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I saw this:

Why is Ayn Rand's Objectivism philosophy dismissed by academics? "However, her well-documented ideological struggle against Marxism undermines her own argument again here; the Marxist dialectic underpins the Continental approach to philosophy. If we are to take Rand's conclusions seriously, which is to say that if we take her particular anti-Marxism to be the point she is making, then she is using the Marxist dialectic to completely disavow Marxism, thus ending the dialectic."

So does this mean if one disagrees with or rejects Marxism in at least some way, e.g. rejects the notion of a "classless stateless society [a type of anarchy]" as the ultimate and best form of society for humanity, or reject the notion that the economic structure determines everything (economic determinism), or rejects the Marxist theory of social evolution, then the whole edifice of the Continental philosophy collapses? Its "social critique" element has not a leg to stand on? Can "Continental Philosophy" survive if one were to do at least one of:

  1. reject the notion of a "classless stateless society" as the best form of society, or as incompatible with human nature or otherwise unattainable,

  2. reject the notion that economics determines all other social structure,

  3. reject the progression tribe -> slave -> feudal -> capitalism -> socialism -> Communism evolutionary theory

? How much of Continental Philosophy remains if one applies one, two, or all three of the above rejections?

6 Answers 6

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I am not too interested in wading into the Ayn Rand-related question, but in terms of "continental philosophy" and "marxism." I would say the following:

  1. There are several different continental philosophies that need not agree with each other.
  2. Some of these are Marxist in orientation or need Marxism in some sort of strong way.
  3. Most do not.

First, "continental philosophy" is a somewhat nebulous term. It's less clear than the counterpart term: "analytic philosophy." Analytic philosophy originally referred to an anti-metaphysical project that sought to reduce ("analyze") the problems we encounter by using language. It overlapped with some of what we now call "philosophy of language." Currently, that's not even an accurate definition of "analytic philosophy." This was also called Anglo-American philosophy.

The term "continental philosophy" refers either to (a) schools of thought traditionally done on the continent of Europe, (b) those who agreed with Heidegger after the Heidegger-Carnap debate, or (c) a style of doing philosophy that stands opposed to the reductionist project of the (classical) analytic school.

In usage (a), marxism is a continental philosophy, but so is Kantianism, Hegelianism, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, Adorno, etc. On this definition, there's plenty of continental philosophy not done in a Marxist lens. In usage (b), it's also not especially marxist. Those who agreed with Heidegger became the phenomenological and hermeneutic schools of philosophy. Some of those people are coincidentally marxists. (c) has no necessary relation to marxism.

(There are schools of philosophy outside of these two from 20th century -- there's personalism, American philosophy (= pragmatism)).

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Continental philosophy predates Marxism by at least a couple of centuries. The distinction between Continental (European) and Anglophone (English language) philosophy is rooted in the 16th/17th century Rationalist/Empiricist divide over whether philosophy should prefer introspective reason or outward-looking sense-evidence. Marx himself was part of a general 19th century trend rejecting philosophical idealism (e.g., Hegel) — which was arguably the height of pure rationalism — and trying to reground Continental philosophy in something more material or substantive. But he was by no means the only significant figure in that trend.

Continental philosophy has adopted (or perhaps co-opted is a better term) certain aspects of Marxist reasoning: mainly that the sociopolitical world is comprised of systems that humans are embedded in; that these systems are not necessarily humane, rational, or moral in the sense commonly understood by individuals; and that these problems can only be addressed through conscious apprehension of the systems and the human condition within them. Marxism as an ideology has drifted away from its own philosophical roots and doesn't have much modern, direct impact on philosophy, but Marxist reasoning infuses a lot of both Continental and Anglophone thought, usually in defense of civil or Liberal rights. Philosophers can (and do) reject any or all of those overtly Marxist claims while still maintaining the gist of Marxist reasoning, and the complete extirpation of Marxist ideology would have little impact on philosophy even on Marx's influence.

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It would help to understand what you mean by "continental philosophy". As far as my understanding goes, it is little more than a term that lumps together everything that's not analytical philosophy. So, it is easy to imagine that there is a lot of continental philosophy that does not rely on Marxism oder Marxist ideas. Examples are:

  • Heidegger's analysis of fundamental ontology is a critique of everything since Plato and is not concerned with Marx
  • Existentialists like Sartre and Camus rely a lot on Stirner and Heidegger; politically they considered themselves Marxists of different flavours but that did not influence their philosophies at the core
  • even the Frankfurt School--Adorno, Marcuse, Horkheimer and later Habermas--who develop a good bit of their ideas out of Marxist thinking do not really need Marxism (at least not in the narrow sense that is represented in your three rejections) for their analysis to work
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So does this mean if one disagrees with or rejects Marxism in at least some way, e.g. rejects the notion of a "classless stateless society [a type of anarchy]" as the ultimate and best form of society for humanity, or reject the notion that the economic structure determines everything (economic determinism), or rejects the Marxist theory of social evolution, then the whole edifice of the Continental philosophy collapses? Its "social critique" element has not a leg to stand on?

