Recently in Critical Theory Category

Wolfe on the Human-Nature Relationship

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2001: a space odyssey
Originally uploaded by +TMA-1+
When Ross Wolfe asked if he could post an essay on the Digital Dialogue in honor of Earth Day, I was hesitant. Given his past participation on the blog under the pseudonym, Vox_Dei, I was not sure he was serious about engaging in a respectful, critical discussion of the central philosophical concerns of this blog.

Having read the article he proposed to post, however, I have come to believe that Ross is very much concerned to engage in a serious, critical discussion of the important question of the relationship between human-beings and nature. One of the things I most appreciate about his essay is the historical background he offers; it is designed to uncover the historical and social nature of the human-nature relationship.  The question of how to properly understand the manner and extent to which human-being and natural being belong together is a central concern of my recent book, Aristotle on the Nature of Truth. Ross's take is decidedly Marxist, and it offers a number of important points for us to consider.

Here is a bit about Ross's background:

Ross Wolfe is a graduate student in Soviet history at the University of Chicago, currently living in New York while doing research for his Master's thesis. In 2008, Ross graduated from Penn State University with a Bachelor's degree in both History and Philosophy. In December 2009, he became anonymously involved with Dr. Long's Digital Dialogue blog under the handle of "vox_dei." His main focus in research right now is on the early Soviet architectural avant-garde, but he is also interested in Marxism, critical theory, and their application to political issues past and present.

I invite you to consider what Ross Wolfe has to say below:

In light of the recent celebration of Earth Day, I have reposted an essay I wrote about a month ago, entitled "Man and Nature." With recent events in Japan and images of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami still fresh in our minds, it seems appropriate to revisit the old problem of humanity's relationship to nature. "Man and Nature" seeks to address this issue from a perspective that is clearly informed by the critical tradition of political Marxism and the Frankfurt School. It is divided into four sections, each of which builds on the results of those that precede it. 

The first section examines the shifting historical conception of "Nature" in society, analyzing the different ways in which the natural world has been understood down through the ages. From the most primitive societies to the Enlightenment, from the Romantics to the age of industrialism, all the way down to the present-day environmental movement, I attempt to trace the various ways in which Nature has manifested itself to society. From this, I deduce that Nature cannot be conceived merely as a self-enclosed entity, a Kantian Ding-an-Sich. Rather, it must be considered also as an historically variable object, the views of which tend to reflect the ideological superstructures of the age in which it is being contemplated. The challenge, then, is to conceive Nature as a fundamentally social problem

Section two covers the Marxist theory of man's alienation from nature under capitalism. It shows how the ever-increasing mediation of commodity society puts humanity at a further and further remove from the natural world, with which it was once so familiar. From Marx's early investigation of the corrosion of the organic relationships that existed in previous societies in his Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts, I proceed to Georg Lukács' theorization of the creation of a virtual "second nature" out of a reification of society as it presently exists. Combining this with Marx's more mature critique of commodity fetishism in Capital, the question is posed: To what extent do the alterations and transformations in the constitution of society as "second nature" affect the original "first nature" out which the second was conceived? Dovetailing with the problem that with which we concluded the first section, it is further asked to what extent a radical social transformation (of "second nature") might also entail a radical transformation of the natural world. 

In section three of the essay, I explore the binary opposition of Nature and Culture through the lens of the structuralist anthropology of Lévi-Strauss. It also touches on the various ways in which the antithesis between the two terms has been denied, deconstructed, and dissolved by trying to assimilate one term to the other. In the end, it concludes that the opposition must be affirmed as an historical reality, though the antithesis must not be thought to be unbridgeable or indissoluble. The synchronic dialectical approach of structuralist linguistics and anthropology fails to capture the historical dimension of the opposition. It cannot recognize that this is an opposition that has come into being, and could just as easily pass into nothing. The diachronic dialectical approach of historical materialism is able to comprehend the problem as one which arose out of very definite historical conditions, and which has been exacerbated to such an extent under capitalism that it first presents itself as a problem to humanity. 

