Reification: A New Look at an Old Idea

In this interview from the Platypus Axel Honneth talks about his book Reification: A New Look at an Old Idea. His discussion of the history of reification as a concept and the politics surrounding it was particularly interesting:

Axel Honneth: This is a surprising question, one I would not have thought to ask, so my answer comes very much ad hoc. I do not believe that concepts belong to any specific political community or group. The degree to which concepts help us explore something or see something new, they should be taken as an instrument potentially available for everyone in society. So, in that sense, I do not believe that reification is an automatically leftist concept. Moreover, in terms of the history of ideas, I am not even sure that reification is necessarily a concept developed only by leftists. For instance, the French Marxist thinker Lucien Goldmann sought to demonstrate the similarities between the approaches of Lukács and Heidegger. You can find in Heidegger an idea of reification, which already indicates that reification was a concept also utilized by the right, or on the right. There are many problems with Lukács’s analysis. The almost mystical role he assigns the proletariat is only one of them. Even if we grant that his was one of the most fruitful periods in the Left tradition, in the history of Western Marxism, I think that today we can see much more clearly the limits of that analysis and the mistakes bound up with those limits. And, surely, the biggest mistake is not only the emphasis on the world-historical role of the proletariat, but also how this is emphasized, namely by way of a very peculiar set of background ideas, let’s say, about the social structure of reality. Lukács relies on a kind of Fichtean-Hegelian metaphysical concept by which all human society is thought to be grounded in a certain kind of world-constituting activity, and so Lukács thinks that the only class that can overcome reification, which is seen as the destruction of that world-constituting activity, is the class which is representing—even under alienated or distorted conditions—that kind of praxis. Therefore, we have this almost fantastic piece within the whole study, wherein Lukács wants to reveal this one moment of the overcoming of these distorted conditions. For Lukács, this moment looks almost like this one revolutionary act; I mean, you almost get the sense that in one second all these destructive conditions are overcome. It’s a very peculiar analysis—enormously inspiring, but also very strange.

Categories: Outflanking Platitudes

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  1. It would be a good idea if philosophy iestlf was taught in schools. This has been neglected in Britain for a long time, probably for a over century (I haven’t the figures to hand).Every subject has a philosophy which both informs the subject and challenges its assumptions. The problem with the ID vs evolution debate is that the debate is not about science per se, but about what counts as science. This is not a question answerable within science at all: it is a question answerable when thinking about the philosophy of science. Many people are unaware of this. This is mainly due to almost all schooling to age 18 in Britain providing a readymade philosophical framework for each subject, without ever asking the child to justify that framework, or even telling them what the framework is. Our young adults are therefore philosophically ignorant: they do not know what philosophy is, or what it is for.Were philosophy taught properly in schools then it is likely that both sides of the argument would fear the other side less. They would all know that philosophically aware pupils were able to challenge the presuppositions of each subject for themselves, and were provided with a safety net against nonsensical thinking and indoctrination.Also, what I like here is that I have not needed to state my own view on ID vs evolution! And I don’t need to, thats not the point. I can guarantee though, that having thought about the question of origins in depth, I don’t believe the world rests on tortoises, who may or may not be partially responsible for creation/nature (does anyone?!). That third option has too great philosophical problems. Both ID and evolution have less problems than tortoises. So I believe my philosophy is, to this extent, informed. I would love young adults to have a similar philosophical benefit of informed thinking, having considered carefully all sides of a debate within their own philosophical framework, and having considered their own framework too.

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