P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 157
4th November 2010
I. 'Sartre and the Soviet Union' by John Ramirez
II. 'On Alienation and Its Overcoming: The Legacy From Hegel to
Sartre' by Pallavi Sharma
III. 'Socrates, Plato, and Science' by D.R. Khashaba
The predominant theme of this issue could be described, slightly
misleadingly, as the clash, and partial reconciliation, between the
philosophies of Karl Marx and Jean Paul Sartre. Both philosophers
speak of 'alienation' and its overcoming; both philosophers offer
eschatologies of liberation.
With Marx and Sartre, also, there is a significant gap between their
early and later views: Marx's philosophical account of alienation in
his early 1844 Manuscripts makes way for the science of dialectical
materialism and the materialist theory of history and economics in
Das Kapital. Sartre produced two mature philosophies, the latter
seeking a rapprochement between existentialism and marxism.
Two first articles, by John Ramirez and Pallavi Sharma, focus in
different ways on the debate between existentialism and marxism.
Ramirez looks at Sartre's critique of marxism in the Soviet Union,
while Sharma traces the history of the concept of alienation from
Hegel, through Kierkegaard to Marx,Heidegger and Sartre.
The third article, by D.R. Khashaba may seem at first the odd one
out. Khashaba seeks to rescue the account which Socrates offers of
the nature of philosophy in Plato's dialogue Phaedo from scholarly
interpretations which fail to recognize the radical nature of the
split between science and philosophy which Plato was proposing. I
think, however, that there is a lesson to be learned here for
students of Marx and Sartre.
I. 'SARTRE AND THE SOVIET UNION' BY JOHN RAMIREZ
This paper concerns a hypothesis introduced by the distinguished
French philosopher Sartre in 1960 regarding the imminent collapse of
the Soviet Union and it's satellites. Sartre called for a remedy for
the then stagnant state of Marxism (as interpreted by the Soviets);
ironic that after the cold war there are those who call for such a
remedy concerning capitalism.
Taking also into account that in the last ten years several nations
in the western hemisphere have turn to Marxism as their choice for a
socio-economic structure, while others are finding themselves in the
midst of civil disturbance if not all out war (Socialist Honduras and
Columbia respectively), I think it would be appropriate to share the
paper I wrote a year ago concerning Sartre's attempts to revive (as
he puts it) the stagnant Soviet block. This is worth considering
especially in hindsight of Sartre prophetic opening remarks in his
published work Search For A Method (SFM). In SFM Sartre commends the
socialist experiment to failure due to it's disregard towards
philosophy or 'theoria'; everything that breathed life into the
socialist movement of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The thesis of this paper is to examine Jean Paul Sartre's
philosophical prescription to Marxism as it was practiced in
Soviet-era Eastern Europe. The remedy entails a practical application
of existentialism (practical meaning a liberal investigation of
existentialism) along with public consumption of its doctrines.
The first question that comes to mind is, 'Why does Marxism need a
remedy, and if it did, would Existentialism be the correct solution?'
These questions emerged as critics aimed their arrows at two of
Sartre's post-World War 2 essays, Search For A Method and Critique of
Dialectical Reason (CDR). Both essays were published simultaneously in
1960. SFM looks at Soviet-era socialist society and the stagnation
which had bloomed in its bureaucratic 'garden.' The 'method' Sartre
is in search of is a way to rejuvenate the system and save it from
itself. CDR is a critique of materialist dialectics and the cult of
materialist orthodoxy in intellectual circles. In both works, Sartre
introduces the Marxist and Existentialist fusion he proposed as the
Method for an 'ideal socialist society.'
The scope of the paper will exclusively deal with three issues --
what is Marxism, what is Sartrean Existentialism, and how can
Existentialism help Marxist societies. The paper will not try to
answer the more commonly-posed question of consistency in the
Sartrean Universe (philosophical system) after his migration to
socialist circles after the Second World War, but rather will try to
present an informative outline of Marxist theory, Existentialist
thought and the 'method' of combining both philosophies as prescribed
by Sartre in SFM and CDR.
The following section will present a foundation for the main point of
examination, the Marxist Existentialist method. It will consist of
explanatory notes on Marxism and Existentialism.
Even in today's post-Cold War world, where the Iron Curtain has been
demolished and capitalism has gained ground, Social Democratic
institutions are still being sponsored in industrialized and
developing nations. Marxist Leninist governments still exist, and
Marxist revolutions have successfully occurred in the last six years
in the western hemisphere(Venezuela, Bolivia, Honduras). With the
obvious interest in economic and political theory in contemporary
global society, it is of tremendous value to examine a
highly-contested view of Marxism, Soviet-era intellectualism and a
possible avenue for those who agree with Marx's materialism but
refuse to dismiss existentialist 'truths.'
Marxist and Existentialist Thought
This section will introduce the basic principles of Marxism and
Existentialism for the benefit of those readers who are not familiar
with either philosophy.
What the average person calls Marxism is in fact only a small part of
Karl Marx's philosophical system. In reality Marxism is a wider set of
works and principles authored by Karl Marx with several volumes being
co-authored by Friedrich Engels.
For the purpose of this paper only the following set of Marxist
theories will be examined: Historical Materialism or the materialist
conception of history, Super Structures, the Proletarian Revolution
and Dialectical Materialism. Entire volumes have been written on each
of the topics, but I will only briefly introduce each topic for the
benefit of those readers who are unfamiliar with the subject matter.
It is important to discuss these theories as they are crucial to
anyone trying to understand Sartre's thesis of the need for
Existentialism in Soviet-era Europe.