Finally, the fourth section of the essay undertakes a radical Marxist critique of the contemporary environmental movement. It breaks the Green movement into its main constituent parts so as to focus on each element in its individuality, as well as draw overarching themes that unite them all. It starts with a critical examination of the "go organic" and "buy fresh, buy local" locavore and urban agriculturalist tendencies, and then moves on to an analysis of the reification of Nature inherent in the deep ecology and permaculture currents. From there, the lifestyle politics of veganism, freeganism, and raw foodism is subjected to a devastating critique, topped off by a fierce polemic against the ecofeminist position. 

After taking a look at some of the more militant strains of eco-activism in the Green anarchist and anarcho-primitivist movements, the essay offers a final section assessing the results of the critique and exploring the prospects for a Marxist alternative. It concludes that the radical social transformation called for by Marxism must simultaneously involve a radical transformation of nature as it presently exists. Nature should not be seen as some sort of inviolable entity to be left untouched by human instrumentalization, but should rather come to be seen as an extension of the will of mankind. Only in this way can the alienation between man and nature be finally overcome. 

You can read the full essay on my blog, the charnal-house. Any comments or criticisms would be welcome, as well as any sort of feedback, positive or negative.

Dissatisfaction with Adorno Revisited

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I've had the skeleton of a blog post hanging around for a while now, and I thought it'd be a waste to just let it sit on my desktop collecting dust until I tired of looking at it and threw it in the trash bin. Part of the reason I never completed it was that I had trouble working my head around the argument, so I've just decided to flesh it out as best I can and release it into the forum. After writing my final paper on Adorno, I found some of the questions in class worth a second visit.

Many in class had expressed frustration with Adorno for his critique of ontology, which at times reads as hollow description and seemingly disallows any positive project. Given that all systems of thought are inherently flawed and do violence to immediate experience with imperfect conceptualization, any striving towards an ideal posited by an ontology that champions some concepts over others would seem to be a frustrating, and fruitless (if that fruit be some 'better life') ordeal by Adorno's account.

Joe pointed out a few times towards the end of our Adorno reading that the whole project of Critical Theory ended up feeling a lot like an ontology itself. Benjamin describes the driving force behind historical materialism in theses on the philosophy of history as enlisting "the services of theology"(Illuminations, 253). Over the course of this aphoristic essay Benjamin outlines and refers to a theoretical structure that for him is the basis for historical materialism. Adorno is critical of Benjamin on a number of points, and this could be another instance of where the two philosophers differ and where Benjamin differs from the core of the Frankfurt School.

Adorno says that any ontology will be flawed, that the problem is the nature of people to strive for absolute knowledge that is impossible to reach. The point, though, does not become to dogmatically reject all ontology--rejecting society and taking up life as a hermit who does things differently every day until the realization dawns that this too is ontology of doing things differently every day and so one must find a way to do things differently every day whilst at the same time not doing things differently everyday for the sake of doing them differently everyday. I'll allow Adorno to explain.
 
In criticizing ontology we do not aim at another ontology, not even at one of being nonontological. If that were our purpose we would be merely positing another downright 'first'--not absolute identity, this time, not the concept, not Being, but nonidentity, facticity, entity. (Negative Dialectics, 136)

Adorno sees nonontological dogma to be as damaging as any other ontology, so where does that leave us?

A critique of the human need to erect metaphysical structures to understand our lives and the inherently flawed nature of any structure humanity could erect allows us to understand and come to terms with the frustrations of being flawed. It does not replace ontology, but critiques it so as to show the limitations of searching for some perfect system. A more mature understanding of thought is to realize that part of the reason humanity has such a hard time piecing everything together is that not only is our tool (enlightenment) fundamentally flawed, but that thought itself is imperfect. Adorno's circumscription of human ability to reason is akin to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason in that they both highlight the negative space of the mind.

