Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism, equates the human responsibility of achieving self-hood (subjectivity) with truth. Kierkegaard’s notion of self is the union of acts that relate between dualities such as finite/infinite, necessity/possibility, and temporal/timeless. This is a negative space of the Hegelian synthesis of duals that moves from descriptive to prescriptive ethics. Truth or the realization of the self is known through the active choice of relating between duals without identifying too closely with either poles (failure results in forms of despair). An important case concerns the religious duality between sin/faith which is powered by the tension between Christianity’s paradox to reason and the necessity of a leap to faith. Although Kierkegaard’s process of individuation (achieving selfhood) occurred predominantly along religious lines, he introduced a number of general concepts that speaks to the human condition.


The responsibility of achieving selfhood compels one to make conscious choices at every moment. Each moment entails a great number of choices, and their multiplicity of consequences to consider lead the subject to experience a “dizziness of freedom” or angst/dread. This paralysis by analysis, or the anticipation of consequences render one immobile and unable to make a choice for fear of sin. Conversely, it is the experience of anxiety that allows one to move away from unconscious ignorance and into one’s potential for action, self-recognition, and identity.

Kierkegaard posits three existential stages of life along the way of becoming a true self:

  1. The aesthetic (the hedonist) lives for sensory experience and pleasure as a way to combat boredom; Boredom is characterized as “the root of all evil-the despairing refusal to be oneself” as it is an undifferentiated or an undirected state of consciousness. The aesthetes who avoid boredom through the pursuit of novelty also avoids commitments as it requires repetition. Common techniques to suspend boredom is through anticipation which delays gratification, and the so-called “rotation method” where one cycles between activities so that no one activity’s novelty is exhausted.  However, the mode of living is self-serving and ultimately meaningless as it ignores the dimension of other individuals or society.
  2. The ethical is the antithesis of the aesthetic where one lives a life according to well-defined rules for the good of society rather than for the self. In the process acting according to higher principles, new pleasures may be realized that could not by the aesthetic. For example, while the novelty of marriage wears off, the act of giving to your spouse and children is rewarding.
  3. The religious is the final stage of the true self which requires a commitment to the moral absolutes of God. Such absolutes are communicated not through social institutions such as the church, but through a personal relation or revelation of God. Such absolutes require a “teleological suspension of the ethical” as they may contradict that of social norms; one may have to sacrifice pleasures of both the aesthetic and the ethical to reach this. Thus, one can consider revelation (disclosure of divine moral absolutes) as the synthesis of the pursuit of novelty (now the spiritual sphere) and the repetition of commitment (now in the subjective sphere).


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Kierkegaard describes the experience along these stages of life in terms of despair that arise from an unbalanced identification with poles of duals (lack of  finitude/infinitude, necessity/possibility). Three levels are given:

  1. The lowest level is the ignorance of one being in despair or of having a self (unconscious of self). One may be unable to realize one’s potential in life as he/she is fully in pursuit of novelty or of sensuous dichotomies of agreeable/disagreeable. He/she imagines himself happy but is actually dependent on the various objects of pleasure (materialist). Conversely, the system-builder who lives inside abstractions is divorced from experience. The system is merely a scaffold over an abyss from which the self’s relation to the concrete is  hidden.
  2. The next level is conscious despair where one understands the condition of having to relate to duals but not the specific causes. One may despair against becoming oneself and run away by becoming someone else; he/she may refuse to become a self through feelings of unworthiness. The person may even be able to identify his weaknesses but become identified with the weaknesses themselves and refuse help by God.
  3. The final level is demonic despair against the eternal itself where one is hardened by suffering and so defies any help; the person identifies with despair itself as suffering lifts him/her in uniqueness above everyone else.


Pragmatism is a school of philosophy that directs thought towards the service of practical uses rather than a function representation of phenomena. That is, holding thoughts and beliefs led to actions on the sensible world that may or may not have been efficacious; the veracity of such beliefs corresponds to a “cash value” or use value in the sensible world for the believer. Two major proponents of this school of thought are William James and John Dewey who the former is more concerned with the justification of moral beliefs and the latter with the justification of scientific knowledge.


