Antihumanism

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In social theory and philosophy, antihumanism (or anti-humanism) is a theory that is critical of traditional humanism and traditional ideas about humanity and the human condition. [1] Central to antihumanism is the view that concepts of "human nature", "man", or "humanity" should be rejected as historically relative or metaphysical. [2]

Social theory analytical framework, or paradigm, that is used to study and interpret social phenomena

Social theories are analytical frameworks, or paradigms, that are used to study and interpret social phenomena. A tool used by social scientists, social theories relate to historical debates over the validity and reliability of different methodologies, the primacy of either structure or agency, as well as the relationship between contingency and necessity. Social theory in an informal nature, or authorship based outside of academic social and political science, may be referred to as "social criticism" or "social commentary", or "cultural criticism" and may be associated both with formal cultural and literary scholarship, as well as other non-academic or journalistic forms of writing.

Philosophy Study of general and fundamental questions

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

The human condition is "the characteristics, key events, and situations which compose the essentials of human existence, such as birth, growth, emotionality, aspiration, conflict, and mortality". This is a very broad topic which has been and continues to be pondered and analyzed from many perspectives, including those of religion, philosophy, history, art, literature, anthropology, psychology, and biology.

Contents

Origins

In the late 18th and 19th centuries, the philosophy of humanism was a cornerstone of the Enlightenment. From the belief in a universal moral core of humanity, it followed that all persons are inherently free and equal. For liberal humanists such as Kant, the universal law of reason was a guide towards total emancipation from any kind of tyranny. [3]

Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence over acceptance of dogma or superstition. The meaning of the term humanism has fluctuated according to the successive intellectual movements which have identified with it. The term was coined by theologian Friedrich Niethammer at the beginning of the 19th century to refer to a system of education based on the study of classical literature. Generally, however, humanism refers to a perspective that affirms some notion of human freedom and progress. It views humans as solely responsible for the promotion and development of individuals and emphasizes a concern for man in relation to the world.

Immanuel Kant Prussian philosopher

Immanuel Kant was an influential German philosopher in the Age of Enlightenment. In his doctrine of transcendental idealism, he argued that space, time, and causation are mere sensibilities; "things-in-themselves" exist, but their nature is unknowable. In his view, the mind shapes and structures experience, with all human experience sharing certain structural features. He drew a parallel to the Copernican revolution in his proposition that worldly objects can be intuited a priori ('beforehand'), and that intuition is therefore independent from objective reality. Kant believed that reason is the source of morality, and that aesthetics arise from a faculty of disinterested judgment. Kant's views continue to have a major influence on contemporary philosophy, especially the fields of epistemology, ethics, political theory, and post-modern aesthetics.

Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, establishing and verifying facts, applying logic, and changing or justifying practices, institutions, and beliefs based on new or existing information. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, mathematics and art, and is normally considered to be a distinguishing ability possessed by humans. Reason, or an aspect of it, is sometimes referred to as rationality.

Criticism of humanism as being over-idealistic began in the 19th Century. For Friedrich Nietzsche, humanism was nothing more than an empty figure of speech [4] – a secular version of theism. Max Stirner expressed a similar position in his book The Ego and Its Own , published several decades before Nietzsche's work. Nietzsche argues in Genealogy of Morals that human rights exist as a means for the weak to constrain the strong; as such, they do not facilitate the emancipation of life, but instead deny it. [5]

Friedrich Nietzsche German philosopher

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a German philosopher, cultural critic, composer, poet, philologist, and Latin and Greek scholar whose work has exerted a profound influence on modern intellectual history. He began his career as a classical philologist before turning to philosophy. He became the youngest ever to hold the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel in 1869 at the age of 24. Nietzsche resigned in 1879 due to health problems that plagued him most of his life; he completed much of his core writing in the following decade. In 1889 at age 44, he suffered a collapse and afterward, a complete loss of his mental faculties. He lived his remaining years in the care of his mother until her death in 1897 and then with his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche. Nietzsche died in 1900.

Theism belief in the existence of at least one deity

Theism is broadly defined as the belief in the existence of the Supreme Being or deities. In common parlance, or when contrasted with deism, the term often describes the classical conception of God that is found in monotheism – or gods found in polytheistic religions—a belief in God or in gods without the rejection of revelation as is characteristic of deism.

