaning of life which they give. How often I envied the peasants their illiteracy and lack of learning! Those statements in the creeds which to me were evident absurdities, for them contained nothing false; they could accept them and could believe in the truth — the truth I believed in. Only to me, unhappy man, was it clear that with truth falsehood was interwoven by finest threads, and that I could not accept it in that form.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Georg Lukacs

from History & Class Consciousness
Preface to the New Edition, 1967

Looking back at it now I see that, for all its romantic anti-capitalistic overtones, the ethical idealism I took from Hegel made a number of real contributions to the picture of the world that emerged after this crisis…Mental confusion is not always chaos. It may strengthen the internal contradictions for the time being but in the long run it will lead to their resolution. Thus my ethics tended in the direction of praxis, action and hence towards politics…Our enthusiasm was a very makeshift substitute for knowledge and experience…Our magazine strove to propagate a messianic sectarianism by working out the most radical methods on every issue, and by proclaiming a total break with every institution and mode of life stemming from the bourgeois world… It is at this point that the objective internal contradictions in my political and philosophical views come into the open… I found myself adopting an intellectual attitude dictated, by life-itself, that conflicted sharply with the idealism and utopianism of my revolutionary messianism…History and Class Consciousness was born in the midst of the crises of this transitional period. It was written in 1922.

In these and similarly problematical premises we see the result of a failure to subject the Hegelian heritage to a thoroughgoing materialist reinterpretation and hence to transcend and preserve it…But whereas Lenin really brought about a renewal of the Marxian method my efforts resulted in a Hegelian distortion, in which I put the totality in the centre of the system, overriding the priority of economics! “It is not the primacy of economic motives in historical explanation that constitutes the decisive difference between Marxism and bourgeois science, but the point of view of totality.’’ This methodological paradox was intensified further by the fact that the totality was seen as the conceptual embodiment of the revolutionary principle in science. “The primacy of the category of totality is the bearer of the revolutionary principle in science.”

There is no doubt that such paradoxes of method played a not unimportant and in many ways very progressive role in the impact of History and Class Consciousness on later thought. For the revival of Hegel’s dialectics struck a hard blow at the revisionist tradition. Already Bernstein had wished to dominate everything reminiscent of Hegel’s dialectics in the name of ‘science’. And nothing was further from the mind of his philosophical opponents, and above all Kautsky, than the wish to undertake the defence of this tradition. For anyone wishing to return to the revolutionary traditions of Marxism the revival of the Hegelian traditions was obligatory.

History and Class Consciousness represents what was perhaps the most radical attempt to restore the revolutionary nature of Marx’s theories by renovating and extending Hegel’s dialectics and method. The task was made even more important by the fact that bourgeois philosophy at the time showed signs of a growing interest in Hegel. Of course they never succeeded in making Hegel’s breach with Kant the foundation of their analysis and, on the other hand, they were influenced by Dilthey’s attempts to construct theoretical bridges between Hegelian dialectics and modern irrationalism. A little while after the appearance of History and Class Consciousness Kroner described Hegel as the greatest irrationalist of all time and in Lowith’s later studies Marx and Kierkegaard were to emerge as parallel phenomena out of the dissolution of Hegelianism. It is by contrast with all these developments that we can best see the relevance of History and Class Consciousness.

Another fact contributing to its importance to the ideology of the radical workers’ movement was that whereas Plekhanov and others had vastly overestimated Feuerbach’s role as an intermediary between Hegel and Marx, this was relegated to the background here. Anticipating the publication of Lenin’s later philosophical studies by some years, it was nevertheless only somewhat later, in the essay on Moses Hess, that I explicitly argued that Marx followed directly from Hegel. However, this position is contained implicitly in many of the discussions in History and Class Consciousness.

In a necessarily brief summary it is not possible to undertake a concrete criticism of all the issues raised by the book, and to show how far the interpretation of Hegel it contained was a source of confusion and how far it pointed towards the future. The contemporary reader who is qualified to criticise will certainly find evidence of both tendencies. To assess the impact of the book at that time, and also its relevance today, we must consider one problem that surpasses in its importance all questions of detail. This is the question of alienation, which, for the first time since Marx, is treated as central to the revolutionary critique of capitalism and which has its theoretical and methodological roots in the Hegelian dialectic.Of course the problem was in the air at the time. Some years later, following the publication of Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927), it moved into the centre of philosophical debate. Even today it has not lost this position, largely because of the influence of Sartre, his followers and his opponents.
The philosophical problem raised above all by Lucien Goldmann when he interpreted Heidegger’s work in part as a polemical reply to mine – which however was not mentioned explicitly – can be left on one side here. The statement that the problem was in the air is perfectly adequate, particularly as it is not possible to discuss the reasons for this here and to lay bare the mixture of Marxist and Existentialist ideas that were so influential after World War II, especially in France. The question of who was first and who influenced whom is not particularly interesting here. What is important is that the alienation of man is a crucial problem of the age in which we live and is recognised as such by both bourgeois and proletarian thinkers, by commentators on both right and left. Hence History and Class Consciousness had a profound impact in youthful intellectual circles; I know of a whole host of good Communists who were won over to the movement by this very fact. Without a doubt the fact that this Marxist and Hegelian question was taken up by a Communist was one reason why the impact of the book went far beyond the limits of the party.