In William James’s “Will to Believe”, he defends the belief in faith (religion) without evidence on the grounds that all moral beliefs entail a degree of trust prior to sensible evidence. A situation may arise where one is unable to not make a choice (non-action is also a choice) before evidence abounds. The very consequence of holding a belief may influence the outcome as in the case of “confidence”. That is, evidence may not be realized unless a prior faith is constituted. Extending this to the religious sphere, one’s may never encounter proof of God unless one has placed in  God prior faith. Curiously enough, the scientific method is not so different in the sense that it makes hypotheses (albeit more verifiable) that begs/challenges forth an answer (evidence). This is typical of the “radical empiricism” of the modern age when neither observer nor observation can be frozen in time and separated; both facts and theories condition one another.

His ontology presupposes experience from which mater and thought enter into relations with. Pure experience is  “the immediate flux of life which furnishes the material to our later reflection with its conceptual categories”. That is, experience isn’t reduced to the objects of experience (Hume, Locke) which is wholly scientific but rather is imbued with both meaning and intentionality structured by human thought. Such a view also treats trans-empirical entities as superfluous as naturalistic accounts of meaning/intentions are sufficient explanations in practical terms.


John Dewey applies pragmatism to scientific inquiry where theories are judged accordingly to how well they predict phenomena in their respected domains; theories are instruments of prediction (instrumentalism) rather than laws that uncover truths about nature and thus relegated to approximations of truth. However, such a notion of truth is not absolute and appears at times appear probabilistic via statistical certainties. Instead, true/false can be viewed as a mutual adjustment between an organism (more on this side) and its environment; a satisfactory adjustment promotes a belief that has significance in the way that it induces behavior. The logic of belief follows inquiry which seeks to transform an undetermined situation into  a determined set of relations or a unified whole (Hegel’s influence). In the sphere of facts, this creates complications where the external consequences in a future are used to constitute facts; for example, one believes that they woke up this morning by virtue of not sleeping at the current moment rather than by looking at regularities of sleep cycles in the past. Such is the empowering yet dangerous element in Dewey’s philosophy where man, who has become unchained from the past, is able to make greater leaps forward in his own invention whilst being blinded by his own hubris.




Bergson’s philosophy distinguishes two forms of time which provides a counter-argument to Kant’s free-will as partly subject to causality. Kant, along with most philosophers have adopted spatial or mathematical-time which borrows from our intuitions on the divisibility of space; time acquires discrete units and can be measured. Bergson argues that pure time or duration is both continuous and indivisible; events evade comparison and so there neither can be mechanistic determinism nor teleology. Duration is initially described as qualitative multiplicity (heterogeneous-temporal) as opposed to quantitative multiplicity (homogeneous-spatial);  a typical example follows the experience of interpenetrating feelings (one feeling transforming into another) which evade non-conceptual comparison (akin to the difference senses).  A lesser image is one of color gradient/spectrum where different colors are represented but do not interpenetrate. Thus, duration can be characterized by heterogeneous moments that blend or progress from one form to another; it evades conceptualization as language imposes structures that demarcate categories and would separate duration.

Intuition for Bergson is the experience of entering into oneself (sympathy); it escapes the divisioning of things into parts and then the re-synthesis into categories that only give relative knowledge (regularized by our needs). By entering into a thing (a Buddhist principle), we are able to move between others through effort by sensing differences (other durations). This movement allows extremes in heterogeneity to be connected (e.g. red to blue) and thus unify dualistic positions. The prolongation of past movement with the current moment, Bergson calls memory and equates with intuition or image. Image is a middle-ground between material in realism and representation in idealism; representation is a sectioning of the image for utility’s sake whereas material lacks the power to cause representations. The canonical example of memory follows the image of the inverted cone intersected with the plane; the apex represents the present, the base is pure memory or the unconscious, and the plane is the representation of the world (if the apex intersects with the plane, then the image of the body participates in the world).  Thinking  focuses the cone on distant memories to produce singular images; this is a movement from interpenetration into fragmentation. Action contracts the singular images so that only one is selected; the scene contracts to a single image whence a generalization can be made.


