Is Systematic Philosophy Possible Today?

Mihailo Marković


LIKE ANY OTHER general question, the question about the possibility of a systematic philosophy covers a large number of different particular questions.

A first such particular question is: what does the word “possible” mean here? Is this the question about the logical possibility of a systematic philosophy? If yes, then the answer to the general problem would also be an affirmative one. There is nothing in the historically evolved idea of philosophy which excludes the possibility of building again the great systems in the style of Spinoza or Hegel. (Surely one can define the concept of philosophy in such a way that the answer to our general question follows analytically. But in this case both the question and the answer would be quite trivial.)

The more interesting question would, of course, be: is building up of philosophy in the form of an all-embracing system really possible in 1975? And the term “real possibility” means here that in present-day social life there are certain social forces (attitudes, accumulated experiences, beliefs, trends of thought, fears, institutions) which constitute boundary conditions of any present day creative activity in the field of culture. These actual forces exclude many conceivable forms of cultural life and reduce the enormous set of logical possibilities to a much more narrow subset of real historical possibilities. In that sense the question asked earlier actually is: Is it really possible to creatively build up philosophy as a systematic theory after Hegel and other contemporary philosophers have exhausted all possibilities in that direction and after all negative experiences with attempts of that kind? Is it really possible for systematic philosophy to become anything more than worthless, pedantic pseudo-creativity of retired academicians, unable to reach out into the world of living culture in an age characterized by intense experi-


mentation, by criticism and analysis of existing forms rather than by efforts to create great new syntheses? We realize here that the question about the real possibilities is not purely descriptive. It is not the question whether, as a matter of fact, philosophical systems can be built, independently of or contrary to the big streams of the time, disregarding completely the fruitfulness of such endeavours. The question implies a value judgment: Can the rehabilitation of systematic thinking contribute something essentially fruitful to the development of contemporary philosophy? The real problem is then: What are the possible advantages, and what are the basic limitations of systematic philosophical thinking?


This leads us to the second preliminary question. There are many different ways of systematic thinking. What do we mean, then, when we ask about systematic philosophy? It is systematic philosophical thinking in the style of Spinoza, more geometrico, or in the Hegelian dialectical form, or in the tradition of logical positivism of young Wittgenstein and Carnap, or perhaps in the sense in which Stalin attempted to systematize Marxist philosophy?

One could propose a typology of the forms of systematic philosophical thinking on the basis of the following two basic distinctions: One the one hand, there are static and dynamic systems; the former expound synchronic relations within a given and completed body of knowledge (consciousness), the latter express diachronic relations among the elements-stages of an evolving process of cognition and historical consciousness. On the other hand, there are absolute systems (that claim to embrace the totality of being in a spatially and temporally unlimited way) and systems which are relative (in the sense of referring themselves to a limited field and a limited historical epoch or depending on logical properties of a particular form of language.)

When we cross both criteria we obtain the following four types of philosophical systems:

(1) Absolute static systems—as in Spinoza’s Ethics;

(2) Relative static systems—as in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-philosophicus or in Carnap’s Logische Aufbau der Welt;

(3) Absolute dynamic systems, the best example of which is Hegel’s Encyklopedie der philosophischen Wissenschaften;


(4) Relative dynamic systems—as in the above mentioned attempt of Stalin and his followers (Rosenthal, Leonov and others).