Max Stirner German philosopher

Johann Kaspar Schmidt, better known as Max Stirner, was a German philosopher who is often seen as one of the forerunners of nihilism, existentialism, psychoanalytic theory, postmodernism, and individualist anarchism. Stirner's main work, The Ego and Its Own, also known as The Unique And Its Property, or, literally, The Individual and His Property, was first published in 1845 in Leipzig and has since appeared in numerous editions and translations.

The young Karl Marx is sometimes considered a humanist, [6] as opposed to the mature Marx who became more forceful in his criticism of human rights as idealist or utopian. Marx believed human rights were a product of the very dehumanization they were intended to oppose. Given that capitalism forces individuals to behave in a egoistic manner, they are in constant conflict with one another, and are thus in need of rights to protect themselves. True emancipation, he asserted, could only come through the establishment of communism, which abolishes the private ownership of all means of production. [7]

Young Marx

Some theorists consider Karl Marx's thought to be divided into a "young" period and a "mature" one. There is disagreement to when Marx's thought began to mature and the problem of the idea of a "Young Marx" is the problem of tracking the development of Marx's works and of its possible unity. The problem thus centres on Marx's transition from philosophy to economics, which has been considered by orthodox Marxism as a progressive change towards scientific socialism. However, this positivist reading has been challenged by Marxist theorists as well as members of the New Left. They pointed out the humanist side in Marx's work and how he in his early writings focused on liberation from wage slavery and freedom from alienation, that they claimed was a forgotten element of Marx's writings and central to understanding his later work.

Dehumanization behavior or process that undermines individuality of and in others


Dehumanization or an act thereof can describe as the denial of full humanness to others, and the cruelty and suffering that accompany it A practical definition refers to it as the viewing and treatment of other persons as if they lack mental capacities that we enjoy as human beings. Here, every act or thought that treats a person as less than human is an act of dehumanization.

Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system, and competitive markets. In a capitalist market economy, decision-making and investment are determined by every owner of wealth, property or production ability in financial and capital markets, whereas prices and the distribution of goods and services are mainly determined by competition in goods and services markets.

In the 20th century, the view of humans as rationally autonomous was challenged by Sigmund Freud, who believed humans to be largely driven by unconscious irrational desires. [8]

Sigmund Freud Austrian neurologist known as the founding father of psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst.

Martin Heidegger viewed humanism as a metaphysical philosophy that ascribes to humanity a universal essence and privileges it above all other forms of existence. For Heidegger, humanism takes consciousness as the paradigm of philosophy, leading it to a subjectivism and idealism that must be avoided. Like Hegel before him, Heidegger rejected the Kantian notion of autonomy, pointing out that humans were social and historical beings, as well as Kant's notion of a constituting consciousness.[ further explanation needed ] Heidegger nevertheless retains links both to humanism and to existentialism despite his efforts to distance himself from both in the Letter on Humanism (1947). [9]

Martin Heidegger German philosopher

Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher and a seminal thinker in the Continental tradition and philosophical hermeneutics, and is "widely acknowledged to be one of the most original and important philosophers of the 20th century." Heidegger is best known for his contributions to phenomenology and existentialism, though as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy cautions, "his thinking should be identified as part of such philosophical movements only with extreme care and qualification". Heidegger was a member and public supporter of the Nazi Party. There is controversy over the degree to which his Nazi affiliations influenced his philosophy.

In philosophy, essence is the property or set of properties that make an entity or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity. Essence is contrasted with accident: a property that the entity or substance has contingently, without which the substance can still retain its identity. The concept originates rigorously with Aristotle, who used the Greek expression to ti ên einai or sometimes the shorter phrase to ti esti for the same idea. This phrase presented such difficulties for its Latin translators that they coined the word essentia to represent the whole expression. For Aristotle and his scholastic followers, the notion of essence is closely linked to that of definition.

