Philosophic Thought in France and the United States: Essays Representing Major Trends in Contemporary French and American Philosophy

By Marvin Farber | Go to book overview

KNOWLEDGE AND SOCIAL CRITICISM

Henri Lefebvre*


I

In simplifying somewhat the philosophical situation, one may say that French philosophy is divided, at the present time, into two tendencies.

One of these tendencies endeavors to find another place for the problem of knowledge; more exactly, it refuses to look for knowledge where it is to be found: in the sciences. It dissociates philosophy and science. It gravitates towards a sentimental description of individual consciousness, or of the relations between individual consciousnesses, or of life in general.

The connection between the "subject" and the "object" ceases in this view to be a knowledge relation or determinable in terms of knowledge. It is considered a relation immediately established in existence: a "dramatic situation," on an individual scale--susceptible of an exhaustive description. The formulation of knowledge, the study of actual connections between human beings, objective description of time and historical situations, are then replaced by an endless account of the anxieties, the hesitations, or the "free" decisions of individuals.

Starting from this postulate, it is easy to mix the abstract impeachment of the "human condition" in general, with the social criticism of present conditions, and to replace the indictment of historically and objectively determined concepts ("bourgeois" concepts) by a questioning of men in general.

Existentialism, for that is what we are considering, is oriented toward a bewildering confusion. It continues a conception of the world which, at least in France, seems to be out-of-date: individualism. For it

____________________
*
Born in 1901. Formerly professor of philosophy in Toulouse. At present, in charge of studies at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, sociological section, in Paris. Author of Nietzsche ( 1939), Le matérialisme dialectique ( 1939), Critique de la vie quotidienne ( 1947), Logique formelle, logique dialectique ( 1947), and Pour connaître la pensée de Marx ( 1948).

-281-

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