The essential limitations of all static systems is that they completely miss the historical dimension of consciousness and knowledge, and construe, therefore, the particular form of consciousness of a certain historical period as something frozen and merely given. Interest in the heuristic problem, in the conditions of emergence and development of ideas, is completely absent. A one-sided interest in demonstration, in logical derivation, prevails in a quite exclusive way. However what characterizes any formal logic procedure of demonstration is that some categories, some initial statements, some rules of derivation, must be simply postulated and not derived themselves as the products of the preceding historical development of culture. Now, as the philosophical critique of each system of this kind shows, the basic philosophical ideas generated by the method of postulation are invariably either naive or simply wrong. It was naive to believe that the basic assumptions of the system were universally valid and evident—therefore such an interpretation of the basic premises of a system was later given up. On the other hand, it was simply untrue to characterize Protokolsätze in Carnap’s system or “Atomic statements” in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus as the most elementary, simple data of consciousness and pictures of the elementary facts of the real world. Already at the time when these systems were created it was well known that those statements always formulated the results of selection and interpretation in the process of perception. Long before, Hegel had convincingly shown (in his Phenomenology of Mind) that any apparently immediate and concrete act of consciousness involved mediation through certain general and abstract categories (such as Now, Here, This, etc.). In such a way any system built up by the exclusive application of a static, formal-logical method has to freeze the epistemological processes—to put all history “into brackets”, and to artificially build up a starting point. While this method contributes to revealing the architecture of a body of knowledge, it, at the same time, leaves obscure and hidden its true foundation as well as the structure of the historical process that brought it about.

Hegel’s dialectical system has the great advantage that its categories are genetically derived from each other and not postulated in a dogmatic way. The logical structure is here identified with the pattern of spiritual history. However real history is open and has a


real future that is not fully determined and predictable. Whereas an absolute system is closed and cannot tolerate anything that deviates from the ideal logical order—and is therefore considered irrational, unthinkable. A system of the Hegelian type is, at best, able to describe the structure of the past so adequately that real phenomena look rational and all that is rational seems to have its reality. And yet life is infinitely richer than any abstract system and invariably defies its constraints, its rules and “laws”. As time passes, more and more “unthinkable” phenomena actually take place and then become the past. More and more real historical processes have to be characterized from the point of view of the system as irrational, accidental phenomena, as mere unhistorical deviations, as arbitrary, capricious acts. On the other hand the “thinkable”, “historically necessary” and rational patterns of the system increasingly lose their relevance and applicability and turn into empty, dead constructions without any explanatory and predictive power. The sets of logical and real possibilities become increasingly desperate. Under these conditions the system no longer offers an adequate paradigm for the understanding of past history, let alone of present and future history. Dialectic is incompatible with the idea of an absolute system.

The attempts made hitherto to build up dynamic, non-absolute systems are of limited philosophical value. For our purpose it could be of some interest to notice that here a specific form of dogmatism is possible. In the system of Dialectical Materialism of Stalin and his followers there is a dynamic and historically relative object-theory coupled with a static and absolute meta-theory. The object-theory deals with movement and change in all material, social and psychic phenomena, and in particular it deals with the forms and laws of a progressive historical development. However, at the level of meta-theory the principles of meta-realism and dialectic have been postulated in a dogmatic way as eternal truths which do not allow any later revision in the light of subsequent experiences and discoveries.

Thus it seems that all the well known types of systematic philosophical thinking have very serious limitations. To the extent to which philosophy is relevant for and applicable to the problems of real human life every systematization, every attempt to identify the historical with the logical, seems to lead to a negation of the really historical and to a hypostatization of the abstract logical.



Is then a non-systematic, analytic, piecemeal method the only alternative for modern philosophical thinking?

Nowadays we already have a rich experience with modern analytical philosophy. It is in a profound crisis, both theoretically and socially.

The essential theoretical limitation of any non-systematic philosophical thought is its escape from the most difficult philosophical problems such as: establishing mediating links between solutions of problems that belong to different fields of philosophical inquiry, stating explicitly hidden premises, resolving existing inconsistencies among them, justifying them without such circulus vitiosus as begging the question.

When we, following one of the Cartesian rules, temporarily leave aside those most difficult problems in order to return to them later, this is a perfectly sound methodological procedure. But when we try to get rid of synthesis in the name of analysis and even turn this vice into virtue then there is really no reason to be permanently satisfied with this specific expression of philosophical laziness.