Consciousness state or quality of awareness or of being aware of an external object or something within oneself

Consciousness is the state or quality of awareness or of being aware of an external object or something within oneself. It has been defined variously in terms of sentience, awareness, qualia, subjectivity, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood or soul, the fact that there is something "that it is like" to "have" or "be" it, and the executive control system of the mind. Despite the difficulty in definition, many philosophers believe that there is a broadly shared underlying intuition about what consciousness is. As Max Velmans and Susan Schneider wrote in The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness: "Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives." You become aware that your actions have an effect on other people.

Positivism and "scientism"

Positivism is a philosophy of science based on the view that in the social as well as natural sciences, information derived from sensory experience, and logical and mathematical treatments of such data, are together the exclusive source of all authoritative knowledge. [10] Positivism assumes that there is valid knowledge (truth) only in scientific knowledge. [11] Obtaining and verifying data that can be received from the senses is known as empirical evidence. [10] This view holds that society operates according to general laws that dictate the existence and interaction of ontologically real objects in the physical world. Introspective and intuitional attempts to gain knowledge are rejected. Though the positivist approach has been a recurrent theme in the history of Western thought, [12] the concept was developed in the modern sense in the early 19th century by the philosopher and founding sociologist, Auguste Comte. [13] Comte argued that society operates according to its own quasi-absolute laws, much as the physical world operates according to gravity and other absolute laws of nature. [14]

Humanist thinker Tzvetan Todorov has identified within modernity a trend of thought which emphasizes science and within it tends towards a deterministic view of the world. He clearly identifies positivist theorist Auguste Comte as an important proponent of this view. [15] For Todorov "Scientism does not eliminate the will but decides that since the results of science are valid for everyone, this will must be something shared, not individual. In practice, the individual must submit to the collectivity, which "knows" better than he does." The autonomy of the will is maintained, but it is the will of the group, not the person...scientism has flourished in two very different political contexts...The first variant of scientism was put into practice by totalitarian regimes." [16] A similar criticism can be found in the work associated with the 'Frankfurt School' of social research. Antipositivism would be further facilitated by rejections of 'scientism'; or science as ideology. Jürgen Habermas argues, in his On the Logic of the Social Sciences (1967), that "the positivist thesis of unified science, which assimilates all the sciences to a natural-scientific model, fails because of the intimate relationship between the social sciences and history, and the fact that they are based on a situation-specific understanding of meaning that can be explicated only hermeneutically ... access to a symbolically prestructured reality cannot be gained by observation alone." [17]

Structuralism

Structuralism was developed in post-war Paris as a response to the perceived contradiction between the free subject of philosophy and the determined subject of the human sciences; [18] and drew on the systematic linguistics of Saussure for a view of language and culture as a conventional system of signs preceding the individual subject's entry into them. [19]

Lévi-Strauss in anthropology systematised a structuralist analysis of culture in which the individual subject dissolved into a signifying convention; [20] the semiological work of Roland Barthes (1977) decried the cult of the author and indeed proclaimed his death; while Lacan's structuralist psychoanalysis inevitably led to a similar diminishment of the concept of the autonomous individual: "man with a discourse on freedom which must certainly be called delusional...produced as it is by an animal at the mercy of language". [21]

Taking a lead from Brecht's twin attack on bourgeois and socialist humanism, [22] [23] Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser used the term "antihumanism" in an attack against Marxist humanists, whose position he considered a revisionist movement. Althusser considered "structure" and "social relations" to have primacy over individual consciousness, opposing the philosophy of the subject. [24] For Althusser, the beliefs, desires, preferences and judgements of the human individual are the product of social practices, as society moulds the individual in its own image through its ideologies.

For Marxist humanists such as Georg Lukács, revolution was contingent on the development of the class consciousness of a historical subject, the proletariat. In opposition to this, Althusser's antihumanism downplays the role of human agency in the process of history.

