His account is based on two premises: 1 reification is to be taken literally rather than metaphorically, and 2 it is not conceived of as a moral injury but as a social pathology. I argue against this conception of reification on two grounds. It is not possible to literally take a person as a thing without this being a recognisable moral injury, and, therefore, I suggest that there are no cases of literal reification. In conclusion, I suggest that any successful account of reification must i take reification metaphorically and ii offer a social-historical account of the origin s of reification.
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Try as they might — and they did try — Hollywood producers and Madison Avenue advertisers could not quite conceal the trauma of two World Wars, mass genocide, and pending global annihilation. For once, political and cultural elders had finally succeeded in extinguishing the moral torch that had more-or-less successfully guided successive generations throughout history.
Western civilization plunged headfirst into an ethical darkness. To meet this colossal challenge, the finest minds of the post-war West worked furtively to reclaim fertile land beyond the sterility and superficiality of consumerism: Lacan excavated the Real, Debord constructed Situations, and Ginsberg dropped LSD.
During these final hours of the second millennium, intellectuals clung to the fervent, if desperate, belief that — through the thickening cloud of decadence, repression, and conformity — we might once again discover a more original and authentic Lebenswelt. Needless to say, this generation of politico-cultural passes, rushes, and punts has failed to return a first down. It is in the shadow of this era of reclamations that Axel Honneth has put forth his own ideological coup.
In his work, Reification: a new look at an old idea , Honneth seeks to defend the concept of reification a kind of objectification as a relevant, coherent and justifiable foundation for contemporary social criticism.
In doing so, however, he must first extricate reification from its traditional interpretations in Marxist thought. But first, a closer look at the history of reification.
Mechanization in industry seeks to eradicate individuality, government has evolved into a machine-like bureaucracy, legal theory is founded upon universality and equal thus automated treatment, and reporters are fired for exhibiting personal biases. If, as Honneth insists, the answer to both of these questions is yes, reification must be redefined if it is to retain its legitimacy and relevance.
Quoting Max Weber, he writes: The modern capitalist concern is based inwardly, above all on calculation.
It is a system of justice and administration, whose workings can be rationally calculated, at least in principle, according to fixed general laws, just as the probable performance of a machine can be calculated … For these modern businesses with their fixed capital and their exact calculations are much too sensitive to legal and administrative irregularities.
Accordingly, Honneth argues that even if we take reification at face value, there is no reason to believe that a full account of its causes can be located within the capitalist apparatus. Anselm Kiefer — Erdzeitalter In order to rectify these issues and formulate a theory of reification which 1 respects the value of objectivity, 2 contains a normative if not moral element, and 3 is not so reliant on economic explanations, Honneth turns his attention to recent advances in developmental psychology and existential philosophy.
It is the stance which we take when we believe that our relationships are mediated solely by cognitive information, resulting in detachment, solipsism, and objectification.
What we are left with — or so Honneth would have us think — is an account of reification which is 1 compelling to the modern liberal individual, 2 irreducible to economic realities, and 3 results in a normative praxis insofar as forgetfulness is improper. Unfortunately for Honneth, upon delivering his newly minted theory in the form of the Tanner Lectures at Berkeley, he was immediately met with resistance by Judith Butler, Raymond Geuss, Jonathan Lear, and others.
By reformulating reification as an improper praxis which results from a cogno-centrism, he joins the ranks of critics such as Heidegger, Dewey, and Cavell in explicating a bias which runs through the entirety of Western metaphysics.
Far from being a product of contemporary modes of thought and production, reification ceases to be a specifically modern concern altogether. I will grant Honneth his evidence from developmental psychology and the existential theories he invokes as correlates. But I would like to take a careful look at just what is being offered to us with the prioritization of recognition, and see where it fits within a larger discussion of Marxist social criticism. What is recognition? How exactly does it differ from cognition?
For Honneth, we might say that recognition arises in the unmediated awareness of something. I recognize something only when it is already brought, when it has become or always has been obvious. Inasmuch as recognition is precognitive, it cannot be questioned or investigated in all the ways that normal cognitions might be. We cannot shine our intellectual lights upon recognitions, for such an investigation would itself assume the facticity of those same recognitions.
We are left with three distinct elements of recognition: it is unprovable precognitive , unassailable indubitable , and preconditional for all further cognition. That is, that all of our cognitions are based upon some prior, unquestionable, already-demonstrated recognition.
However, Honneth goes one step further and asserts that anyone who operates outside of an awareness of the priority of recognition is somehow engaging in an improper praxis. Althusser states that there are two distinct apparatuses which control the public: one state controlled repressive and one privately controlled ideological.
While the repressive apparatus insures conformity through a complex of governing bodies, police, and the military, the ideological state apparatuses ISAs function through education, culture, religion, and family. However, both branches of state apparatuses share a common goal of reproducing the conditions of capitalist production.
Althusser argues that it is the ISAs, as opposed to the politico-legal apparatus, which are responsible for what he calls the interpellation of the individual as a subject. Broadly construed, Althusser holds that an individual is not, and never can be, an objective observer. All of her experiences, beginning from birth, are filtered through the lens which the ISAs continue to propagate. Together with Honneth, Althusser claims that recognition is a the?
In the above passage, we can also once again locate the three key elements of recognition: its indubitability, precognitivity, and preconditionality. But if Honneth idealizes this already-giveness of recognition — its it-just-is-ness — Althusser views this characteristic as the unfortunate keystone of ideological domination. We cannot question what already is, we can only analyze what can be.
In other words, Honneth ends his analysis with a prioritization of recognition, while completely failing to address the question of how and why our specific recognitions have evolved in the first place! Althusser tells us that recognitions as such are a universal and inescapable reality; Honneth seems to think that our specific recognitions share these same qualities.
Thus, instead of pointing out, with Althusser, our susceptibility to an arbitrary collection of basic beliefs and their roots in the ISAs which ultimately serve the ruling class, Honneth full-heartedly embraces the false messiah of obviousness. But more disturbingly, Honneth concedes to the radical notion that precognition, a state of uncritical obviousness, is precisely what is necessary for our redemption!
It is as though the proper response to objectification and alienation is a return to a pre-critical stance in which things are so merely because they are so; to the position in which our relationship to ourselves, our neighbors, and our world is ultimately justified in that nothing is unjustifiable. This sort of naive perspective may make for good poetry, but rarely, if ever, does it produce responsible policy. As a rather ominous aside, I have only to draw your attention to the last philosopher who attempted to prioritize poetics dichtend and remembrance Andenken over thought and techne.
Now, perhaps Honneth is right and recognition always precedes cognition. About the author: Daniel Rhodes earned his B. Merlin Press: Honneth, Axel. Reification: a new look at an old idea. Oxford University Press: