Moda y conceptos / Eduardo Vásquez

Fashion and Concepts

When a concept becomes fashionable we cease to know what’s being discussed. When the concept of alienation became fashionable it acquired so many meanings that it served for everything. Used by Feuerbach to explain how man was dominated by products and by the exteriorization of his own faculties, it was used by Marx to explain how men are dominated by merchandise, the product of their own labor force.

The lack of control over their own production turned them into slaves, beings dominated by their own production. Hegel had used it, since he realized that man was a being who had to exteriorize what constituted his being. He was not a passive being, as conceived by empiricism, but rather a being who modified his environment, who didn’t accept being dominated by things existing in the external world but instead acted on them, adapted them to his own thought and to his imagination.

Hegel highlighted the importance of activity and that’s why his philosophy is an exposition of how man becomes, by means of his activity, his own creator. In order to do that he had to exteriorize himself and submit to the products of his own activity. Due to its similarity to a psychiatric term it lost the previous meanings and moved into psychology and psychiatry. In the Soviet Union it was rejected because of its Hegelian origins.

Today we have a new term that’s become a furor among sociologists. It is the concept of epistemology. That term is the equivalent of a theory of knowledge. That was the meaning it had in Kant, who set for himself the problem of what we can know, of the limits of our knowledge, and of the problems that emerge when we go beyond those limits and incorrectly apply categories or entities that emerge in that transgression, but which are typical of space-time beings.

The postmoderns use epistemology in different ways, they apply it in the sense of a theory of knowledge, but also in the sense of an ontology. This term was used by Hegel as the equivalent of metaphysics, that is, a theory about what things are, what categories rule them. This is the source of Hegel’s critique of the identity principle.

Its inadequate application to finite beings. Ontology (or metaphysics) displaced the theory of knowledge, since before knowing what we can know it is crucial we know what things are, the world in which we exist and live, its origin, and how it is structured. In Hegel, we can say what G. Lukacs said: we can only know what we produce. Analyzing what we produce, we don’t get to know something strange, but rather we know what we are. Knowing the Greek world, its art, its philosophy, its literature, we know the Greeks. We would know nothing about them if they hadn’t left works that embody their thought, their psychology, their fears and hopes.

When a concept becomes fashionable, it not only loses precision, but it damages thought. It serves as a wild card for hiding conceptual deficiencies in order to pretend one has knowledge of the discipline in which that concept is used. It is said that words serve to hide thought, but they also serve to hide the lack of it.

{ Eduardo Vásquez, Tal Cual, 13 November 2008 }

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