by Jeff Noonan
From its beginnings, philosophy has existed in a state of tension with the given world, the world as it immediately presents itself to human consciousness. There would be no need for philosophy were the truth inscribed on the surface of things, but experience teaches that appearances can be deceiving. Philosophy arises out of reflection upon this experience of a failure of identity between appearances and reality. Beneath its disciplinary divisions, philosophy is the search for a unified method of inquiry, argument, and communication capable of discovering, proving, and disseminating the truth. Philosophy must therefore be, as a condition of its own existence, critical of naive and unreflective assertions of the identity of truth and appearances. If there is a truth to the matter, philosophy demands argument, evidence, and reasons.
Philosophy as refusal to accept the truth of the given in the form in which it immediately appears is the opposite of dogmatism, which is the refusal to accept the possibility that the given is not true in the form in which it is given. If philosophy as criticism refuses to immediately identify the true with that which presents itself immediately to consciousness, then dogmatism is the refusal to give up this identification, no matter how strong the reasons or evidence which tell against it. Dogmatism becomes ideological when the object of judgement is a social form, a determinate way of organizing and ruling human life. When critical philosophy turns its attention to dogmatic ideologies, its goal is to undermine people’s confidence in the truth of the ideology and the society it justifies by exposing contradictions. The contradictions that it aims to expose hold either between ideological ideals and social reality, or between the ideological conception of the ideals and more comprehensive or inclusive formulations of those ideals.
Take for example the common liberal ideal of equality. Liberal society may be criticised for failing to live up to this ideal (by permitting massive income inequality), or the liberal formulation of the ideal itself might be criticised as merely formal equality that abstracts from substantive life-conditions. In either case, philosophy as critique is initially negative: not a project for an alternative society, but an demonstration of the structural contradictions of the society whose ideals it questions.
My concern in this essay is with the general question of whether and how social philosophy can unite negative critique and support for definite positive strategies for overcoming existing political, economic, and cultural crises without succumbing to dogmatism. I will develop this answer with the example of Marxism in mind. I choose Marxism as my example because of the self-conscious way in which Marx struggled to unite a negative critique of existing society with a determinate, positive goal of criticism — a new society that had overcome the contradictions of the old — without succumbing to dogmatism. In my estimation, Marx was not wholly successful, but his efforts yield the key to a solution to the decisive problem of a coherent, non-dogmatic reconciliation of negative critique and positive demands.
My attempt at a solution to this most difficult problem will be to argue that social philosophy can coherently unite a positive project for social change and the vitality of negative criticism if:
1) the goals it defends avoid becoming overly concrete and particular, but instead remain general enough to permit adaptation to changing realities on the ground; and
2) it retains a willingness to listen to and learn from all groups whose lives are damaged in different ways — ways not necessarily contemplated in traditional conceptions of critical social philosophy — by the dynamics and contradictions of the given society.
A social philosophy that successful united one and two would provide a non-dogmatic but unified and universal goal for political struggle against contemporary life-crises. At the same time, it could remain socially and self-critical, thus avoiding the danger of dogmatic fixity and self-enclosure. I will begin with a brief discussion of the emergence of Marxism from the critique of Hegelian philosophy in order to concretise the methodological issues in play in my argument. I will then proceed to explain the philosophical and political implications of points (1) and (2), using Marxism as a foil against which my own conceptions can take shape. I will conclude with a concise sketch of what such a social philosophy would look like and what I take its most pressing contemporary tasks to be.
I: Marxism and Critical Social Philosophy
Marxism is perhaps the paradigmatic form of a critical social philosophy struggling to unite negative critique and a determinate, positive goal of social revolution. It was born out of Marx’s critique of the Hegelian philosophy grown stale and dogmatic in the hands of both right and left wing Hegelians. Neither group could overcome the most fatal weakness of Hegel’s philosophy: its tendency to force contingent historical processes into the terms of an abstract set of ideas obeying their own logic. In this way open-ended historical developments were made to serve a closed conceptual system that sanctifies that which has happened as that which had to have happened given the logical sequence of concepts demanded by the philosophy. Marx’s critique of Bruno Bauer dissects this essential problem shared by the entire Hegelian movement: “For Herr Bauer, as for Hegel, truth is an automaton that proves itself. Man must follow it. As in Hegel, the result of real development is nothing but the truth proven, i.e., brought to consciousness.” Philosophical idealism is thus paradigmatically dogmatic and ideological. It attempts to sanctify the given social world by making it appear as the logically necessary outcome of a universal developmental process. What it proves, however, is not the truth of history, but only that which it has presupposed in the categories of its metaphysics.