The following illustration should clearly indicate how much piecemeal approach in philosophy leaves to be desired.

It is relatively easy to analyse meaning in terms of truth-conditions of sentences, as many authors have done. It is also rather comfortable to discuss the problem of truth assuming that we already know what the meaning of “meaning” is. But one who has to build up a philosophical theory of both truth and meaning has to solve difficult problems of explicating at least one of the two without reference to the other. Separate treatment of the two allows one to gloss over that highly challenging task.

A similar situation rises when one deals with the concepts of causality, necessity, law of nature. When these are discussed in isolation from each other the most difficult problem of explicating at least one of them without reference to the other two is avoided. Thus part of the meaning of a cause is that it is a necessary condition. Necessity in the non-logical, empirical sense can hardly be explicated without reference to the laws that govern phenomena of the given field, But when it comes to the explication of ‘law of nature’' the idea of necessity will in most cases be either explicitly presupposed or smuggled in. And here we do not immediately notice circulus vitiosus only because it happens in isolated papers. The most diffi-


cult problems arise only when on attempts a systematic theory of determination embracing all three and many other concepts.

And, in order to avoid giving the impression that this sort of critique is relevant only to analytic philosophy, an example of lazy Marxist non-systematic humanist thinking will be given. In separate papers of Marxist humanists, even in those of one individual author, one finds, time and again, the following vicious circle: Man is being defined as a being of praxis and praxis as a specifically human, free, creative activity. Then freedom is interpreted as essentially (human) self-realization. But then self-realization is in turn taken to mean the actualization of man as a being of praxis. Mere awareness of a difficulty here creates a need for a more systematic approach.

A difficult class of cases is of those where the purpose of inquiry is not so much to give full philosophical analysis of a category in its various dimensions but to examine as thoroughly as possible only one of its dimensions. Such analysis could be technically extremely sophisticated and make quite a substantial contribution of lasting philosophical value. Such are the cases of Tarski’s semantical theory of truth and Popper’s theory of falsification. But in both cases something philosophically very essential is missing, precisely owing to the fragmentary character of the theories in question. Tarski’s theory is fully elaborated for a formal language, which is not and will never be the language of philosophy. What is of general philosophical importance is his scheme for constructing specific theories of truth and the basic idea on which this scheme rests. And this basic idea is of very little informative value: A statement is true when it is satisfied by all objects (Gegenstände) to which it refers. The analysis stops here. But the most difficult question arises when we ask: What does it mean to be an object? Very often we accept something as an object (for example, we begin to speak about positrons, mesons, neutrinos, hadrons, beryons, quarks, gluons as really existing subatomic particles) only when we know that some corresponding statements are true. If one chooses not to build up a systematic philosophy of both truth (which is an epistemological problem) and object (which is an ontological problem) there are two ways to avoid vicious circle:

(1) to postulate one of them,

(2) to assume the attitude of complete tolerance and declare that everybody is free to use one of them in whatever way he wants.

The former could lead to unnecessary multiplication of assumed entities: only within a system could their number be reduced to a minimum. The latter leads to complete relativization of concepts:


once anything may be considered an “object” if one chooses, so also any statement may be considered true that is satisfied by such an object.

A striking example of the incompatibility of the results of nonsystematic inquiry in different fields may be found in Popper’s philosophy, where one compares his epistemological theory of falsification and his recent ontological theory of the third world. On the one hand we can never know whether a theory is true ... we can only test it and establish that it is false if it is in contradiction with statements which formulate data of experience. And this falsifiability is the essential characteristic of scientific statements; it furnishes the criterion of demarcation between science and metaphysics. On the other hand, there is a world in addition to the world of material objects and the world of psychic processes, which is constituted by—among other things—the meanings of all our statements. However, if falsification is really possible, such a world is unthinkable. In what sense can the meaning of a factually false statement have an objective meaning, independently of psychic processes in erring individuals?