Historical Materialism and Super Structures
Marx introduced a theory of 'Historical Materialism' in the preface
to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. In the
preface, Marx explains that society could be understood from a purely
materialist point of view. Marx explained that history could be viewed
as a series of 'modes,' with each one succeeding the other. 'Modes'
referred to the methods of production, production being the task of
gathering the essential materials for human survival. Marx outlined
the more important modes of production of European civilization as
follows: pre-historic hunting groups, agricultural communities,
imperialist society, feudal society, capitalist society, and, during
his lifetime, industrialist society.
Marx proposed that the modes of history (production) changed as new
methods for gathering essential materials were created (technology).
The change of method caused changes in society and social order.
Marx's view of social order was based on his theory that society
could be viewed as structures that inter-connect, creating a super
structure (so-called totalization). In this model, the super
structure would be society.
The base structure is the relationship between man and nature, or the
so-called struggle between man and nature. On the base rest different
structures: government, religious and educational. The various
structures are dependent on the method of production at any giving
time in history since the method of production is what creates
stability at the base (the need to gather the essentials for life).
Marx introduced two theories based on his view of history and
society. In the historical context he introduced Materialist
Dialectics, and in the social context the Proletarian Revolution. The
Materialist Dialectic theory pertains to historical dynamism and the
Proletarian Revolution to class distinction in society.
The Materialist Dialectic
Marx's three laws of material Dialectic are: the Law of Opposites,
the Law of Negativity, and the Law of Transformation. These laws are
the basis for his materialist conception of history. Marx was able to
illustrate his view of history with its 'modes of production' by
applying his three materialist laws.
Marx based his three laws on Hegel's dialectic but with a major
change. Hegel based his dialectical system (dialectics defined as
motion) on ancient Greek philosophy (Heraclitus in particular) and on
the schools of Stoic and Epicurean ideology. Hegel used dialectic to
develop a theory of a History of Philosophy to illustrate the
principle of 'change and evolution in science or truth.' In Hegel's
History of Philosophy, the catalyst is Geist or the spirit of time.
Marx took Hegel's History of Philosophy and its dialectical system
and turned it on its head (as the saying goes). He claimed that
material fact was the catalyst of the dialectic, not spiritual
phenomena. All changes that occur in history or all movement form one
social mode to the next were based on material fact, not spiritual/
conscious transcendence or intuition.
Marx was able to prove his theories on class struggle and modes of
production by applying his three laws of dialectics. The obstacle
Marx had to overcome was to show that material fact (matter), not
theory, was the true catalyst of social and historical change. The
issue of theory versus application of theory (action or production of
material fact) is the crux of the Marxist Existentialist argument that
Sartre proposed. This essay will discuss Sartre's argument later in
this section, but first, let look at the Proletarian Revolution.
The Proletarian, or worker, is a class assignment Marx gave to the
labor force of the 19th century. The Proletarian Revolution refers to
the 'the final conflict' between the working class and the factory
owners (Bourgeoisie). The conflict, a result from society's class
struggle, should (if Marx's dialectics are correct) result in a new
society. The conflict and resolution between the Proletarian and
Bourgeoisie are examples of Marx's Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis
from his materialist dialectics.
The society created after the revolution is of importance to Sartre's
thesis as this new society, whose government is a Proletarian
dictatorship as prescribed by Marx, was the society (USSR, China,
South East Asia, Cuba, Guyana and Eastern Europe) in actuality at the
time of the publication of his thesis.
Marx used his three laws of Materialist Dialectic to map the eventual
outcome of the class struggle of the 19th century. Marx's application
of the Laws of Negativity, Opposites and Transformation showed that
the struggle between the workers and factory owners (opposites) were
heading to an eventual collision. The stress from this 'meeting' of
opposites would cause the structures of society (educational,
religious, etc.) to collapse, allowing the worker (a prisoner of
these Bourgeoisie institutions) to break free from class
identification. The final outcome of society's structural collapse
and freedom from class identification is the synthesis of a new
Superstructure or Society.
Sartre's Marxist Existentialist thesis is concerned with this new
superstructure and its need to transcend its limitations. The next
topic will deal Sartre's Existentialism and his thesis on the need
for Existentialist transcendence in Marx's materialist society.
Existentialism, the philosophy of existence as viewed through the
prism of phenomenology, is an ontological thesis of the 20th century.
Existentialism could be viewed as the 'Antithesis' of Marxist theory
since Marxism is a Materialist-based system while Existentialism is a
system based on the power of the human consciousness, the imagination
in particular. This section will deal with Sartre's Existentialist
system. The widely-accepted view of Sartre's Existentialist
philosophy divides Sartre's work into two parts, pre and post World
Sartre's pre-WW2 work is considered 'Classic Existentialist Theory',
and his major work associated with this period is Being and
Nothingness. Post-WW2 Sartre's work became Marxist and developed an
Existentialist theory calling for a rejuvenation of socialism; the
major work associated with this period is a two-part publication from
1960, Search for a Method, and, Critique of Dialectical Reason. What
follows is a brief review of both eras.
Pre-World War 2 Sartre
Sartre's philosophical system is an ontological study which attempts
to identify and categorize a series of 'Essentialist' phenomena.
Sartre introduces his ontological thesis in Being and Nothingness
(BN). In BN, Sartre explores the human consciousness, defining and
categorizing phenomena associated with the mind. Sartre's view of the
human consciousness is marked by a radical freedom dominated by the
imagination. It is imagination that allows the individual to
'transcend' particular circumstance (material fact such as being in a
crowded room) or identification with external entities (social
classes, schools, law enforcement, peers).
The consciousness' ability to transcend is unlimited, but Sartre
warns of the pitfalls of self-deception, a byproduct of the
imagination. Self-deception, or 'Bad Faith' as Sartre refers to it,
is marked by the creation of unauthentic or unrealistic options or
goals. Bad Faith only leads to failure or frustration.