At the same time as he was exposing its latent dogmatism, Marx was also seeking to free a deeper critical dynamic of dialectical philosophy from Hegel’s conservative politics. Hegel claimed not to be imposing an alien conceptual logic upon history. In his explanation of his method he argued that the goals of historical development emerged out of contingent past events. He explicitly rejected a mechanical understanding of dialectics which “goes around applying this single inert form to whatever it encounters…which only arrives at the differentiation of its material since this has been already provided and is by now familiar.” Marx from the beginning understood this tension within Hegelian dialects, between its critical form and its conservative conclusions. In his most important reflection upon Hegel, he argued that “the outstanding achievement of Hegel’s Phenomenology and of its final outcome, thedialectic of negativity as the moving and generating principle is… that Hegel conceives the self-creation of man as a process… as the outcome of man’s own labour.” Thus, for Marx, philosophical critique depends upon its capacity to dissolve the legitimacy of the given social world, to undercut its appearance of naturalness. So long as philosophy remains negative, it remains critical. When it becomes positive, as in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, when it turns its task form dissolving the legitimacy of a given social form to legitimating an alternative, it runs the risk of becoming conservative and ideological.
This risk is one that Marxism had to be willing to take, however, since its goal was never to simply interpret or criticise the world, but change it. As Marx’s thinking developed it become increasingly shaped by the trajectory of the growing workers’ movement until its initial, humanistic philosophical goal — human emancipation — became grounded in the success of a specific event: working class revolution. Marx ultimately regarded working class revolution as the necessary social condition for the creation of a communist society and human emancipation. Once a critical, negative philosophy criticises a given reality, not in order to expose its contradictions, but in the name of a different reality which it regards as in all respects as of superior value, it assumes the risk of itself becoming ideologically closed to empirical disconfirmation and thus dogmatic. The historical record abounds with examples of Marxisms that have failed to avoid this temptation. I will not trace those well-known histories here. I do want to argue, however, that the danger of dogmatism can be avoided by returning to the earlier, more general idea of “human emancipation” suitably reinterpreted for the twenty-first century.
II: Human Emancipation and Working Class Revolution
Before Marx linked socialism to a particular class project, the universal interests of human beings with the class interests of the proletariat, and supported that link with what he regarded as an empirically adequate scientific understanding of socio-historical development, he spoke simply of “human emancipation.” He contrasted human emancipation with the political emancipation offered by the great liberal revolutions of the eighteenth century and concluded that liberal society did not emancipate the human being, because it presupposed the subordination of human interests in free self-development to the rule of alien, reified social forces, and especially the power of money. The rule of money over human life damaged human beings in two ways. First, it subordinated the ability of human beings to satisfy even their most basic needs, with the result that for those without sufficient money, life reverted towards a bestial state in which mere survival was the sole goal. Second, less remarked upon but ultimately perhaps more important, it divorced character, social standing, and achievements from the real life-activity of human beings.
Where money-value rules, it determines one’s social standing and the value of one’s achievements quite independently of the type of person one actually is. Virtuous character and talent count for nothing where professional and intimate relations can be bought and the rich are worshipped as paradigms of human success. Marx contrasts this rule of monetary illusion with an emancipated human reality in which “man” is assumed to “be man, and his relationship to the world a human one.” Then “you can exchange only trust for trust and love for love,” because “every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life.” Human oppression is here anchored more deeply than in the rule of a specific class, which is but one of the effects of reified power. The deepest problem is reification itself: the collective human power to create and democratically organize social life appears as an external natural force ruling over existing social relations making them appear fixed and unalterable.
