Archive for the 'Philosophy' Category

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).


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)


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).


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

Lukács on non-Proletarians and Revolution

Russian peasants in 1918 during a period of numerous peasant revolts against their previously untouchable landlords (source: )

On a critique of Rosa Luxemburg‘s (1871-1919) “Critrique of the Russian Revolution” György Lukács points out the mistake of just solely focusing on the proletariat in countries that are majority non-proletarian, such as Russia, which had been mostly peasant and feudal based.

[Her essay] consists in the overestimation of its purely proletarian character, and therefore the overestimation both of the external power and the inner clarity and maturity that the proletarian class can possess and in fact did possess in the first phase of the revolution.  And at the same time we as a corollary the underestimation of the importance of the non-proletarian elements in the revolution.  And this includes the non-proletarian elements outside as well as the power wielded by such idologies within the proletariat itself.  And this false assessment of the true driving forces leads to the decisive point of her misinterpretation: to the underplyaing of the role of the party in revolution and of its conscious political action, as opposed to the necessity of being driven along by the elemental forces of economic development (274-5).


Lukács, György.  1971.  Translated by Rodney Livingstone.  History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics.  Cambridge: MIT Press.

Sartre on the “Fused Group”

In his massive existential Marxian work, Critique of Dialectical Reason,  author Jean-Paul Sartre explains how a seriality of seemingly unrelated people (except through markers of class, ethnicity, or gender, etc.) can come together to form a social force: a group:

[I]n the movement of History, an exploiting class, by tightening its bonds against an enemy and by becoming aware of itself as a unity of individuals in solidarity, shows the exploited classes their material being as a collective and as a point of departure for a constant effort to establish lived bonds of solidarity between its members.  There is nothing surprising about this: in this inert quasi-totality, constantly swept by great movements of counter-finality, the historical collectivity, the dialectical law, is at work: the constitution of group (on the basis, of course, of real, material conditions) as an ensemble of solidarities has the dialectical consequence of making it the negation of the rest of the social field, and, as a result, of occasioning, in this field in so far as it is defined as non-grouped, the conditions for an antagonistic grouping (on the basis of scarcity and in divided social systems) (346).

Thus the common praxis, as the totalisation and struggle against a common praxis of the enemy, realises itself in everyone as the new, free efficacity of [their] praxis, as the free intensification of [their] efort; every freedom creates itself laterally as the totalisation of all freedoms, and totalisation comes to it through the others as a lateral dimension of its individuality, in so far as it is freely individual for them.  This has nothing to do with the radical transformation of freedom as individual praxis, since the statute of this freedom is to live the very totality of the group as a practical dimension to be realised in and by its individuality.  But it is true that there is a new relation between freedoms here, since in every totalisation of the group, the freedom acknowledge themselves to be the same…And the unity of this freedom beneath the shifting multiplicity of the syntheses is itself, and fundamentally, the relation between a negative unity of all (totalisation through annihilation by the enemy) and the negation of this negation to the extent that it is occasioned as totalising and that it produces itself freely on this basis (402-3).


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

History and Consciousness

In his work History and Class Consciousness György Lukács (1885-1971) wrote:

In his celebrated account of historical materialism Engels proceeds from the assumption that although the essence of history consists in the fact that “nothing happens without a conscious purpose or an intended aim”, to understand history it is necessary to go further than this.  For on the one hand, “the many individual wills active in history for the most part produce results quite other than those intended–often quite the opposite; their motives, therefore, in relation to the total result are likewise of only secondary importance.  On the other hand, the further question arises: what driving forces in turn stand behind these motives? What are the historical causes which transform themselves into these motives in the brain of the actors?”  He goes on to argue that these driving forces ought themselves to be determined, in particular those which “set in motion great masses, whole peoples and again whole classes of the people; and which create a lasting action resulting in a great transformation.”  The essence of scientific Marxism consists, then, in the realisation that the real motor forces of history are independent of man’s (psychological) consciousness of them (46-47).


Lukács, Georg.  1971.  Translated by Rodney Livingstone.  History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Heidegger’s Impact on Philosophy

Richard Wolin wrote that Heidegger‘s impact on Marcuse, Arendt, Jonas, and others:

affirmed that what they found unique in Heidegger’s approach was his capacity to revivify antiquated philosophical texts in light of present historical needs and concerns…doing philosophy ceased to be an exercise in disembodied, scholarly exegesis.  At issue was a momentous, hermeneutical encounter between the historical past and the contemporary being-in-the-world.  By proceeding thusly, Heidegger was only being self-consistent: he was merely applying the principles of his own philosophy of Existenz to the subject matter of his lectures and seminars.  Two of the central categories of Being and Time‘s “existential analytic” were “temporality” and “historicity.”  Both notions addressed the way that we situate ourselves in time and history.  In Heidegger’s view, one of the hallmarks of “authentic” being-in-the-world was the capacity to actualize the past in light of essential future possibilities.  Conversely, inauthentic Dasein (das Man) displayed a conformist willingness to adapt passively to circumstances–an existential lassitude that bore marked resemblances to the inert being of “things.” Heidegger’s ability to fuse the discourse of “everydayness” with the demands of “rigorous science” he had imbibed during his youthful apprenticeship with…Edmund Husserly, distinguished his thinking from the Lebensphilosophie or “philosophy of life” that flourished among popular writers…at the time (bold mine, xii-xiii).


Wolin, Richard.  2005.  “Introduction: What Is Heideggerian Marxism?”  In Heideggerian Marxism, eds. Richard Wolin and John Abromeit.  Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.


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