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  • Writer's pictureDaniel de la Torre

social being's complexity and deanthropomorphization

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

With the implementation of actions that use the known causal chains for the realization of valued goals through the teleological postulation of projects, where two or more individuals coordinate with each other and develop a common framework of intelligibility, the deployment of the ontological stratum of the social begins. The forms of relationship that result from this process are consolidated in subsequent projects, in the same way that the created values are subjected to new transformations, the concepts that emerged to name the objects are refined, and normative orders are established to guide the interactions between the socialized individuals and their objects. In this way, the products of a labor process become the material of a new reification, determining the acquisition of new properties for the social being as well as the corresponding knowledge about them. In this process, the development of increasingly complex and differentiated structures occurs to integrate the social being. These are second order constructions aimed at establishing and implementing defined rules of conduct, as occurs with the law. Another reason why the complexity of the social totality is continuously increasing is the fact that the continuous fulfillment of a teleological postulation is often not resolved all at once at the end of a work process, but rather has to receive continuous maintenance to be operational. This continuous maintenance repeatedly implies decision-making that affects the rest of the social structure.

Csaba Varga has identified some of the consequences that follow from the expansion of the ontological stratum of social being:

• An increasing portion of the natural environment is appropriated during the course of social development.

• The mere facticity of the experience is changed by an institutionalized control.

• The way in which the experience is rationalized and reified reflects the historicity of the process in which it occurs, which is expressed in the form of motivation for specific configurations of social relations as well as their conflicts.

• The character of thing is given to abstractions that are increasingly detached from the material practices that allow the exchange between nature and society.

• The abstractions function as technical instruments to guide practical action, allowing the identification of those entities that are relevant to it as well as the pertinent causal relationships.

In this way, the environment that surrounds the social being is progressively subsumed under the schemes generated through the processes of praxis. These schemes have an effective reality to the extent that they inform praxis again, becoming effective moments of action and decision-making. Thus, as Lukács argues in his Ontology, ''The forms of objectivity of the social being grow in the course of the emergence and deployment of social praxis, from the natural being and become more and more expressly social''. These categorical forms, which are those used by the institutions and other organisms that order and coordinate the social fabric, supervene on the ontological ground of production as the dominant moment at the same time they develop new forms of relation among socialized individuals.

It is worth remembering Talcott Parsons' formula according to which a society is a social system that transcends the lives of its members and incorporates their biological reproduction and socialization into its processes to persist over time (an argument framed by Luhmann under Maturana & Varela’s concept of autopoiesis). Similarly, Lukács points out that the tangled totality of emergent complexes tends towards its own preservation. Far from the false projection of a suprahistorical teleology towards which a kind of progress could tend, ''persistence is captured insofar as it is continuously maintained, renewed in the real complexes in the unfolding of reality, since continuity, as a form of movement of the complex, comes out of its abstract-static permanence and becomes concrete within becoming''. .

Once those forms of relationship that make the persistence of the social stratum possible have settled, they begin to acquire a consistency such that it is capable of resisting the deviations or initiatives of the particular subjects and the partial systems that integrate it. At this moment, when the set of social structures acquires greater weight than the acts of individuals, the experience of the social sphere is experienced as a ''second nature''. The regularities followed by this become relatively indifferent to the course followed by their elementary components, so that a social trend is maintained despite the existence of particular cases in which this trend is experienced as detrimental for the personal realization of a group of individuals.

It is characteristic of the structures that make up the social totality that their genesis is obscured by their growing autonomy. The social and historical contingency of its appearance, however, is revealed in moments of crisis, when the incompatibilities between the emerging partial systems prevent the harmonious integration of the whole.

Both the categorical forms developed with the knowledge of the causal chains during the work processes, as well as those of the second order that are directed towards the intervention of the social being, tend towards a level of abstraction that is no longer constrained by the limitations of the particular context in which they emerge. Lukács uses the term ''de-anthropomorphization'' to name this tendency to ''the abstractive contemplation of determinations that are inextricably linked to human reactions to the environment''. This tendency was what made science as such emerge as the adequate method to influence natural and social processes through their objective characteristics. Restraining from projecting the particular motivations of individuals it allowed the knowledge of the causal chains that become effective in an operation. Although the division of these formal systems with respect to their content, which try to "extirpate from their own behavior all subjective-irrational moments, everything anthropomorphic, by separating the subject from man's knowledge more and more energetically, and transforming it into a subject (...) purely formal'', was one of the objectives of the critique of the first essay on Reification and the consciousness of the proletariat, in Lukács Ontology de-anthropomorphization is not rejected as such, since he rather tries to identify those components of the social being that prevent the realization of the potential of its members.

The case of the law is particularly useful to illustrate the way in which the conceptualization of the environment by the social being acquires an effective reality that gives structure to said being, which stops responding to the particular circumstances in which it was formulated, erasing its historically situated genesis, and acquires an abstract character that aspires to be universally valid within the social being. Even more, the law tends to constitute itself in the form of a self-contained system, whose inconsistencies are only questioned in moments of crisis. In the law, the concepts that name its objects function as artificial constructions that allow influencing reality by establishing and implementing defined rules of conduct, which should not be examined epistemologically, but through an ontological approach that considers them as practical instruments that exercise influence from the legal field.

Note: This is a translation extracted from the research draft I’m currently trying to finish, which explores the recent readings of György Lukács concept of reification, as exposed by Andrew Feenberg, and Michael J. Thompson among others.


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