The radical freedom coupled with realistic or authentic goals give
birth to 'The Project.' The Project, or Project Man, can be compared
to Freud's Super Ego. the Project Man is a thought or an identity
created by the mind (imagination) that the individual 'works' to
maintain or achieve. The success or failure of an individual's
project depends on several variables, but ultimately the success is
based on 'Authenticity.'
Sartre's post-WW2 writings are associated with two works
simultaneously published in 1960 -- Search For A Method and Critique
of Dialectical Reason. SFM introduces Sartre's claim of the 'death of
Marxism' and the need for a new method or system within Marxist
society. CDR is a critique of Marxist materialist dialectical
orthodoxy. Both SFM and CDR attempt to illustrate the problems of a
purely materialistic view of history and dialectic. Sartre does not
try to discredit Marxism but rather attempts to point to issues
revolving around intellectual freedom and bureaucratic oppression.
Sartre introduces the idea of Praxis in SFM to illustrate his point
concerning transcendence. The Praxis, which is 'theory in action in
itself,' or thought as action, is what in reality allows for
'movement' in history or individuals. Praxis is also a basis for his
critique of Materialist Dialectic, which to Sartre does not take into
consideration the human element in history.
In general, Marxist Existentialism is simply Existentialism in a
Marxist society; the added theory of Praxis creates a bridge that
allows for the validity of consciousness transcending in a
materialistic world. Sartre's use of the Praxis allows him to
illustrate that theory or matter alone are not responsible for
change; Praxis is what creates movement in history.
The following section will explore in detail Sartre's fusion of
Materialism and Existentialism as explained in SFM and in CDR.
Sartre's Search for a Method
As mentioned in the preceding section, Sartre published two essays
simultaneously -- Search for a Method, and, Critique of Dialectical
Reason. The essays present a challenge to Marxist materialist
dialectic but not whole Marxist ideology per se.
In SFM, Sartre claimed that Marxism has grown stale and has ceased to
be, largely due to bureaucratic stress on the social structure and
disregard of the individual. Sartre proposed a search for a way or
method and recommended Marxist Existentialism as a remedy to the
dilemma. Translator Hazel E. Barnes explains, 'It is the search
for a method by which the Existentialist Marxist may hope to
understand both individual persons and history.'
This section will look closely at Sartre's issues with Marxist
materialist orthodoxy and how Existentialism could help with those
Marxist Materialist Orthodoxy
Barnes states Sartre's position in her introduction to SFM
clearly, 'Today's Marxists, [Sartre] says, have indeed tried to
maintain a dialectic without men, and this is precisely what has
caused Marxism to stagnate and turned it into a paranoiac dream.' It
is obvious that Sartre was unsatisfied with the Marxist view of men
and, in particular, of the individual; yet, Sartre did not reject
Marxism (Socialism). In fact, at the time SFM's publication, Sartre
believed Marxism to be the present example of 'a philosophy which
is a totalization of knowledge, method, regulative idea, and
community of language... this particular conception of a man or a
group of men become the culture and sometimes the nature of a whole
Sartre claimed there were three such periods and designated them as
follows: Descartes and Locke, Kant and Hegel, and that of Marx.
Sartre, in SFM put forth the proposition that Marxism was not a
philosophy but rather the totalization of society, stating clearly
that 'thus Marxism as a philosophy which had become the world
wrenched us away from the defunct culture of a bourgeoisie which was
barely subsisting on its past.' Sartre, in the context of Marxism as
social reality, created his case for the need of a dialectic which
addresses the individual in history. A Materialist orthodoxy has
created a state of alienation for the individual in Marxist society,
creating the 'stagnation' of Marxism itself as Sartre stated. Sartre
considers the state of production as being one of the causes of
alienation in the worker. 'Now, in the present phase of our
history, productive forces have entered into conflict with relations
of production. Creative work is alienated; man does not recognize
himself in his own product, and his exhausting labor appears to him
as a hostile force since alienation comes about as the result of this
conflict.' Sartre's hypothesis on the conflict is simple. If man is
not part of history (society), how can he participate freely (finding
satisfaction) in it?
Sartre's position regarding the need for a philosophy for the
individual and Materialist dialectic was also clearly stated in
SFM, 'We were convinced at one and the same time that historical
Materialism furnished the only valid interpretation of history and
that Existentialism remained the only concrete approach to reality.'
That being the case, how can one bridge a Materialist dialectic with
an Existentialist one? The following section will introduce a
principle that, according to Sartre, is such a bridge.
Praxis was one of the three actions Aristotle thought men capable of.
Praxis, or action, was of vital importance to the 20th century Marxist
theorist, Sartre included. In SFM, Sartre stressed the importance of
understanding the Praxis, since in his view an individual with the
ability to transcend is, in fact, 'going to action.' The idea of
action (group or individual) is vital both to Sartre and Marx, for
both see it as the ends to either of their dialectics. In fact,
Marxism was described as a philosophy of Praxis by 19th-century
thinker Antonio Labriola. How, then, can Praxis bridge the
transcendence of the consciousness with the absolute rigor of
Sartre points to Marx's own words to illustrate his thesis of the
need to have a dialectic that addresses not just the Materialist
reality. In Marx's 'Theses on Feuerbach,' Marx is quoted as stating,
'Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the
point is to change it.' Sartre asks how philosophers can change the
world without Theoria (idea). Sartre writes (SFM), 'Marxism, after
drawing us to it as the moon draws the tides, after transforming all
our ideas, after liquidating the categories of our bourgeois thought,
abruptly left us stranded. It did not satisfy our need to understand;
He continues, 'Concrete thought must be born from the Praxis,' and
without Theoria there can be no Praxis. The disregard for Theoria is
the basis for Sartre's proclamation of the stagnant state of Marxism.