If the problem that human beings face is domination by social-symbolic forces, and especially money, that their own cooperative labour has created, then the general solution to this problem must be a comprehensive transformation of the form of that cooperative labour. For Marx labour referred to any form of self-objectifying activity, to any “specific expression” of one’s “real individual life.” Cognitive and imaginative mental activity, artistic expression, and emotional expression can all be considered labour in this sense. Understood as such, the category labour embraces the entire range of expressions of human cognitive and practical life-capacities and mediates every human relationship with nature and other human beings in society. Human emancipation is not identical to a change in the form of government, but nor can it be identical simply to a change in the form of class relations, although it may require such a change as a necessary condition. But the sufficient conditions of human emancipation would be much more general than overcoming the power of the given ruling class.
If the fundamental problem of society is understood, as Marx initially understands it, as alienated labour, but labour is understood not as paid work (its alienated form) but all the specific ways in which human beings relate to nature and to each other, then the solution — human emancipation — must involve a complete transformation of the these relationships. Clearly, this properly universal goal cannot be identified — as Marx and subsequent Marxists proceeded to do — with the interests of the working class. While it might be true that workers suffer most directly from the particular structure of alienated labour typical of capitalism, it does not follow that a revolution capable of emancipating humanity essentially concerns “the social character of government.” The social character of government might change, workers might replace the bourgeoisie, without the problems other oppressed groups face being solved. Nor is a workers’ government alone any guarantee that new society can consolidate itself in a democratic way. Problems of the form and content of law, the role of the constitution, the division of power, not to mention wider problems of the sexual and racial division of labour, problems of spirituality, individual motivation, and the meaning of life, the proper role of science and technology, the form and content of art, and the value-status of non-human living and non-living nature are not solved — even in principle — just because workers or their representatives have Communist party rule.
Marxism ceases to be critical and becomes a closed ideology whenever and wherever it conflates human emancipation — which today must take the form of practical solutions to the fundamental life-crises of our time — with working class revolution under the leadership of a vanguard communist party. Here universal emancipation is reduced to the goals of a socially specific group, the working class, whose general interests must be brought into focus by a party of experts. Turning a necessary condition of human emancipation (ending alienated labour) into the necessary and sufficient condition could not but set up a new form of political alienation, the alienation of every other oppressed group from the working class and vanguardist politics. As soon as other groups of oppressed human beings, be they women, or racialised subaltern groups, or sexual minorities, or the disabled attain political self-consciousness, they begin to articulate their own narratives of the history of their subordination, narratives which may intersect with, but are not reducible to the history of the exploitation and alienation of labour. It is true that class and gender and race and ability all intersect with class, but it is the nature of an intersection that the crossing roads continue on, in their own direction.
There has been much theoretically and practically fruitful exploration of the intersections of class, race, gender, and sexuality, but no synthetic, coherent, and comprehensive theoretical and practical resolution of the tensions has been achieved. Nor can a solution be found, I argue, so long as one amongst these different grounds of oppression and exploitation is regarded as, or regards itself as, the most fundamental. The only solution is to regard them all as different manifestations of the same fundamental form of oppression: subordination of shared life-interests to the reproduction and growth of exclusionary systems which elevate the growth of some non-living value like money above the free development of life-value.
Every historically significant form of oppression is marked by variation around a common theme with both theoretical and practical sides. Theoretically, every oppressed group is subjected to some form of invidious contrast with the ruling group in which the oppressed group appears “inferior” in some respect said to be, by the ruling group, essential to human beings — intelligence, good judgement, self-discipline, initiative, beauty. These ideologies of invidious hierarchy then justify the practical denial to the oppressed of access to the resources and participation in the institutions which their freedom as self-determining agents would require. Access to the resources without which human life cannot survive and reproduce — oxygen, potable water, climate-appropriate shelter, clothing, and preventative and restorative medicine — and participation in the institutions and relationships without which the creative, social self- conscious agency definitive of human life are stifled — that is, caring mutualistic relationships, education, productive and creative activity, systems of governance and collective planning, time free of imposed routine — all that constitute a shared life-interest that links human beings as humans across our differences.
