Thursday, March 16, 2006


Axel Honneth, the most well-known member of the "third generation" of critical theory outside of Germany, has written a new book, Verdinglichung ("Reification"). There's a very interesting review of it here. In particular:

Honneth argues that, properly reconceived, reification continues to be a significant phenomenon in the contemporary world and, so, a worthy object of philosophical study. In doing so he distinguishes three broad types of reification -- in a subject's relations to the objective world, to other subjects, and to himself -- and argues that all can be understood as manifestations of a single, underlying deficiency.

But how is this deficiency to be understood? It is to be understood as a social pathology in which one's own comportment towards praxis is systematically miunderstood, and distorted because it is misunderstood:

One of the intriguing features of Honneth's theory is his account of what makes reification objectionable. The problem, as both Marx and Lukács would agree, is not that reification is unjust or that it violates a moral principle. It is, instead, a social pathology, though here again Honneth's reasons for regarding it as such diverge fundamentally from Lukács's (or at least from what Honneth calls the "official version" of his position). For Honneth, reification is pathological not because it falls short of an ideal standard of "true" or genuinely human activity, whether of the sort supplied by Marx's philosophical anthropology (free, conscious, social production) or by the metaphysics of German Idealism (the identity of spirit and world, where objects are but the results of a subject's autonomous activity). Reification is pathological, rather, because it represents the "atrophy or distortion of an original praxis in which the human being takes up a practically involved relation to himself and his world" (27). In other words, reification rests on a failure to acknowledge -- a forgetting of -- some more primary relation to the world and to oneself that, as Heidegger famously put it, is "always already" present in or presupposed by a distanced, contemplative stance to the world.

In other words, Honneth is using central features of Heidegger's analytic of being-in-the-world to explicate what is wrong with reification. This looks like the sort of thing that Adorno and esp. Marcuse tried to do. Both of them eventually gave up and turned to Hegel and to Freud. It looks as though Honneth wants to succeed where they failed by interpreting Heidegger in a way influenced by contemporary neo-pragmatists -- as a sort of brooding and Teutonic pragmatist, a German Dewey or Wittgenstein. Perhaps.


Blogger Idealogen said...

Dear Yusef,

What a joy to find your blog! And your project of a new Enlightenment is needed more than ever. Your quote from Kant's essay "What Is Enlightenment" (1783) in your presentation is also one of my favorites.

Your concept of a third Enlightenment represented by among others Gilles Deleuze is intriguing, but Nietzsche is the the place to start the third wave. Deleuze himself in his book on Nietzsche says as much.

Now to Axel Honneth. I have only gotten to his theory of RECOGNITION which is interesting enough but you're right: There is something brooding and and Teutonic about his prodding style and thinking.

It's as if German philosophers think in boots and French ditto think in dancing shoes.

Thanks again for your blog. I'll return often.

All the best,

Mr Orla Schantz

6:32 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

Mr. Schantz,

I'm pleased that you've found the blog and that you enjoy it.

Regarding Nietzsche and Deleuze: in one sense, you're clearly right -- Nietzsche is one of the most important "fathers" of the third Enlightenment, and an enormous influence on Adorno, Foucault, and Deleuze.

In Nietzsche and Philosophy, Deleuze suggests that one should read Nietzsche as having proposed a true "critique of pure reason" -- one which puts into motion a critique based on "sense" and "value."

I think that that's largely right, though there are also problems with reading Nietzsche that way -- in order to read Nietzsche as Deleuze does, one needs to pass over in silence Nietzsche's own romanticism and Teutonic brooding.

Still, there is something very French about Nietzsche. (One might even be tempted to think that there's a sort of "French traditon" that runs from Montaigne, Larouchefoucauld and Fontenelle through Nietzsche, to Deleuze and Foucault.)

By the way, my quip about "brooding and Teutonic" was in reference to how Heidegger is read, especially by Americans, as a sort of pragmatist -- as if Heidegger is interested in what Dewey or Wittgenstein are interested in.

Richard Rorty has perhaps done the most to cultivate this picture of Heidegger. But doing so ignores the discussion of temporality, death, and authenticity in Division II of Being and Time. It's as if Rorty doesn't want to see the Kierkegaardian and Hoelderlinian parts of Heidegger. But what makes Heidegger work is precisely the way in which the pragmatism of Division I is welded together with the existentialism of Division II. Sunder them, and each is diminished.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

Would it be possible to give a concise explanation of how the similar projects of Marcuse and Adorno failed? What exactly is it that Honneth's injection of the contemporary neo-pragmatist angle is giving him?

Were you drawn to comment on this because of a connection between it and the project to speak responsibly about the desiring of one's own repression, or am I wrong to see that in the background here?

1:12 AM  

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