From Socrates To Sartre; #29
continuation the thought In 1960, Jean Paul Sartre published the critique of dialectical reason, his second huge philosophical essay, like being a nothingness of 1943, it is over 700 pages long, and in the very first few pages he drops his great bombshell.
Marxism is the inescapable philosophy of our time. This is the meaning of the mysterious reference in being a nothingness to a radical conversion. It is Sartre's now famous conversion to Marxism. In this conversion, free, independent, conscious being, being for itself in its concrete existence is swallowed up in Marxist proletariat, and existentialism, the philosophy of the solitary defiant self is swallowed up in the philosophy of mature Marxism, in Marxist scientific scenario of the dialectic of economic production. Why does Sartre claim that there is the inescapable philosophy of our time and that it is Marxism? Sartre is following Hegel and Marx. It was Hegel who argued that all philosophies are relative to their own historical time, and that every philosophy is nothing but its own time reflected in thought.
And it is Marx who said that all philosophies are ideologies, reflections of the existing economic mode of production. Sartre is claiming for Marxism, that it is the philosophy of the proletariat, a philosophy which most completely reflects the class conflict of our own time, and that Marxism will remain inescapable until the proletariat is liberated from its oppression, Caesar's power, and becomes the master class. How does Sartre defend his claim that it is specifically Marxism that is the inescapable philosophy of our time? He supports this bold claim only by the sweeping statement that the modern period in history has been dominated by just a few philosophers. There has been the age of Descartes and Locke, the age of Kant and Hegel, and there is now the age of Marx. There is no going beyond any of these great systems of thought, Sartre, until changes take place in the economic relations which these philosophies reflect.
And while Marxism is dominant, as it is now, we are compelled to be Marxists to think in terms of Marxian philosophy. But then you will want to ask Sartre what becomes of existentialism, the philosophy of the human subject, free from causal determinism, free to give the world its own meaning, isolated in its dreadful, proud freedom. Sartre's answer is that existentialism he now sees belongs to the class of small philosophies which are parasites, hovering on the margins of the dominant philosophy. Existentialism can, however, be integrated into Marxism, the dominant philosophy by supplying Marxism with subjectivism, with the existentialist emphasis upon concrete human existence in concrete situations. Existentialists concern for the human subject will give a human dimension to the scientific abstractions and the dialectical necessities of mature Marxism.
But that is existentialism's only purpose. From the day when Marxism takes on a human dimension, says Sartre, existentialism will no longer have a reason for being. But in the critique of dialectical reason where Sartre was to have demonstrated the power of existentialism to humanize Marxism, to bring the human subject back into the scientific scenario of Marx. The concrete human subject has disappeared from sight into the organized social group. How then can we explain Sartre's radical conversion from existentialism to Marxism? Sartre wanted to describe the total freedom of the modern urban, rootless, disaffected intellectual in the modern world. And at the same time, he wanted to idealize total freedom as the only truly human and redeemable aspect of our lives.
The result, Sartre has had to take an extreme position to achieve the total freedom of conscious being he has isolated me, has an empty, negating consciousness with nothingness at my core rather than a substantial self. I have no foundation in myself, no essence, no human nature to set a standard for me. I have no foundation in nature itself, which is hostile, nauseating, and viscous. I cannot claim a foundation in any religion or in any philosophical values. I try to fill my nothingness with love, with a foundation in the lover, but this fails. I try to give myself a foundation by various forms of bad faith, all of them fail. One type of bad faith is anti-Semitism. In Sartre's essay, Reflections on the Jewish Question, Sartre says, the key to the problem is to understand the Frenchman who is an anti-Semite. The Frenchman who are anti-Semite, Sessatra, are usually mediocre persons of low social
status, who try to compensate for their insignificance by making a scapegoat of the Jews. These Frenchmen become things like rock-like as Frenchman, claiming that by being French, they have a feeling for France and a mystical French sensibility, which gives them at least a superiority over Jews, even though Jews may be more intelligent. But this pretends to have a foundation in being a rock-like thing as a Frenchman fails. It is self-deception. We are not things. It is in this crisis, this extreme situation, in which total freedom has led to total isolation and despair of any foundation that Sartre makes the leap to Marxism, which will provide the ethics which existentialism lacks, which will provide an ethics of deliverance and salvation. But why did Sartre not recognize that this was bad faith?
Why did he not see that to become a Marxist and a member of the Communist Party is to become thing like? It is to accept dogmas, it is to adhere to a ready-made tailor-made ethics for the group. It is to submit to party authority, it is to surrender my freedom in choosing, it is to surrender the control over every aspect of my life. The only possible explanation is that aside from Marxism, Sartre saw no exit from the dreadful absurd freedom he himself had created. He had been prepared for moving toward Marxism by his own longstanding hatred of the bourgeoisie, by his hatred of capitalism, by his concept of conflict in social relations, and by his concept of alienation. Having made the dialectical swing to a Marxism of his own construction, Sartre proceeded to support Stalin's purges of the intellectuals and professionals in Russia.
