Heidegger, Rorty, Bloch, Marx and Pragmatism

Heidegger, Rorty, Bloch, Marx and Pragmatism

The other day Sarah said “so yr into german philosophers & you’re a Marxist, what do u reckon of heidigger? ;)” and aso asked me to outline some of Bloch’s  thoughts and I kind of answered in a kind of flippant way with regard to the relative (de-) merits of Fascism and Communism, but I actually wanted to come back to this because it seems to me that the relationship between Heidegger and Marxism is of fairly central importance and this blog, which, with its informal status, seems as good a place as any to work this out. This is because it goes to the heart of the epistimo-ontological nature of reality, of Dasein as such, and also because working out – as Thomas Kuhn put it – of what is going on at the interface between the phenomenal world and the things we believe about it is central to our concerns as human becomings in a becoming world. The reason I have actually moved away from “Marxism” is not really about anything Marx himself wrote but more to do with the way in which he has been incorprated and reified into all sorts of dogmatic “systems” of thought. Marx himself was a kind of relativist, uncertain about what we know, always questioning our understanding of that same interface between what is and what is becoming (his guiding motto being De Omnibus Dubitandum – question everything). He saw our views of the world as structured by our (class) position within that world and maintained that all things are constantly in flux, that the relationship between what is and what emerges is in reciprocal, dialectical relationship. My Marxism aspired to be the sort which sought to implement that understanding of the world and of everything in it as “ein werdendes Sein” (a becoming being). As a result, I was attracted to the relatively sophisticated branch of Marxism to be found in parts of the Trotskyist movement (Rorty started as a Trot too). I would still say that Trotsky was not only one of the greatest political activists but also one of the greatest philosophers within the Marxist movement because he too saw Marx merely as a way of understanding the world, though of course he gave it primacy over all other methods. Rorty, however, went on to move away from this world view as he began to see Marxism not as ”The Tool”, indeed “The Key” in some quasi-metaphysical way, to understanding the world but simply as one of the implements in the toolbox of human philosophy. I haven’t made it that far yet and still believe in an explanatory hierarchy in which Marx is somewhere near the top (though I see the hierachy as a lot flatter and more equal than I used to). Rorty’s relativism led him to categorise all tools in the toolbox as equally useful for some task or other but this is at one with his concept of the contingency of everything that emerges from what is and thus changes it. With Nietzsche, he maintains that we can only be sure that there is change and not progress. The progress which we do discern has to be constructed on the basis of constantly choosing between the options which are thrown up by non-linear and contingent change. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong and the “darkness of the lived moment” (Bloch), which is only illuminated in hindsight, is the barrier to us always understanding the precise relationship between epistemology and ontology. For Bloch and Rorty, there is effect no gap between the two because ontology shades into epistemology at an imperceptible point which we call Now. Zizek maintains that it is Freud’s death drive which is at that interface but this seems to me to be simply picking something dark and profound to fit in with something which is just dark. Illumination -en-light-enment – comes about as a result of hindsightful appreciation of the practical outcomes of our decisions. As we make more and more decisions and our insights into the world become fuller and more complex we are creating and changing what we know about the world and therefore also changing and creating the world. For both Bloch and Rorty, the world is not something found but “in becoming” and what it becomes is dependent on what we make of it, and there is no teleology. I would maintain that Marx rejected teleology as well, but standing in the tradition of the accretion of experience of human change made certain statements and predictions about the way things could/would develop given certain conditons. The vulgarist will take what they want from Marx and leave the more nuanced stuff. The nuancers will take what they want and downplay the vulgarism. It is in this context, for example, that Rorty maintains that if it is possible to concur with the findings of Leftist/Marxist philosophers such as Sidney Hook whilst at the same time being critical of their support for Stalin’s Russia, then it is should also be possible to take what we like from Heidegger’s toolbox without seeing it as irredeemably contaminated by his support for Nazism. The reason this becomes appealing is because my interest in Bloch as a philosopher is tries to see what is important in his work, despite his support for the Stalinist purges in 1936/37 and, indeed his description of Trotsky as Gestapo agent. The reason I do so is beause it seems to me that Bloch – though his view of material reality as being in a constant state of flux – could actually provide a means of overcomig the epistomo-ontological conundrum at the heart of the debate between contingent and dualist views of the world. Dewey, Rorty and the other, mainly US, Pragmatists essentially eschewed the notion that there is any such thing as objective reality in favour of a neo-Nietzschean perspectivism which maintained that that which exists, though not the product of our perception (a rock exists, as does a table when we turn our back on it), can only be understood by seeing our perception of it as the only reality about which we can actually say  anything. For Pragmatism, ontology, the beingness of the rock, the rockness of the rock, is conditioned by what we understand of rocks and that understanding of rocks is the product not simply of some objective ontological being but, epistemologically, what we know about rocks. He debates this beingness in a nice little essay on Weinberg’s criticism of pragmatist relativism in which the latter maintains a neo-platonic hierachy of dsciplines in which physics, with its objective understanding of the world based on experiment and knowledge, is given supreme status. (’Thomas Kuhn, Rocks and the Laws of Physics’, 1997, quoted in Richard Rorty, Philosophy and Social Hope, Penguin 1999, pp.175-189).The philosophical consequences of changing and relative nature of nature and the phenomenal world are interesting in their own right of course, and give rise to the speculation about what to do with the short span in which Nietzsche’s “clever animals”, who thought they had worked out what it was all about, are in contingent existence on this small planet. However, what Bloch drew from his understanding and incorporation of Nietzsche’s insistence on the contingency and transience of existence is of greater significance I think. Bloch has been called the Left-wing Heidegger, not least because of their common attempt, at least in Heidegger’s early years, to revive Aristotelean concepts of Matter. As my colleague, Henk de Berg, has pointed out in an email, this similarity also raises the problem of the relationship between deteminism, teleology and voluntarism. Now Henk and I have this disagrement pretty regularly about teleology in Marx and he can produce eveidence to show that it is there and I try to produce evidence which shows that it is not, or at least that it is not necessariy there. Bloch too recognises this problem. His adherence to Aristotle’s view of matter is actualy undertaken, I think, despite its teleological nature. The Hegelian Werdendes Sein which is taken up by Marx and Bloch does not posit a pre-existing Sein towards which the Werden is heading but a Werden which will, in time, create a new Sein. Of course we can ask whether that Sein itself will be the end point of anything rather than simply a new Genesis and therefore merely a sage in the process as Bloch puts it at the end of Prinzip Hoffnung (and it is this Gensis which gives rise to the description of Bloch as a messianic eschatologist), but the point is that though the concept is taken by Marx and later Bloch from both Aritostle and Hegel, they transform it into a voluntaristic and non-teleological version of the achievement of a “noch-nicht gewordenes Sein” a state of being “not yet” become. Not Yetness is central to Bloch’s conception of history and turns him from a simple neo-Hegelian Teleogician into a responsive voluntarist in my view. This is also where Bloch differs fundamentally from Heidegger’s concept of “Sein” rather than “Dasein” (you are quite right Henk) as this is not even telelogogical but actually metaphysical in the same way that Nietzsches concept of the Dionysian “Sein” is metaphysical. Both Heidegger’s “Sein” and Nietzsches Dionysus are illuminated occasionally, but the remain hidden, eternal and outside of reality.

