(Chapter One of Crisis Consciousness in Contemporary Philosophy)

by András Gedö

Crisis consciousness grips contemporary bourgeois philosophy in two senses: as an experience of the crisis of philosophy and as a reflection of the philosophy of crisis. While the various currents of bourgeois thinking differ considerably in describing the development and disease of philosophy and see the symptoms, origins, and essence of their own particular crisis differently, the awareness of crisis is common to logical and linguistic positivism, neo-pragmatism and phenomenology, critical rationalism and hermeneutic idealism. This awareness, therefore, presents the general frame for the many conflicting varieties of current bourgeois thought. [1] One sign of crisis—although superficial and partly misleading—is the "process of mutual alienation and growing lack of communication among philosophers." First the possibility of discussing differences of opinion and then even of understanding one another disappear, until finally, a situation arises in which there is not even "a connection of intention . . . between two philosophers. The one not only finds the other's statements and argumentation incomprehensible, but the other's type of approach and the reason for it become a riddle." Stegmüller, who looks at this process of disintegration from the inside, from the viewpoint of late-bourgeois philosophy, declares, not without resignation, that "this process can no longer be reversed." [2] However, this disintegration grows out of general features common to the various schools of contemporary bourgeois philosophy. In its totality, what Stegmüller describes as "the current philosophy" is drawn "into the whirlpool of the crisis of our culture." "Never before in history has there been as great and dominating a consciousness as today of the enigmatic and questionable quality of the world." [3]

The general disintegration of philosophy is exhibited in a number of ways: the aggressive "destruction" of classical bourgeois thinking and the consciousness of retrogression from it; [4] the many unfulfilled promises and unrealized programs; the


failure of the repeatedly proclaimed new "philosophical revolutions"; the emptiness and negative consequences of the "turns" and "shifts"; the uncertainty and doubtfulness of its principles; the mysterious connection between the spiritual "Magic Mountain"* of decadence and the events in the real world—always felt but never understood when seen from the "Magic Mountain"; the tension between the need to deny the existence of class struggle and its indisputable presence; the experience of the historical progress made by that same Marxism which has been ignored, refuted, and declared outdated; the embarrassing discrepancy between the failure to refute and destroy Marxism and the bourgeois need for continuing attempts to do so. At the end of the fifties, Fritz Heinemann surveyed contemporary bourgeois philosophy and drew the anguished conclusion that all schools had failed, that it was the "fate of philosophy in the twentieth century to lose the ground from under its feet and the task of philosophy to gain new ground." [5] A report written by Claus Grossner ten years later on the situation of bourgeois philosophy in West Germany reflects the changes in the ideological conditions: here the dominating themes are Marxism, "neo-Marxism," anti-Marxism; social and historical reality no longer enters the description of the philosophical positions only when mediated through existentialist concepts. "On the contrary, today, every philosophy—even if it appears to have no relevance to politics—has societal significance." [6] No matter how important the differences in the intellectual positions—and between the philosophical attitudes of the authors—in both cases they draw the same conclusion: philosophy is deteriorating.

While German late-bourgeois thinking has been strongly imprinted with a consciousness of crisis ever since Nietzsche, the essence and content of this consciousness today have become an international feature of contemporary bourgeois thinking. [7] Leopold Flam described the general desperation:

Where do we stand now? We are in a deep crisis of thinking, in an impasse which makes us conscious of the darkness of a growingly disappointed and apparently hopeless existence. The way out would be for human individuals, conscious of their existence, to realize themselves. But this now no longer seems possible. . . . The impasse applies, surely, only to abstract, theoretical philosophy, which locks itself away within a terminology which is often incomprehensible even to its representatives. Thus, there are possibilities and a way out for an existential thinking, for a

* The title of Thomas Mann's famous 1924 novel.


thought existence, which can be realized passionately and intensely. [8]