With respect to social problems the standpoint of a piecemeal analysis does not encourage a bold and imaginative critical approach. The criticism of isolated elements, parts, dimensions of a system can lead only to modifications and limited reform of the system. Thus, behind a non-systematic philosophy an ideology of the preservation of the status quo is often hidden. In order to transcend the status quo one has to see given historical reality as a whole and has to ask the question of the total condition of men in the existing historical situation.


The preceding analysis leads to the following conclusion: Non-systematic thinking about isolated problems is only one phase of the philosophical inquiry, that phase in which separate elements and abstracted relations among them have to be studied and described. Without this phase a philosopher is always tempted to try and speak about the whole (the world, human mind, historical situation at a given time) in a direct way, without mediation—therefore superficially (when the talent is small) or mystically (when a genius is in question). Nevertheless the results of this indispensable analytical phase are unfinished products. It is necessary to establish links among them, to continue search where it was stopped, to look for deeper


common grounds where two particulars were mutually derived from each other. The initial abstract totality was decomposed and carefully studied piece by piece in the analytical phase. Now the time comes to attempt a synthetic reconstruction of the whole, which by now should emerge as a relatively concrete, systematic totality with apparently distinct levels, dimensions, elements and relations among them. What, in contrast with the age of Hegel and other great system-builders, would be utterly naive is not the very aspiration to systematize all philosophical knowledge and culture within one tradition, but the illusion that all traditions could be shown to be only special cases of one, and, furthermore, that such a system exhausts all possibilities of future development.

A modern systematic thinker hardly has any alternative but to accept the plurality of the great existing streams of philosophical thought and to regard a systematic philosophical theory as, at best, the most adequate approximation to the immensely rich and complex real structure of the world.

Since Hegel it is no longer possible to believe that one philosophical system can embrace all other systems and trends as mere incomplete truths, as special moments of the absolute truth expounded by it. Surely some theories are richer and more complex than others and do embrace their solutions of certain philosophical problems as the special cases of its own, more general solutions—this helps us to avoid relativism and to introduce an important criterion of evaluation of different alternative philosophical approaches. But when we compare most important present day trends: empiricism, phenomenology, Marxism, structuralism, we notice immediately that they do not all deal with the same problems and that, therefore, some statements that are considered true within one trend are not incomplete truths but irrelevant, pointless, within the other. Part of the empiricist tradition has always been a strong interest in the problem of validation of knowledge, much lesser in the problem of its growth and non-existent in the problem of the transition from one paradigm to the other. The latter was traditionally considered an issue that does not belong to philosophy but at best to psychology and sociology—an issue that escapes rational consideration. Marxist dialectic, on the other hand, tends to throw light precisely on this point in the history of knowledge, offering the principles that regulate precisely this discontinuity. On the other hand a Marxist tends to completely leave aside what a phenomenologist is doing when he tries to describe phenomena as they look to a completely neutral, unprejudiced, value-free mind. They both


might search for objectivity but one finds it in the suspension of all previous beliefs, the other in the search for universal potential characteristics of human nature, in suspension of particularly wherever it is incompatible with that basic human universality. What the phenomenologist has to try to say about ideal objective essences introspected by an unbiased, non-committed thinker cannot always be incorporated into Marxist theory even as a partial truth: the Marxist does not believe either that there are such ideal essences, or that there are unbiased, non-committed thinkers; therefore to him phenomenological descriptions make sense only when he takes them to be something quite different from what they pretend to be: expressions of the state of mind of people unaware of the prejudices and values that direct them.

It is interesting to note that even within one great tradition there might be such great differences between more specific orientations that systematic organization of ideas within one will leave outside its scope essential elements of the other. Russellian ontology is irrelevant for a purely linguistic orientation within the empiricist tradition. In a similar way within contemporary Marxism ontological interpretation of dialectic in the style of Engels’ Dialectic of Nature looks obsolete and pointless to a humanist who sees dialectic only in history because only from the human point of view does it make sense to speak about progress, and transcendence.