Is Sartre therefore rejecting Marxism? Is Marxism, as he proclaims in
SFM, too stagnant and ceasing to be? Quite the contrary; in the same
essay, Sartre points out, 'This sclerosis does not correspond to a
normal aging. It is produced by a world-wide combination of
circumstances of a particular type. Far from being exhausted, Marxism
is still very young, almost in its infancy; it has scarcely begun to
develop. It remains, therefore, the philosophy of our time.' It now
becomes clear that Sartre's rejection of the Materialist orthodoxy
and the stagnant state of Marxism are attempts on Sartre's part to
rejuvenate Marxism, to bring Theoria and Praxis back into the fold,
not just material production.
Sartre's solution to the need of Theoria and Praxis is the inclusion
of a Theoria of the individual. Sartre makes his case for
Existentialism, 'Existentialism, like Marxism, addresses itself
to experience in order to discover concrete syntheses; it can
conceive of these syntheses only within a moving, dialectical
totalization which is nothing else but history or -- from the
strictly cultural point of view which we adopted here --
It is more than clear that Sartre is concerned with the need for
philosophy and Theoria in Marxist society. Sartre points to the
Praxis and the need for thought for it to come into being. In
Sartre's view, 20th-century Marxist society with its Materialist
orthodoxy refuses to allow for the truth in the form Theoria to
continue. As Sartre points out in SFM, 'Marxism stopped precisely
because this philosophy wants to change the world, because its aim is
'philosophy-becoming-the-world,' because it is and wants to be
practical, there arose within it a veritable schism which rejected
theory on one side and praxis on the other.'
Sartre's Marxist Existentialist thesis, presented in both Search For
A Method and Critique of Dialectical Reason, upholds the value of
Marx's historical Materialist method but not his Materialist
Dialectics. Sartre sought in SFM to provide a foundation for his
proposal of Existentialism as Theoria (philosophy) in Marxist society
(of the Soviet era). Sartre's rationale for the proposal was to save
Marxism from 'stagnation' and 'death' brought on by the Materialist
orthodoxy's disregard for the individual (and individual thought) in
Sartre illustrated how Marxism itself was a product of Praxis and as
such depends on Praxis to exist, but Sartre asks how a society can
have Praxis without Theoria. Sartre explains how Marxism ceased to be
Theoria (philosophy) and became actuality or Reality (Praxis), but in
becoming reality it has grown stagnant with a Materialist doctrine
that does not allow the individual to have a place in history or
allow for change. Sartre goes forth to first explain Marxism as
philosophy, which has 'flourished' into social reality, and is now in
need of what itself once was; namely Theoria or philosophy as truth.
Sartre chose Existentialism as the truth in philosophy that could end
Marxism's stagnation. Sartre points out that Existentialism, a
philosophy (as Marxism was) born from the Hegelian dialectic, allows
the individual in the Marxist state to find his or her place in
society, giving the individual value. The Materialist Dialectic does
not allow an individual to see value in him- or herself since the
only real value exists in production, not in the individual producer.
The disregard for the individual in Marxist society is what has
brought about the stagnation, for an individual without value falls
prey to alienation.
Alienation and other social ills creating the stagnation in Marxist
society could be easily addressed with Existentialism, the philosophy
which seeks to explain (find truths) reality by examining the
individual's consciousness. Sartre held the view that Existentialism
could reintroduce the Praxis in Marxist society by allowing the
individual to transcend the present moment and seek his or her place
in the future. The Existentialist transcendence would be the 'hummus'
for action or Praxis. The reintroduction of Praxis would rejuvenate
Marxism, allowing individuals to see themselves in society and in
Sartre encountered bitter criticism for his Critique of Marx's
Dialectics and his Existentialist prescription for the bureaucratic
leviathan that the then Soviet-era socialist states had become.
Ultimately Sartre's Marxist essays fell by the wayside and have been
disregarded as intellectual curiosities.
With the current capitalist backlash in post-Cold War society and
with the further virtualization and fusion of economies, socialism
and, in particular, Marxism is experiencing resurgence (in particular
in the Southern Americas). It would be of tremendous value to
reexamine Sartre's thesis on a possible fusion of Materialist and
Flynn,Thomas R. Sartre and Marxist Existentialism
Chicago & London The University of Chicago Press 1984
Sartre, Jean-Paul, (Translation from French) Barnes, Hazel E. Search
for a Method
New York Alfred A. Knopf 1963
Vasquez, Adolfo Sanchez, (translation for Spanish) Gonzalez, Mike The
Philosophy of Praxis
London Merlin Press 1977
Marx, Karl, (editor) Engels, Fredrick (translation from German)
Lough, W Theses On Feuerbach
Progress Publishers, Moscow, USSR, 1969
Onof, Christian J The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Heter, Storm The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Political
Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and
Chicago, London The University of Chicago Press Fifth edition, 1987
1. Search for a Method pg.ix
2. Search for a Method pg.xiii
3. Search for a Method pg.6-7
4. Search for a Method pg.20
5. Search for a Method pg.12
6. Search for a Method pg.21
7. Search for a Method pg.20
8. Search for a Method pg.22
9.Search for a Method pg.30
10.Search for a Method pg.30
11. Search for a Method pg.21-22
(c) John Ramirez 2010
II. 'ON ALIENATION AND ITS OVERCOMING: THE LEGACY FROM HEGEL TO
SARTRE' BY PALLAVI SHARMA
Alienation is more considered to be an issue primarily dealt with by
sociologists and economists through the Marxist interpretation. But
it is found that alienation is also a major issue in the
existentialist writings, which get less focused on in the academic
sphere. Going against this trend, here the attempt is made to draw
the legacy of the concept from Hegel to Sartre, unfolding a few other
existentialist philosophers' views found significant for understanding
of the concept. Touching the important points of the Marxist theory of
alienation an attempt is made here to highlight the similarities and
differences among the different views put forward by these
philosophers. Finally the main objective of the discussion is to open
a frame to show the peculiarity of the Sartrean concept of alienation
beyond all the different views placed on the same issue.