The first diagnosis of crisis cited above—that by Heinemann—proposes the correction and eclectic unification of the main schools of contemporary bourgeois philosophy under the hegemony of religion; the second—that by Claus Grossner—postulates that a renewal of positivism (in no way defined) shows the way forward; the third diagnosis—by Leopold Flam—wants to polish up existentialism, but nothing more is said about this new type of existential philosophy than that it has "deeply rebelled and sobered up" and that it now sees the experiences of both darkness and light. [9] If, however, as stated in Hochkeppel's book, the only way out of the philosophical crisis lies in burying the "myth of philosophy," the crisis is then transfigured into the solution and it is precisely that mythical philosophy which denies its own philosophical character that is turned into a promise of the future. It is an eclectic mixture of elements from philosophical schools that they have themselves rejected as failures and as incompatible: it accepts the antiphilosophical theses of neopositivism, but at the same time affirms "existential thinking" and the accompanying view of "truth as subjectivity." It says "farewell to philosophy" by proclaiming that the mythologizing produced by life philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) overcomes the "myth of philosophy": "the human being continually creates myths and is now in the process of replacing the old myth of philosophy by the young myth of science." [10] Thus, the written records of philosophical crisis consciousness bear witness to the actual crisis of late-bourgeois philosophy, not only through a detailed description of the culs-de-sac in which this philosophy finds itself, but also in the ways these philosophers seek escape and deliverance.

Philosophical crisis consciousness is a false consciousness in both its senses: the crisis of bourgeois philosophy is declared t o be that of philosophy as such, and as a philosophy of crisis it turns the crisis of capitalism into the fatal crisis of all human existence. Here, the decline of the bourgeois world and bourgeois thinking becomes a mystery; this philosophy reflects its own decadence in a decadent mirror, attributing it to the consequences of reason, of science and technology, to the tragedy of knowledge and of being, and thus sees crisis to be a natural condition of philosophy. [11] Decline is not merely lamented, it is—and above all—wallowed in and cultivated; the decadent mentality is tempted by its own fearful depths, just as Nietzsche's Zarathustra gave way in "the depth of midnight" to the temptations of the depths of the world experienced in dreams: "Deep is its pain—/O joy—deeper still than the pain of the Soul." [12] However, as long as the


description and criticism of the decline remain within the world of thought, the essence of the crisis within bourgeois thought (and bourgeois reality) remains untouched—no matter how much and how adequate is the recognition of the impotence and failure of each current of bourgeois philosophy but one's own, of the inadequacy of the question and solutions presented. It is in this crisis consciousness that the links between objective social reality and philosophy are turned upside down: the quintessence of the real crisis appears as the "end of philosophy," and the search for another philosophy of "life" or of "being" appears as the promise of salvation.

The scope of crisis consciousness is circumscribed by the subjects and theses of the "end of philosophy" and by the search for the possibility of a philosophy of "life" or "being." And from this arises the fashion of "metaphilosophy." The existence of and justification for philosophy became fundamentally questionable in bourgeois thinking, concerned only with its own internal disruptions, with the antinomy of both the impossibility of its existence and its actual presence.

Thus, philosophy, instead of concentrating on direct work on certain problems, is growingly preoccupied with itself, with permanent selfjustification, with reflection about its essence, its tasks and functions in human society. It expresses well a period which is no longer capable of unclouded reflection about its own essence. The clouded and splintered mirror in which it sees itself reflects its own inner strife and questionability, from which it is no longer able to find a firm ground to gain confidence regarding its positions and path. [13]

Neopositivist antiphilosophy does not directly discuss the actual crisis situation: however, its rejection of these problems, the denial of the possibility of gaining scientific-philosophical knowledge, reflects crisis thinking, a thinking in which the dialectics of objective reality, social practice, and scientific knowledge are ignored and the consequences of capitalist alienation are depicted as the feature of a crumbling world. Where all scientific-philosophical knowledge is postulated to be impossible, and "metaphysics" and "ideology" are claimed to have collapsed, the failure of bourgeois philosophical thinking is assumed for the whole of cognition generally. Late-bourgeois consciousness is incapable of recognizing the fundamental laws of development governing capitalism, which has now reached a stage of universal crisis; it cannot comprehend the essential connections of objective totality, let alone work out an overall philosophical conception to counter dialectical materialism; the neopositivist definition of science excludes from the concept of


science everything with which bourgeois thinking cannot cope. While the neopositivist antiphilosophy proclaims the end of philosophy, it remains within the field of philosophy and at the same time publishes its obituary. This does not apply to every philosophy; neopositivist antiphilosophy wants to bury only that philosophy which aims to be of a scientific and theoretical character. Moritz Schlick was of the opinion that philosophical problems are disappearing or dissolving into the problems of the specialized branches of science and of formal logic. [14] During the "logical" phase of neopositivism, this attitude was generally accepted; however, this neopositivism wanted to maintain the possibility for philosophical activity. "Philosophy is not a science at all, that is, it is not a system of knowledge, but a doing; it is that activity (and the soul of all research) t hrough which the meaning of all concepts needed for knowledge is explained." [15] Here lies the conflict within neopositivist antiphilosophy: in the name of science it decrees the end of philosophy and thus opens up the road to a nontheoretical philosophy which stands outside of science.

