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Luc Boltanski, On Critique: A Sociology of Emancipation.

21 Dec 2011-Canadian Journal of Sociology (University of Alberta Libraries)-Vol. 36, Iss: 4, pp 398-400

AboutThis article is published in Canadian Journal of Sociology.The article was published on 2011-12-21 and is currently open access. It has received 1 citation(s) till now. The article focuses on the topic(s): Emancipation.

Topics: Emancipation (67%) more

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01 Jan 2013
Abstract: forms of life characteristic of its (capitalist) context, while remaining bound to the immediacy of the forms of appearance of that context” (Postone, 2002: 79). Regarding modern Western science, Lukacs asserts: The more highly developed it [modern science] becomes and the more scientific, the more it will become a formally closed system of partial laws. It will then find that the world lying beyond its confines, and in particular the material base which it is its task to understand, its own concrete underlying reality lies, methodologically and in principle, beyond its grasp. (Lukacs, 1971 [1923]: 104) Lukacs here criticizes the economist Tugan-Baranovsky’s attempts to explain production in purely quantitative terms. The formalism of bourgeois thought, according to Lukacs, has political implications: The reified world appears henceforth quite definitively—and in philosophy, under the spotlight of ‘criticism it is potentiated still further—as the only possible world, the only conceptually accessible, comprehensible world vouchsafed for us humans (...) By confining itself to the study of the ‘possible conditions’ of the validity of the forms in which its underlying existence is manifested, modern bourgeois thought bars its own way to a clear view of the problems bearing on the birth and death of these forms, and on their real essence and substratum. (Lukacs, 1971 [1923]: 110) Lukacs then works through the antinomies of bourgeois thought, as indicated by the problems and contradictions of modern Western philosophy. Here Lukacs focuses on Kant’s concept of the thing-in-itself and the more general notion that the world can be known to us to the degree to which it is created by us. Lukacs (1971 [1923]: 112) regards the latter as the defining problem of modern Western philosophy. However, Lukacs is not simply interested in the intellectual history of Western philosophy. Rather, his aim is to 90 Tugan-Baranovsky’s student, Nikolai Kondratiev, would later become well known for his theory of longterm cycles of economic expansion and contraction. It is interesting to note here the connection to Arrighi (1994), whose theory of structural transformation within the capitalist world-system, which draws heavily from Kondratiev, I critique in chapter four along lines similar to, yet distinct from, Lukacs’s critique of Tugan-Baranovsky. 85 grasp “the connection between the fundamental problems of this philosophy and the basis in existence from which these problems spring and to which they strive to return by the road of the understanding” (Lukacs, 1971 [1923]: 112). When writing about the idea that the world can be known to us to the degree to which it is created by us, Lukacs (1971 [1923]: 112) indicates that the question of “why and with what justification” we should view this human-created world as constitutive of human reason never arises. According to Lukacs, the reason this basic question never arises can be explained with reference to the intrinsic relationship between social structure and subjectivity. To put it another way, Lukacs explains that bourgeois thought exhibits a “double tendency,” which is also characteristic of bourgeois society, and that it expresses this opposition between an objective material world and subjective consciousness: On the one hand, it [bourgeois thought] acquires increasing control over the details of its social existence, subjecting them to its needs. On the other hand it loses—likewise progressively—the possibility of gaining intellectual control of society as a whole and with that it loses its own qualification for leadership. (Lukacs, 1971 [1923]: 121) Lukacs (1971 [1923]: 122) believes this problem is ultimately rooted in the division between theory and practice. Lukacs’s theory of praxis seeks to move beyond traditional subject-object epistemology. He indicates that both subject and object develop simultaneously through practice—and that this process is thoroughly dialectical. In other words, through praxis the subject both constitutes and is constituted by social structure. This practical activity, according to Lukacs, is also historically determinate. It is on this basis that Lukacs is able ground his explanation of the antinomies of bourgeois thought, particularly the opposition between objective matter and subjective consciousness, in the relationship between social structure and subjectivity, a relationship reflective of the contradictory nature of modern capitalist society: [M]an in capitalist society confronts a reality ‘made’ by himself (as a class) which appears to him to be a natural phenomenon alien to himself; he is wholly at the mercy of its ‘laws’, his activity is confined to the exploitation of the inexorable fulfillment of certain individual laws for his own (egoistic) interests. But even while ‘acting’ he remains, in the nature of the case, the object and not the subject of events. The field of his activity thus becomes wholly internalized: it consists on the one hand of the awareness of the laws which he uses and, on the other, of his awareness of his inner reactions to the course taken by events. (Lukacs, 1971 [1923]: 135)

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