Post-structuralism and deconstruction

Post-structuralists such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida rejected structuralism's insistence on fixed meaning, its privileging of a meta-linguistic standpoint, [25] but continued all the more to problematize the human subject, favoring the term "the decenter-ed subject" which implies the absence of human agency. Derrida, arguing that the fundamentally ambiguous nature of language makes intention unknowable, attacked Enlightenment perfectionism, and condemned as futile the existentialist quest for authenticity in the face of the all-embracing network of signs. He stressed repeatedly that "the subject is not some meta-linguistic substance or identity, some pure cogito of self-presence; it is always inscribed in language". [26]

Foucault challenged the foundational aspects of Enlightenment humanism, [27] as well as their strategic implications, arguing that they either produced counter-emancipatory results directly, or matched increased "freedom" with increased and disciplinary normatization. [28] His anti-humanist skepticism extended to attempts to ground theory in human feeling, as much as in human reason, maintaining that both were historically contingent constructs, rather than the universals humanism maintained. [29]

Cultural examples

The heroine of the novel Nice Work begins by defining herself as a semiotic materialist, "a subject position in an infinite web of discourses – the discourses of power, sex, family, science, religion, poetry, etc." [30] Charged with taking a bleak deterministic view, she retorts, "antihumanist, yes; inhuman, no...the truly determined subject is he who is not aware of the discursive formations that determine him". [31] However, with greater life-experience, she comes closer to accepting that post-structuralism is an intriguing philosophical game, but probably meaningless to those who have not yet even gained awareness of humanism itself. [32] In his critique of humanist approaches to popular film, Timothy Laurie suggests that in new animated films from DreamWorks and Pixar "the 'human' is now able to become a site of amoral disturbance, rather than – or at least, in addition to – being a model of exemplary behaviour for junior audiences". [33]

See also

Related Research Articles

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to critical theory:

A subject is a being who has a unique consciousness and/or unique personal experiences, or an entity that has a relationship with another entity that exists outside itself.

Post-structuralism was either a continuation or a rejection of the intellectual project that preceded it—structuralism. Structuralism proposes that one may understand human culture by means of a structure—modeled on language —that differs from concrete reality and from abstract ideas—a "third order" that mediates between the two. Post-structuralist authors all present different critiques of structuralism, but common themes include the rejection of the self-sufficiency of structuralism and an interrogation of the binary oppositions that constitute its structures. Writers whose works are often characterised as post-structuralist include: Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Judith Butler, Jean Baudrillard, Julia Kristeva, and Jürgen Habermas, although many theorists who have been called "post-structuralist" have rejected the label.

Structuralism theory that elements of human culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a larger, overarching system or structure

In sociology, anthropology, and linguistics, structuralism is the methodology that implies elements of human culture must be understood by way of their relationship to a broader, overarching system or structure. It works to uncover the structures that underlie all the things that humans do, think, perceive, and feel. Alternatively, as summarized by philosopher Simon Blackburn, structuralism is "the belief that phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their interrelations. These relations constitute a structure, and behind local variations in the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract structure".

Secular humanism, or simply humanism, is a philosophy or life stance that embraces human reason, ethics, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition as the basis of morality and decision making.

Louis Althusser French political philosopher

Louis Pierre Althusser was a French Marxist philosopher. He was born in Algeria and studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he eventually became Professor of Philosophy.

Scientism is an ideology that promotes science as the only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values. The term scientism is generally used critically, pointing to the cosmetic application of science in unwarranted situations not amenable to application of the scientific method or similar scientific standards.

Existential humanism is humanism that validates the human subject as struggling for self-knowledge and self-responsibility.

In social science, antipositivism is a theoretical stance that proposes that the social realm cannot be studied with the scientific method of investigation applied to Nature and that investigation of the social realm requires a different epistemology. Fundamental to that antipositivist epistemology is the belief that the concepts and language that researchers use in their researches shape their perceptions of the social world they are investigating, studying, and defining.

The philosophy of social science is the study of the logic, methods, and foundations of social sciences such as psychology, economics, and political science. Philosophers of social science are concerned with the differences and similarities between the social and the natural sciences, causal relationships between social phenomena, the possible existence of social laws, and the ontological significance of structure and agency.

Positivism philosophy of science based on the view that information derived from scientific observation is the exclusive source of all authoritative knowledge

Positivism is a philosophical theory stating that certain ("positive") knowledge is based on natural phenomena and their properties and relations. Thus, information derived from sensory experience, interpreted through reason and logic, forms the exclusive source of all certain knowledge. Positivism holds that valid knowledge is found only in this a posteriori knowledge.

