Saturday, July 17, 2010

Ever heard of this philosophy guy?

Those of us who can remember going to civics classes back around the 1960s will remember nervous teachers trying to explain something of the idea behind Communism. Remember, this was during the height of the Cold War, and those teachers - not long after the whole McCarthyism thing - had visions of hairy-knuckled fathers (or mothers) pounding on the school superintendent's desk, yelling about teaching their kids how to be commies!

Still, those teachers did their jobs, talking about something called "dialectical materialism." The deal was that those pinko freaks, inspired by some ultimate pinko freak named Marx, taught that communism was inevitable through some process of "thesis, antithesis, and synthesis" - conflict between opposing tendencies resulting in ... a Communist society!

Later, many of us learned that the idea of thesis, antithesis and so on actually came from a guy named Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). His philosophy, to the small extent I understand it, is way too involved to talk about here.

But what's cool is that whole dialectic thing didn't come from him, either! Enter: Johann Gottlieb Fichte. It was Fichte, a brilliant young contemporary of Kant, who came up with the thesis, etc., etc. Hegal actually didn't mention it much.

But don't blame Fichte for fascism, communism, etc. His idea had to do with human freedom: Man is born free (thesis). But he can't know this until his freedom is constrained (antithesis). He realizes that he must pass the stage of his own freedom to the need for the freedom of all (synthesis).

You'll have to figure out the meaning of all this on your own. I'd like to give you a one-sentence wrap-up of the philosophy of Marx, Hegel and Fichte, but I don't have a strong enough drink. Still, I bet those nervous 1960s civics teachers would have got the idea.

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