Lecture Notes, Philosophy 151

The Existing Individual vs. the System

November 2, 1995

The text does not include an companion piece to "Alienated Labor," entitled "Private Property and Communism," which contains Marx's thoughts in 1844 about how the situation of alienated labor is to be overcome. "Communism is ultimately the positive expression of private property as overcome."

After discussing some inadequate forms of communism, Marx described true communism, which is the "restoration of man as a social, that is human being." Not only are the relations between human beings restored; so is the proper relation between the human being and nature. Communism is naturalism, which banishes alien spiritual beings from existence, and therefore humanism as well. The human being once again finds itself at home in the natural world, as that from which it came, and as the arena of its creativity.

Religious alienation is only one way in which the human being is alienated from other humans and from nature. Marx held that the overcoming of alienation whould abolish the state and the family as well. Only the genus, humanity in general, is the end of human activity. "The individual and generic life of man are not distinct." In fact, the death of the individual in the face of the continued life of the species illustrates the generic character of human existence.

In a passage that was crossed out, Marx went so far as to say that the individual ways of relating to the world: perception, will, action, love, etc., will give way to "social organs" once human society overcomes its alienation from itself and its objects. "The eye becomes a human eye, just as its object has become a social, human object derived from and for man." Our alienation has reduced our relation to the world as one of having, of possession. The starving man has no appreciation of food other than as something he needs in order to survive. But "the fully constituted society" will produce "the rich, deep, and entirely sensitive man as its enduring reality."

After a discussion of the way in which science becomes humanized, Marx concluded by describing communism as the negation of the negation (private property being the negation of human nature). Interestingly, he did not declare it as final. "Communism is the necessary form and dynamic principle of the immediate future but not as such the goal of human development -- the goal of human society."

We have seen how Marx's early views take Hegel as their point of departure. Probably the most important aspect of Hegelianism in Marx is the subordination of the individual to the more universal forms of humanity. One philosopher who argued vigorously in favor of the individual was Søren Kierkegaard, the founder of what has come to be called "existentialism." His philosophy is a repudiation of the "unity of subject and object" and a declaration of the primacy of the subject.

In the passage in the text taken from the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Kierkegaard pitted the existing individual against the "scientific" system erected by Hegel. He declared that an "existential system" is a contradiction in terms, except for God. This is because a system is a final product, while existence is an ongoing process, which separates rather than unifies.

Hegel had attempted to unify the subject and object, thought and being, existence and essence, into a single system. But the attempt is doomed to failure because subjectivity is lost in the system. So we are left with an dilemma: either a ludicrous attempt to forget one's own individuality, yet without giving it up, or else a recognition of the uniqueness of one's existence and a resolve to concentrate one's entire being on it.

To illustrate problem, Kierkegaard considered the ludicrous position of a human being ("Herr Professor," a reference to Hegel) who would write the system. As the end-product of the process of existence, this human would have to be identified with the system itself, "speculative philosophy in the abstract." Unfortunately for Herr Professor, anyone can "play the game of being humanity at large," even the most miserable cellar-dweller.

Let us now look at Kierkegaard's specific criticisms of an argument which purports to unite existing reality with ideal essence: the ontological argument. This argument was proposed by Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century, and has been refined by philosophers ever since. For our purposes it is enough to note that Schopenhauer described Hegel's system as a "monstrous amplification" of the ontological argument. "This is an alliance of which the ontological proof itself might be ashamed, however little in other respects it may be given to blushing" (The Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, Section 7).

In Anselm's version, the "proof" is as follows: God is defined as the greatest conceivable being. If one attempted to conceive of God as not existing, a contradiction would ensue, since one could then conceive of something greater (namely, an existing greatest conceivable being). Kant had criticized this argument in a way summed up by Schopenhauer: "On some occasion or other someone ponders over a concept which he has composed from all kinds of predicates. In this connection, however, he takes care that the predicate of reality or existence is one of these, either plain and unadorned or more respectably wrapped up in another predicate, such as perfectio, immensitas, or something of the kind." That is, one already builds existence into the definition of God from which it is to be extracted.

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