This shared life-interest defines the life-ground of our shared humanity. “Humanity” however, is not a generic abstraction, a mannequin-like sexless, cultureless, voiceless, sameness, but the capacity to create multiple ways of speaking, expressing, living, loving and identifying. These differences cannot freely develop, however, unless the shared life-interest is satisfied. Wherever one finds a history of oppression, one will find different ways and different reasons for denying that there is a shared life-interest linking oppressor and oppressed. Once this shared life-interest has been denied, social institutions proceed to impose upon the oppressed a life deprived of that which they require to live and develop their differences freely.
Oppression can therefore be understood as denial to the oppressed group of access to and participation in the universal conditions of free reproduction, development, and enjoyment of differences. If the universal form of human oppression is systematic deprivation of the resources and institutions that define the shared life-interest, then it follows that human emancipation requires universal and comprehensive access to the natural resources of life-support and participation in the institutions and relationships that the free development of human capacities through which valuable human differences are created and developed requires. While it is the case that human emancipation presupposes as its fundamental material condition collective democratic control over universally required life-resources for the sake of satisfying the shared life-interest — a condition incompatible with the class structure and ruling money-value system of capitalism — it does not follow that a socialist revolution on the early twentieth century model is sufficient for human emancipation. Human emancipation requires as its principled basis a coherent means of universally valuing human differences which nevertheless retains a critical capacity to reject certain interests and forms of life as illegitimate. This principle can be found in the life-value philosophy of John McMurtry.
McMurtry’s primary axiom of value states that “x is of value to the extent that x is productive of more coherently inclusive ranges of life-value expression and enjoyment.” In other words, any resources, practice, relationship, or institution that enables life to survive and develop its capacities is good, up to the point where it begins to reduce the ranges of life-value expression and enjoyment. Nutritious food is of value by this criterion, but only in healthy amounts. As applied to the struggle for human emancipation, this axiom implies that a movement for human emancipation must: 1) include all groups whose life-value is reduced under current political, economic, and cultural conditions because they are deprived of some or all of what human life requires to survive, develop and be enjoyed; 2) and work against those conditions, the ruling value systems that legitimate them, and the ruling groups that benefit from them; 3) include for the sake of new forms of resource development and use — new forms of social relationship and individual goals which enable rather than disable the development of those human differences that enrich the lives of each and all.
Oppressive practices and life-destructive goals are ruled our as necessarily disvaluable, because they are exclusive and destructive of the life-value of others, and therefore are not coherently inclusive. Thus, although the cultural practices of a racist society give expression to beliefs that are valuable to the racists who rule it, those practices are not consistent with the primary axiom of value, because they reduce the overall range of cultural expressions by impeding the free development of the culture of the oppressed group. Overcoming the racist aspect of society would create the conditions for the wider and deeper development of the culture of the formerly oppressed, while still permitting the former oppressors to develop new, non-racist forms of their own culture. Overall, society becomes more coherently inclusive of life-valuable differences as it eliminates the barriers to the satisfaction of the universal life-interest.
The project of human emancipation thus disagrees with Nietzsche that history is a never-ending series of displacements, struggles, and dominations. At the same time, it does not impose an ideological, dogmatic solution on these struggles since it does not define the specific institutional forms according to which free human societies must organize themselves. It also does not subordinate the particular narratives and self-understandings of particular oppressed groups to another particular narrative falsely inflated into universal truth, or infer the shared life- interest from dubitable philosophical conceptions of human nature. As Marx said of the human essence, the shared life-interest is no abstraction inherent in each individual, it is the ensemble of conditions without which human life cannot survive and develop those general life-capacities from which all meaningful constellations of human experience and activity are assembled.
Human emancipation does not dictate from on high which particular ways of life are meaningful. Instead, it identifies, on the basis of studies of human biology, psychology, social organization, cultural systems, histories of political struggle, and through dialogues with different groups of oppressed people common demands: for the physical requirements of life, for the social and political conditions of dignified, social self-conscious agency, for the time to explore and unfold life-capacities freely.
