Both Marx and Heidegger formulate theories of technological Being, expressed in the related conceptions of abstract value and calculable stock. For each of the thinkers, the theory of technological society is elaborated within an historical meta-ontology which attempts to comprehend the contemporary form of Being as having developed out of Western civilization and to criticize it as limited, contradictory and self-concealing. But, whereas man, beings and Being-itself are treated by Heidegger as if they were monads with windows to each other but no developed relations, Marx grasps them precisely by their mediations. Heidegger, claiming to inquire after the conditions of the possibility of their having relations to each other, hypostatizes even Being – which is no being, but a moment in the mediation of beings – into an in-itself with essential characteristics, possibilities and temporality. Marx, in contrast, understands people and their products as determining the totality of interrelations which in turn determines them, a totality which is most appropriately conceptualized by a theory of the mode of production as the primary sphere of mediation. The term “Being” is unnecessary to Marx’s theory for it is implicitly dealt with, rather than being fixated upon and glorified.
For Heidegger, as for Hegel before him, the developmental process whereby Being, which determines the form of presence of beings, is itself determined takes place solely within the realm of Being-itself. In Marx’s theory, on the contrary, the history of Being is the consequence of concrete human history, and its apparent autonomy from human control is an illusion resulting from the complexity of historical mediations within an antagonistically structured society. Marx’s ontological essences, above all that of abstract value, are accordingly derived from concrete, historically-specific categories, such as exchange value, comprehended as the form of appearance of the essence. Actual beings are thus not simply objectifications or placeholders of a Being which develops independently; the history of Being is not a mystical intergalactic happening or even a process taking place primarily within the language of a people or the intellectual history of a tradition. That beings are now present as calculable stock, abstracted from their unique context and physical characteristics, is, according to Marx, primarily a result of their being present in relations of exchange. It is these concrete relations of beings to beings as they have developed in social, economic, material history, which equate the forces used in the production of each commodity with all other forces of production, equate each being with every other commodity, equate the human activity involved in any task with labor as such, and thereby abstract from the mortality and situatedness of people.
Marx thus understands the prevailing form of presence in relation to the social totality, whose character is essentially conditioned by the prevalent mode of production. For Marx, history progresses through a dialectic of whole and part, of social production and its various products. Heidegger, however, investigating the preconditions of this process, loses sight of the dialectical relationship in favor of a one-sided determination by Being of the form of presence of beings. Where Marx understands the preconditions of one epoch as the conditions of its predecessor, Heidegger accepts the character of an epoch as fatefully given and beyond comprehension. The triviality of Heidegger’s social commentary in comparison to Marxian social analysis is thus neither accidental nor is it to be enriched through the addition of concrete details. Being, which determines beings as beings, must itself be shown to be conditioned by beings. The ontological self-interpretation of the world is not divorced from the ontic self-transformation of the world; thought which attempts to comprehend the former cannot ignore its unity with the latter, as Heidegger does.
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Adorno, Theodor W. A portrait of Walter Benjamin. Prisms. London: Neville Spearman. 1967.
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Habermas, Jürgen. Knowledge and Human Interests. Boston: Beacon Press. 1971.
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Heidegger, Martin. Bauen Wohnen Denken. Vorträge und Aufsätze. Bd. II. Tübingen: Neske, 1954.
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1945 Born at the dawn of advanced industrial capitalism on March 16 near Wilmington, Delaware, into a family committed to trade unionism and socialist liberalism.
1963-67 At M.I.T., discovered limitations of the modern scientistic perspective and sought acceptable critical alternatives. Introduced to phenomenology and existentialism. Awarded S.B. in philosophy and mathematics. Received political education in the New Left.
1967-68 Explored Europe and continental thought while honeymooning in romantic Heidelberg. Concentrated an Gadamer’s hermeneutics and Heidegger’s ontology.
1968-70 Taught high school, drove a cab, did computer systems programming, helped raise a son. Took several philosophy courses at Temple U.
1970-71 During graduate study at Northwestern U., organized study groups on Marx, hermeneutics and Habermas, translating some of the texts. Was granted M.A. and permitted to undertake research into the meeting-grounds of Marxism and existentialism.
1971-73 Attended University of Frankfurt/Main, studying Hegel, Marx, Adorno, Habermas. Followed discussion within remnants of the Institut für Socialforschung. Wrote dissertation chapters on Heidegger.
1973-74 Taught courses on Marx, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Adorno at Evening Division of Northwestern U. Organized study groups on Frankfurt School. Developed key aspects of the Marx interpretation; composed and clarified bulk of the dissertation.
1974-75 Returned to computer work and joined the organizing drive for an AFSCME union local. Experimented in electronic music composition, suburban living and political discourse. Analyzed opening dialectic of Das Kapital and formulated dissertation’s prefatory, transitional and concluding remarks. Declared dissertation complete on thirtieth birthday and defended it May 8. Published chapter on Adorno’s Heidegger critique in Boundary II, a journal of postmodern literature.
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