From this perspective, viewing things from the standpoint of redemption would be the ability to see human reasoning capacity as something broken, made incomplete by its fall from paradise (imagined or actual, though that's irrelevant). Adorno's critique would be a kind of running of hands over the surface of the broken monad of human thought, feeling for the deep cracks and missing bits from a rubble heap that he imagines as having once been a pure sphere, free of imperfections of any kind.

Final Thoughts

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I think the notion of determinant negation is really interesting. I'm surprised it didn't come up more this semester. What does everyone think about determinant negation and aura? Could criticism of an artwork, for example, draw forth some inferences of an ideology yet unseen?

Epistemic process was something I brought up in class, I think that it is the palmary reason that a rational discourse on technology matters. Technology literally changes how and why we think. This is not to say we should give up striving for self-improvement and betterment, or resign ourselves to a life governed by technology. Marcuse states that "..the technological attitude rather seems to imply the opposite of resignation". (48) Anyone who's ever forgotten their cell phone at home knows the feeling of disconnection and "something missing" that is a symptom of a life controlled, to some extent, by the technology we surround ourselves with. If one feels obligated to check their facebook, email and twitter accounts once a day (or more?), is it humans that are in control or the technology that is in control? What would Marcuse say? What are your thoughts?

This also brings up the "wants vs. needs", abundance vs. scarcity, individuality vs. conformity concepts that were discussed. I wonder how the idea of "collectivism" would fit in. Marcuse states that "..collectivism consists in that it equips the whole society with the traditional properties of the individual." (62)   

Anyway, I'd like to thank Prof. Long and everyone for a great semester, and all the interesting conversation we had in class. Have a great break!

Theses on the Philosophy of History, The Future of Our World and Angels and Airwaves

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Last week in class we discussed Benjamin's Theses on the Philosophy of History, and there were a couple of points we had discussed and thought were interesting, namely regarding 'cultural treasures'.

 

"'Few will be able to guess how sad one had to be in order to resuscitate Carthage.' The nature of this sadness stands out more clearly if one asks with whom the adherents of historicism actually empathize. The answer is inevitable: with the victor." "Whoever has emerged victorious participates to this day in the triumphal procession in which the present rulers step over those who are lying prostrate. According to traditional practice, the spoils are carried along in the procession. They are called cultural treasures, and a historical materialist views them with cautious detachment." (Benjamin, 256)

 

Benjamin brings up an interesting point which seems to go neglected, history is written by the victor. With this understanding it becomes clear just how true the axiom "the pen is mightier than the sword" is. There is a certain level of trust that is engrained into students that you can trust the history books. There seems to be almost a strange ignorance in our culture through which this works, in the sense that it seems to not even cross the mind of most that history books were written by someone, and that someone had motives. Truly this may sound like a skeptical way to view history, and I will admit it is to some degree, though a level of skepticism is needed when reviewing an account of a happening. When I was younger my dad asked me what I had learned in school and I told him something about George Washington and his upbringing and how he and the founding fathers led us to freedom. Then he asked me how I knew that that was true, and I told him I knew because I learned it in school. Then he asked me if any of them were there? I said that that was silly, of course they could not have been. So he asked me how they knew that what 'happened' actually happened, and even if they did how would I know if they were telling the truth?

 

There are not many things we can be certain of about history, but we can be near certain that no one living in this day and age was around for events which occurred even but a few hundred years ago. As a result we end up trusting that someone, we do not know who, has kept an accurate account of the goings on of that time. However, people often cannot provide an accurate account of the going's on of this day and age. The benefit of our time is that we can cross reference accounts of present events. By reviewing news reports from many countries, journalists and the accounts of individuals who experienced an event we may form an amalgam of facts which provided a clearer account, something which we cannot do for the past. This leads us to question just what really happened to allow the stories of today to be told.

