Issue 126, February 2015

György Márkus: Antinomies of Modernity



György Márkus at 80

David Roberts


Philosophy in the times of late modernity: Reflections on György Márkus’s Culture, Science, Society

János Kis

Abstract: It is a central claim of György Márkus’s philosophy of (modern) culture that the Enlightenment project ended up in deep, apparently irresolvable antinomies. But, unlike the majority of ‘postmodern’ thinkers, Márkus insists that the commitments of the Enlightenment cannot and should not be given up. This tension between the failure of the Enlightenment to produce a society of free and equal persons, each leading their lives autonomously, drawing on the resources of rational high culture, and the impossibility and undesirability of the abandonment of the commitments of the Enlightenment finds an expression in what Márkus calls ‘the antinomies of late modernity’. This paper offers an interpretation of Márkus’s conception; it identifies a certain ambiguity in Márkus’s use of the term ‘antinomies’ (a wobbling among three different senses as ‘pairs of opposites’, ‘conflicts of values’ and ‘conceptual incoherence’), and suggests that Márkus’s ambition is compatible with maintaining the first two but is failed by the third one which should, therefore, be abandoned.

The cultural form of György Márkus’s philosophy

Jonathan Pickle

Abstract: György Márkus’s Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity is the most sophisticated attempt among contemporary philosophies to proffer a radical critical theory of culture based upon a Marxian philosophical anthropology and an emphatically post-metaphysical re-interpretation of the paradigm of production. In this paper, I aim to evince how the content of Márkus’s published writings is related to the cultural form of his philosophical practice that he describes as ‘orientation in thought’. First, I provide an overview of several key features appertaining to Márkus’s heuristic conceptual framework. Second, I clarify the theoretical and practical horizons of his project through a schematic characterization of the three categories of studies that Márkus has not included in his theory of cultural modernity. In conclusion, I raise the question of the exclusion of religion from high culture and propose some counter-arguments.

The critical value of György Márkus’s philosophical anthropology: Rereading Marxism and Anthropology: The Concept of ‘Human Essence’ in the Philosophy of Marx

Aaron Jaffe

Abstract: This article critically re-reads György Márkus’s seminal Marxism and Anthropology in light of its recent reissue with an introduction by Hans Joas and Axel Honneth. Joas and Honneth problematically identify the normative source of Márkus’s position as an a-historical and extra-natural account of the human. In fact, when the human essence is thought as natural while also historical, developing new powers and needs through changing strategies of socially organized work, Marx’s materialist conception of history can be used to generate a critique of social organizations, relations, and structures that constrain rather than promote such development. Such constraint on developing powers can be read as ‘alienation’ from the human essence. Márkus’s work develops this reading of Marx in a textually sensitive way, but his analysis of alienation in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 focuses on the individual when such analysis could in fact be profitably extended to apply to groups and the species as whole.

The paradoxes of democratic life: Márkus and Honneth on freedom

John Grumley

Abstract: Recent events have only reinforced the fact that the value of freedom occupies a pre-eminent, but also paradoxical, role in modern societies. Nowhere have the ambiguities and ambivalences of this leading concept been more fully explored than in recent analyses by György Márkus and Axel Honneth. The following paper brings these two theorists together, examining Márkus’s claims for the perplexity that overtakes an investigation of modern freedom against the background of Honneth’s most recent magnum opus. This contrast will provide mutual illumination, allowing us to appreciate both the commonalities and differences in approach and conclusion, but also allowing us to critically contest some of Márkus’s most startling conclusions.

Praxis beyond the political: György Márkus contra Hannah Arendt

Jonathan Pickle

Abstract: The works of György Márkus and Hannah Arendt represent two irreconcilable tendencies of contemporary radical philosophy. Whereas Márkus’s critical theory of culture actively refrains from attributing metaphysical significance to its heuristic concepts and the mutable practices they contingently designate, Arendt’s phenomenological methodology attempts to elucidate the constitution of the modern world in order to evince the ontological significance of the political. Due to the inimical nature of their respective projects, Márkus’s writings largely consign its references to Arendt to marginalia. In this article, I consider the exception by taking as my point of departure Márkus’s only substantive comments about Arendt in ‘Beyond the Dichotomy: Poiesis and Praxis’. From a culturological perspective, I then reconstruct the ambivalent conceptions tacitly inhering in Arendt’s principal accounts of culture. In doing so, I reaffirm that Arendt denigrates poiesis, but also show that she regards culture and cultural reception as derivative to the political and praxis. The purpose of this exposition is not to resolve the dispute in one or the other direction, but to render perspicuous the fundamental choice evident in their opposition.

György Márkus’s concept of high culture: A critical evaluation

Ágnes Heller

Abstract: In the first part of this essay I sum up the theoretical genesis and foundations of Márkus’s theory of culture as a theory of modernity. Central to the high culture of modernity, defined in terms of the future-oriented creation of the new, is the structure of authorship, work, and reception that pertains across the sciences, philosophy, the humanities, and the arts. In the second part I question the scope of the concept in relation to the arts and philosophy in the present and point to the inconsistency internal to Márkus’s conception that manifests itself in his neglect of the Romantic tradition in philosophy from Schelling to Heidegger, despite the integral role that the opposition between Enlightenment and Romanticism plays in his theory of cultural modernity.

Hegelian recognition: A critique

György Márkus

Abstract: If we think of recognition as the practical relation consciously enacted by concerned individual subjects as social actors, which allows them to fulfil their intersubjectively valid social roles, this by no means exhausts the significance that recognition is accorded by Hegel. In fact the problem of recognition is central to the understanding and evaluation of Hegel’s metaphysical system. Thus a close scrutiny of the presentation of self-consciousness in Phenomenology of Spirit and the interpretative difficulties it poses leads on to the question of the subject and Hegel’s distinction between finite, accidental individuals and the true subject in his system: the concept of Spirit, understood not as a separate entity but as a system of relations, objectified in the historical forms of the Absolute Spirit. But what is the price of Hegel’s metaphysics of subjectivity? Hegelian recognition signifies the recognition by individuals of recognition in its truth, that is, the self-recognition by finite individuals that they participate in Spirit as the true universal subject to the degree that they recognize their shared world of actions as the world of their own making. Modernity is therefore defined for Hegel as the recognition and realization of ‘conscious freedom’, whose telos lies in the actualization of universal reciprocal recognition that brings the unfreedom of history to an end. The idea of freedom and the thesis of the ‘end of history’ remain, however, the preserve of the thinking few. Hegelian recognition and with it Hegel’s whole metaphysical system founders on the rock of finitude, on the unfreedom of finite human beings.

My best friend: For György Márkus

Ágnes Heller

György Márkus: Bibliography

Review essay

Anders Michelsen

Castoriadis’s work: Horizontal or lateral?

Abstract: The article reviews Suzi Adams’s book on Cornelius Castoriadis, Castoriadis’s Ontology: Being and Creation, by debating the options and possible deficits in Castoriadis’s notion of creativity. While Adams criticizes Castoriadis for neglecting the overarching – and horizontal – worldliness that must ultimately condition creativity in various instances of interpretation, in the most expanded sense as a cosmology, the review ponders an alternative approach which focus on Castoriadis’s creativity seen as a notion of a lateral and emergent positing of the novel, ‘creations ex nihilo – but not in nihilo or cum nihilo’, with the statement in one of the last exposures of his thought (Castoriadis, 1997a: 333).


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