This plurality of possible perspectives for philosophical systematization should not be confused with mere pluralism, in the same way in which relativity allow overlapping and a ground common to all. In the same way in which relativity of space and time goes together with equal absolute validity of laws in all systems, so relativity of human perspectives goes together with the assumption that there is just one world in which we all live and one universal ground for referring to individuals of different generations, races, nations, sexes and creeds—as members of one human species.

The task of giving a systematic account of that one world and that one universal human ground of all particular cultures and individual endeavours is the task of the whole history. What is needed is a progressive ongoing totalization. To think systematically does not mean, therefore, to construct one “final”, “perfect” system but to keep building up an unfinished series of systematic theories that follow each other in time and transcend each other.

Systems have their life-pattern which need not coincide with the life-pattern of the informal, unsystematized philosophical current which gave them birth. Precisely those features which constitute


the basic limitation of a poorly organized and not fully spelled out thought may also be the source of its surprising recurrence and longevity. Vagueness, metaphoricality, ambiguity, conciseness of language which reaches the point of obscurity, gaps, inner contradictions, absence of mediation, wild ungrounded projections into the future—can utterly compromise a mediocre theory but also prolong the life of a powerful one by challenging the imagination of posterity and making room for ever new reinterpretations and reconstructions. By being systematically spelled out a philosophy takes the same risk as the lover who allows his beloved to know him too well: both lose all their magic and become too clear, too vulnerable, too open to criticism.

At the beginning a system is a daring, impressive piece of new architecture that fully reveals all the secrets of a new mind in working. After some time, at best, it becomes a part of the given established culture: its secrets are being taught in the high-school.

Then the time comes when it has only an historical interest and sometimes becomes a part of enslaving tradition. Every system will be surpassed by life sooner or later. It has to be transcended; its essential inner limitation abolished; its still living elements incorporated into a new whole. The principle of history eventually prevails over that of structure.

Surely it could be objected that this series of systematic philosophical theories does not yet constitute the movement of spiritual life and of historical praxis; that this would be only a series of states of peace, of standstill. But that is what thought in general is, at best. Any concept, any statement, any rule or law is only a moment of peace in the eternal flux of phenomena. In that sense a philosophical system also is only a frozen structure of the constantly changing world. A series of systems, which transcend each other and constitute the steps of a progressive conceptualization of human self-consciousness, is the only possible synthesis of history and structure.


Two resultant points require illustration:

(1) That the systematic building up of a poorly organized body of philosophical views could considerably improve it by stating explicitly hidden premises, by justifying dogmatic assertions, by mediating among unrelated categories, by resolving concealed contradictions.

(2) That transcendence of one systematic theory by a richer, more


adequate and general one is essentially the abolition of a limitation of the former; that it involves, therefore both continuity and discontinuity between the two.

Any effort to systematize Marx’s philosophy would have to solve the following problems:

(1) Marx intended to develop a strictly and thoroughly scientific theory of existing capitalist society and its transition into socialism. He also, very early developed a radical humanist critique of alienated labour and of any form of social organization in which human individuals are reified and an enormously rich human potential wasted. This critique is based on a very optimistic conception of human nature and its implications sound utopian. How to reconcile the scientific and the utopian dimension in Marx?

(2) Marx established a number of laws governing capitalist society and believed that they are inexorable, completely independent of human consciousness and will. On the other hand he developed an activist philosophy of history the basic premise of which is the conviction that men make history and change circumstances under which laws hold. How to resolve the apparent contradiction between economic determinism and activism of men—the being of praxis?

(3) Materialistic epistemology, which Marx emphasized so much, ever since German Ideology of 1845, tends to reduce consciousness to a reflection of given material conditions, eventually to a superstructure of the existing economic infrastructure. On the other hand Marxian dialectic obviously involves normative elements: development is “rogressive”; contradictions have to be resolved in a certain way in order to give rise to “higher” forms of being; some features of social life are “negative” and will have to be abolished. But where do these normative elements come from? How to reconcile them with a materialistic idea of consciousness?

