Archive for the 'Philosophy' Category

Fanon on the Intellectual

In his work The Wretched of the Earth Fanon writes:

The human condition, plans for mankind, and collaboration between men in those tasks which increase the sum total of humanity are new problems, which demand true inventions.

A permanent dialogue with oneself and an increasingly obscene narcissism never ceased to prepare the way for a half delirious state, where intellectual work became suffering and the reality was not that of a living man, working and creating himself, but rather words, different combinations of words, and the tensions springing from the meaning contained in words.  Yet some Europeans were found to urge the European workers to shatter this narcissism and break with this unreality.(312-3).

Reference

Fanon, Frantz.  2004.  The Wretched of the Earth.  Translated by Richard Philcox.  New York: Grove Press.

Plato’s Cave and Modern Day Metaphysics

In his new book philosopher Crawford L. Elder argues from a realist Hegelian point of view that objects (“familiar objects”) actually do exist in our world.  This claim actually runs counter to much modern day philosophical thought that familiar objects actually do not exist (i.e. a “dog” is just a bunch of atomic particles that consist of what we perceive to be a “dog,” etc.).  Elder argues that this amounts to a modern day “Plato’s cave” in where philosophers are only arguing for the existence of the “shadows” of objects and not the objects themselves.

In general, contemporary metaphysics is deeply sceptical of the familiar objects in which common sense believes.  It is far more ready to attribute reality to entities that are much smaller – to the particles and wave packtes and strings which microphysics treats as real, or to the “mereoloigical simples” for which philosophical reflection provides some support.  Any such view must find some way of explaining why there appear to be familiar medium-sized objects in the world…The main business of this book is to argue that leading examples of such explanations fail.  For time and again such explanations project downwards, onto the small entities of the preferred ontology, structures and relations and features that properly belong to familiar objects.  Such projections are harmless so long as one allows that there also are, in addition to the small entities, the familiar objects that form the starting point of the projection.  But if – as generally the case – the aim is to expunge familiar objects from ontology, the invocation of such structures and relations and features is illegitimate.  The opponetns of familiar objects are then helping themselves to shadows cast downwards, onto the level of the preferred small entities, while denying that the sources of these shadows exist.

What explains this scepticism?  I shall being…by suggesting that contemporary metaphysics is dominated by the style of thought which Hegel – using the nineteenth-century vocabulary of faculties – called “the Understanding,” and that “the Understanding” is constitutionally antipathetic to familiar objects.  But first a few words about the style of thought that finds familiar objects congenial – the style of thought which Hegel identified under the title “Reason.”

A prime characteristic of “Reason” is that it is willing to recognize what Hegel called “identity in difference.”  “Identify in difference” is a form of sameness which articulates itself in difference…Typically, a familiar object goes on being itself while passing through different phases or properties, that is, while differing from itself.  Indeed in many cases – and especially if we count such properties as age among the relevant ones – a familiar object can go on being numerically the same object only by differing more and more from its earlier self…It is the same composite only because it is differently composed…Common sense is quick to agree that these properties fall into contrary ranges, each contrasting to graded degrees with its own proper rivals.  The Hegelian claim – on which I shall focus at length…is that for any genuine property, its having the intrinsic positive character that it has just is (at least in part) its contrasting as it does with its own proper rivals.  Its being just that property is its differing, in just those ways, from just those other properties (1, 166-7).