Bergson’s third principle of creative evolution reconciles the continuity/interpenetration of duration (time) with the practical utility of representation (space); the theory consists of four parts:

  1. Vital impulse: This is an all-embracing impulse at the beginning of life to explain change and the tendency towards consciousness/complexity. It is unlike mechanism which is specific enough to account (drive) all novelty from low-order parts. It is unlike finality which explains complexity in hindsight (w.r.t. final causes).
  2. Principle of divergence/differentiation: Life differentiates itself according to opposing instinct and intelligence. Within instinct are more opposites such as mobility/immobility (e.g. animals/plants). Intelligence or the production of representations in humans and lesser primates are differentiated from tool use/creation to abstract thought. Human, whose ego is the product of intelligence is at a loss from instinct which is necessary for understanding time and ultimately, vital impulse (source of change).
  3. Intelligence/Instinct: This is the claim that a shred of instinct remains within man’s being; both intelligence and instinct are tendencies that have origins in the production of change. For example, one can both read how to swim (intelligence) and actually swim by immersing oneself into water (instinct).
  4. Intuition or the process of getting in touch with things themselves within themselves  (navigating heterogeneous interpenetrating  moments) allows man to gain knowledge of the absolute.



Marxism provides a description of history as a dialectic between class relations in terms of modes of production. Following Hegel, Marx inverts the primacy of ideas into the primacy of material conditions necessary for survival; such conditions are summarized by relations of productions where members of a society must engage in social relationships as a means towards life. While Hegel’s lord-bondsman is a dialectic of reaching self-consciousness (freedom of will), Marx’s aristocrat-slave, lord-serf, and capitalist-proletariat are dialectics of reaching economic equality (freedom of realization or means of production). Throughout history, the antagonisms between the prevailing class (those who control the means of production) and the under class (those who do not)  have created conflicts that have resulted in the overthrowing of the former by the latter and the synthesis of a new class (class struggle). For example, small tribal societies originally held property in the commons but would eventually acquire slaves to work the lands after the agricultural revolution. Tribes banded together and formed villages that grew into cities where the ruling families became Aristocrats. The growing expanse of territory had to be cultivated by an ever-increasing slave population that exceeded their replenishment; this phase culminated in the fall of the Roman empire which grew too large to be maintained (Barbarians completed the revolution with the sacking of Rome). From the remains emerged local lords who owned land that were occupied by serfs (once freeman); serfs subsist off the land but were required to give a fraction of their produce back to the lord as well as to work on the lord’s other properties. Over time (and land shortage), the freemen were able to urbanize and create a middle-class that became independently wealthy from trade/commerce; this marked the end of feudalism and gave rise to the capitalist class who could hire freemen on a wage to do work.



The analysis of modes of production in its most recent form (capitalism) requires a short discourse in commodities. A commodity is a good/service produced from labor to be sold in a market. The value of a product can be expressed in terms of use-value or the utility that it serves, but also in terms of an exchange value for other products. According to Marx’s labor theory of value, the product’s market value ought to be regulated in terms of the average socially necessary labor time required to produce it; a chair is worth more than the wood that it was made from as it contains both the labor of construction and chopping of wood from tree. To mediate the exchange of various types and quantities of products (as to establish an equivalence between the labor of two different things), a third entity (money) is synthesized as to objectivize labor; here begins the disassociation of use-value from exchange value through the advancement of money (capital) and its power to command social labor. For example, money lent on interest produces more money without an antecedent product (and labor).  Money spent on a commodity to be sold at a higher price yields a profit. How capitalism accomplishes this feat is via the exploitation of workers (laborers).

In capitalism, the means of productions (e.g. machinery, material, land) are privately owned by the capitalists who employ workers to labor and produce commodities; workers relinquish their ownership of their product (labor) and given a wage (money). To maximize profit, the capitalist seeks to minimize the wage given the worker (enough that the worker can subsist on as to continue working the next day) and the reap the surplus of labor (anything produced beyond the fixed costs) to be sold on the market. Such relations between capitalist-worker and capitalist-capitalist are obscured by the perceived value of objects on the market which are mistaken for their intrinsic value (commodity fetishism); a laptop has a price tag but it hides the cost of production and those engaged in its transactions. The economic consequence is the appearance of an autonomous market that ascribes prices (and thus labor value) to commodities that are independent of the consumers (use-value).The far-reaching consequences are the pursuit of new markets in different territories (globalization), the development of  new technologies (subjugation of creativity) to more efficiently extract resources (enframing/challenge nature to produce something for standing reserve, Heidegger later) and replace labor, and the alienation between workers.