III. Listening, Learning, Opening
As argued above, critical social philosophy degenerates into dogmatic ideology when it confuses a necessary but particular condition of human emancipation with the comprehensive, universal, necessary and sufficient conditions of human emancipation. To put that point in less metaphysical terms, critical social philosophy becomes ideology when it becomes closed to other voices and distinctive narratives just because they articulate their oppression in a language other than the one spoken by the critical social philosophy (which has become dogmatic). As soon as critical social philosophy ceases to listen and learn from other voices, it ceases to be open to seeing the partiality and limitations of its theoretical starting points. It then becomes incapable of self-criticism and self-transformation in light of changed circumstances or novel arguments and perspectives on key problems. Instead of exposing the strategies by which ruling value systems impede the development of new solutions to systematic problems, it fixates on old ideas and old solutions, impeding the development of new forms of communication and organization across differences. By impeding the development of new forms of communication and organization, it prevents the development of an emergent unity in struggle against common threats to life and well-being.
Yet, might one not object that a movement for human emancipation repeats the very error that leads criticism into dogmatism, namely, defining for distinct groups what their real life-interests are? If group differences truly are valuable, is it not because different groups value different experiences and activities? And if these experiences and activities really are different from group to group, will not the requirements that must be satisfied if those experiences and activities are to be realized be different too? If the answer to these questions is yes, then it would seem that the vaunted idea of ‘shared life-interest’ is lost in the very effort to articulate it as shared by different groups. If differences are real and valuable then the interests that must be satisfied if they are to develop seem also to be different, in which case there is no shared life-interest, save what a dogmatic and ideological philosophy might impose. On the other hand, if there is a real shared life-interest then differences are merely superficial and of no deep value.
This objection raises a profoundly important danger which, if it cannot be avoided, will prove fatal to the project of rescuing critical social philosophy from dogmatism. Yet I believe that the danger can be avoided by distinguishing between universal forms of life-requirements and particular contents those forms can take on. For example, human beings need protein, but they do not need to eat meat. While vegetarians might regard meat eating as morally disgraceful, they should be able to tolerate meat eaters, because, although offensive to their beliefs, it is not a completely morally arbitrary choice, having real grounds in the natural history of human beings. A coherently inclusive society can embrace both without contradiction.
Likewise, human cognition and imagination require education, but both the structure of educational institutions and the way in which material is taught can vary. For example, a coherently inclusive society can contain Afro-centric schools, multi-cultural public schools, and religious schools, to the extent that all three function to enable the growth of the cognitive and imaginative capacities of the students (the meaning of ‘education’). That which critical social philosophy exposes and opposes is indoctrination — programming of thought to repel perspectives that differ from the ruling perspectives as untrue because different — but not alternative practices of genuine education. If a community of people emerges all of whom can agree about the fundamental value of enabling through education the cognitive and imaginative capacities of its members, and prove that they value education by enabling their students to be articulate, intelligent, reflective, and self-critical members of society, then the particular perspectives they bring to bear on education are parts of a more coherently inclusive society.
One can extend this reasoning to the global level. If the world’s remaining indigenous societies, for example, choose to value their traditional life-ways over modern techno-scientific systems, there is no reason why their educational systems should not ignore contemporary natural science, so long as community members who disagree are allowed to pursue their interests elsewhere. At the same time as the goal of globally coherent inclusion rules out preventing those who seek modern techno-scientific knowledge from attaining it, it also enables others outside the traditional community to respectfully learn from traditional life ways the value of a slower life more deeply integrated with the natural rhythms of earth, sky, and sea. In general, there is nothing uniquely valuable about any one form of expressing cognitive and imaginative capacities. Local knowledge of medicinal plants is neither superior nor inferior to scientific medicine if it cures the ailments community members commonly face. Poetry is neither superior nor inferior to music. Being a carpenter is neither superior nor inferior to being an architect. That which makes any form of knowledge or practice valuable or disvaluable is whether its development and enjoyment contributes to or detracts from the health and sustainability of the natural field of life-support and the life and well-being of others with whom one shares a society and a planet.
The same general point applies to the values that govern the overall conduct of life. Here too critical social philosophy rooted in the idea of shared life-interest does not impose particular contents on anyone’s life-goals, but rather demands the comprehensive satisfaction of the universal conditions of anyone’s freely developing the projects through which substance and meaning is produced in their lives. It does not impose arbitrary constraints on life-projects but instead reveals an internal limitation on their legitimate content. Since any particular life-project requires the appropriation of resources from nature and society, projects must contribute back to those resources, for two reasons. Materially, it is irrational to allow patterns of life to emerge (and capitalism is an example of this pattern) which unsustainably exploit resources, i.e., which withdraw without giving back.