 

He goes on to note, "There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism." (Benjamin, 256) Does this mean that we cannot create a civilization without harming others? Certainly it's a trend. Seeking religious freedom and free thought, the Protestants of England journeyed to the New World, along with many other countries colonization programs. As chance would have it, they (English colonists) were the most effective at destroying the culture of the native peoples of this land as well as driving out the opposition. However, our history books view this as the triumph of the good freedom loving American colonists over the evil oppressive English. Out of a movement for 'freedom' came the oppression of thousands of Native Peoples, Africans who were traded into slavery, and the exploitation of the Irish, Polish, German and Chinese immigrants.

 

I think however that there is some hope for the world. If people could stop seeing themselves as separate but rather smaller parts of a greater whole, hopefully they could learn to assist instead of impede each other. As we've discussed in class, the impact of competition on the human psyche has led to a singular autonomous individual which is only out for their interests. However if this concept could be replaced by one of the advancement of ones goals through the assisting of others, this may allow for a more productive and healthy society. This doesn't mean throw aside cultural identity and become a single identity people, but rather to simply begin to look at the other nations as organs of the world culture which we are a part of, all of which ensure its function.

 

Can something like a peaceful and productive society be born out of non-violent means? I'm not sure, and while I have my own opinions on the matter, I open this question up to all of you; I would like to hear what you all think.

 

 

Some AvA for the end of the semester. (All rights belong to Angels and Airwaves and Tom Delonge, I am referencing the media for educational purposes.)

Take Care, Be Well.

I Heart Critical Theory

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Dr. Long said something in class today about rebelling against the system around us, which is our entire world and context, as being to a certain extent hard to differentiate as an outsider from a kind of insanity. In I Heart Huckabees, one of my all-time favorite movies, Naomi Watts' character has a metaphysical breakthrough through which she changes her entire behavior in an earnest effort to communicate a spiritual message that resonates through her. Problem is, she's Huckabee's commercial spokesmodel, and her new persona does not fit the bill... Here is the clip is below:



I came into the blogosphere skeptical and a little frightened, but it's been great fun and I've enjoyed reading everyone's posts. I'll miss this little public sphere of ours.

Have a good break everyone,
Sam

Frankfurt School and Its Critics

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Frankfurt School and Its Critics by Tom Bottomore
http://books.google.com/books?id=M0aZfbE_DLIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Criticisms+of+the+Frankfurt+School&source=bl&ots=MEXglNwrDi&sig=DOiDaki3sZPz-D79Uhol8aXZmmA&hl=en&ei=gRoATafmDYOdlgerheD-CA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CEsQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=Criticisms%20of%20the%20Frankfurt%20School&f=false

Summary of Criticisms of the Frankfurt School: 
-Tendency to totalize systematic historical movements.
-Elitist
-Reductionist
-"Bourgeosie" Idealism (What Lukacs termed the "Grand Hotel Abyss")
-Too Pessimistic; Unrevoltionary

This is but a small compendium of criticisms.

Do I agree with these? For the most part no, but there is something to one or two of these criticisms as Joe highlighted in class today...Hmm, What do you guys think?
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Mathematization of Marketing (exemplifies Marcuse's skepticism)

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http://www.loyaltybuilders.com/predictive-analytics/mathematization-marketing


Written by Mark Klien..Here's an excerpt...


"As word spread of my teleconference for Marketing 2.0 (see previous post), an interesting contrarian opinion appeared in my mailbox. Evidently there was something in the meeting notice to cause a reader to suspect that using mathematics to describe behavior could have negative consequences. He wrote "Is it just me, or do others also wonder where this mathematization of social relationships is leading humankind?"....

 

READ ON!!!

Marcuse on Frankfurt School

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pzfy2izu44

Watch all the sections, very interesting!!!!!