Reference

Elder, Crawford L.  2011.  Familiar Objects and Their Shadows.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

The Proletariat and the “Creation of Class”

In an essay on Mao Zeodong’s philosophical  thought Richard Johnson writes:

Because, relative to that of the Communist, the socioeconomic persona of the proletariat is limited–and, give the empirical existence of political vicissitudes, may remain so indefinitely–the chance that from such a basis alone will be launched a coherent, direct, and enlightened politics, is slight.  Understandable then, in this light, is the enigmatic logic of the Manifesto, where, inscribed among the historic character of communists, is the task of the “formation of the proletariat into a class.”  The apparent paradox that an entity that is already a class, must be made to become a class, is comprehensible when it is remembered that the historical process of consciousness is not identical to the consciousness of the historical process; that, moreover, “ideological forms” have a historical depth related to, but not immediately determined by, material development.  It is thus by this logic that the qualitative transformation of empirical, perhaps sporadic, political action into direct, and conscious, class-based political programs exists within the historical scope of an organizing medium led by a group of enlightened elites, vis Communists (211-2).

Reference

Johnson, Ricahrd.  “A Compendium of the Infinite: Exercises of Political Purpose in the Philosophy of Mao Zedong.”  In Critical Perspectives on Mao Zedong’s Thought, eds. Arif Dirlik, et. al., 207-233.  Amherst, New York: Humanity Books.

Logocentrism in 19th Century European Thought

In his seminal work Of Grammatology Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) breaks down the idea of logocentrism within European philosophical thought:

Within this age of metaphysics, between Descartes and Hegel, Rousseau is undoubtedly the only one or the first one to make a theme or a system of the reduction of writing profoundly implied by the entire age.  He repeats the inaugural movement of the Phaedurs and of De interpretatione but starts from a new model of presence: the subject’s self-presence within consciousness or feeling.  What he excluded more violently than others must, of course, have fascinated and tormented him more than it did others.  Descartes had driven out the sign–and particularly the written sign–from the cogito and from clear and distinct evidence; the latter being the very presence of the idea of the soul, the sign was an accessory abandoned in the region of the senses and the imagination.  Hegel reappropriates the sensible sign to the movement of the Idea.  He criticizes Leibniz and praises phonetic writing within the horizon of an absolutely self-present logos, remaining close t itself within the unity of its speech and its concept.  But neither Descartes nor Hegel grappled with the problem of writing.  The place of this combat and crisis is called the eighteenth century.  Not only because it restores the rights of sensibility, the imagination, and the sign, but because attempts of the Leibnizian type had opened a breach within logocentric security.  We must bring to light what it was that, right from the start, within these attempts at a universal characteristic, limited the power and extent of the breakthrough.  Before Hegel and in explicit terms, Rousseau condemned the universal characteristic; not  because of the theological foundation which ordained its possibility for the infinite understanding of logos of God, but because it seemed to suspend the voice.  “Through” this condemnation can be read the most energetic eighteenth-century reaction organizing the defense of phonologism and of logocentric metaphysics.  What threatens is indeed writing.  It is not an accidental and haphazard threat; it reconciles within a single historical system the projects of pasigraphy, the discovery of non-European scripts, or at any rate the massive progress of the techniques and deciphering, and finally the idea of a general science of language and writing.  Against all of these prussures, a battle is then declared.  “Hegelianism” will be its finest scar (98-9, bold mine).

Reference

Derrida, Jacques.  1997.  Of Grammatology.  Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.  Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.

The Falsehood of Multiple Modernities

"On White" by Wassily Kandinsky

Critiquing the concept of alternate modernities and its consequences toward understanding universalist theories, Žižek explains:

The significance of this critique reaches far beyond the case of modernity–it concerns the fundamental limitation of nominalist historicizing.  The recourse to multiplication (“there is not one modernity with a fixed essence, there are multiple modernities, each of them irreducible to others…”) is false not because it does not recognize a unique fixed “essence” of modernity, but because multiplication functions as the disavowal of the antagonism that inheres to the notion of modernity as such: the falsity of multiplication resides in the fact that it frees the universal notion of modernity of its antagonism, of the way it is embedded in the capitalist system, by relegating this aspect to just one of the historical subspecieis…

Jameson’s critique of the notion of alternate modernities thus provides a model of the properly dialectic relationship between the Universal and the Particular: the difference is not on the side of particular content (as the traditional differentia specifica), but on the side of the Universal.  The Universal is not the encompassing container of the particular content, the peaceful medium-background of the conflict of particularities…In other words, the Universal names the site of a Problem-Deadlock, of a burning Question, and the Particulars are the attempted but failed Answers to this Problem (34-35).