 In an essay from 1999 by Rorty ‘On Heidegger’s Nazism’ (also in Philosophy of Hope, op cit. pp. 190-197) he, Rorty, says that he wishes to keep Heidegger’s critique and history of metaphysics whilst rejecting its “downbeat ending”(p.191). (incidentally,  ”Philosophy of Social Hope” Rorty criticises Derrida for being selective about what he takes from Marx in his 1995 work “Spectres of Marx”, which seems a bit odd, given that he himself in the same book present the Communist Manifesto as one of the two most important texts in human history (the other being the New Testament) but only if one takes the message of hope selectively from it and rejects the prophecies. The alternative Heidegger he creates in his counterfactual history of Heidegger’s reaction to the Nazis and his subsequent life is pretty close to a description of Bloch, in that Bloch, throughout his life and his writing remained an anti-essentialist and an anti-dualist, but he also remained a non-dualist dialectician, true to the Hegelian principle of the world as something unfolding but opposed to the idea that there was some teleological endpoint, some Nirvana, or some abyss to which it was all heading. Optimism and Hope remained his driving ideas and the accretion of human hope became the precondition for human liberation. And that is not so very far from Rorty’s social pragmatism of hope.  

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3 Responses to Heidegger, Rorty, Bloch, Marx and Pragmatism

  1. peterthompson says:

    Heidegger maintains that illumination of the world entails a concealment in that in order to become a Dasein in the world it is necessary to overcome and therefore conceal the entirety of Sein, the latter being the fullness and interconnectedness of everything. Enlightenment conceals Being by using reason in order to define individual phenomena or Daseins. It is this step in Heidegger which could be seen as metaphysical and indeed leads him to be seen as sort of eastern myticist, presenting an essentially taoist view of the world. It could also be what lies at the root of his support for Nazism because, to the extent that Nazism had a philosophical root, it could be found to exist in a pagan apprehension of the dark interconnectedness of being which is polluted by second order concealments such as reason etc. Only intuition and rootedness of the individual in the soil and the blood of the people is an unconscious Dasein which brings individuals back to a pre-individual Sein. Nazism, for a period in Heidegger’s life, seemed like an illumination of this rootedness. Therefore is Rorty right in saying that it is possible to divorce Heidegger from the Nazi episode or does Heidegger’s metaphysical understanding of Sein actually automatically lead him to Nazism?

  2. typequeuest says:

    Seems like you are a real professional. Did ya study about the subject? hehe

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