(4) Revolution is the key problem of Marx’s theory. Marx realized that a social revolution, a total transformation of all social relationships, presupposes the existence of a very big social group that is strongly motivated for radical change, that is interested not in establishing its own particular clan rule but in an universal human emancipation, and that has enough energy to wipe out the ruling class resistance to change. Very early, in 1843, Marx came to the conclusion that only the proletariat satisfies all these conditions. However, in his opinion, the proletariat is the most oppressed, the most alienated class; its misery can only increase in the course of capitalist development. Consequently according to the principle of materialism its consciousness will be only a rebellious, oppositionary


consciousness aiming at immediate improvement of its working and living conditions. However, Marx never stopped believing that precisely this class will become the subject of the most profound change in the whole of history, and will organize the new market-less, stateless, clan-less society on an entirely new basis.

How is this transition from the “class in itself” to the “class for itself” ever to be achieved?

The only way to solve these and other apparent inconsistencies is to systematically reconstruct Marx’s theory, starting with his basic ontological-anthropological assumptions about the human being as a being of praxis. This involves a fundamental distinction between actual existence and the potential structure of human nature. The latter is constituted by a number of latent capacities and powers which are there, as a result of the whole preceding biological and social development, but need not be actualized: such are in the first place, capacities for free, creative, intentional activity. Under conditions of class society, of capitalist production in particular, these capacities are blocked and wasted on a mass scale. But at the same time, the ground for their actualization is being prepared through industrialization, rise of material productivity, wealth for material needs. To the extent to which human potential is arrested and human persons reduced to things there are objective, inexorable laws analogous to those in nature. They can be studied scientifically, with an accuracy approaching that in the natural sciences. It follows, then, that strict determination is not something that prevails in the whole of history but only in the phase characterized by private property, commodity production, market exchange, the political character of the public power. Scientific theory of capitalism becomes therefore, a part of a more general, critical humanist social theory which supplements the empirical study of reified behaviour (according to fixed laws) with an exploration of optimal historical possibilities of the whole epoch. All the normative elements (such as the concepts of “optimal, positive versus ‘negative’ overcoming” etc.) are derived from the fundamental structure of human nature, where Marx does not allow the distinction between the descriptive and the value elements: both constitute “human essence”. “The utopian” in Marx follows from the value elements of human nature (man is essentially free, creative, social, open for an unlimited development of his senses, intellectual powers, needs ever new ways of acting). It is important to note, however, that the utopian is not here an arbitrary projection of conceivable, “reasonable” forms of human life but the implication of what in the opinion of Marx there really potentially is


in human nature. The utopian in this sense is not incompatible with the scientific. When the latter is taken in a more general sense it involves the exploration of both manifest and dispositional properties of objects, therefore it embraces the function both of description and of critique (critique of the actual from the point of view of the potential).

The existence and development of such a critical science provides part of the explanation for the emergence of the radically critical, revolutionary consciousness of the proletariat. To the extent to which an intellectual liberates himself from the ideological mystification and illusions of the ruling bourgeois class which he is supposed to serve, to the extent to which he really searches for objective universal truth, he adopts the standpoint of universal human emancipation, which is also the standpoint of the proletariat. It is true that workers are objectively conditioned only to struggle for better working conditions and that they cannot elaborate alone a sufficiently sophisticated revolutionary theory (which requires the mediation of the whole preceding culture); but they can instinctively recognize one and respond to it where it appears. As human beings they remain always potentially free and no matter how heavily conditioned by the material circumstances of their daily life they retain the capacity to generate an awareness of their long range interests and thus to understand that a revolutionary theory expresses precisely those interests. Then a transition from a class “in itself” into a class “for itself” takes place. New subjective determinants emerge which are no longer the reflection of immediate material (economic, political) infrastructure, but the reflection of a much deeper infrastructure in the very basic potential of human nature. The historical process no longer has the character of blind inescapable determination but of conscious, purposeful self-determination.