French philosophy, here taken to mean philosophy in the French language, has been extremely diverse and has influenced Western philosophy as a whole for centuries, from the medieval scholasticism of Peter Abelard, through the founding of modern philosophy by René Descartes, to 20th century philosophy of science, existentialism, phenomenology, structuralism, and postmodernism.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to humanism:

20th-century French philosophy is a strand of contemporary philosophy generally associated with post-World War II French thinkers, although it is directly influenced by previous philosophical movements.

This is a list of articles in continental philosophy.

Marxist humanism school of Marxism that primarily focuses on Marxs earlier writings, esp. the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 on alienation, as opposed to his later works, concerned with a structural conception of capitalist society

Marxist humanism is a branch of Marxism that primarily focuses on Marx's earlier writings, especially the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 in which Marx espoused his theory of alienation, as opposed to his later works, which are considered to be concerned more with his structural conception of capitalist society. The Praxis School, which called for radical social change in Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavia in the 1960s, was one such Marxist humanist movement.

Reification (Marxism)

In Marxism, reification is the process by which social relations are perceived as inherent attributes of the people involved in them, or attributes of some product of the relation, such as a traded commodity.

Marxist philosophy Philosophy influenced by Marxist political thought

Marxist philosophy or Marxist theory are works in philosophy that are strongly influenced by Karl Marx's materialist approach to theory, or works written by Marxists. Marxist philosophy may be broadly divided into Western Marxism, which drew out of various sources, and the official philosophy in the Soviet Union, which enforced a rigid reading of Marx called dialectical materialism, in particular during the 1930s. Marxist philosophy is not a strictly defined sub-field of philosophy, because the diverse influence of Marxist theory has extended into fields as varied as aesthetics, ethics, ontology, epistemology, theoretical psychology and philosophy of science, as well as its obvious influence on political philosophy and the philosophy of history. The key characteristics of Marxism in philosophy are its materialism and its commitment to political practice as the end goal of all thought. The theory is also about the struggles of the proletariat and their reprimand of the bourgeoisie.

References

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  2. Childers, p. 100
  3. Childers, p. 95-6
  4. Tony Davies, Humanism (1997) p. 37
  5. "Chapter III §14". On the Genealogy of Morality .
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  7. Karl Marx On the Jewish Question (1843)
  8. Peter Gay, Freud (1989) p. 449
  9. What becomes of the Human after Humanism? Archived November 2, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  10. 1 2 John J. Macionis, Linda M. Gerber, "Sociology", Seventh Canadian Edition, Pearson Canada
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    one of the features of positivism is precisely its postulate that scientific knowledge is the paradigm of valid knowledge, a postulate that indeed is never proved nor intended to be proved.
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  16. Tzvetan Todorov. The Imperfect Garden. Princeton University Press. 2001. Pg. 23
  17. Outhwaite, William, 1988 Habermas: Key Contemporary Thinkers, Polity Press (Second Edition 2009), ISBN   978-0-7456-4328-1 p.22
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  19. R. Appignanesi/C. Garratt, Postmodernism for Beginners (1995) p. 56-60
  20. Appiganesi, p. 66-7
  21. Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection (1997) p. 216 and p. 264
  22. M. Hardt/K. Weeks eds., The Jameson Reader (2005) p. 150
  23. Zhang, Xudong and Jameson, Fredric, Marxism and the Historicity of Theory: An Interview with Fredric Jameson https://muse.jhu.edu/article/24419/summary
  24. Simon Choat, Marx through Post-Structuralism (2010) p. 17
  25. "Post Structuralism". Suhandoko Suhandoko. May 7, 2017. Retrieved January 16, 2018.
  26. Quoted in John D. Caputo, The Tears and Prayers of Jacques Derrida (1997) p. 349
  27. G. Gutting ed., The Cambridge Companion to Foucault (2003) p. 384
  28. Gutting, p. 277
  29. "Foucault and critique: Kant, humanism and the human sciences". University of Surrey. September 13, 2017. Retrieved January 16, 2018.
  30. David Lodge, Nice Work (1988) p. 21-2
  31. Lodge, p. 22
  32. Lodge, p. 153 and p. 225
  33. Laurie, Timothy (2015), "Becoming-Animal Is A Trap For Humans", Deleuze and the Non-Human eds. Hannah Stark and Jon Roffe.

Further reading