Reference

Žižek, Slavoj.  2009.  The Parallax View.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Merleau-Ponty on Emerging Class Consciousness

In his existential work, Phenomenology of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961), writes about objective conditions of class and their relations with consciousness:

Let us suppose that I have a certain style of living, being at the mercy of booms and slumps, not being free to do as I like, receiving a weekly wage, having no control over either the conditions or the products of my work, and consequently feeling a stranger in my factory, my nation and my life.  I have acquired the habit of reckoning with a fatum, or appointed order, which I do not respect, but which I have to humour…My fellow workers in factory or field, or other farmers, do the same work as I do in comparable conditions; we co-exist in the same situation and fee alike, not in virtue of some comparison, as if each one of us lived primarily within himself, but on the basis of our tasks and gestures.  These situations do not imply any express evaluation, and if there is a tacit evaluation, it represents the thrust of freedom devoid of any project against unknown obstacles; one cannot in any case talk about a choice, for in [these] cases it is enough that I should be born into the world and that I exist in order to experience my life as full of difficulties and constraints–I do not choose so to experience it.  But this state of affairs can persist without my becoming class-conscious, understanding that I am of the proletariat and becoming a revolutionary.  How then am I to make this change?…Social space begins to acquire a magnetic field, and a region of the exploited is seen to appear.  At every pressure felt from any quarter of the social horizon, the process of regrouping becomes clearly discernible beyond ideologies and various occupations.  Class is coming into being, and we say that a situation is revolutionary when the connection objectively existing between the sections of the proletariat…is finally experienced in perception as a common obstacle to the existence of each and every one…Both idealism and objective thinking fail to pin down the coming into being of class consciousness, the former because it deduces actual existence from consciousness, the latter because it derives consciousness from de facto existence, and both because they overlook the relationship of motivation (515-17, 520, bold is mine).

Reference

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice.  2002.  Phenomenology of Perception.  Translated by Colin Smith.  New York: Routledge Classics.

Beauvoir on “Halfway between revolt and slavery”

Writing on forms of logic, ethics, and actions in a male-centered and shaped society Beauvoir speaks of the existentialist position and phenomenological experience of women in that society:

It is understandable why, from this perspective, woman objects to masculine logic.  Not only does it have no bearing on her experience, but she also knows that in men’s hands reason becomes an insidious form of violence; their peremptory affirmations are intended to mystify her.  They want to confiner her in a dilemma: either you agree or you don’t; she has to agree in name of the whole system of accepted principles: in refusing to agree, she rejects the whole system; she cannot allow herself such a dramatic move; she does not have the means to create another society: yet she does not agree with this one.  Halfway between revolt and slavery, she unwillingly resigns herself to masculine authority.  He continuously uses force to make her shoulder the consequences of her reluctant submission…

The woman does not positively think that the truth is other than what men claim: rather, she holds that there is no truth.  It is not only life’s becoming that makes her suspicious of the principle of identity, nor the magic phenomenon surrounding her that ruin the notion of causality: it is at the heart of the masculine world itself, it is in her as belonging to this world, that she grasps the ambiguity of all principles, of all values, of all that exists.  She knows that when it comes to her, masculine morality is a vast mystification.  The man pompously drums his code of virtue and honor into her; but secretly he invites her to disobey it: he even counts on this disobedience; the whole lovely facade he hides behind would collapse without it.