Marcuse and Mumford: Social Implications of Modern Technology

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Marcuse's "Some Social Implications of Modern Technology" is a pithy but felicitous treatment of man's relationship with the progeny of enlightenment. By that I mean, the birth of modern technology (i.e. the incipience of electromagnetism from the creative genius  of James Clerk Maxwell and  Michael Faraday) and its mathemization  of rationality, ossifying social relations by robbing humans of any real autonomy. Marcuse critique is poignant as it highlights even the extent to which social conditions of material need have been "technified"--one can readily allude to the mechanistic relationships of supply and demand, and the reduction of human ethics to the transactional sphere.  Marcuse defines technology as transcendent of the "technical apparatus", borrowing from the nomenclature of technology historian and philosopher Lewis Mumford by calling these apparatuses "technics." The relationship between man and technology is so deeply entangling that the mechanistic protocols necessitated by "tecnics" creates an oppressive "technological rationality" (Marcuse 3). Much like the historical approach of Habermas, Marcuse looks back on the intellectual ethos of the 16th and 17th century and highlights a "individualistic rationality", juxtaposing it with the 20th century's "technological rationality." Individualism was predicated on a radical autonomy of specific interests (self-interest), whereas technology renders this autonomy anonymous, or better yet, heteronymous. Technological rationality is fundamentally instrumental and the critical protest (the literary-public sphere as it were) of individualism is deemed irrational. The rise of empiricism, or more aptly empirical rationality, defines the logos of modern social relations: it fetishizes reason by mathematizing truth, ergo humans lose all sense of nuance of a thought--a trademark of autonomy. Marcuse's treatment of the individual is fascinating to say the least. The rise of the camera, allowing humans to see themselves as part of a crown, aestheticizes human conformity, and exemplifies the objectification of man. If men are interchangeable, then instead of being viewed as beings of unique predilections and value-systems, men are reduced to the "standardized subject of brute self-preservation", and even in the work force he is impotent. Given this rise of mechanization, it is fitting that even the intellect cannot escape this commoditization. In the workforce professions are specialized, thus a person is reduced to one of several replaceable wheels in a long train. A corollary of Marcuse's argument against standardization is that it helps perpetuate competition, further distancing human relations and mechanizing the interactions between people by making them see each other as adversaries in the struggle for employment (Tea Party anyone?). Lewis Mumford's Technics and Civilization helps contextualize Marcuse's fundamental ideas.  Using the broader definition tekhne, its Greek etymology denoting art, dexterity, and/or skill, technics alludes to the nexus of a cultural milieu deeply dependent on technological innovation. Differing from Marcuse in this sense, Mumford bifurcates the intrinsic value of technology between: polytechnic (denoting different modes of technology which provide an intricate framework to solving human problems) and monotechnic (denoting technology for its own sake; these dominate human beings and move along their own trajectory). The common ground between Mumford and Marcuse is seen in a passage in Technics and Civilization wherein Mumford argues that certain technics diminish "psychological barriers" against the end result of their actions (a bit of a play on Kantian Deontology). Thus the rise of Fascism and, in particular the sadistic work of Adolf Eichmann (a man he refers to as logician) exemplifies this ghastly dissolution of human ethics in the face of technics. So deeply insidious is this force, Mumford terms megamachines "Eichmanns." Technics destroy human autonomy by creating wider spatial barriers between humans. After all, in pre-technic epochs to kill a man was generally to be in close proximity to him and even in the face of death recognize him as being. In an era of modern warfare where to drop a bomb is an anonymous act, an act of maniacal distancing yet greatly efficient and infinitely destructive, humans cease to recognize other humans are sentient autonomous subjects--that is, with names and favorite colors--and instead as mere statistic. Marcuse argues similarly that the "Third Reich is indeed a form of 'technocracy': the technical considerations of imperialistic efficiency and rationality supersedes the traditional standards of profitability and general welfare." (Marcuse 1) From the delirious manipulations of Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the WIll to the sadistic mechanical efficiencies of the gas chambers and death trains, Marcuse aptly points out the primacy of technics in the unpropitious debasement of humanity. To say humans are objectified in modernity is lose the point; humans are invisible, we no longer exist. The gratuities of modern violence and the oppressions unique in the instantaneity, with which they happen, can all be traced to a technological genesis. Mumford's point is akin to Marcuse's: humans were violent before technology and will always be, but technics allow men to carry out destruction on a scale hitherto unseen. His separation of the various technological epochs is also quite useful in tracing the genesis of this destruction of autonomy, paraphrase Marcuse. The first phase (AD 1000 to 1800) is definied as the Eotechnic Phase, which began with the mechanization of time, that is, with the clock. The clock is the most important technic to capitalism because in its creation humans realized that they could control time, and by this they could control the way in which we temporalize human activities and relations. In the creation of the clock time became fungible and thus transferable insofar as it imbued time with a use-value (i.e. hence the cliché "time is money"). Mumford's second era of technology is the Paleotechnic Phase which he deems the "upthrust into barbarism." This era is looked upon with a nefarious eye because in this age (roughly 1700-1900, unsurprisingly the era of Marx) labor becomes commoditized. Thus vocations become repetitive acts of machinism (the understanding of how to operate a machine) as opposed to requiring a liberal panoply of creative intellectual skill-sets.  In this age we witness the rise of urban squalor. Lastly, Mumford outlines the Neotechnic Phase (approx. 1900 to the mid 1900s), and differing greatly from Marcuse in this respect, argues that this era is dominated by learned men of science and innovation as opposed to the previous phase of rigid machinism, where operating machines need not mean understanding the logic behind their functioning. In this age technics are atomized, and the socio-material world is compressed--smaller apparatuses, shorter distances to travel due to mechanized vehicles. 