This view of philosophical activity comes from Wittgenstein and has always had a mythical tendency. Later, Wittgenstein applied his criticism of philosophical theory to scientific theory in general and no longer hoped for logical clarification of thought through philosophical activity, but saw it as a product of pathological phenomena, as a "struggle against the bewitching of our reason through the medium of language." While the older Wittgenstein was of the opinion that "the philosopher treats a question like an illness," [16] linguistic positivism has a strong tendency to consider and treat philosophy itself as an illness, and the philosophical content of Freudianism is used as a "therapy. " [17]

By proclaiming the end of philosophy, positivist antiphilosophy meets its opponents within the framework of bourgeois thinking in the form of the philosophy of "life" and of "Being." [18] For Heidegger, the "Being" philosopher, the idea that philosophy is at an end is acceptable if it means—as in positivism—the end of "metaphysics"—in other words, to use Heidegger's terminology, it is the end of a philosophy that deals with "being" (das Seiende), with the reality of nature and society and its knowledge.

The unfolding of philosophy into self-reliant sciences, which, however, increasingly communicate with each other, is the legitimate fulfillment of philosophy. Philosophy ends in our present age. It has found its place in the scientific functioning of human society. The basic feature of this however, is its cybernetic, that is, its technical, character. [19]


According to Heidegger, the "planetary rule" of technology, the triumphal progress of—positivistically understood—science, led to the end of "metaphysics" not because this science is counterposed to the latter, but because it makes "metaphysics" reality: not the technical, so he claims, is the essence of technology, but "metaphysics." The end of philosophy appears for Heidegger as the mystery of the universal crisis. If in the essence of technology "metaphysics" both makes itself felt and comes to an end, if the only and real danger threatening humanity comes from the essence of technology, then the end of "metaphysics" is the riddle of all the homelessness and world gloom. And this riddle is claimed to be insoluble: "metaphysics," it is claimed, threatens humanity, but at the same time is part of its nature. The sin of "metaphysics" is forgetting the last and first question of philosophy: that of "Being." [20] For Heidegger, the end of philosophy is simultaneously the beginning of the authentic—and his own—philosophy. It is the last and first opportunity to think nonscientifically, to reject reality and objectivity of knowledge, to "light up" "Being" (Sein) without "being" (Seiendes). Heidegger cannot allay the suspicion of mysticism, of irrationality, by claiming, as he does, that his question lies beyond the difference between the rational and the irrational: that precisely is where the kingdom of philosophical mysticism lies. Even the representatives of existential philosophy comment that Heidegger implies the "holy silence" of mysticism. [21] Here, the search for another philosophy leads—at the farthest point in the thinking of life philosophy—to the word magic of "Being" that "lights up" only in the "ecstatic" experience. However, this extreme nature of Heidegger's philosophy does not isolate it. On the contrary, Heidegger probably has the greatest influence within bourgeois thinking today.

Heidegger called his first major book published after the Second World War Holzwege (forest trails). [22] Philosophical destiny is misleading, he declares, and one can only nurture the hope that mankind, in the depths of these wrong paths, where they lead up culs-de-sac and where it is darkest of all, is addressed by "being"; there he will find the "light of being," his existence an "ecstatic standing within the truth of Being." [23] Here, mysticism lures one down the false path of crisis consciousness, and, in positivism, of the philosophical nothingness of empty, sterile concepts of science or "analysis of language." Contemporary bourgeois philosophy is in the process of rebuilding and redressing its old blind alleys and laying out new ones. For philosophical crisis consciousness confusion serves as a mark and measure of modernity in thinking; however, this philosophical pluralism is synonymous with a multiplicity of blind alleys.


One basic theme is varied without a single overall systematic conception emerging from it. A sign that these changing forms belong together is that vehemently opposing currents—such as the critical theory of the Frankfurt school, hermeneutical idealism, and philosophical structuralism—often have the same sources and are strongly influenced by Nietzsche's ideas. Very often, the blind alleys of contemporary bourgeois philosophy branch out, but they have a joint entrance and finally run into a common "end of philosophy." Nietzsche's aphorism—"New in our present position on philosophy is the conviction that no age ever had before us: we do not possess the truth" [24]—anticipated the principal content of philosophical crisis consciousness. The continually recurring motif of the blind alleys corresponds to this experience: the loss of truth.