The future of the species is open ended, and sustainability requires thinking of one’s projects (and the social patterns that emerge from the interaction of these projects) in terms of the life of the species. Otherwise, the very conditions of the survival of the species and its individual members are undermined. From this material irrationality of unsustainable resource exploitation follows a social and ethical reason to contribute back. Individual life is, as Marx argued, social. We achieve whatever it is we achieve always in interaction with others, on the basis of their past and present labour. We draw on social resources in a way analogous to how we draw on natural resources. To take from others without returning anything is the paradigm form of selfish egocentrism. A society of truly selfish ego-centrists could not last long as a society, and, even if it could, it would be devoid of the values that makes living in society worthwhile: love, friendship, joy at others’ success, sorrow at their failures, and grief at their loss.
Again, the project of human emancipation does not impose alien demands on anyone’s interests by virtue of this argument in favour of reciprocity between extraction and contribution. There can be different ways of concretely organizing reciprocity, but without it, society is not possible, and even if it were, it would hardly be worth living in, as it would be, as I argued above, devoid of the intrinsically valuable emotional relationships that elevate human life beyond mere survival and reproduction. That which critical social philosophy criticises is not different ways of expressing and enjoying life, but ways of expressing and enjoying life that undermine the natural conditions of the lives of everyone, and the social conditions required for the free pursuit of different life-projects. The critical core of the idea of human emancipation exposes the false universality in which the private, exclusionary, oppressive, and exploitative practices of privileged ruling groups cloak their power. It can engage in this criticism non-dogmatically if it does not presuppose its own truth, but regularly allows it to be exposed to refutation by stronger counter-arguments or historical changes. Here too it learns from the legacy of Marx as the critical social philosopher par excellence.
The project of human emancipation is not rooted in a philosophy of history whose “greatest advantage lies in being beyond history.” The core theoretical claim upon which it is based, that there is a shared life-interest defined by universal natural and social requirements of survival and life-capacity development and enjoyment, are subject to discussion, dialogue, and test. If there is some group of human beings somewhere who is not harmed by deprivation of basic material inputs, or by deprivation of education, or participation in the institutions that determine the rules of collective life, then the project of human emancipation would be forced to reconsider the inclusion in the set of human life-requirements of the resource or practice which that group of humans seemed happily to do without. Human life-requirements are anchored in the fact that we are not invulnerable beings, but require inputs from nature and relationships with others if we are to survive and flourish. But knowledge of these requirements is not in-born with us, but requires learning, and since there are many different cultures and identities within the human species, this learning requires learning about others as much as about ourselves.
The same openness to disconfirmation obtains at the level of the criticism of existing society on the basis of which critical social philosophy proposes its concrete projects for human emancipation. If it can be shown that the capitalist money-value system is compatible with comprehensive and universal satisfaction of everyone’s life-interest, that it can reproduce itself without systematically impoverishing people and despoiling the planet, if it can demonstrate that it can organize labour markets so as to make meaningful work available to everyone, and generate the conditions for peace, within and between societies and cultures, then the arguments that critical social philosophy makes against it would have to be dropped. The arguments would have to drop, however, just in case the counter-arguments were shown to be true. Thus we return to the all important theme of the relationship between philosophy, critical social philosophy, and truth.
What matters most to a genuinely critical social philosophy oriented by the goal of advancing the project of human emancipation is the truth of the moral claims that orient it. If it is not true that human beings are liable to objective harm when they are deprived of certain resources and relationships, if it is not true that a good society is coherently inclusive of different identities and life-projects, if it is not true that the quality of life is an essential object of care and concern for all people, then none of the particular political prescriptions for change critical social philosophy makes are of any importance, because life would be of no importance. While I cannot establish with knock-down certainty the truth of these principles here, human history and activity provide strong evidence in their favour. Across history we can observe multiple forms of struggle over access to the natural resources required to live. We see multiple struggles in all manner of different cultures for democracy.