He supported the notorious concentration camps, he has supported violence for colonial freedom, he supported the Communist Revolution in Cuba and China. He turned down the Nobel Prize for literature in 1964 because it might appear to be acceptance of a bourgeois honor. He is passionately anti-American and presided over a war crime tribunal in Sweden, which was set up to indict the United States for atrocities it was supposedly committed in Vietnam. But since May 1968, when the French Communist Party refused to join students and workers in a general strike, Sartre accused the Communist Party of betraying the Revolutionary cause. He broke at that point with the Communist Party and said in 1977 that he is and has always been a political anarchist, and so Sartre has returned to his original posture of radical individualism.
Jean-Paul Sartre must be credited with being the major voice in the development of French existentialism, but Sartre's existentialism is today more and more identified as one subtype of the broader philosophic viewpoint called phenomenology. Phenomenology is the philosophic viewpoint, which was begun by the German philosopher Edmund Husserl, who gave it its name, and whose influence upon Sartre we have already seen. And phenomenology, which incorporates existentialism, is one of the two major rival philosophic viewpoints in the world today. These two competing philosophies of the present time are phenomenology, including existentialism, and linguistic philosophy. And so we turn to our last major topic in this program, and to an overview of the present philosophic scene, and to these two philosophies, and to the questions, what are the problems which command the vitality, the restless negativity, and the creative living spirit of
philosophy now in our own time? To turn first to phenomenology, phenomenology as a philosophy was founded by Edmund Husserl, and continued by Martin Heidegger, and by Jean-Paul Sartre in his existentialism, and by many others at the present time. You have been wondering, how is the passionate psychologizing existentialism of Sartre, which we have looked at, related to the phenomenology begun by Husserl? Husserl, Heidegger, and Sartre, as phenomenologists all share the basic Hegelian theory that it is our own consciousness that structures the world, and they share also the concept of the primacy and of the intentionality of consciousness. But Husserl is a mathematician, and like Descartes, he is desperate to find certainty for knowledge, and he focuses his phenomenology upon the theory of knowledge, upon the problem of how to find a foundation of absolute certainty for our knowledge.
Sartre and Heidegger, along with him, on the other hand, have given up on Descartes and Husserl's quest for absolute certainty. They have given up on that. They focus their phenomenology upon moral and metaphysical issues, upon my existence as a conscious being thrown absurdly into an alien world, in which I find that I alone provide the meaning of the world, and the values which structure my own life. And lastly, before we leave the philosophy of phenomenology and existentialism, we should mention their influence outside philosophy, which is a considerable and growing influence upon the social sciences, especially upon sociology, cultural anthropology, and political science, and also upon psychology and psychotherapy. All of these sciences and psychotherapies are learning from existentialism and phenomenology the importance of the conscious subject, and his modes of feeling, structuring, and acting
in the world. They are learning to become attentive to the way in which the individual subject perceives himself and perceives others in the world, rather than looking at him only in terms of his behavior, or statistically, or as defined by a social system. The social scientists and psychotherapists are discovering that an important part of our knowledge of human individuals and society is understanding their ways of perceiving the world. The impact of existentialism and phenomenology upon the United States came only after World War II. But before World War II, they had occurred the impact upon the United States of another type of philosophy, linguistic philosophy, which has been described as descending like an avalanche upon American philosophy, burying everything else, every other type of philosophy in its path.
Although it is now disintegrating, linguistic philosophy has remained the dominant philosophical viewpoint in the United States and in Britain since the 1930s. What was the source of this powerful, philosophic avalanche? The major source of linguistic philosophy is the empiricism of David Hume, just as the principal source of existentialism and phenomenology is to be found in Hegel. It was one man who, by an extraordinary set of circumstances, was the link between linguistic philosophers working in Cambridge University in England and linguistic philosophers working in the University of Vienna, in Austria. And he was also the link between the two stages of linguistic philosophy. That man was the psychologically tormented, logical genius, Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein was born in Vienna in 1889, into a family of great wealth and great intellectual and artistic cultivation.