As to the way in which the problem was actually dealt with, it is not hard to see today that it was treated in purely Hegelian terms. In particular its ultimate philosophical foundation is the identical subject-object that realises itself in the historical process. Of course, in Hegel it arises in a purely logical and philosophical form when the highest stage of absolute spirit is attained in philosophy by abolishing alienation and by the return of self-consciousness to itself, thus realising the identical subject-object. In History and Class Consciousness, however, this process is socio-historical and it culminates when the proletariat reaches this stage in its class consciousness, thus becoming the identical subject-object of history. This does indeed appear to ‘stand Hegel on his feet’; it appears as if the logico-metaphysical construction of the Phenomenology of Mind had found its authentic realisation in the existence and the consciousness of the proletariat. And this appears in turn to provide a philosophical foundation for the proletariat’s efforts to form a classless society through revolution and to conclude the ‘prehistory’ of mankind. But is the identical subject-object here anything more in truth than a purely metaphysical construct ? Can a genuinely identical subject-object be created by self-knowledge, however adequate, and however truly based on an adequate knowledge of society, i.e. however perfect that self-knowledge is?
We need only formulate the question precisely to see that it must be answered in the negative. For even when the content of knowledge is referred back to the knowing subject, this does not mean that the act of cognition is thereby freed of its alienated nature. In the Phenomenology of Mind, Hegel rightly dismisses the notion of a mystical and irrationalistic realisation of the identical subject-object, of Schelling’s ‘intellectual intuition’, calling instead for a philosophical and rational solution to the problem. His healthy sense of reality induced him to leave the matter at this juncture; his very general system does indeed culminate in the vision of such a realisation but he never shows in concrete terms how it might be achieved. Thus the proletariat seen as the identical subject-object of the real history of mankind is no materialist consummation that overcomes the constructions of idealism. It is rather an attempt to out-Hegel Hegel, it is an edifice boldly erected above every possible reality and thus attempts objectively to surpass the Master himself.

Hegel’s reluctance to commit himself on this point is the product of the wrong-headedness of his basic concept. For it is in Hegel that we first encounter alienation as the fundamental problem of the place of man in the world and vis-à-vis the world. However, in the term alienation he includes every type of objectification Thus ‘alienation’ when taken to its logical conclusion is identical with objectification. Therefore, when the identical subject-object transcends alienation it must also transcend objectification at the same time. But as, according to Hegel, the object, the thing exists only as an alienation from self-consciousness, to take it back into the subject would mean the end of objective reality and thus of any reality at all. History and Class Consciousness follows Hegel in that it too equates alienation with objectification (to use the term employed by Marx in the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts). This fundamental and crude error has certainly contributed greatly to the success enjoyed by History and Class Consciousness. The unmasking of alienation by philosophy was in the air, as we have remarked, and it soon became a central problem in the type of cultural criticism that undertook to scrutinise the condition of man in contemporary capitalism. In the philosophical, cultural criticism of the bourgeoisie (and we need look no further than Heidegger), it was natural to sublimate a critique of society into a purely philosophical problem, i.e. to convert an essentially social alienation into an eternal ‘condition humaine’, to use a term not coined until somewhat later. It is evident that History and Class Consciousness met such attitudes half-way, even though its intentions had been different and indeed opposed to them. For when I identified alienation with objectification I meant this as a societal category – socialism would after all abolish alienation – but its irreducible presence in class society and above all its basis in philosophy brought it into the vicinity of the ‘condition humaine’.

This follows from the frequently stressed false identification of opposed fundamental categories. For objectification is indeed a phenomenon that cannot be eliminated from human life in society. If we bear in mind that every externalisation of an object in practice (and hence, too, in work) is an objectification that every human expression including speech objectifies human thoughts and feelings, then it is clear that we are dealing with a universal mode of commerce between men. And in so far as this is the case, objectification is a natural phenomenon; the true is as much an objectification as the false, liberation as much as enslavement. Only when the objectified forms in society acquire functions that bring the essence of man into conflict with his existence, only when man’s nature is subjugated, deformed and crippled can we speak of an objective societal condition of alienation and, as an inexorable consequence, of all the subjective marks of an internal alienation.
This duality was not acknowledged in History and Class Consciousness. And this is why it is so wide of the mark in its basic view of the history of philosophy. (We note in passing that the phenomenon of reification is closely related to that of alienation but is neither socially nor conceptually identical with it; here the two words were used synonymously.) This critique of the basic concepts cannot hope to be comprehensive. But even in an account as brief as this mention must be made of my rejection of the view that knowledge is reflection. This had two sources. The first was my deep abhorrence of the mechanistic fatalism which was the normal concomitant of reflection theory in mechanistic materialism. Against this my messianic utopianism, the predominance of praxis in my thought rebelled in passionate protest – a protest that, once again, was not wholly misguided. In the second place I recognised the way in which praxis had its origins and its roots in work. The most primitive kind of work, such as the quarrying of stones by primeval man, implies a correct reflection of the reality he is concerned with. For no purposive activity can be carried out in the absence of an image, however crude, of the practical reality involved. Practice can only be a fulfilment and a criterion of theory when it is based on what is held to be a correct reflection of reality. It would be unrewarding at this point to detail the arguments that justify rejecting the analogy with photography which is so prevalent in the current debate on reflection theories.

Budapest, March 1967.