Alienation: the concept
Being surrounded by an incredible degree of confusion the concept of
alienation does not pertain to a clearheaded definition and treated
in varied ways in different branches of thought. The dictionary
meaning of the term 'Alienation' is 'estrangement'. It is defined to
be a process whereby someone or something is constrained to become
'other' than that which it properly is in its being (Birt; 1986;
293). Briefly, alienation stands as an umbrella concept incorporating
many other dimensions as powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness,
social isolation, cultural estrangement and self alienation.
The concept has a long and distinguished history. Its origin can be
traced back to the Judeo-Christian tradition that laid stress on
salvation of man to free himself from alienation appearing in the
form of dehumanization in the world (Sinari; 1970; 123). However, the
concept got prominence in the 18th century after the Industrial
Revolution as material demands overtook all other necessities of man.
In such an environment alienation came to prominence as a state of
experience of an individual or a group facing material conflict with
the rest of the society.
The legacy of the concept
Though any discussion on alienation primarily refers to Marxism, it
is to be kept in mind that serious discussion on the problem of
alienation was initiated in German philosophy, through the philosophy
of Hegel in the late 18th century. The concept is known to be an
important legacy of the Hegelian school of social philosophy that
later got widely treated in Marxism and Existentialism. Through the
dialectical development of the self Hegel expounded an idealistic
position on alienation and its overcoming. He used the term
'Entausserung' (externalization) in different senses to refer to
different kinds of alienation or estrangement. Hegel's concept of
alienation mainly touches the psychological and spiritual aspect of
the human being. Since reality is essentially spiritual for Hegel the
estrangement is therefore primarily related to the mind. Unfreedom or
alienation is a moment when an individual confines himself into the
periphery of his own ideals, norms and decision without recognizing
himself as a member of the greater community. So, overcoming
alienation in his view lies in recognizing that to be an individual
means to belong to a community. Hegel pointed out that being one also
means being with and for the other in one's community. This concept of
'Being-with-other' again finds reflection in the later philosophy of
Sartre when he talks about collective authenticity.
The basic idea of Hegel's philosophy is that, in the last analysis,
whatever exists is Absolute idea or the Absolute Mind, which is not a
fixed thing or property but a dynamic Self, engaged in circular
process of alienation and dealienation. Nature is only a
self-alienated form of the Absolute, and Man is the Absolute in the
process of dealienation.
Marx on alienation
Following the dialectic of Hegel, Marx introduced the concept of
alienation in a proper theoretical way. While Hegelian interpretation
of alienation was centrally confined to the idealist standpoint,
Marx's treatment was in terms of alienation of the labour or the
working class. He developed his philosophy in a rather secular mode.
Accepting all earlier interpretations he applied the concept in the
production system introducing it as a distinct theory in the field of
both economics and sociology. His ground was more a socio-economic
one, related to production relation in a capitalist society.
According to his theory the social arrangement of the modernized and
capitalist society is such that it is unable to provide the
opportunities to decide on the type of work the worker performs. The
capitalists have increased the workers' ability to work harder,
faster and for a longer period of time, but they have deprived the
workers from the personal wealth which comes from the product they
produce. This situation has deprived the working class of a
meaningful and creative existence. They inevitably lose control over
their lives and selves and can never become autonomous and
self-realized human beings. Their freedom gets arrested in the hands
of the bourgeois. Meszaros (2006) mentions four types of alienation
in labour under capitalism as pointed out by Marx:
• Alienation of the worker from his or her 'species essence' i.e.
• alienation between workers, from the fellowmen since capitalism
reduces labour to a commodity to be traded on the market, rather than
a social relationship;
• alienation of the worker from the product, since this is
appropriated by the capitalist class, and so escapes the worker's
• alienation from the act of production itself, such that work comes
to be a meaningless activity, offering little or no intrinsic
Distinctly, according to Marx alienation is caused by capitalist
relations. As such overcoming these relations will remove alienation
itself. Going beyond the metaphysical and humanist dilemma of
philosophy, Marx insisted upon a social scientific resolution to the
problem. Marx opined about proletariat society as the solution to
overcome alienation in production relations.
Thus from Hegel to Marx the concept underwent a transition towards
'alienation of productivity' from 'alienation of creativity'.
Materialism took the place of the idealistic interpretation of Hegel.
With this new interpretation alienation shifted from being a property
of the man of reason, to be a condition belonging to a specific class
of men in the factory, making them deprived of their own reason by
this condition of life (Horowitz, 1966; 231).
But the problem is not such that its essence can be understood
remaining only in the periphery of the spiritual ideals or
materialistic socio-economic structure. It is argued that neither
Hegel nor Marx could touch the root of the problem. Since alienation
primarily relates to the human beings living amidst different
existential problems along with practical social issues, it needs a
deeper understanding of the existential issues which remained
unattended by the earlier thinkers. To fill up this gap
Existentialism appeared in the field discussing the problem of
alienation in a deeper level and thereby promising some way out.
Existentialists' view on alienation
As William Barrett (1990) writes, 'Alienation and estrangement
constitute the whole problematic of existentialism.' Existentialism
follows Hegel and Marx assigning to philosophy the task of curing
people from the sense of alienation. Where Marxism treats alienation
in a socio-economic level, existentialism mainly uses the concept in
a more ontological and spiritual manner.