Marcuse, the Highway, and Autonomy

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As we have covered in class previously, in Eros and Civilization Marcuse makes a distinction between surplus and basic repression.  That is, repression that is necessary for domination and repression which is necessary for humans to live in society (Eros and Civilization, 35).  However, it seems that in our reading for today Marcuse takes a different view.  In this essay he seems to lean, in "Some Social Implications of Modern Technology" more towards the position taken by Horkheimer and Adorno whereby we are always inescapably dominated by the systems in which we exist.   In particular I am thinking of Marcuse's discussion of the matter-of-fact attitude.  Marcuse states (referencing Lewis Mumford) that in the machine age

 

Man [can be characterized] as an 'objective personality,' one who has learned to transfer all subjective spontaneity to the machinery which he serves, to subordinate his life to the 'matter-of-factness' of a world in which the machine is the factor and he the factum.  Individual distinctions in the aptitude, insight and knowledge are transformed into different quanta of skill and training, to be coordinated at any time within the common framework of standardized performances. (Social Implications, 44)

 

Marcuse argues that the rise of modern technology causes human thought to become standardized and mechanized.  That is to say, creativity gives way to coordination of thought with pre-established procedures.  Thinking then seems to be transformed in to certain "skills and training" which are in line with these given ends.  Marcuse provides an example when he talks about what one experiences when he or she drives on the highway.  The following are some statements which he makes with regards to this point, each of which comes from page 46 from the "Some Social Implications" essay.

 

[1] The countryside is shaped and organized by the highway: what one finds en route is a byproduct or annex of the highway.  Numerous signs and posters tell the traveler what to do and think; they even request his attention to the beauties of nature or the hallmarks of history.  Others have done the thinking for him, and perhaps for the better.

 

[2] And all of this is indeed for his benefit, safety and comfort; he receives what he wants... He will fare best who follows its directions, subordinating his spontaneity to the anonymous wisdom which ordered everything for him.

 

[3] There is no personal escape from the apparatus which has mechanized and standardized the world.

 

[4]In manipulating the machine, man learns that obedience to the directions is the only way to obtain desired results... There is no room for autonomy.

