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  • Writer's pictureDaniel de la Torre

Some parallels between the late work of Lukács and the late work of Stiegler

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

The relevance of Lukács Ontology of Social Being in the twenty first century has become visible through the identification of contemporary discussions and debates to which this proposal can respond. Such has been the strategy of recent authors who have collaborated in publications like Georg Lukács and the Possibility of Critical Social Ontology, a book edited by Michael J. Thomspon, where, for example, canonical proposals for social ontology in analytical philosophy, epistemological constructivism, or inferential and expressivist positions on language and normativity are contrasted with Lukács's description of the sedimentation of social objects generated through work, where practice has an ontological preeminence over its verbalization. This can inform other recent proposals to resume the critique of political economy, such as the one found in the late works of Bernard Stiegler, for whom the entire planet is inserted in processes that mediate between the entropy tending to the destruction of those conditions that allow the subsistence of life and the care that allows the development of human capacities as well as the environment that surrounds it.

Some of the parallels that can be found between the late work of Lukács and Stiegler begin with their tripartite split into the ontological strata of inorganic matter, organic life, and the value-mediated social realm, which Stiegler describes as technologically constituted. Likewise, both authors subscribe to a processual ontology in which the individuation of the aforementioned strata occurs, allowing previously unusual forms of existence, which are accentuated with the implementation of projects through work, conceived by Lukács as teleological postulations and by Stiegler as the exosomatization of the protensions by which consciousness tries to reach possible futures where entropy is denied in order to maintain life. Likewise, both authors reject mechanistic determinisms, since Lukács insists on the opening of alternatives that are presented for the realization of a value in the face of the material and social conditions that are offered in each given present, where each chosen path of action gives unintended results that will enter again into a relationship with the social being, while Stiegler insists on the pharmacological nature of the cosmos, that is, its original incompleteness, which demands from the human being the manufacture of organs that make it possible to supply its shortcomings while keeping the risk of become harmful. Regarding scientific objectivity, Lukács considers that its emergence is always related to a level of development of the social being and it is gradually freed from the particular conditions of its appearance until it becomes valid in the most diverse contexts, since the universality of the Scientific knowledge is a historically situated achievement, while Stiegler relates scientific objectivity to its corresponding organological stage, in which issues of technique, knowledge, politics and economics come into play, which he considers power relations.

In our post-industrial present we can witness increasingly acute intrusions of systemic imperatives into the field of subjectivity through the information technologies that we use without interruption, which come to co-opt those withholdings that constitute the experience of the past as well as those protensions in which the teleological postulations of productive work and future projects are gestated. The diagnosis of the present requires taking into account the repercussions of such a massification of communication devices and the formal systems that program them. Stiegler has contributed enormously to this effort, noting that the transduction of writing to the medium of screens has inaugurated a permanent form of capitalism in which traces of digital activity are integrated into systems that convert this personal information into usable resources by the market, such as by anticipating the behavior and intentions of its users.

Deanthropomorphization becomes a particularly relevant issue in this era in which governance itself is automated through the development of algorithms that abstract the features that particularize the interactions that make up the social being, giving rise to procedures in which the predominance of its formal aspect ignores the content to which it is applied. These challenges of deanthropomorphization in the era of algorithmic governance require us to be able to identify the formal biases that operate within the social being, to de-automate decision-making and conceive of the development possibilities that have become available today.

The Ontology of the Social Being shows the complex heterogeneity of factors to be considered for a conception of sociability that allows guiding praxis on it, which is always traversed by the ontological strata of inorganic matter, organic life and valuation, which inaugurates the social being. It has shown those processes through which forms of social relationship are sedimented and stabilized, as well as that criterion that allows identifying those that are detrimental to the development of individual capacities that become possible with the deployment of sociability. The use of this framework for the diagnosis and the corresponding practice on our present is that task in which it corresponds to us to advance.

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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