The elephant in the room is that Marxism pretends to be more than just a philosophy: Marxism attempts to be a theory in sociology, political science, economics, and even evolution - and, above all, it claims to be a science.
However:

  • Marx himself was a philosopher - he didn't have any particular training in conducting scientific research, neither did he have training in math economy or any relevant discipline. No amount of self-learning can make for the lack of rigorous academic training and real experience (i.e., praxis in Marxist language) - here flat-earthing and Scientology are the closest modern analogies.
  • Some of these fields have fully developed only afterwards - notably the bases of rigorous scientific research in sociology and macroeconomics were put on a solid basis only in the beginning of the XX-th century (Keynes' The general theory of employment, interest and money is often considered as the text that have established macroeconomcis as an independent field, followed by significant work by others, summarized, e.g., Modern macroeconomics by Snowdon and Vane.)
  • Other fields have significantly progressed: e.g., the evolutionary theory in biology was put on serious genetic and mathematical basis only in the XX-th century, and the main postulates of Darwinism - such as the role of the natural selection - have been seriously questioned in the 1980, mostly due to the works by Motoo Kimura, see Neutral theory of molecular evolution. While no one questions the primacy of Darwin, neo-Darwinism is somewhat of a pejorative term in the scientific community. (In this respect the suggestions that the horrors of the USSR, China, Cambodia were not true Marxism and one should look back to the original Marxist writing are akin to the Evangelicals insistence on the literal interpretation of the Bible, a writing dating some two millennia ago.)

The testimony to how little relevance Marx has to Sociology and Economics is that he had virtually no influence on these fields and their practitioners hardly ever read Marx. The only people who study it are philosophers, and it is relevant to politics to the extent that philosophers engage in it.

Perhaps, there is nothing wrong with treating Marx as philosophy, as a worldview or an ethical system. But the attempts to built a society based on Marxist principles so far has turned out to be disastrous - just like any other attempts to create a society based on religion or other philosophical system (of which modern Iran and The handmaid's tale are the two contemporary illustrations.)

So, if we return to the specific questions listed in the OP, none of them is philosophical:

Can "Continental Philosophy" survive if one were to do at least one of:

  1. reject the notion of a "classless stateless society" as the best form of society, or as incompatible with human nature or otherwise unattainable,

This is a matter for sociology and psychology.

  1. reject the notion that economics determines all other social structure,

Here we deal with economics and sociology.

  1. reject the progression tribe -> slave -> feudal -> capitalism -> socialism -> Communism evolutionary theory

This belongs to sociology, although bordering on evolutionary concepts. As Motoo Kimura has been mentioned above, one could also question the Marxist determinism, which is similar to Darwin's insistence on continuous progression towards higher fitness - decisively replaced by stochastic models.

Furthermore, some social structures could be interpreted in terms of physics and neural networks, as is done nowadays when modeling microbial communities - however, there is no reason to believe that these structures would turn out to be similar in any way to what Marx had predicted. This could be tested only via real scientific approach, by testing the model-based predictions - Hegelian or any other reasoning is snot a substitute for this. At least, not to the extent where one could apply conclusions to the real world (material world, as Marxists would say.)

For critique of Marxism from the point of view of a sociologist, see, e.g., Marx and Marxism by Peter Worsley.

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  • Most of what you write is perfectly valid but where, exactly, do you answer the main question whether what is called "continental philosophy" builds on Marxist thought by definition?
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jul 5, 2023 at 14:45
  • @PhilipKlöcking I think the title pf the question does not correctly reflects its body. The points discussed in the OP and in my answer are not really philosophical. Thus, even if they are wrong, this does not disprove the dialectic and philosophy built on it. Aside from that, I think that Continental philosophy is much broader than just Marxism - unless it is meant here in some specific narrow sense - but others are more qualified to address this aspect..
    – Roger V.
    Jul 5, 2023 at 14:55
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So does this mean if one disagrees with or rejects Marxism in at least some way, e.g. rejects the notion of a "classless stateless society [a type of anarchy]" as the ultimate and best form of society for humanity, or reject the notion that the economic structure determines everything (economic determinism), or rejects the Marxist theory of social evolution, then the whole edifice of the Continental philosophy collapses?

TL;DR: No.

The full quote from that link essentially already tells you as much. Arguing that attempts to find logically valid or sound arguments in her work have lead to self-contradiction and internal inconsistencies.

