The Nature of Alienation

by Max Andrews

Once the philosopher finds himself participating in and engaged with the world, he will also find himself in a state of alienation.  Alienation is primarily two-fold:  an alienation from the self and alienation from the world.  It is the philosopher’s goal and, as Hegel may agree, the purpose of the philosopher.  The separation of the Geist is really an underlying notion that plagues philosophical inquiry.  Philosophy… does not merely discuss alienation; it is a peculiarly significant manifestation of it.  With this very simple and subtle premise, the very notion and presence of philosophical inquiry entails a separation from absolute mind, Geist.  It is certainly consistent that the philosopher lives in a state of alienation and philosophizing is contingent upon being in a state of alienation, for if Geist were an actuality all reality would be understood. Hence, the philosopher’s attempt to provide a reconstruction of reality and thus providing a purpose and need to overcome alienation.

Alienation from others and from the world is ultimately an alienation from the self as well.  Human anthropology, according to Hegel, is a man-to-man function.  Participation in the world is participation in all of mankind and humanity.  Any action is for the contribution of man.  For Hegel, this was religion at its highest, a religion of Nature.  For theists, like Kierkegaard, alienation is ultimately alienation, not from just man, though that is part of it, it is an alienation from God.  The alienation could not be overcome by man and requires a salvation despite the apparent absurdities of life.  For Marx, alienation is ultimately a result of social and economic class, which could only be remedied by communism.

Alienation certainly has an academic aspect to it, which would be the attempt to remedy or the goal-setting of overcoming alienation.  The academic will analyze the absurdities of alienation and attempt to systematize the solution.  Most notably, Marx seems to be academic in his pursuit for overcoming social (man-to-man functioning) alienation.  The goal of overcoming adds an artistic flavor to the overall teleology.  Hegel believed that human history had an ultimate purpose and teleology, whatever it may be.

The issue of alienation, recognizing that alienation is present and overcoming alienation is, perhaps, the most distinct aspect of existentialism that separates it from phenomenology, the denial of the spectatorial and embracing the participatory.  The beautiful aspect behind this participation is the participation in the present absurdities.  For the academic philosopher, alienation is more of bondage, an inescapable reality with no hope for deliverance.  It seems that one must really attempt to overcome alienation from the approach of an artistic philosopher, one of aesthetic, religious, and spiritual intuition.


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