The first existential interpretation of the concept is found in
Kierkegaard. Though he does not use the term alienation directly, he
speaks somewhat in Hegelian line. His concept is also a transit to
the spiritual nature of the self. Uninterested in the world outside
and the existence of man as a being in the world, he is mainly found
talking about self alienation. According to him Alienation is the
individual's estrangement from themself. The external world is not
considered as a necessary existence for the growth and development of
individuality, rather it is experienced as hostile to subjectivity and
individuality. According to him, self alienation is an internal
process based on one's attitude towards oneself. In this sense
Kierkegaard reflects a psychological stand of self estrangement which
is found in the form of anxiety and despair within oneself. In such a
situation the individual is found neglecting his own eternal and
Now the question is how to overcome this inauthentic situation?
Kierkegaard finds the solution in 'becoming again oneself before God'
and coins the term 'repetition' to mean this stage. He thus identifies
authentic selfhood with true Christianity. Against Hegel's
universalism he went for particularism and individualism. For him
dealienation demands salvation, not socialization as Hegel says. But
of course he did not detail any methodological step for achieving
such a stage.
Again, according to Heidegger normal social life is no guarantee of
escaping estrangement or becoming authentic. In our everyday social
existence we remain alienated from ourselves and hence inauthentic.
According to him we are 'dispersed' in our involvements, lost in the
world being dominated by the 'they' or the other. Hence, authenticity
is not possible in the societal level. Thus for Kierkegaard and
Heidegger authenticity is possible only in individual level. Here the
individual has to detach herself from the 'they', and make contact
with the authentic individual self. The present age, for them is an
Sartre: two interpretations
Coming next to Sartre we see that his concept of alienation is
intertwined with the concept of the 'other'. According to him
alienation is 'unsurpassable otherness'. His concept of alienation is
signified as a deeper and critical analysis of Marxian concepts.
Throughout his long engagement with man and freedom Sartre is found
to hold two interpretations of the concept of alienation. One is
ontological and the other is historical, which can also be
interpreted as his early and later philosophy respectively. The
ontological feature of his philosophy is found in his momentous
literary work Being and Nothingness and the historical materialistic
account appears in Critique of Dialectical Reason. While in his early
writings he depicts an idealistic position, his later philosophy is
found to be a synthesis of sociology and philosophy, hence a step
beyond Marxism (Lichtheim, 224). Though Sartre does not view the
later theory as the continuation of the former, he considers both at
least as compatible.
In Being and Nothingness Sartre discusses alienation as an
ontological possibility rather than a surpassable historical
condition, unlike Hegel. Alienation, according to him entails the
condition of 'otherness' and it is rooted in human existence, in our
relation with the other. The discussion in this book is more of
psychoanalysis as he mainly concentrates on individual consciousness
in the form of nothingness. By the term 'nothingness' Sartre tries to
represent what man is not. He is not the 'being-in-itself' (thinglike
passive existence), but a 'being-for-itself'. 'Being-for-itself'
(pour-soi) stands for that consciousness which pleas to go beyond the
given identity to the individual. In this sense the individual is
always alienated from its being. The aspect of history was considered
to be alien in these writings.
All that Sartre says about man in Being and Nothingness
-- his structure, his condition, his freedom and spontaneity,
his relation to other man and the world -- is conceived in
non-historical terms, as man's fixed and eternal fate. Man
is portrayed as perpetually transcending himself and any
given content and state; his very being is in flux, unable
to attain a stable identity, and only by activity and
development can he assume some discernible characteristics
or 'essence'. (Yovel; 1979; 482)
Sartre particularly uses the term 'look' to mean the alienating
condition of the individual in terms of the existence of the 'other'.
The other, by his 'look' gives us the sense of being objectified or
alienated from our authentic living. In his early writings Sartre
denies historical situation at any level of fundamental ontology.
But towards his later philosophy Sartre comes to the reconciliation
of history and ontology and holds that alienation is both a
historical and ontological possibility. It is said to be a
consequence of exploitation and oppression in historical situation, a
human phenomenon created through history. Here Sartre emphasizes
Praxis. The pour-soi (being-for-itself) or 'project' of Being and
Nothingnessis termed as human Praxis in Critique of Dialectical
Reason, which is actualized through the materialistic world.
Historical alienation occurs in man's relation to others through the
materiality of things. In the comprehensive historicity, the
negativity, or the opposition between the 'in-itself' and the
'for-itself' in Being and Nothingness is now conceived through need
and work. It is now referred to as historical alienation.
As in Marx, while referring to alienation in concrete history Sartre
talks about exploitation in concrete production relations. According
to him in the process of his historicity man makes himself an
'instrument' by objectifying himself in action upon materiality. But
the factor which Sartre emphasizes more than exploitation is
scarcity. Most of Sartre's later work emphasizes that all human
affairs are conducted under conditions of relative scarcity for which
man always confront each other as potential competitors. And this is
what Sartre holds to be that structure of our socio-economic human
history. He regards this relative scarcity as the prevalent condition
of human alienation for all time which results in the problems of
poverty and deprivation.