He first studied engineering in Austria, then moved on to England to continue his studies, where his interests turned to mathematics and logic, and he became a student of the famous British logical empiricist, Bertrand Russell, at Cambridge University. Wittgenstein served in the Austrian army during World War I, and while he was a prisoner of war, he completed his first major work, which later was called the Tractatus Logical Philosophicus, usually referred to as the Tractatus. In the preface to this strangely dogmatic and obscure small book, Wittgenstein announces that his book deals with the problems of philosophy, and that his aim is to show that language sets a limit to what we can meaningfully say. A language says Wittgenstein is meaningful only when it pictures facts for us. This viewpoint is now called the picture theory of meaning. Our statements is Wittgenstein are meaningful, insofar as they provide a picture of the
possible facts in the case. Our statements are true insofar as they provide a picture of the actual facts in the case. Statements which fail to picture the possible facts in the case are without any meaning. They are nonsensical, they are not empirically testable and so we cannot know what they mean. And Wittgenstein, whose hatred for a traditional philosophy is intense, quickly points to philosophy and says. Most of the propositions and questions to be found in philosophical works are not false, but nonsensical. They arise from failure to understand the logic of our language. Nothing is left for philosophers to do, but to expose the meaninglessness of previous philosophers' statements. Philosophers have failed to understand the limits of language that meaningful language can only picture reality.
Philosophers have not yet learned Wittgenstein says that ethics, religion, metaphysics cannot be put into words. The questions which ethics, religion, metaphysics, ask what is good, does God exist, what is real, these questions which strike us as deep and profound are actually nonsensical, he says, since they do not picture any possible facts. And if your question is nonsense, then you have no question, and therefore no answer can be given, and so there is silence. As Wittgenstein himself said, with a stern for a voting voice of a religious prophet, where of one cannot speak, there of one must be silent. For some time Wittgenstein seemed to have been convinced that he had solved all philosophical problems as he had set out to do. He gave up philosophy, and he worked as a school teacher in an Austrian village. He worked as a gardener's assistant in a monastery, and he designed a magnificent house
for one of his sisters in Vienna. But in 1929, he returned to Cambridge University, where he became in time a professor of philosophy. Accessible, however, only to a very select group of advanced students. In his book, The Tractatus, Wittgenstein forcefully expressed the viewpoint of the first stage of linguistic philosophy called logical empiricism. Logical empiricism claims, one, that propositions about the world are meaningful only if they can be tested empirically, two, that metaphysical and ethical propositions are not empirically testable and are therefore meaningless, and three, philosophy is only the activity of analyzing propositions for their meaning and exposing meaninglessness. Wittgenstein drives home the point that philosophy can no longer legitimately offer any statements of its own.
It can construct nothing. Philosophy he says is not a group of statements, it is only an activity, the activity of analyzing language, especially the language of philosophers, to test for its meaningfulness. In intense discussions with these student disciples, Wittgenstein worked out the thoughts which were published in 1953 after his death under the title Philosophical Investigations. In his second major work, Wittgenstein attacked his own first major work, The Tractatus, for having two narrow of view of language, or restricting language only to the picturing of reality. Now in the philosophical investigations, he takes a more flexible view of language. We do use language to picture fact, he says, but we also use language in many other ways, to give orders, to greet people, to make jokes, to tell stories, to solve problems, to pray.
Historians, for example, use language differently from lawyers or from psychologists. Each is a different kind of language with its own rules. Each he says is a different language game, played by its own rules for using words. The new view of language carries a new view of meaning. Words he says gain their meaning from how they are used in a specific language game, not from picturing reality, and surely not from the confused attempts of philosophers to find a single meaning, a platonic essence, a universal term, which would define a words meaning in every kind of language game. With this new view of language, Wittgenstein founded the second stage of linguistic philosophy. The movement in philosophy, which is now usually known as analytic philosophy, and which has dominated the philosophers of the English-speaking world for over a quarter of a century. Wittgenstein's new view of language becomes the view of language held by analytic philosophy.
