Commentary on Political Economy

Saturday 28 March 2015

Freedom Between Materialism and Idealism

In our last intervention we saw how the radical critique of the Western notion of Freedom has led to “the retreat of Truth” and to the demise of the Subject in favour of the recognition of “necessity” as the expression of the Will to Power. Our aim throughout is to expose this Will to Power behind the entire political enterprise that capitalism imposes on humanity under the guise of “Science and Technology”. Capitalism in its political expression as liberalism thrives on the neat separation of the sphere of necessity – that of science, and most preeminently “the dismal science” or “science of choice” called economics –and the sphere of freedom or “public opinion” which can be preserved if and only if “economic science” is allowed to govern every human society “rationally”, that is, according to its dictates.


The inconsistency between the strict determinism of “economic science” and the loose irrationalism of public opinion, of the human spirit and the liberal arts, is something that the bourgeoisie is quite happy to overlook because, on one hand, it is keen to defend its exploitative rule as “scientific” whilst, on the other hand, it wishes to promote its oppressive rule as the only way in which “freedom of expression” can be preserved. The liberal State serves this specific role as Police – as an instrument that allows the co-existence of a dictatorial workplace in a “free society”.


What we are doing here is to present a third way, an immanentist theory of the human self and society, between the scientism of capitalist industrial production and the liberalism of capitalist mass consumption.


The whole pyramidal structure from perception to conception, from intuition to the intellect and reason, from conduction to deduction, has no other aim than to explain how it is possible for human beings “to share perceptions as knowledge” (Heidegger, Kantbuch, quoted in my “The Philosophy of the Flesh”)! It is the claim to scientificity of this “crystallisation” of symbolic interaction that Nietzsche shattered by exposing its con-ventionality. And it is instructive to see how Benedetto Croce deals with this critique in the Logica. Having already tersely lampooned the “aestheticist” critique of “pure concepts” which denies their validity and existence in favour of sensuous “experience” and activity such as the artistic, and then the “mystical” critique which, like Wittgenstein’s, insists that what is truly worthwhile is what cannot be spoken of, Croce then turns to the “arbitrary” or “empiricist” critique (which surely must count Nietzsche among its proponents):


C’e’ (essi dicono) qualcosa di la’ dalla mera rappresentazione, e questo qualcosa e’ un atto di volonta’, che soddisfa l’esigenza dell’universale con l’elaborare le rappresentazioni singole in schemi generali o simboli, privi di realta’ ma comodi, finti ma utili,” (‘Logica’, p10).


There is, they say, something that goes beyond mere representation, and this something is an act of will that serves the function of universals by elaborating the particulars or single representing into general schemes or symbols deprived of all reality but yet functional, - false yet useful.


Croce does not accept that concepts are “conventions” or, as he prefers to call them on behalf of the critics, “fictions”. As proof of the erroneity of this “critique”, Croce enlists the “tu quoque”; in other words, this “arbitrarist” critique of logic and pure concepts is itself a logical argument based on concepts – and therefore it is either equally false like all logic, or else it must claim validity on logical grounds, and thence confirm the validity of “its” concepts, and therefore the validity of “conceptual reality” in any case (see Logica, p12). What Croce fails to grasp is that, so far as Nietzsche is concerned, the “crystallization” critique does not deny the “reality” of concepts and still less their validity; indeed, if anything, it highlights and warns their validity, against their “effectuality”. But this “effectuality” is made possible not by their “transcendental” or “pure” status – as “timeless truths”, for instance – but rather by their “immanent” status, by their “instrumental” character as “an act of will”. Not the “innateness” of these concepts, not their “truth”, but their “instrumentality” is what matters – not Augustine’s “in interiore homine habitat veritas” (cited and discussed by Merleau-Ponty in ‘Phenom.ofPerception’, at p.xi) but the content of the act of perception is what constitutes “life and the world” for us. Earlier, Croce had emphasized the “active” side of concepts as human representations of intuited reality – privileging yet again the “spiritual” nature of “concepts” as dependent on intuition and experience yet “separate” from it.


Il soddisfacimento e’ dato dalla forma non piu’ meramente rappresentativa ma logica del conoscere, e si effettua in perpetuo, a ogni istante della vita dello spirito,” (p13).


Now, again, Croce draws a stark contrast between the two positions, his idealism and what he calls “scetticismo logico” (p8):


La conoscenza logica e’ qualcosa di la’ dalla semplice rappresentazione: questa e’ individualita’ e molteplicita’, quella l’universalita’ dell’individualita’, l’unita’ della molteplicita’; l’una intuizione, l’altra concetto; conoscere logicamente e’ conoscere l’universale o concetto. La negazione della logicita’ importa l’affermazione che non vi ha altra conoscenza se non quella rappresentativa (o sensibile come anche si suole dire), e che la conoscenza universale o concettuale e’ un’illusione: di la’ dalla semplice rappresentazione non vi sarebbe nulla di conoscibile, (pp7-8).


Logical knowledge is something beyond simple representation: the latter is individuality and multiplicity, the former is the universality of the particular instance….the former is intuition and the latter is concept….The negation of logic is tantamount to saying that there is no other knowledge than by mere representations and that universal knowledge is an illusion….