When a modern systematization removes all or most of the flagrant apparent ambiguities and inconsistencies in Marx’s theory, one basic weakness still remains in the very fundamental assumptions about the character of human nature. These assumptions have in Marx the character of theoretical statements about human essence. The essentialist language here obscures the fact that a philosopher who speaks about human nature does not only say what as a matter of fact man is—as the result of previous history—but also what he could be and what he should be. These statements are therefore both descriptive and normative, both theoretical and practical. Now if they are not merely theoretical but also practical, if they are not only basic assertions about what human nature is and must be, but


also basic commitments to create historical conditions under which some human dispositions (“positive”, “good” ones) would be favoured and freely developed and some other dispositions (“negative”, “bad” ones) would be blocked and slowly modified, then historical necessity in the deterministic sense has to disappear both at the level of empirical science (object-level) and at the level of philosophy of history (meta-level). Otherwise men would be free to make their history but they would not be free to be free; they would rather be condemned to be free. As in Hegel, history would have only one direction: human beings must be disalienated, institutions like private property, commodity production, state, church, etc. must be abolished, then people will have to become free, creative, and social; capitalism must be overcome by communism. So at the meta-level of philosophy freedom disappears, and unity of theory and praxis disappears too. The essentialist language of Marx’s anthropology and the rigidly deterministic conception of the philosophy of history are incompatible with his principle of the unity of theory and praxis. But the latter is more important than the former; it is more characteristic of Marx’s thought as a whole. In fact, precisely this principle expresses the fundamental novelty of Marx’s theory: essentialism and rigid historical determinism are just remnants of the preceding tradition (Hegel, Feuerbach). That is why they have to be considered a limitation and to be transcended.

A new systematization has to start from the meta-meta-principle specifying the nature of basic meta-principles and stating that assertions about human being are, on the other hand, the result of the objective study of the patterns of human behaviour in history; but one, on the other hand, the result of our basic practical commitment to reinforce some of these patterns (such as self-determination, creative activity) and to discourage others (such as aggressivity, acquisitiveness, egoism). Thus even if we continue to speak about human essence or human nature it will be clear that our statements are both descriptive and normative. Then whatever we say about transcendence or alienation in history, about human self realization and forms of new rational and just society, becomes the expression of the optimal historical possibility and not the expression of inexorable historical necessity. And even if we continue to speak about historical “necessity”, the term will not refer to what must happen (independently of human consciousness and will) but to what human individuals and collectives must do if they don’t wish their civilization to perish or to waste its potential.

This approach to systematic philosophical thinking lays sufficient


emphasis on history, it does justice to the obvious tendency to pluralism in the present day world, and it avoids relativism.

It remains open for history because, while building a new systematic theory, the author is already aware of its incompleteness and the revisability of its very basis: universal human dispositions are changeable, historical, and the inner conflict among them allows several ways of resolving them. On the other hand, conditions of actual human existence also change and the conflict between them and universal dispositions obviously is a dynamic factor. Which opens room for a plurality of coexisting systems and a dialogue among them.

Relativism is avoided, however, because all those more or less subjective philosophical constructions ultimately acquire their meaning and value in a confrontation which is objective and invariant for all philosophies—the confrontation of real human beings and the real world which ultimately, a posteriori shows best what are the practical implications of the one philosophical orientation or the other.

Mihailo Marković
Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts
Belgrade, Yugoslavia


SOURCE: Marković, Mihailo. “Is Systematic Philosophy Possible Today?” in Contemporary Aspects of Philosophy, edited by Gilbert Ryle (Stocksfield, UK; Boston: Oriel Press, 1977), pp. 269-283. From Oxford International Symposium, Christ Church College, 29 September - 4 October 1975.

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