A Critical Note on Bhaskar
and Systems Theory*
Von Bertalanffy’s article ‘The Theory of Open Systems
in ~hysics and Biology’, published in 1950 , is
widely regarded as having started the systems-thinking movement. In the words of F.E. Emery, scientific
interest was mobilized by von Bertalanffy’s ‘rigorous
distinction between open and closed systems’ .
Whether this distinction can be accepted or not, the
fact remains that systems theory has since then
gained widespread popularity – not only in terms of
its practical applications to the governmental and
administrative spheres but also in terms of its
penetration in the realm of theory. New disciplines,
like cybernetics, information theory, operations
research, and systems analysis have come into being,
and old disciplines have developed branches based
upon systems thinking. This holds for many of the
natural and social sciences as well as for
philosophy . Common to all these applications
is the fundamental distinction between open and
closed systems where, as von Bertalanffy puts it,
‘a system is closed if no material enters or leaves
it; it is open if there is import and export and,
therefore, change of the components’ . No wonder,
then, that in the wake of systems theory’s apparent
success, many authors, impressed by system theory’s
apparent scientific rigour, fall into the temptation
of borrowing (either consciously or not) essential
elements of this approach, first and foremost the
closed syste~/open-system distinction.
By way of illustration, let us consider R.
Bhaskar’s recent work in the philosophy of science,
since the above-mentioned distinction is one of the
pillars upon which his theory is built. The thesis
I want to argue is not that Bhaskar is a systems
theorist; rather, my thesis is that Bhaskar’s adoption of the closed/open-system dichotomy as a central
feature of his theoretical construction cannot but
lead him to conservative stands and conclusions.
This conservative character stems from the uncritical
incorporation in his approach of that dichotomy,
which is an essential element of an inherently conservative approach, systems theory. What follows, therefore, is not intended to be a review of all aspects
of Bhaskar’s work , some of which are, without any
* In its original form this article included an account of an alternative
‘dialectical’ conception of social laws and tendencies which is advanced by
Carchedi. The Editorial Collective agreed that this alternative account, being
necessarily very condensed indeed, did not add to the force of the critique of
Bhaskar. We decided, in view of this, to publish, with the author’s agreement,
only the first part of the article, and to refer readers to Carchedi’s book
Prob~erns in C~ass Analysis (RKP, 1982).
The section from the original article
omitted in this version is based upon Chapter 2.
doubt, important elements for the construction of a
radical ontology and epistemology. (I am thinking,
for example, of his distinction between the transitive
and the intransitive objects of knowledge , and of
his cogent critique of a number of philosophers and
philosophical currents  based upon that distinction.)
Rather, the aim of these notes is to focus
the discussion on Bhaskar’s treatment of laws, both
natural and social, and to provide some indications
of the inadequacies implicit in Bhaskar’s view and of
how they can be overcome. The aim of what follows,
therefore, is to provide a constructive rather than a
As I have already suggested, Bhaskar’s.argument
hinges upon the basic difference between open and
closed systems: the latter disrupt the course of
nature and produce through man’s action a sequence of
events, constant conjunctions, which otherwise would
not have taken place. If this conjunction allows us
to identify a law, then that law, to be generally
valid, must be valid also in the absence of experimental conditions in an open system, and thus it does
not necessarily imply a constant conjunction of events.
This shows that real structures, generating mechanisms, do exist even though only their effects are
visible . On the face of it, this is a very
attractive strategy which at one stroke dismisses
empiricism and establishes, by the pure strength of
logic, the tendential nature of natural and social
laws. If we want to make intelligible experimental
activity and thus justify the existence of science,
then the world must be made up of generating mechanisms and their effects (the two often being ‘out of
phase’) and science must be the study of those
mechanisms. On Bhaskar’s view, the universality of
a law is that it must continue to act in spite of
other systems’ influences, i.e. in an open system,
and thus without a constant conjunction of events.
The absence of such a conjunction is explained in
terms of disturbances, fetters to the working of the
law. These fetters become then the countertendencies
which obstruct, from outside the system, what would
be the functioning of the system (mechanism) in a
Now, it can be objected that the assumption that a
law valid under certain conditions (closed systems)
must continue to be valid also under different conditions (open systems) can hold only if there is no
radical modification of the system when the closure
is opened. To take only one example in the social
world: if a pre-capitalist system is opened to capital
infiltration, the outcome can be a radical change in
the former’s generating mechanism and laws rather
than the effect anticipated by Bhaskar. The problem
with this approach is the assumption, unwarranted in
my opinion, of a world of events basically generated
by systems which are not only closed but also essentially independent, i.e. the basically adialectical
distinction between closed and open systems. Even
though, on Bhaskar’s approach, in the non-experimental
world events are generated in open systems, from a
logical as against a chronological point of view
(i.e. as far as the logic of the generatilTIg mechanism
is concerned) events are first generated by and in
closed and independent systems and then subjected to
‘offsetting factors’ when the system is ideally open.