But this contrast is almost palpably fictitious, opposing high-sounding concepts in what is almost a play of words, and simply fails to tell us why and how concepts and representations differ ontologically. Croce ends up rehashing the Kantian Schematismus with the “pure concepts” of “beauty, finality, quantity and quality” and so forth whose content is furnished by “fictional concepts” such as universals (nouns) and abstract concepts like those of mathematics (cf. Logica, ch.2 at p18). But in fact, as we try to show here invoking the aid of Merleau-Ponty’s “phenomenology of perception”, neither of Croce’s “pre-suppositions of logical activity”, that is, intuition and language (see pp5-6 of Logica), is such that logical activity can be separated onto-logically from them. Croce insists that a concept must be “expressible” – whence the essentiality of language to it, no less than intuition or “representation”:


Se questo carattere dell’espressivita’ e’comune al concetto e alla rappresentazione, proprio del concetto e’ quello dell’universalita’, ossia della trascendenza rispetto alle singole rappresentazioni, onde nessuna….e’ mai in grado di adeguare il concetto. Tra l’individuale e l’universale non e’ ammissibile nulla di intermedio o di misto: o il singolo o il tutto… (Logica, pp.26-7).


No representation is ever capable of satisfying adequately the concept….Between the particular and the universal no mixture or intermediate stage is possible: either all or nothing….


We have here once again the Platonic chorismos, the Scholastic adaequatio, the Kantian noumenon, and the Fichtean hiatus irrationalis – in other words, that “antinomy” that requires a “leap” (trans-scendence) from experience to thought. Except that what Croce believes to identify as a “particular” is already and immanently identical with a “universal”: not only is a concrete experience already a universal, but so is a universal abstraction also a concrete experience! (The irrefutable proof of this reality – that there is no hic et nunc - is the greatest merit of Hegel’s great Preface to the Phenomenology.) Both are “representations” (cf. Croce’s contrary argument on pp.28-9). This is the basis of Schopenhauer’s critique of Kant’s separation of intuition from understanding and again from pure reason, in the sense that the Kantian “universal” is toto genere different from the particular and cannot therefore represent it separately in an ontological sense either as Sinn-gebende totality and Subject-ity, or else as causal cousins, as Ego-ity, as Subject! Croce’s own categorization of these notions is at p.42 of the Logica:


La profonda diversita’ tra concetti e pseudoconcetti [identified with “l’idea platonica” on p.41] suggeri’ (nel tempo in cui si solevano rappresentare le forme o gradi dello spirito come facolta’) la distinzione tra due facolta’ logiche, che si dissero Intelletto (o anche Intelletto astratto) e Ragione: alla prima delle quali si assegno’ l’ufficio di elaborare cio’ che ora chiamiamo pseudoconcetti, e alla seconda i concetti puri.


Evident in all this is Croce’s obstinacy in seeking to differentiate, however vainly, “thought” from “perception” or “representation” or “intuition”: - an effort that must remain vain because no onto-logical priority can be given to “thought” over “matter” and because indeed no “thought” is possible without perception and vice versa. A world without thought would be a world without life, and a world without life would not be a world at all! That is not to say that thought takes precedence ontologically over the world – because it is essential to the “world”; the two are “co-naturate”. For universals and particulars, for abstract thought and concrete intuition, to be able to enter into a practical real relation with each other, they must “participate” (Nicholas of Cusa’s “methexis”) in the same immanent reality! Indeed, it seems obvious to us that perception and thought are immanently connected: methexis replaces chorismos. Here is Merleau-Ponty:


The true Cogito does not define the subject’s existence in terms of the thought he has of existing and furthermore does not convert the indubitability of thought about the world, nor finally does it replace the world itself by the world as meaning. On the contrary it recognizes my thought itself as an inalienable fact, and does away with any kind of idealism in revealing me as 'being-in-the-world'. (PoP, p.xiii).


To seek the essence of perception is to declare that perception is, not presumed true, but defined as access to truth. So, if I now wanted, according to idealistic principles, to base this defacto self-evident truth, this irresistible belief, on some absolute self-evident truth, that is, on the absolute clarity which my thoughts have for me; if I tried to find in myself a creative thought which bodied forth the framework of the world or illumined it through and through, I should once more prove unfaithful to my experience of the world, and should be looking for what makes that experience possible instead of looking for what it is. The self-evidence of perception is not adequate thought or apodeictic self-evidence. The world is not what I think but what I live through [m.e.]. I am open to the world, I have no doubt that I am in communication with it, but I do not possess it; it is inexhaustible. 'There is a world', or rather: 'There is the world'; I can never completely account for this ever-reiterated assertion in my life. This facticity of the world is what constitutes the Weltlichkeit der Welt, what causes the world to be the world; just as the facticity of the cogito is not an imperfection in itself, but rather what assures me of my existence,” (PoP, pp.xvi-xvii).


Merleau-Ponty reiterates here the Nietzschean “vivo ergo cogito”, with the peccadillos that he refers to the “self-evident truth of perception” (what is truth if, as he immediately yet unwittingly corrects himself, it is not backed by “some absolute self-evident truth”?) and then the obvious reference to the ‘I’, the Husserlian “transcendental ego” or “subject”. Here is the “inverted Platonism” that Nietzsche was first to attempt – but only after he had lifted the veil of all the “Schleier-machers” (veil-makers), chief among them his own “educator”, Arthur Schopenhauer.

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