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From Marx To Bergson – – – Construction and inversion of materialism

By Amir Suhail Wani

Marx’s philosophy is one of protests; it is a protest imbued with faith in man, in his capacity to liberate himself, and to realize his potentialities. This faith is a trait of Marx’s thinking that was characteristic of the western mood from the late Middle Ages to the nineteenth century, and which is so rare today. For this very reason, to many readers who are infected with the contemporary spirit of resignation and the revival of the concept of original sin (in Niebuhrian or Freudian terms), Mark’s philosophy will sound dated, old fashioned, utopian and for this reason,

if not for others, they will reject the voice of faith in man’s possibilities, and of hope in his capacity to become what he potentially is . To others, however, Marx’s philosophy will be a source of new insight and hope”. At the same time, Marx’s treatment of human beings as profit- generating commodities risks neglecting to treat them as human beings. It is this view of Marx that defames and derogates the man of his real status, for the reality of man doesn’t merely lie in generating pro_ t but to participate in a wholesome and comprehensive development of the society and universe, of which he is not only a dumb spectator but an active and dynamic participant.


The next towering figure in our quest for man in Freidrich Nietzsche to whom we owe the concept of superman or Ubermensch. The idea of Ubermensch is expounded in most of his Works in particular in his books thus Spoke Zarathustra.

In the early 1880s, when he wrote thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche arrived at a conception of human life and possibility – and with it, of value and meaning – that he believed could overcome the Schopenhauerian pessimism and nihilism that he saw as outcomes of the collapse of traditional modes of religious and philosophical interpretation.

He prophesied a period of nihilism in the aftermath of their decline and fall; but this prospect deeply distressed him. He was convinced of the un-tenability of the “God hypothesis,” and indeed of all religious and metaphysical interpretations of the world and ourselves; and yet he was well aware that the very possibility of the affirmation of life was at stake, and required more than the mere abandonment of all such ”lies” and ‘fictions.” He took the basic challenge of philosophy now to be to reinterpret life and the world along more tenable lines that would also overcome nihilism. What Nietzsche called “the death of God” was both a cultural event – the waning and impending demise of the “Christian-moral” interpretation of life and the world – and also a philosophical development: the abandonment of anything like the God-hypothesis (all demi divine absolutes included). As a cultural event it was a phenomenon to be reckoned with, and a source of profound concern; for he feared a “nihilistic rebound” in its wake, and worried about the consequences for human life and culture if no countermovement to it were forthcoming. As a philosophical development, on the other hand, it was his point of departure, which he took to call for a radical reconsideration of everything from life and the world and human existence and knowledge to value and morality. The deification of nature,” the “translation of man back into nature,” the “revaluation of values,” the tracing of the “genealogy of morals “and their critique, and the elaboration of “naturalistic” accounts of knowledge, value, morality, and our entire “spiritual” nature thus came to be his main tasks. His published and unpublished writings contain a wealth of remarks, observations, and suggestions contributing importantly to them.

It is a matter of controversy, even among those with a high regard for Nietzsche, whether he tried to work out positions on issues bearing any resemblance to those occupying other philosophers before and after him in the mainstream of the history of philosophy. He was harshly critical of most of his predecessors and contemporaries; and he broke fundamentally with them and their basic ideas and procedures. His own writings, moreover, bear little resemblance to those of most other philosophers. Those he himself published (as well as his reflections in his notebooks) do not systematically set out and develop views. Rather, they consist for the most part in collections of short paragraphs and sets of aphorisms, often only loosely if at all connected. Many deal with philosophical topics, but in very unconventional ways; and because his remarks about these topics are scattered through many different works, they are all too easily taken in isolation and misunderstood. On some topics, moreover, much of what he wrote is found only in his very rough notebooks, which he filled with thoughts without indicating the extent of his reflected commitment to them. His language, furthermore, is by turns coolly analytical, heatedly polemical, sharply critical, and highly metaphorical; and he seldom indicates clearly the scope of his claims and what he means by his terms. It is not surprising, therefore, that philosophers have found it difficult to know what to make of him and to take him seriously – and that some have taken him to repudiate altogether the traditional philosophical enterprise of seeking reasoned conclusions with respect to questions of the kind with which philosophers have long been concerned, heralding the “death” not only of religious and metaphysical thinking, but also of philosophy itself. Others read him very differently, as having sought to effect a fundamental reorientation of philosophical thinking, and to indicate by both precept and example how philosophical inquiry might better be pursued.

Those who regard Nietzsche in the former way take his criticisms of his philosophical predecessors and contemporaries to apply to any attempt to address such matters. They seize upon and construe some of his more sweeping negative pronouncements on truth and knowledge as indicating that he believed we can only produce fictions and merely expedient (or possibly creative) perspectival expressions of our needs and desires, as groups or as individuals. They thus take him as a radical nihilist, concerned to subvert the entire philosophical enterprise and replace it with a kind of thinking more akin to the literary exploration of human possibilities in the service of life — a kind of artistic play liberated from concern with truth and knowledge.

Those who view him in the latter way, on the other hand, take seriously his concern to find a way of overcoming the nihilism he believed to result from traditional ways of thinking; his retention of recast notions of truth and knowledge; and his evident concern — especially in his later writings — to contribute to the comprehension of a broad range

of phenomena. This way of understanding him, like the former, remains controversial; but it permits an interpretation of his writings that is philosophically more fruitful.

The last in the list of western thinkers, we shall deal with is Henry Bergson. He was the prominent figure of French spiritualistic movement which was preceded by Ravaisson, Lachelier and Boutroux etc. With Bergson, the essential nature of metaphysical reality is revealed in the natural life and consciousness. Bergson believed that intuition is superior to intellect and is synonymous with life itself. According to Bergson, the evolution is creative and that the elan vital, is the propulsive agent that drives Creative evolution. This Creative evolution is the pivot of Bergsonianism, by which he endows a special meaning to life and new grace to old garments.

This was a reaction against Darwinism who confined the meaning of evolution to the narrowest possible biological context. The Cambridge Dictionary of philosophy states “urging that biological evolution is impelled by a vital impetus or élan vital that drives life to overcome the downward entropic drift of matter Biological organisms, unlike dice, must compete and survive as they undergo permutations. Hence the unresolved dilemma of Darwinism”. Creative evolution reveals a struggle of the positive or active tendency, the vital impulse (Elan Vital) against the resistance offered by the negative or passive tendency. Frank Thilly beautifully sums this concept of creative evolution as “Life is everywhere endeavouring to maintain and increase itself amidst the drag and inertia of materiality.