 

I think these statements bring out a certain ambivalence which I find difficult to place.  In [1] he seems to affirm that highway signs are an example of something affects our actions deterministically, while also suggesting that this is a good thing.  This can be seen also in [2] where he posits that such determination of our action is for the benefit of our "safety and comfort."  However, in [3] and [4] he seems much more pessimistic stating there is "no escape from the apparatus" and the even more radical statement that "there is no room for autonomy."  In these passages this man seems to be a victim of the inescapable domination of the patriarchal highway system which dictates his route.  My question is which of these groups of statements ([1] and [2], or [3] and [4]) should we take as more seriously espousing his view.  [1] and [2] are more in line with what we saw in Eros and Civilization where we need some "basic repression" to ensure that society runs smoothly.  However, [3] and [4] seem to suggest a view closer to that of Horkheimer and Adorno, that we are inescapably trapped by the system we participate in.

                I think interpretation of these statements requires knowing (i) how serious is Marcuse when he says that, in the "Social Implications" essay, these types of repression are beneficial and (ii) what is meant by autonomy.  With regard to (i), if Marcuse is being serious when he speaks of these benefits then that would be in accordance with his view in Eros and Civilization.  However, reading him in this way is difficult given the amount of time he spends in this essay talking about how such restrictions remove even the possibility for autonomy (which presumably is a good thing, although Marcuse could avoid the issue if he then stated that nothing is wrong with having no freedom).  Therefore, it may also be possible to think he is being ironic with this statement.  That he is pointing out the fact that we think such systems are beneficial, but are not generally cognizant of their dominating effects.  If that is the case then it leads us to concern (ii).  We need to wonder what sort of notion of freedom, or agency, that Marcuse is working with.  If it really is the case that he thinks the highway system is an example of something which eliminates autonomy, then I think his notion of agency is fundamentally flawed.  First, assuming that he is not trying to enter the more general debate of free will/determinism which I don't believe he is, the account is factually flawed.  One can drive off of the highway, or subvert any traffic rule, at any time.  This is not to say that such actions can be performed without consequence; however, we need to keep in mind that [4] makes an extremely strong claim.  He states that "there is no room for autonomy."  Thus, despite the fact that one may face legal consequences for refusing to following the rules of the road the choice is still present, and as such there actually is some autonomy (again, assuming he is not concerning himself with the more general free will debate). 

                Secondly, I would find such an account flawed because it seems to distort the very purpose of autonomy in the first place.  Generally, we do not wish to be free so that we can perform actions which will harm us, or make our lives unnecessarily difficult.  Even if it was the case that the highway system necessarily prevented someone from taking an alternative route, what would be one's motivation for doing so?  It seems strange to lament a highway system which allows one to pass easily through a mountain range, without having to expend arduous labor in climbing over it.  The larger point here is that for a coherent theory of agency (one in which the agent has some orientation and does not just act arbitrarily) the actor needs some context which guides his or her action and thought.  An agent which is deprived of all context of choice cannot compare one option to another, cannot weigh costs and benefits, and in effect cannot actually make a decision.  However we would describe such an actor it does not seem that we could describe him or her as autonomous.  This is not to say that every system provides for agency in a beneficial way, or that there are not ways in which these systems restrict our autonomy.  I would point us to Freud when he noted that advances of modern technology often restrict us in ways which we did not foresee or intend, or Habermas who claimed the welfare state, while intended to restrict capitalism, actually upholds it.  The point is rather that the extreme view that all such systems eliminate the possibility for autonomy seems incoherent.

                Whether or not Marcuse holds this extreme view I cannot be sure, because as I have stated he seems ambivalent with regards to this point.  Certainly, it is reasonable, even perhaps obvious, that social structures affect human thought.  The rise of modern technology shapes the manner in which we interact with the world in constantly evolving ways.  However, in agreeing with this claim I am never sure exactly what I am assenting to.  As I said it seems obvious that technology and social structures shape the way we think, but it does not seem to follow from this claim that autonomy is impossible.

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