Sartre distinctly seems to merge into Marxism, when he holds that
alienation, appearing in the form of exploitation or deprivation can
be overcome through socialistic means. But it can be marked as a
hesitating conversion as he puts some shade of a priori nature to the
problem of alienation. Overcoming of deprivation in certain societies,
according to Sartre is historically possible. But it is not possible
to totally reduce it. Sartre treats scarcity as a fundamental
relation of our history. According to him in the modernized
materialistic society the realization of human purposes heads through
materialistic structures like car, house, machines etc. which are
again intertwined with the tendency of placing further material
demands subverting all other real human purposes. Following the way
of life prescribed by the material conditions man craves for
accumulating more and more and gets lost in it. In that sense
scarcity is a fundamental relation of human existence. Sartre seems
to delve into a deeper level of existential issues of man in the
modern materialistic society. He states that with the disappearance
of Scarcity 'our quality as men' would disappear. Relative scarcity
is so intrinsic to human existence today that overcoming this
primitive alienating tendency is not possible though social
institutions or through the Marxian way. It is reflected in the
Critique of Dialectical Reason that the attempt to overcome the
constraints of the 'practico-inert' through social means itself leads
to the fall of the social institutions into practico-inert.
Here we see that though Sartre talks about historical alienation, his
emphasis is more on the deeper level of alienation, i.e. the
alienation rooted in human existence itself. It is the 'a priori
possibility' of human praxis on which the historical alienation is
found in a concrete historical situation. The consequences of our
actions and choices mostly end up escaping us. It goes beyond our
capacity to anticipate. Even being a transcending being beyond all
determinations, alienation or objectification occurs in man as a
We can now summarily discuss how the concept of alienation has
developed since the time of Hegel, criticizing or following his
notions. Here it is to be pointed out that different philosophers
talking on alienation are not mutually contradictory, but form a part
of the same series. But in spite of few similarities they differ in
some significant issues. What distinguishes the different schools is
the question of the causes and conditions of alienation.
The dialectic of being and consciousness is the common property of
Hegel, Marx and Sartre. But the Marxists and Existentialists stood to
be powerful critics of Hegel on the point of the conditions of
alienation and dealienation. While Hegel offered an idealistic and
spiritual solution to the alienating condition of man Marx and Sartre
tried to offer a realistic solution to the problem.
Starting from Hegel and Kierkegaard we see that they show a seemingly
different trend in their respective views on alienation. While
Kierkegaard considers it as an affect of the modernized society,
Hegel offers superiority to the society and refers to it as a measure
of dealienation. According to Kierkegaard, individuals destroy their
singularity in the leveling process of modern society. Man falls into
despair facing the misappropriation in the relation of the self to
itself. Refuting Hegel's universalism Kierkegaard advocates
particularism and stands for the individual against the community or
the state. Contrarily, according to Hegel 'the State 'has the supreme
right against the individual, whose supreme duty is to be a member of
the State... for the right of the world spirit is above all special
Marx criticises the Hegelian notion of spirit and placed his notion
of alienation on a materialistic ground. Kierkegaard also criticises
Hegel regarding the issue of overcoming alienation. According to the
Existentialists alienation can never be completely overcome in social
way, rather it is inherent in human existence itself.
Sartre appears with both the ontological and historical themes in his
philosophy of alienation. In Critique of Dialectical Reason Sartre
criticises traditional Marxism and reaffirms Existentialism. Though
in his later philosophy Sartre comes to reconciliation considering
alienation as both historical and ontological category, he is
confident on the matter that existential alienation is an immutable
condition of human existence and it is the very foundation of
historical alienation. Without withdrawing his original stand on
alienation as an ontological category, Sartre came to agreement with
the Marxian view that Historical and social alienation need not
necessarily have an ontological status. But at the same time he
denies the Marxian stand that socio-economic and political
institutions are the sources of all alienation. However Sartre
insists that there is some alienation that is caused by the
domination of man by man, but objectification as a characteristic of
alienation is not outright rejected.
Incorporating all these ideas existentialism appears to be the
foundation of Marxism itself. As it is said the postwar enthronement
of Sartre led the concept of alienation to reside firmly within the
concept of 'existence.' Existentialism is said to be the primary
doctrine upon which the Marxian social philosophy is based (Yovel;
1979). Thus it is seen that the Sartrean notion of alienation is
furnished with broader views than other philosophers dealing with the
issue. While Hegel and Kierkegaard are confined to the idealistic and
Marx to the Historical stand, Sartre considers both historical and
existential issues and analyses the phenomenon in great detail taking
the issue in all ages of human existence, from the infant to the old
person. Its periphery is thus greater than the most widely treated
views of Marx which primarily deals with the working class but not
with the human kind as a whole. In a single statement, quoting
Lichtheim (1963) it can be said, 'Sartre's philosophy is an
individual synthesis of Hegel, Marx and Heidegger.'
Barrett, William (1990) Irrational Man: a Study in Existential
Philosophy; Anchor Books, New York
Birt, Robert E. (1986) Alienation in the Later Philosophy of Jean
Paul Sartre, in Man and World, Vol. 19, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers,
Gouldner, A.W. (1980) Alienation from Hegel to Marx (Chapter 6) in
The Two Marxisms; Oxford University Press, New York.
Horowitz, I.L (Dec., 1966) On Alienation and the Social Order, in
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, International
Phenomenological Society, Vol.27, No.2, pp 230-237.
International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioural Sciences Vol. 1
Lichtheim, G. (1963) Sartre, Marxism and History, in History and
Theory, Blackwell Publishing for Wesleyan University, Vol.3, No.2, pp
Meszaros, Istvan (2006) Marx's theory of Alienation, Aakar Books, New
Murchland, Bernard (Mar., 1969) Some Comments on Alienation, in
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research; International
Phenomenological Society; Vol.29, No.3, pp 432-438.
Overend Tronn (Mar., 1975) Alienation: A Conceptual Analysis, in
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research; International
Phenomenological Society; Vol.35, No.3, pp 301-322.