Within politically democratic societies we observe struggles to ensure that the democratic principle is consistently upheld against the countervailing forces of economic power and status hierarchy. We also observe struggles to extend the democratic principle into the governance of all major social institutions, and especially economic institutions. We also observe a tremendous variety of struggles against all manner of invidious hierarchies that impede different groups from fully participating in those social institutions in which our cognitive and imaginative and practical-creative capacities are developed. If human beings were nothing but culturally constructed differences, or worse, genetically determined meat with no moral significance, it would be difficult to explain the common goals of struggle observable across cultures. Indeed, it would be difficult to explain struggles that go beyond demands for anything more than survival and reproduction.
I believe that the historical record demonstrates far more, but in order to be true to the principles of critical social philosophy I have defended, I leave it to each reader to explore that record of struggle, and draw their own honest conclusions. Ultimately, philosophy depends upon people’s capacity to honestly accept the truth, even if it contradicts their pre-reflective beliefs, the claims of tradition, or the demands of power. Ultimately, philosophy is incompatible with a politically motivated skepticism which pretends to rigour but is really designed to impede social change. One can split statistical hairs about the modelling of global warming, for example, but the ice caps continue to melt, polar bear habitats continue to shrink, the life ways of First Nations people around the Arctic region are threatened, sea levels continue to rise. The philosophical commitment to truth demands criticism of any social conditions in which the life-blind interests of class or ruling status group power can overrule the evident and the observable. That same commitment to truth, however, also urges humility and openness in the development of social alternatives. Social criticism does not aim at proving itself right for the sake of proving others wrong — that is the epistemic hallmark of dogmatic ideology. Its goal is to contribute constructively to human emancipation. Like the development of human understanding and creativity, the project of human emancipation is open ended. Radicality should not be confused with impatience.
 Karl Marx, The Holy Family, (Moscow: Progress Publishers), 1980, p. 99.
 G.W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 1977, p. 9.
 Karl Marx, “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844,” Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Volume 3, 1843-44, (New York: International Publishers), 1975, p. 332-333.
 Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” The German Ideology, (Moscow: Progress Publishers), 1975, p. 620.
 Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question,” Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Collected Works, Vol. 3, 1843-44, (New York: International Publishers), 1977, p. 152.
 Karl Marx, “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844,” p. 326.
 Leon Trotsky, Results and Prospects and The Permanent Revolution, (New York: Pathfinder Press), 1969, p. 122.
 Contrary to prevailing opinion, Marx was not a vanguardist. The best overall analysis of the democratic core of Marx’s politics is August H Nimtz Jr., Marx and Engels: Their Contribution to the Democratic Breakthrough, (Albany: SUNY Press), 2000. One of the more original and illuminating reflections on the democratic and historically contextualized core of Marx’s politics is Andrew Collier, “Marx and Conservatism,” Karl Marx and Contemporary Philosophy, Andrew Chitty and Martin McIvor, eds., (London: Palgrave MacMillan), 2009, pp. 99-105.
 I have provided the detailed historical and philosophical responses to skeptical critiques of the universality of these classes of life-requirement in Jeff Noonan, Materialist Ethics and Life-Value, (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press), 2012.
 John McMurtry, Unequal Freedoms, (Toronto: Garamond), 1998, p. 23.
 John McMurtry, “Human Rights Versus Corporate Rights,” Studies in Social Justice, Vol. 5, No. 1, (Summer, 2011), p.14.
 See Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, Donald S. Bouchard, ed., (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press), 1977, pp. 139-164.
 Marx, “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844,” p. 299.
 Karl Marx, Letter to ‘Homeland Notes,’ November, 1877, The Letters of Karl Marx, Saul K. Padover, ed., (Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall), 1979, p. 321.
 See Jeff Noonan, Democratic Society and Human Needs, (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press), 2006; Jeff Noonan, Materialist Ethics and Life-Value.
[Thank you indeed Jeff for this much needed essay]
Jeff Noonan is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Windsor, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. His most recent book is Materialist Ethics and Life-Value, (McGill-Queen’s University Press), 2012. More of his work can be found at his website: http://www.jeffnoonan.org
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