Chapter One: Two Aspects of Bourgeois Crisis Consciousness

1. "We have all the varieties of philosophical reformation, reconstruction, new departures, and therapeutic programs that are associated with American pragmatism, logical positivism (both Viennese and British), analytic and linguistic philosophy (both British and American), and phenomenology and existentialism (mainly European). If there is any one thing that all these philosophical movements have in common, it is their anxiety about the blind alleys into which philosophy has stumbled, their concern with its validity and its significance, and their effort to remedy its condition and set it off on a new path toward prosperity and progress." (M. J. Adler, The Conditions of Philosophy: Its Checkered Past, its Present Disorder, and its Future Promise [New York 1965], pp. 15-16.) At the end of this statement, Babbitt comes out from behind the philosopher; his stereotyped platitudes suppress an understanding of the currents investigated. The concentration on "prosperity" makes it impossible to see that according to existentialism or logical positivism, philosophy as such cannot "prosper." [-> main text]

2. W. Stegmüller Hauptströmungen der Gegenwartsphilosophie (Stuttgart, 1969), p. xli. [-> main text]

3. Ibid., p. xxxv. [-> main text]

4. "Indeed, such clear signs of decadence are noticeable in philosophy that it is justified to ask whether, despite the continually growing philosophical interest and a corresponding production of literature, philosophy does not live in a period of downfall." (P. F. Linke, Niedergangserscheinungen in der Philosophic der Gegenwart: Wege zu ihrer Überwindung [Munich, 1961], p. 12.) [-> main text]

5. F. Heinemann, "Schicksal unit Aufgabe der Philosophie im XX. Jahrhundert," in Die Philosophie im XX. Jahrhundert, ed. F. Heinemann (Stuttgart, 1959), p. 288. [-> main text]

6. C. Grossner, Verfall der Philosophie: Politik deutscher Philosophen (Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1971), p. 151. [-> main text]

7. A diagnostician in the United States lists a whole number of fearful symptoms for the "pathology of philosophy": characteristic for most contemporary (bourgeois) philosophies is


dogmatic error, failure to communicate, hypertrophy of negative views, solipsism, and fear of a systematic conception. (J. W. Dye, "On the Pathology of Philosophy," in Memorias del XIII. Congresso Internacional de Filosofia [Mexico City, 1963], IV, 86f.) Feuer goes even further by noting not just the disease, but the death of officially accepted university philosophy in the USA. (L. S. Feuer, "American Philosophy is Dead," New York Times Magazine, 24 Apr. 1966, pp. 31 ff.) [-> main text]

8. L. Flam, La philosophie au tournant de notre temps (Brussels, 1970), pp. 86ff. According to Flam, this crisis of philosophy comes from the universal crisis of the individual. (Passi et avenir de la philosophie [Brussels, 19701, pp. 154 ff.) [-> main text]

9. Here, the diagnosis of a crisis of philosophy changes into the hope for a reawakening of an "authentic" (articulating the revolt of the individual against the "system") life philosophy (Lebensphilosophie). "Perhaps now philosophy has the extraordinary possibility to become original again by becoming hidden, as it always used to be. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries philosophy took on an official character or changed into the ideas of a mass movement, thus becoming inauthentic." (Flam, Passé et avenir, p. 163.) [-> main text]

10. W. Hochkeppel, Mythos Philosophie (Hamburg, 1976), p. 167. [-> main text]

11. "It is said that philosophy is in crisis. This should not be surprising because crisis is the natural condition of philosophy. The current situation, however, with its peculiar features, seems worse. Philosophy is attacked from all sides, both from the outside as well as the inside." (J. Lacroix, "Reflexions sur une crise," Le Monde, 26-27 Sept. 1971.) [-> main text]

12. F. Nietzsche, Also sprach Zarathustra, Werke, ed. K. Schechta (Munich, 1969), II, 473. [-> main text]

13. L. Landgrebe, Philosophie der Gegenwart (Frankfurt/Main, 1961), p. 8. [-> main text]

14. M. Schlick, "The Future of Philosophy," in The Linguistic Turn: Essays in Philosophical Method, ed. R. Rorty (Chicago, 1967), p. 51. [-> main text]