The social alienation through labor is manifested in several forms. The first form occurs between workers and the products which he/she have no control over the prices of; workers are given little input as to the design of their products (inventions are patented) and  receive little or no share of the profits. Second, Workers through the divisioning of their labor (sake of efficiency), are given repetitive/assembly line tasks that alienates him the total product; this differs from craftsman and serfs from the middle-ages and the Renaissance who produced their products from start to finish. Third in the psychological dimension, the worker loses his ability to objectify his will/intentions; his will is subordinated to the external demands of others for stretches of time. Last, the final form of alienation occurs between workers who are reduced to relations of competition for higher wages; the unemployed for example can threaten to take your jobs at a lower wage.

While alienation is a socially damaging effect of capitalism, Marx stressed that it is the economic contradictions within the capitalist’s mode of production that would be responsible for the next revolution. His immiseration thesis theorized that the worker’s economic impoverishment would deteriorate through the capitalist’s exploitation and greater accumulation of capital (inequality). The thesis is debatable as capitalism, through reforms (government minimum wage, unions) and its drive for new technologies have improved the standard of living (creation of the middle class that benefits the most) for workers; conversely, the average wage has hardly changed in the last forty years. Regardless, such a revolution proscribes to wrest and redistribute private ownership of the means of production back to the workers (socialism) which progresses towards a stateless society without economic classes (communism). Many authors have expounded on the many contradictions inherent to capitalism in more recent times (I recommend David Harvey) and so I’ll leave this discussion for a later time and conclude this blog entry.




Utilitarianism is a consequentialist approach to ethics that attempts to objectivize worth in terms of “utility” (happiness, negation of suffering, pleasure) rather than adherence to universalizing laws (deontology) and motives (virtue-ethics). Classical utilitarianism adopts the Epicurean valuation of pleasure as a fundamental principle sought by all members of a society; pain, aside from masochist/sadist dichotomies, constitutes the opposite or undesirable. The English combined these concepts with the empiricst/Humean principles of cause & effects where the latter is considered social utility.

The two major proponents of this school of thought, Bentham and Mill, equate pleasure with happiness but differ as to how social utility is measured. Bentham quantified the “greatest happiness for the greatest number” as the determination of right/wrong; Mill qualified the determination as the “greatest aggregate happiness among sentient beings” which ranked happiness according to intellectual/moral pursuits higher than that of the physical/body. Mill justifies the assertion with the claim that one would choose the former over the latter if both are experienced; this can be be obviously attacked on the grounds of cognitive biases / variations of temperaments in later history. Intrinsic or not, the valuation implies an inequality amongst “moral goods” and subsequently the individuals who pursue them; such effects would be case-sensitive in the sense that worth is never absolute (for example, fur coat production in Siberia would be worth more than production in Egypt). Thus, codifying such a book of laws on social utility tends to intermingle many practical spheres such as economics and politics.


Liberty is a central trade-off one makes in the pursuit of personal happiness and the concern with social utility; the “tyranny of the majority” may decree a law that increases their sense of securities whilst marginalizing your freedom (for example, the negation of liberty can be realized in incarceration). The limits of such acts are bounded by the “harm principle” which circumscribes all coercion by the state on an individual to actions that would prevent harm to its other members; one’s incarceration is evaluated by your danger to the public. As for the positive definition of liberty, Mill makes three claims (freedom of speech, taste, and union). Freedom of opinion (truth, half-truths, and falsehoods) in valued in so much that their expressions are necessary in the production of effects to which their moral statuses can be continually re-evaluated. Taste or individuality appeals to the biased ranking of different pleasures which must be experienced to be apprehended. Union is encouraged for the many can obtain greater pleasure for the whole than otherwise the singleton (for example, the shift from artisan crafts to mass-industrialization produces greater material wealth, the social costs are another story). Co-operatives are encouraged as profit-sharing increases the awareness of the common goods (satisfaction from participation with the whole) that counteracts the growing alienation of industrialized labor. Taxation becomes an instrument by the state to evaluate and manipulate social good.