With this new flexible view of many languages, many language games, many ways in which words have meaning, what now is the role of philosophy in the world. Philosophy's role is analytic. The task is to analyze language in order to discover the many language games and their rules for using words, and to remove the puzzles which arise when the rules of a language game are violated. For example, you are using the word space in the language game of ordinary English language correctly when you ask, is there space for another passenger on the plane? But if you should ask, what is space, you have broken the rules of ordinary language, which does not use words in this way, to signify the essence of things such as space. The philosophers' job is to sort out the different language games and to prevent the confusion that occurs when the rules of any language game are misused, when one sticks to the rules
no problems arise. But who does misuse language? Who provides the problems, the confusion, the puzzles, the tangled knots of misusing language? It is the philosophers, of course. It is the philosophers, according to Wittgenstein, who persist in misusing language, the problems which philosophers concern themselves with are only the word puzzles which trap them because they don't follow the rules of ordinary language. Philosophers look for the essence of words. They try to generalize, to unify the meanings of words, from many different language games, as Plato and Hegel try to synthesize total reality. But this, according to Wittgenstein, an analytic philosophy, is total confusion, a mixing up of words from many different language games, from art, religion, science, into one nonsensical hodgepodge. Philosophers' problems are not genuine problems, but only the nonsense that results from not knowing how to handle language. A philosophical problem, says Wittgenstein,
has the form, I don't know my way about. Moreover, he says, philosophers had been be wished by language, lured into using words outside the specific language games which give them their specific meanings. What then can be done with philosophy? Now that it is seen to be a history of confusion of problems which should never have worried anyone because they are nonsensical. When philosophers will have learned to use words as in accordance with the language game of ordinary everyday English, they will then no longer fall into linguistic infusions. There are problems about the world, about man and God will be dissolved because they will not want to talk about such meaningless problems anymore. The fly, as he says, buzzing in the fly bottle will be shown the way out. And as philosophers become clear about how not to misuse language, as they become clear that they must stick to ordinary language, they will no longer be confused, and therefore they will stop
philosophizing. Analytic philosophy is an activity of the analysis of language games which will eventually eliminate philosophy. Linguistic philosophy was the avalanche that came down upon the English-speaking world after World War II and has been the establishment of philosophy since that time. Vase numbers of technical, small-scale piecemeal analyses had been written about the logic of language and about the way words are confused by philosophers. But the problems of philosophy have not been dissolved by linguistic philosophy. It appears instead to be the case that linguistic philosophy itself is being dissolved. It is disintegrating now, as its claims are under attack, as its minute technical analyses appear increasingly to be tedious and trivial. But its undoing is perhaps mainly due to the growing sense in the intellectual world
that this analytic philosophy, which has pervaded all American universities, has lost touch with the vital matters of human life. It has lost touch with the things which concern us most, and it has lost touch with the sciences, the arts, politics, and history. But as for its opposing philosophies of existentialism and phenomenology, these of course do have a human dimension. But Sothra's existentialism ends in extreme alienation and nihilism as we have seen. And Husserl's quest for certainty is a failure. And the recent work of phenomenology shows us the limitations of this viewpoint. It offers us only descriptions of the way consciousness structures the world, but it offers us no vision, no worldview, no critical evaluation of society, and no values. Philosophy seems at this time to have lost its master builders, to have lost any synthesizing worldview, to have no unifying vision
of the future. Is it the case, as some have said recently, that we are witnessing the death of philosophy? After long years of philosophical baronous, in the wasteland of technical language games, is it not the case that something may now be stirring into growth in philosophy? Buried under the avalanche of linguistic philosophy was the vital American philosophy of naturalism, the philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson and William James and John Dewey, the philosophy of Charles Purse and George Herbert Mead and George Santayana. This was a philosophy which tried to synthesize both Hume and Hegel. It did not despise science as Sothra does. It did not despise philosophy as Wittgenstein does, but it tried to show how they could be integrated into a civilized humane society. It celebrated democracy and individualism, and an open society moving into a brighter future. It had a vast
respect for nature and a caring for our natural resources. It tried to integrate science and democratic values into a philosophy for the new world, for the new beginning which was America. And above all, American naturalism had a sense of community of the sharing of the American values of freedom and mutuality, of an openness to growth and change, and a confidence in our creative intelligence to solve whatever problems may confront us. Now that there is a stirring in philosophy again, now that we are feeling the need for a philosophy which can speak to human concerns, there are signs of a revitalization of American philosophy with its great themes of democracy, intelligence, community, personal growth, and the movement of society into a better future, with the prospect of the renewal of these great American themes of courage and community and optimism. We conclude our overview of the contemporary scene. Next time, our last time, a summing up and a review.
We recorded in the studios of the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting.
- From Socrates To Sartre
- Episode Number
- Producing Organization
- Maryland Public Television
- Contributing Organization
- Maryland Public Television (Owings Mills, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- #29: The Contemporary Philosophic Scene - In Search The Contemporary Philosophic Scene outside of the Marxist world is one in which the philosophical descendants of Hume and Hegel stand in polar opposition to one another; Naturalism and Existentialism vs. Logical Positivism and Analytic Philosophy. The worlds we have lost. The end of the quest for certainty. The revival of interest in the history of philosophy. Towards a new view of philosophy.
- Media type
- Moving Image
Copyright Holder: MPT
Host: Thelma Z. Lavine, Ph.D.
Producing Organization: Maryland Public Television
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Maryland Public Television
Identifier: 36597.0 (MPT)
Format: Digital Betacam
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
- Chicago: “From Socrates To Sartre; #29,” Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 4, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-394-5370s6sh.
- MLA: “From Socrates To Sartre; #29.” Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-394-5370s6sh>.
- APA: From Socrates To Sartre; #29. Boston, MA: Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-394-5370s6sh