15. M. Schlick, "Philosophie und Naturwissenschaft," Erkenntnis, 6 (1934), 383. [-> main text]

16. L. Wittgenstein, Philosophische Untersuchungen (Frankfurt/Main, 1971), pp. 79, 144. Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations represents an extreme form of linguistic positivism; the older Wittgenstein's philosophical ideas about language, although tied to linguistic positivism, are not completely confined within it. "The implied suggestions of the relationship of language to perception, activity, and meaning go beyond the limits of positivism in a strict sense," writes Mouloud. He believes that Wittgenstein's explicit statements contain elements which touch on problems arising from the later development of linguistics. (N. Moulond, "La logique et les 'Jeux du langage.' Quelques suggestions de Wittgenstein pour une philosophie des signes," in Les signes et leur interprétation, ed. N. Mouloud [Lille, 1973], pp. 31 ff.) [-> main text]


17. See M. Lazerowitz, The Structure of Metaphysics (London, 1955); Studies in Metaphilosophy (London, 1964); Philosophy and Illusion (London, 1968). [-> main text]

18. About common elements in Wittgenstein and Heidegger, see K. O. Apel, "Wittgenstein und Heidegger: Die Frage nach dem Sinn und der Sinnlosigkeitsverdacht gegen alle Metaphysik," in Heidegger: Perspektiven zur Dentung seines Werkes, ed. 0. Pöggeler (Cologne, 1969), pp. 358ff. [-> main text]

19. M. Heidegger, Zur Sache des Denkens (Tübingen, 1969), p. 64. [-> main text]

20. M. Heidegger, Nietzsche, (Pfullingen, 1961), I, 64. [-> main text]

21. L. Flam, La Philosophie au tournant de nôtre temps, p. 55. For Hochkeppel, the older Heidegger's mythical philosophy is proof for the 'myth of philosophy" thesis. "It is certainly mythical thinking that characterizes the older Heidegger's philosophy. It describes the way back—to myth. This road is always passable. And in this country it is popular as a 'forest walk."' The complementarity of life philosophy and positivism, which appears as a negative result of the end of philosophy in the "myth of philosophy" slogan, merely changes its sign when it comes in a "positive" form, as a positivistic affirmation of the search for a life philosophy. [-> main text]

22. M. Heidegger, Holzwege (Frankfurt/Main, 1950). This motif returns every now and then as a new fashion. During the second half of the seventies, it appeared as the viewpoint of French "new philosophers" who expressed a direct and open anti-Marxism and were loudly played up by the media. "Philosophy is dead. . . . God is dead. . . . Politics is dead. . . . Science is dead. . . . Science no longer exists, only technology, only the will to power that wants to subordinate the whole earth to the violence of technology. . . . There is no economy any more. . . . There is no art any more." Heidegger's Holzwege (culs de sac) are the last hope—"mountain paths that wind through the forests to the glades. These are not 'paths that lead nowhere.' They are 'pathways' to the future." (J. P. Dolle, "ll n 'y a pas de gourous," Le Monde, 27 May 1977.) [-> main text]

23. M. Heidegger, Platons Lehre von der Wahrheit: Mit einem Brief über den Humanismus (Bern, 1954), p. 69. [-> main text]

24. F. Nietzsche, "Die Unschuld des Werdens," in Aus dem Nachlass der achtziger Jahre, ed. A. Bäumler (Leipzig 1931), I, 255. "There are many types of eyes. The sphinx too has eyes—: and therefore there are many types of 'truths,' and therefore there is no truth." (Nietzsche, Werke, III, 844.) [-> main text]

SOURCE: Gedö, András. Crisis Consciousness in Contemporary Philosophy. Translated by Salomea Genin; edited by Doris Grieser Marquit. Minneapolis: Marxist Educational Press, 1982. (Studies in Marxism; v. 11) [Original German edition: Philosophie der Krise. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1978.] Chapter One, pp. 13-19, plus endnotes (206-208).

©1982, 2002 Marxist Educational Press. All rights reserved. Web publication courtesy of publisher and author.

András Gedö — Vita (Bibliography)

Crisis Consciousness in Contemporary Philosophy by András Gedö:
Table of Contents
Chapter 2: "The Contemporary Crisis in Bourgeois Philosophy"
1. Neopositivism: Linguistic Philosophy and Critical Rationalism
2. Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie)

"The Contemporary Attack on Science" by András Gedö

"Why Marx or Nietzsche?" by András Gedö

"The Historical Character of the Concept of Nature" by András Gedö

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Marx and Marxism Web Guide


Marxist Educational Press / Nature, Society, and Thought

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