Monthly Archives: June 2012

Tillich on Symbolism

“Man’s ultimate concern must be expressed symbolically, because symbolic language alone is able to express the ultimate.”

-Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith


Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” #4

“Feuerbach starts off from the fact of religious self-alienation, of the duplication of the world into a religious, imaginary world, and a secular one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis. He overlooks the fact that after completing this work, the chief thing still remains to be done. For the fact that the secular basis lifts off from itself and establishes itself in the clouds as an independent realm can only be explained by the inner strife and intrinsic contradictoriness of this secular basis. The latter must itself be understood in its contradiction and then, by the removal of the contradiction, revolutionised. Thus, for instance, once the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must itself be annihilated theoretically and practically.”

In his fourth thesis, Marx directly addresses Feuerbach’s religious notions.  He opens the thesis by explicitly supporting the Feuerbachian rejection of a spiritual reality, an “imaginary world” which would float in the heavens: that is, platonic dualism.  He marks the religious movement towards a spiritual realm as “self -alienation” [Selbstentfremdung], a term borrowed from Hegel.

In Hegel, “alienation” does not carry the negative connotations that the term will later acquire in Marxism, and instead simply indicates the process of objectification, the movement out of subjectivity into objectivity. For Marx however, as we have seen in the first and second theses, true reality resides solely within the subjectivity of practical activity.  For this reason, Marx views any alienation (in particular, the alienation of capital from the worker) as a movement from reality to irreality, to the theoretical realm of the imaginary.

It is in light of this notion of alienation that Marx favors Feuerbach’s critique of religion, as self-alienation par excellence.  However, Marx remains critical of Feuerbach, who, he argues, does not carry this analysis to its full conclusion.    Instead of simply resolving the religious world into the secular world, Feuerbach should have, Marx argues, undertaken a similar critique of secularity itself.  Writing that “the secular basis lifts off from itself and establishes itself in the clouds as an independent realm,” Marx here identifies an identical movement of self-alienation in the generation of secular reality.  Like the religious world, the secular world, at least as understood by Feuerbach, is alienated from reality.

Yet, from what reality is the secular realm alienated?  From true reality, which is nothing other than the subjective reality of individual, practical, human activity.

Philosophy Clubs


The founder of the London Philosophy Club, Jules Evans, reflects on philosophy clubs here. Topics include how they operate, the reason for the rise in their number, how they can and should impact society, and how they should relate to academic philosophers.

The movement must also improve its relationship with academia. Academics accuse grassroots philosophy of incoherence, with grassroots philosophers retorting that academic philosophy is irrelevant. This mutual suspicion dates back partly to the shift from informal to formal education – the London Mechanics’ Institute, founded in 1823, eventually became Birkbeck College – and philosophy’s becoming, in the eyes of grassroots philosophers, increasingly specialised, theoretical and introverted (that image of the lonely philosopher again), losing its outward focus on improving people’s lives.

At Queen Mary, University of London, where I run the Well-Being Project at the Centre for the History of Emotions, we’re trying to build more links between…

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Surly Husserl

“Four different Husserls looking grumpy and trying to not look like Freud. Who’s surly? Husserl, he. Is.” -Lines/Loins/Lions

I really appreciate this picture.

Heidegger on Agriculture and Technology

“Agriculture is now a motorized food industry, the same thing in its essence as the production of corpses in the gas chambers and the extermination camps, the same thing as blockades and the reduction of countries to famine, the same thing as the manufacture of hydrogen bombs.”

-Martin HeideggerDas Ge-Stell (1949)

This is an absolutely astonishing quote from a man notoriously silent concerning Nazism, including his own involvement.  While, clearly, Heidegger intends to emphasize the destructive capacity essence of the agricultural industry, is it right to make such a bold comparison, specifically for someone who was, on all accounts, complicit?

Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” #3

and so we continue….

“The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator must himself be educated. Hence this doctrine is bound to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.”

In this third thesis, Marx returns to the closing theme of his first critique, “revolutionary practice. ” Here, Marx offers an explicit rejection of determinism in general, and materialist determinism in particular.  This fact is particularly notable, as it sets Marx apart from the “economicly deterministic” reading of his later writings on communism.  Against those who will later argue that the economic super-structures of society move towards an inevitable end (telos), Marx here insists that meaningful historical developments are only possible through the intentional acts of human subjects: “human activity or self-change.”

Furthermore, it is not simply economic “super-structures” which Marx targets but instead, if this language can be used here, structuralism in general.  Marx challenges any division of reality (society) into two parts, “one of which is superior to society.”  In place of these pseudo-Platonic dualisms, Marx posits a mono-cosmism.  There is no “superior” super-structure governing a subsidiary reality of human life (sensuousness), but a single reality, that of human activity.

It is because practical human life encompasses all that is real–or as we saw in thesis #2, true–that “revolutionary practice” is validated as the principal cause of societal change.  If sensuous activity is understood as the principal component of reality, then it can likewise be recognized as the principal force behind any developments or changes within this society.

DeLanda on Machines

“Humans didn’t really invent machines. A hurricane is a motor in the literal sense. When a hurricane is born, a lot of self-organizing processes are involved that bring the heat from the outside and concentrate it in a reservoir. It took centuries before humans discovered the motor, something that self-assembles spontaneously in nature. As soon as you let matter and energy in any form flow in a non-linear manner (that is, past a certain threshold of complexity) machines will tend to spontaneously self-assemble. The key word here is ‘non-linear.”

-Manuel DeLanda

Levinas on Marxism

“The circumstances of Marxism’s having turned into Stalinism is the greatest offence to the cause of the human, because Marxism bore the hopes of humanity: it may be one of the greatest psychological shocks for the twentieth-century European.”

-Emmanuel Levinas, The Proximity of the Other

Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” #2

Continuing our series on Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach:

II. The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking, in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.

A Young Karl Marx

In his second thesis, Marx attacks the question of truth head-on.  Drawing upon his previous critique–in which he posited reality as sensuous activity, i.e. practice— Marx continues to rely upon the dichotomy of practice and theory: praxis and theoria.  

Challenging the traditional notion of “truth” as a modality of thought, reason, or theory, Marx offers the disconcerting possibility that truth may, in actuality, rest solely within the realm of practice, within the realm of sensuous being which has been opened prior to both Idealism and Materialism.  As has already been noted (in Thesis I), reality cannot be conceived within “the form of the object, or of contemplation,” thus truth itself, as a constituent of reality, also cannot be understood solely in these terms.  Instead, rejecting the “scholasticism” of pure contemplation, the truth value of propositions must be determined through their use, through their value to sensuous life.  

In this way, Marx seems to be reenacting Kant’s movement from his first to his second Critique (that is, from the Critique of Pure Reason to the Critique of Practical Reason).  Antimonies, indeterminable within pure contemplation, can be understood through the movements of practical reason; unprovable hypotheses can become the postulates by which action (particularly moral action) is grounded.  

Once again, we see the movement by which Marx’s philosophical positions will later become inseparable from his ethico-political.  Philosophy must be grounded in the practical, not simply for its own sake, but because this is the sole realm of truth.  

Marx on Life

“Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.”

-Karl Marx, The German Ideology