Category: 20th Century Philosophy

Heinz von Foerster: Ethics and Second-Order Cybernetics. 1990

The following text is a keynote address Heinz von Foerster gave at the “International Conference on Systems and Family Therapy — Ethics, Epistemology, New Methods”, which took place in Paris in 1990. Introduction Ladies and Gentlemen: I am touched by the generosity of the organizers of this conference, who not only invited me to come to your glorious city of Paris, but also gave me the honor of opening the plenary sessions with my presentation.[1] And I am impressed by the ingenuity of our organizers, who suggested to me the title of my presentation. They wanted me to address myself...

Erich Fromm: Human Nature and Social Theory. 1969

The following letter Erich Fromm wrote in 1969 to the Russian philosopher Vladimir Dobrenkov shows his interest in connecting with socialist thinkers and to discuss with them his reception of Marx and his understanding of socialism. Dobrenkov wanted to write a book on Fromm and therefore started a correspondence with him. Fromm tried to clarify many topics Dobrenkov misunderstood. But Fromm’s clarifications did not have much effect on Dobrenkov’s book “Neo-Freudians in Search of Truth. (Published in many languages in the seventies. Moskau: Progress Publishers). This letter is a summary of Fromm’s concept of man and society; it shows Fromm’s understanding...

Roland Barthes: Elements of Semiology (1964)

Source: Elements of Semiology, 1964, publ. Hill and Wang, 1968. The first half of the book is reproduced here. INTRODUCTION In his Course in General Linguistics, first published in 1916, Saussure postulated the existence of a general science of signs, or Semiology, of which linguistics would form only one part. Semiology therefore aims to take in any system of signs, whatever their substance and limits; images, gestures, musical sounds, objects, and the complex associations of all these, which form the content of ritual, convention or public entertainment: these constitute, if not languages, at least systems of signification. There is no doubt that the development...

Michel Foucault: Madness and Civilization. 1961

The book [easyazon_link identifier=”067972110X” locale=”US” tag=”mainacademicsite-20″]Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason[/easyazon_link], written by Michel Foucault in 1961, is a classic in 20th century Continental philosophy. It offers a sharp historical analysis of the relations between rationality and mental disorder. The book marks a turning from phenomenological method towards structuralism: the change in the relationship between madness and rationality is driven by powerful social structures. The person with the mental disorder is seen as “the other,” and the attempts to dialog and understand the person affected by the disease are increasingly replaced by a monolog of...

Erich Fromm: Mechanisms of Escape from Freedom (1942)

The following passages are from Chapter V of [easyazon_link identifier=”0415253888″ locale=”US” tag=”mainacademicsite-20″]Fear of Freedom[/easyazon_link]Fear from Freedom. Erich Fromm explores and presents the psychological and social mechanisms that lead an individual to be afraid of freedom and to prefer to give it up. They appear as the tendency to be led by a “superior” power and/or to behave like a social automaton conforming to a role assigned to him by others or by circumstances. And there is also the drive to destructiveness (towards others or towards himself) when the feeling of powerlessness is overwhelming. It is interesting that in all of...

Max Horkheimer: Theism and Atheism. 1963

Source: [easyazon_link identifier=”178168023X” locale=”US” tag=”mainacademicsite-20″]Critique of Instrumental Reason. Max Horkheimer.[/easyazon_link] Published by Continuum 1974. Crimes committed in the name of God are a recurrent theme in the history of Christian Europe. The ancients practiced torture and murder in war, on slaves (who were supplied by the wars) and as a form of entertainment: the circenses. But in spiritual matters the emperors were relatively tolerant. If the Christians were singled out as scapegoats, it was because they did not yet at that time place the state above all else and still recognized something higher than the empire. But since Constantine in...

Max Horkheimer: The Social Function of Philosophy. 1939

Written: in English in 1939; Source: [easyazon_link identifier=”0826400833″ locale=”US” tag=”mainacademicsite-20″]Critical Theory. Selected Essays Max Horkheimer[/easyazon_link], published by Continuum 1982; WHEN the words physics, chemistry, medicine, or history are mentioned in a conversation, the participants usually have something very definite in mind. Should any difference of opinion arise, we could consult an encyclopedia or accepted textbook or turn to one or more outstanding specialists in the field in question. The definition of any one of these sciences derives immediately from its place in present-day society. Though these sciences may make the greatest advances in the future, though it is even conceivable...

The Frankfurt School

The “Frankfurt School” refers to a group of German theorists who developed powerful analyses of the changes in Western capitalist societies that occurred since the classical theory of Marx. Working at the Institut fur Sozialforschung in Frankfurt, Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s, theorists such as Max Horkheimer, T.W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse, Leo Lowenthal, and Erich Fromm produced some of the first accounts within critical social theory of the importance of mass culture and communication in social reproduction and domination. The Frankfurt School also generated a critical cultural studies program that analyzes the processes of cultural production...

Erich Fromm: Humanistic Ethics (1947)

If we do not abandon, as ethical relativism does, the search for objectively valid norms of conduct, what criteria for such norms can we find? The kind of criteria depends on the type of ethical system – the norms of which we study. By necessity, the criteria in authoritarian ethics are fundamentally different from those in humanistic ethics.

In authoritarian ethics an authority states what is good for man and lays down the laws and norms of conduct; in humanistic ethics man himself is both the norm giver and the subject of the norms, their formal source or regulative agency and their subject matter.

