13
Feb
08

Rational systems and the contemplative stance

We have already noted that Lukacs writes,

As labour is progressively rationalised and mechanised his lack of will is reinforced by the way in which his activity becomes less and less active and more and more contemplative. The contemplative stance [is] adopted towards a … a perfectly closed system (HCC)

Now we are in a position to unpack this claim. Lukacs believed that capitalism causes people to seek to understand the world more and more rationally, i.e. through an increasingly rational system. However, because increasing rationality implies increased closure (c.f. (RATIONAL->CLOSED)), the result is a (perhaps real, perhaps perceived) inability to act freely upon the contents of the system.

That seems to be roughly Lukacs’ argument. There are complications in the logic, however. Clearly, if the acting subject is exogenous to the system, and the system is closed, then the contents of the system are impervious to the subject’s actions. But what if the subject is endogenous to the system? In that case, what is important, it seems, is not the closure but the rationality of the system, because in this case the subject’s actions must be deducible from the system’s axioms, and hence not independently caused by the subject.

I may well be wrong about this, but after my first reading of HCC, I gather that Lukacs accepts all this and casts the tension here in terms of the following class difference: the bourgeoisie characteristically rationalize the world, but leave their own subjectivity out of it, and hence understand the world as a partial system closed to them. The proletariat, however, exist in the same rationalized world but consider the world through a total system that permits them action within it, but only as a class and only in a way prescribed by the rationality the system (in this case, the historical dialectic), or else not at all.

There seems to be a useful conceptual distinction here for which, as far as I know, there are no preexisting terms. So I will make some up:

(DFN-AUTOLOGICAL-SYSTEM-v.1.0) An autological system is a system whose contents includes its subject.
(DFN-HETEROLOGICAL-SYSTEM-v.1.0) A heterological system is a system whose contents do not include its subject.

What do I mean when I talk about a system’s subject? Recall that a system is a set of beliefs and valuations. For now, let’s say that a system’s subject is the person who has those beliefs and valuations. I think there’s a lot of ambiguity in these definitions as given, but I would like to move on for now and get back to them later.

Given these preliminary definitions, I think we can argue the following:

(CSTANCE-RAT-HET) One must take the contemplative stance towards systems that are both fully rational and heterological.

Why? Because:

  1. Suppose a system S is both fully rational and heterological.
  2. S is closed. (by (RATIONAL->CLOSED))
  3. The contents of S do not depend on any variables exogenous to S (by 2 and (DFN-CLOSED-SYSTEM-v.1.0))
  4. The subject of S is not included in the contents of S (by (DFN-HETEROLOGICAL-SYSTEM-v.1.0))
  5. The subject of S is exogenous to S (by an unformalized definition of “exogenous”)
  6. The contents of S does not depend on the the subject of S.
  7. The subject of S must take the contemplative stance towards S if the contents of S do not depend on the subject of S.

I realize that I haven’t yet provided a definition of the contemplative stance here. I’m not sure it’s possible to do so given my current understanding of the term; I’ll try to use it in a way that’s consistent and provide a definition, perhaps revisiting this argument, later.

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1 Response to “Rational systems and the contemplative stance”


  1. August 30, 2008 at 11:05 am

    I see too much logic here. Too much theory on holiday. George -I thought – was trying to articulate what is so alienating about a commodified society. Contemplation is an alienation from praxis – an alienation from life, in a very real, but not at all logical, sense. There is – I assume – no logical necessity to act. Still, I am consoled that there is at least one other person out there in the abysmally lonely cyberspace with time for Lukacs.

    All the best.


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