His relations with woman thus lie in a contingent region where morality no longer applies, where conduct is inconsequential.  His relations with other men are based on certain values; he is freedom confronting other freedoms according to laws universally recognized by all; but with woman–she was invented for this reason–he ceases to assume his existence, he abandons himself to the mirage of the in-itself, he situates himself on an inauthentic plane; he is tyrannical, sadistic, violent or puerile, masochistic or querulous, he tries to satisfy his obsessions, his manias; he “relaxes,” he “lets go” in the name of rights he has acquired in his public life (651-2, emphasis in bold is mine).

Reference

de Beauvoir, Simone.  2010.  The Second Sex.  Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovancy-Chevallier.  New York: Alfred A Knopf.

West’s Prophetic Pragmatism

Photography by Stephen Charles (click for photographers Flickr page).

In a book analyzing Cornel West‘s (1953– ) philosophy and politics Mark David Wood writes:

Prophetic pragmatism, one of the most fully elaborated and progressive expressions of post-Marxist politics in the present era, appeals to academicians, politicians, and business leaders precisely because it poses no serious threat to the class of individuals who control and appropriate the lion’s hare of the Earth’s resources and humanity’s collectively generated wealth.

[I]t seeks to implement a reform agenda that attempts to address the needs of both rulers and ruled by establishing cross-class alliances on the grounds of shared moral, parental, or national identity…and…it seeks to solve human problems without challenging the moral legitimacy and social consequences of privatized control of production and planning of social development (185-6).

Reference

Wood, Mark David.  2000.  Cornel West and the Politics of Prophetic Pragmatism.  Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

Lefebvre’s Dialectical Materialism

Photo by Pablo Secca.

Stefan Kipfer, in the preface to Dialectical Materialism, touches upon one of the key points of French communist philosopher Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991):

This preliminary critique of Hegel provides the basis for the second, and most important, part of Dialectical Materialism: Lefebvre’s argument about the relationship between Hegel and Marx. According to Lefebvre, Marx dealt with Hegel’s legacy in two phases. In his early work, most notably the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts (1844) and The German Ideology (1845-46, with Engels), Marx lays the foundation for historical materialism. In the Manuscripts, he takes Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind to task for misunderstanding alienation as objectification of the mind, rather than as a form of material dispossession, while mistaking ” alienated life” (religion, law, philosophy) for “real life.” In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels applaud Ludwig Feuerbach’s initial critique of Hegel’s idealism while criticizing his naturalistic, undialectical materialism and his abstract conception of man as a social being. Feuerbach thus fails to place man and things within the web of social relations through which man transforms nature, produces history, and, in class society, gets separated -alienated -from the fruits of his productive activity and fellow humans. Both Feuerbach and Max Stirner fail to see that their starting point (the isolated, private individual) is itself a product of alienation and reification. According to Lefebvre, Marx and Engels’s critique of Feuerbach and Stirner most fully develops historical materialism as ” a unity of idealism and materialism.” (xviii-xix)

Source

Lefebvre, Henri.  2009.  Dialectical Materialism.  Translated by John Sturrock.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Sartre on Class Consciousness

In his work, The Critique of Dialectical Reason, Sartre elaborates on class consciousness and the formation of working class groups fighting for their own interests:

The events we have studied occurred at a particular moment of the historical process, in a particular field defined by class struggle; and the class struggle itself takes place between [individuals] who are produced by the contemporary mode of production…Conversely the working class defined itself by and through this struggle by its degree of emancipation, that is to say, both by its practices and by its consciousness of itself (which amounts to the same thing). But in truth, the workers’ tactics, the militancy of the proletariat and its degree of class-consciousness are determined not only by the nature, differentiation and importance of the apparatuses (unions, etc.) but also by the more or less immediate opportunity for serial individuals to dissolve their seriality in combat groups, and by the aggressiveness, violence, tenacity and discipline of these groups themselves in the course of the action they undertake (699).

Source

Satre, Jean-Paul.  2004.  Edited by Jonathan Ree and translated by Alan Sheridan-Smith.  Critique of Dialectical Reason: Volume 1.  New York: Verso.


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