Theodor Adorno: Minima Moralia. Part III, 1947

Avalanche, veux-tu m’emporter dans ta chute? French: Avalanche, won’t you carry me away in your fall? Baudelaire 101 Hothouse plant. – The talk of early or late development, seldom free of the death-wish for the former, is not binding. Whoever develops early, lives in anticipation. Their experience is an a prioristic, intuitive sensibility, which gropes in pictures and words for what is later redeemed in things and human beings. Such anticipation, satiated in itself, as it were, turns away from the external world and lends the color of something neurotically playful to the relationship to the latter. If early developers...

Theodor Adorno: Minima Moralia. Part II, 1945

Where everything is bad it must be good to know the worst. – F.H. Bradley 51 Behind the mirror. First word of caution for authors: check every text, every fragment, and every line to see if the central motif presents itself clearly enough. Whoever wants to express something, is so carried away that they are driven along, without reflecting on such. One is too close to the intention, “in thought,” and forgets to say, what one wants to say. No improvement is too small or piddling to be carried out. Out of a hundred changes, a single one may appear...

Theodor Adorno: Minima Moralia. Part 1, 1944

Dedication The melancholy science, from which I make this offering to my friend, relates to a realm which has counted, since time immemorial, as the authentic one of philosophy, but which has, since its transformation into method, fallen prey to intellectual disrespect, sententious caprice and in the end forgetfulness: the teaching of the good life. What philosophy once called life, has turned into the sphere of the private and then merely of consumption, which is dragged along as an addendum of the material production-process, without autonomy and without its own substance. Whoever wishes to experience the truth of immediate life,...

Jacques Maritain: Man and the State (1951)

The State is not the supreme incarnation of the Idea, as Hegel believed; the State is not a kind of collective superman; the State is but an agency entitled to use power and coercion, and made up of experts or specialists in public order and welfare, an instrument in the service of man. Putting man at the service of that instrument is political perversion. The human person as an individual is for the body politic and the body politic is for the human person as a person. But man is by no means for the State. The State is for man.

Philosophy in the 20th Century

20th Century philosophy has been dominated to a great extent by the rivalry between two very general philosophical traditions, Analytic Philosophy (the largely, although not exclusively, anglophone mindset that philosophy should apply logical techniques and be consistent with modern science) and Continental Philosophy (really just a catch-all label for everything else, mainly based in mainland Europe, and which, in very general terms, rejects Scientism and tends towards Historicism). An important precursor of the Analytic Philosophy tradition was the Logicism developed during the late 19th Century by Gottlob Frege. Logicism sought to show that some, or even all, of mathematics was...

Levinas: Ethics as First Philosophy (1984)

This essay was published for the first time in “Justifications de l’Ethique” (Bruxelles: Editions de l’Universite de Bruxelles), 1984, pp. 41 – 51. I am quoting here from the English translation in “[easyazon_link identifier=”0631164472″ locale=”US” tag=”mainacademicsite-20″]The Levinas Reader[/easyazon_link],” edited by Sean Hand, 1989, p. 76. Ethics as First Philosophy’ is a clear and powerful summary of Levinas’s methodical and yet radical move away from Husserl’s transcendental idealism and Heidegger’s hermeneutics towards the ethical question of the meaning of being, as we encounter it in the face-to-face relation. Beginning with the phenomenological legacy which reveals knowledge as built on an intentionality...

Debate on the Existence of God – 1948.

Father Frederick C. Copleston (Jesuit Catholic priest) versus Bertrand Russell (agnostic philosopher.) (The portion on “Contingency” is slightly edited.) This debate was a Third Program broadcast of the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1948. It was reprinted in several sources. Summary Copleston put forward his argument which concentrates simply on contingency. There are things in the universe which are contingent – that is there was a time when they did not exist, e.g. you and me. Everything in the world is like this. Nothing in the world contains within itself the reason for its own existence – nothing is self-explanatory. The...

Truth, Power, Self: Interview with Michel Foucault.

What I have studied are the three traditional problems:

What are the relations we have to truth through scientific knowledge, to those “truth games” which are so important in civilization and in which we are both subject and objects?
What are the relationships we have to others through those strange strategies and power relationships? And
what are the relationships between truth, power, and self?

Michel Foucault: “What is Enlightenment?”

What is Enlightenment? This is a question that modern philosophy has not been capable of answering, but that it has never managed to get rid of, either. And one that has been repeated in various forms for two centuries now. From Hegel through Nietzsche or Max Weber to Horkheimer or Habermas, hardly any philosophy has failed to confront this same question, directly or indirectly. What, then, is this event that is called the Aufklärung?

Michel Foucault: Key Concepts

 This page offers brief definitions of some of the key concepts in Foucault’s work. It is adapted from Michel-Foucault.com, maintained by Claire O’Farrell. apparatus (dispositif) Foucault generally uses this term to indicate the various institutional, physical and administrative mechanisms and knowledge structures, which enhance and maintain the exercise of power within the social body. The original French term dispositif is rendered variously as ‘dispositif’, ‘apparatus’ and ‘deployment’ in English translations of Foucault’s work archaeology ‘Archaeology’ is the term Foucault used during the 1960s to describe his approach to writing history. Archaeology is about examining the discursive traces and orders left by the...

Louis Althusser: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

In: Louis Althusser, “Lenin and Philosophy” and Other Essays. 1970 First published: in La Pensée, 1970. Translated: from the French by Ben Brewster; Source: Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, Monthly Review Press 1971. On the Reproduction of the Conditions of Production I must now expose more fully something which was briefly glimpsed in my analysis when I spoke of the necessity to renew the means of production if production is to be possible. That was a passing hint. Now I shall consider it for itself. As Marx said, every child knows that a social formation which did not reproduce the...