Sartre J.P. (1984) Being and Nothingness, Washington Square Press,
Sean Sayers: The Concept of Alienation in Existentialism and Marxism,
Hegelian Themes in Modern Social Thought; Retrieved online
Sinari, Ramakant (Sep., 1970) The Problem of Human Alienation, in
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, International
Phenomenological Society, Vol.31, No.1, pp 123-130.
Wegner, Eldon L. (Apr, 1975) The Concept of Alienation: A Critique
and some suggestions for a Context Specific Approach; in The Pacific
Sociological Review, Vol. 18; No. 2; pp 171-193.
Yovel Yarmiahu (Jun., 1979) Existentialism and Historical Dialectic
in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, International
Phenomenological Society, Vol. 39, No. 4; pp. 480-497.
_____ Alienation in Hegel and Marx; Retrieved online
_____ George Novack's Understanding History, Alienation-Part 1;
(c) Pallavi Sharma 2010
Research Scholar (Philosophy)
Dept. of Humanities and Social Sciences
IITGuwahati, Assam, India
III. 'SOCRATES, PLATO AND SCIENCE' BY D.R. KHASHABA
In an important paper on 'Plato's Ideal of Science', Professor
Sigurdarson undertakes to defend Plato against the charge that 'he
did more damage to science than good' as many scholars maintain.
(Sigurdarson cites in particular B. Farrington and Olaf Pedersen.)
The charge finds support in a short passage in Republic 530b6-c1
about the way Plato proposes astronomy should be studied:
It is by means of problems, then, that we shall proceed in
astronomy, in the same way as we do in geometry, and we
shall let the things in the heavens alone if, by doing real
astronomy, we are to turn from disuse to use that part of
our soul whose nature it is to be wise (to phusei phronimon
en tei psuchei) (tr. Vlastos 1980 as quoted by Sigurdarson).
I have neither competence nor desire to enter into the scholarly fray
about Plato's approach to the study of astronomy, nor do I intend to
comment on Sigurdarson's main argument which leads up to the
conclusion that in Republic 530 b-c Socrates was not 'talking about
science as such but only about how some of the sciences can be used
as tools to improve our souls and prepare them for the ultimate
However, for some reason I cannot comprehend, before discussing the
Republic passage, Sigurdarson speaks of the 'autobiography' passage
of the Phaedo. I have in several of my writings discussed the Phaedo
'autobiography' passage, 95e-101e, as I believe that its most
important message has escaped students of philosophy with damaging
consequences for philosophy. Now I find Sigurdarson's linkage of the
Phaedo passage to the Republic passage strongly illustrative of the
failure of mainstream philosophical thinking to absorb that crucial
Socrates' decision to take refuge in reasoning to examine there the
reality of things that be (eis tous logous kataphugonta en ekeinois
skopein ton onton ten aletheian) was not an alternative method of
'inquiry into nature' (peri phuseos historia) as Sigurdarson
suggests, even though Socrates' ironical tin' allon tropon autos
eikei phuro ('muddle out a haphazard method of my own', Tredennick)
may give that impression. Socrates' decision to seek aitiai in the
realm of reason (en logois) and not in the world of actual things (en
ergois), 100a, amounted to a separation of two modes of thought, a
separation more radical and more consistent than Kant's.
Socrates renounced completely all inquiry into the things of the
world outside the mind, not as unimportant or uncertain, but as
totally unrelated to the questions that concerned him and that
concern all philosophy proper, questions that deal with ideals and
values 'that do not reside in nature, but only in the mind of man, in
the sense that they do not come to us from outside, and can by no
means be discovered by any objective approach'. It was not 'a
scientific method designed to give us knowledge about the world, but
was a method designed to give us the only wisdom accessible to man:
understanding of ourselves.'
It is thus misleading and confusing to link the Phaedo
'autobiography' passage to that of the Republic passage where Plato
was speaking (albeit through 'Socrates') of 'real astronomy' as
distinct from empirical astronomy. These do not pertain the one to
philosophical thinking as understood by Socrates and the other to the
inquiry into nature renounced by Socrates. These both relate to the
'outer' world, which, according to the Socrates of the
'autobiography', lies outside the sphere of philosophy proper.
Although as a rule I shy away from trespassing into the realm of
science, I will venture to suggest that Plato's distinction between
the two alternative approaches to the study of astronomy may perhaps
be elucidated by comparing the approach of Galileo to that of Newton.
Galileo experimented by dropping objects and invented the telescope to
watch the planets and the stars. He came up with important empirical
results. But it was the mathematician Newton who, proceeding on the
lines of Plato's 'real astronomy', created the concept and the theory
of gravity. Both approaches were scientific, both related to the
'outer' world and not to the 'inner' world that was the sole concern
of Socrates and, in my view, of all philosophy proper; and Newton was
wise enough to see clearly that gravity was nothing but an idea, a
useful fiction, that enabled us to calculate and to predict the
motion of things in the phenomenal world, but did not explain
anything as our modern philosophers fondly believe.
I will not hesitate to re-affirm the foolish stance that I have
already often maintained, namely, that our failure to acknowledge the
radical distinction between philosophical thinking and scientific
thinking is doing serious damage to philosophy. It is not in the
power of philosophy, and it is not the purpose of philosophy, to give
us knowledge about the world, but to give us understanding of
ourselves, an understanding of which our ailing humanity stands in
1. Sigurdarson, Erikur Smari, 'Plato's Ideal of Science' in Essays on
Plato's Republic, ed. Erik Nis Ostenfeld, 1998.
2. Khashaba, D. R., "Philosophy as Prophecy" in The Sphinx and the
Phoenix, 2009; Plato: An Interpretation, 2005, ch. 1, pp.24-26, and
ch. 5, pp. 126-9.
(c) D.R. Khashaba 2010
Web site: http://khashaba.blogspot.com
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