Thursday, January 13, 2005

Marx-Habermas and Naturalism-Idealism

I thought following interpretation of Marx by Albrecht Wellmer is very close to the interpretation I am trying to develop of Habermas (after taking the difference between Marx’s and Habermas’ position into account). Albrecht Wellmer is one of the “most interesting students of Adorno” (the words are more of less of Andrew Bowie) working today.

Marx calls his philosophy of labour “naturalism” or “humanism” and he opposes it to both idealism and the older forms of materialism (i.e.; in particular the “physicalist” materialism of the eighteenth century). “We see here,” Marx states, “how consistent naturalism or humanism is distinguished from both idealism and materialism, and at the same time constitutes their unifying truth. We also see that only naturalism is able to comprehend the process of world history (Karl Marx's early writings, ed. T. B. Bottomore p. 206)."Habermas on Peirce". ” In the first of this theses on Feuerbach Marx summarizes concisely what he means by his dialectical overcoming of both idealism and materialism: “The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as human sensuous activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence it happened that the active side, in the contradistinction to materialism, was developed by idealism – but only abstractly, since of course, idealism does not know real, sensuous activity as such.(Marx's and Engls' Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, ed. L. S. Feuer, p. 283On critical theory / edited by John O'Neill, p. 231]

Habermas like above criticises what he calls strong naturalism of Quine and others (including what he disparagingly calls “empiricist" tradition as a whole) for neglecting the active side of the subject (subject of course re-conceptualised in accordance with the requirements of linguistic turn and emphasis on intersubjectivity) and for that he still turns to “idealism” and try to incorporate that into his overall naturalistic framework. Similarly he criticises “strong” idealism for neglecting the material, naturalistic side. Habermas’ aim, like Marx, is to synthesise the active side of “idealism” and the “passive” side of materialism in an overall naturalistic framework. This is the aim of Habermas’ weak naturalism.


Anonymous said...

I have a lot of sympathy for what you are doing here in terms of a weak naturalist metaphysics.

However, I do hacve a little bit of a suspicion that Marx distorts Hegel somewhat--the active subject in the master servant section of the Phenomenolgy of Spirit is more than a disembodied form of conciousness.

It is an embodied subject driven by desire as well as the need for recognition.

I would say that Idealism did know real sensuous activity and it did begin to "synthesise" the active side of idealism and the passive side of materialism in an overall naturalistic framework.
Gary Sauer-Thompson

Ali Rizvi said...


As far as Habermas is concerned his objection against Hegel is not that his notion of "consciousness" is disembodied. In fact he explores in his different writings how Hegel contributed decisively to the emergence of "communicative" concept of rationality and hence "subjectivity". Habermas' objection against Hegel is rather directed against the "absolute" character of Geist.

I will come back on this point once I have a bit more time, but thank you very much for engaging with my humble efforts here and there.


Anonymous said...

I guess everybody is against the absolute character of Hegel's Geist. Does anybody defend it apart from those who reckon they have a theory of everything?

However, I'm not convinced that the Habermas/Hegel relationship is as simple as you say.

A suggestion.

It strikes me that Habermas replaces Hegel's dialectical character of desiring subjects engaged in a struggle for recognition (as an account of intersubjectivity) with a more Kantian account of communicative action as intersubjectity.

It has always stuck me that Habermas has explicitly sought to escape 'the spell' of Hegelian thought and dialectics that so "infatuated" Adorno, and to shift to thinking of communicative rationality in terms of an ideal communicative community.

His turn to language and comunicative action as a way to break away from the subject-object model of philosophy is a turn to pragmatism analytic philosophy and social science.

I'm not criticizing this as I think the turn to Mead is very useful).I'm just drawing attention to the way he moved away from his German roots and developments in continental philosophy --eg Merleau Ponty--that was also breaking away from the subject-object model of philosophy.

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