So the commenter "Jaime Ravenet" goes on playing devils advocate and pretends "But what if these self-contradictions are just a version of 'dialectics' a philosophical approach of having a constructive debate between opposing viewpoints, where the goal is not to win but get closer to the truth by studying seeming contradictions. Which was then developed in continental philosophy into a discipline where you would do that on your own looking at a thing and it's opposite and which Marx attempted to drag from the mostly theoretical to the empirical world."

So he's essentially joking by saying "what if she wasn't just wrong and couldn't argue properly, but instead was making a sophisticated argument using deliberate contradiction. Genius ;)".

And which he subsequently dispels as an alternative as it would be totally insufficient at proving that point. It's probably something like saying "The English language is the most useless invention in all of human history". To which the response would be "So why did you write that in English?" and most importantly "WHY? That's insufficient to prove that.".

And with regards to your particular question: No, that does not mean that if you contradict with anything that Marx said, that this would lead to the collapse of the entire continental philosophy, which has been noted by others already would be in need of a definition as it predates Marx and has lots of contributions that do not reference Marx or his apply his methodology. Not to mention that the idea of dialectics wasn't something that Marx invented either. At the time it was something popularized by Hegel.

What Marx might claim ownership over is dialectic and historical materialism. So the idea that one could apply dialectics not just to ideas to explain real world object but to real world objects to understand their evolution.

Which you could argue is the concept that led to results such as in:

  1. (reject) the notion that economics determines all other social structure,
  1. (reject) the progression tribe -> slave -> feudal -> capitalism -> socialism -> Communism evolutionary theory

Now whether you reject these is just your opinion and as such of little significance. The more important problem seems to be that there are occasional confusions between logical contradictions (true/false) and conflicts of interests (class struggle) in that system and that the ability of a philosophical system to live with contradictions can easily push it into the domain of pseudo-science, cause if your theory can explain a thing and it's opposite at the same time, that is not an indicator of a good theory, it's actually awful as it isn't applicable anywhere other than in hindsight.

Apparently Marx looked at historic and material progressions and saw that:

tribe -> slave -> feudal -> capitalism

As well as the fact that the most recent change(s) (e.g. French Revolution, 1848 Revolutions etc, Paris Commune) had indeed happened by a class struggle and a revolution and then tried to extrapolate that trend. That societal makeup follows the conditions set by the mode of production and that the development happens via class struggles.

Kings try to get more stuff hence abusing slave labor, the ever increasing management of slaves leading to feudalism and an aristocracy, the need for ever more production leading to a reliance of a middle class with advanced means of production leading to capitalism and the necessity for a proletariat to build and run these machines leading to the point where they can do it without the owners. And further on to a society where everyone is working and consumer and were one collectively decides what is produced for ones own benefit ending the class struggle of exploiter and exploited.

The problem is that this is only one explanation from a specific point of view of history on history. It's still a matter of debate (or rather research (hopefully)) as to whether "capitalism", the accumulation of capital in the hands of the few that enabled them to invest the collective work force to their own benefit, created the increase in technology or whether it was the invention of technology that led to an accumulation of capital in the hands of the few.

In the first case you'd just need to gather lots of stuff and inventions will follow naturally, in the second case you'd need to have ideas first.

Just because there is an obvious correlation between accumulation of wealth and capital and the development of new technology, it's not quite obvious what leads to what. Not to mention that the relation could go both ways and that both explanations could be correct in some places and wrong in others.

So yeah that specific result of a dialectic idea of historicism might be wrong, but that's not necessarily a nail in the coffin of using dialectic ideas.

Similar to the economic conditions determining the social structure. Like to a degree that is as well based on real life observations. Both in terms of similarity like the structure of organizations very often models itself after existing models. So military, church, politics and companies, often modeled their hierarchical structures after each other and an economic advantage also often enough creates a social advantage and vice versa. So again there is some correlation though the direction of causation and the strength and reliability of that correlation can still be disputed.

Though again does that invalidate the idea that one could learn something by employing dialectics? Not really.

reject the notion of a "classless stateless society" as the best form of society, or as incompatible with human nature or otherwise unattainable,

Sure Marx might have arrived there via his class struggle dialectics, but lots of other people have arrived there before and afterwards not employing that. Like that is not just a Marxist utopia, isn't that literally how "utopia" was characterized? Like utopia means "non-place" or more abstract "not-(yet)-existing place" but when described it usually looks something like that.

Also what's the alternative? Like anti-classless, so strong social hierarchies and a rigid caste system? anti-stateless, so totalitarian authority of the state? Anti-society, so extreme individualism to the point of being a hermit not relying on anybody else?

There are people who support 1 or more of these aspects, but at least since the enlightenment these have fallen massively out of favor despite having occasional comebacks though usually even in those cases their true intentions are at least somewhat hidden.

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The end of Continental philosophy--it's 'termination' or fulfilment point--is Marxism. World-wide, Marxism seems to have won (with the Frankfurt reinterpretation, of course). Talk about Eurocentric!

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