On this basis, it is difficult to imagine how a
satisfactory way (or any way at all) can be found to
inquire into what governs the functioning of the
mechanisms in an open world. This seems to me to be
too high a price to pay in order to be able to show
– in a purely logical way, and thus apart from the
inconvenient need to prove a theory in practice – the
existence of non-empirical structures. The difference
between Bhaskar’s approach and a dialectical one is
that in the former the external factors can only slow
down, so to speak, the generative activity of a certain system ; whereas in the latter, the determinant instance (or generative mechanism in Bhaskar’s
terminology) has already in itself a multiplicity of
possible conditions of existence or supersession, out
of which only some find concrete realization. In
their turn, these latter (the determined instances)
react upon (overdetermine) the determinant instance.
It is this complex relationship of determination,
rather than the simple addition of effects, which
explains the possibility of the non-realization of
the consequent as well as (and this is perhaps even
more important) the non-constancy of the forms taken
by it. In a dialectical view, contradictory phenomena do not come from outside the system ; both
the determinant instance and the determined ones are
essential parts of the same system. Moreover, for
Bhaskar open-system events are generated by two or
more mechanisms (the economic, the physical, the
natural, etc.)[ll] ‘so that because we do not know
ex-ante which mechanisms will actually be at work
(and perhaps have no knowledge of their mode of articulation) events are not deductively predictable’
. In a dialectical view, the generative mechanism, due to its inner contradictoriness, generates a
play of tendencies and countertendencies which make
perfectly’ accurate predictions (at least in the
social sciences ) impossible. Dialectics presupposes a view of the world in terms of tendencies
(normic state~ents, in Bhaskar’s terminology) but
such a view of the world is not necessarily dialectical, as I have shown in Bhaskar’s case.
The basic weakness in Bhaskar’s approach thus
consists in his concept of, and distinction between,
closed and open systems.
‘If a system is closed then a tendency once set
in motion must be fulfilled. If a system is open
this might not happen due to the presence of
“off-setting factors” or “countervailing causes” …
Once a tendency is set in motion it is fulfilled
unless it is prevented.’ [14J
The closed system is not a dialectical one, not even
a tendential one (since it does produce constant conjunctions of events); it is a machine-like generator
of events. In systems theory the machine and the
organism are the two major metaphors. No matter how
important the differences between these two metaphors
(and the approaches inspired by them) are, their
common element is their inability to accommodate a
dialectical view of reality, that is a view that
explains movement and change in terms of internal contradictions and which accounts for the structure
which generates those contradictions.
Rather than going back to Durkheim’s concept of
organism, Bhaskar’s concept of laws is heavily influenced by the Weberian metaphor of mechanism and by
that author’s conception of concrete phenomena as
deviations from ideal types . It is not by chance
that for Bhaskar ‘it is a mistake of the greatest
magnitude to suppose that [theory] … will tell us
what to do’ , and that he must therefore conclude
that ‘Marxist science is subversive in virtue of its
cognitive power alone’ . On these fundamental
issues Bhaskar shakes hands with Weber rather than
with Marx. A theory which denies predictability and
stresses only explanatory power is useless for a class
engaged in a radical transformation of social reality.
Bhaskar’s laws are tendential but no predictions can
be made from them. But it is precisely the analysis
and prediction of tendencies (laws) and thus of the
possible developments of the phenomena regulated by
these laws which lends meaningfulness to social
science. This all shows very clearly not only the
conservative consequences of the acceptance of a fundamentally adialectical element of knowledge (i.e. the
open system/closed system scheme), but also the
social (i.e. class) determination of that element of
knowledge. And this is so not only in terms of the
functionality of this element of knowledge for class
domination at the theoretical/ideological level, but
also in terms of the origin of this element of knowledge. In fact , the concept of closed system
and thus of closure and of constant conjunctions of
events applies to physics and chemistry , the
two sciences whose development is fundamental for the
development of capitalism after the Second World War
(late capitalism), but it is not applicable to other
natural sciences (e.g. cosmology) and certainly not
to the social sciences. Bhaskar extends this scheme
to aZZ sciences on the strength of the argument that
if science is possible then this scheme must apply
. What he achieves is thus not the proof of a
certain ontological nature of the real concrete, but
only a further example of the non-neutrality of
knowledge, in this particular case of the impossibility of building Marxist ontology from a class-neutral
point of view, in terms of ‘pure’ logic.
Given the adialectical separation between closed
and open systems, it is not surprising that Bhaskar’s
theory founders when confronted with the basic question as to how events are generated in open systems,
i.e. the question of the relationship between systems
in the open world – or, if you prefer, of the nature
of this system of systems. ‘To completely account
for an event,’ says Bhaskar, ‘would be to describe
all the different principles involved in its generation’ . But what about the articulation of all
these different principles? Surely, a description of
each one of them is quite a different thing from an
analysis of their reciprocal interaction, and of the
nature of the interrelations which must be postulated
if we postulate the multiple, rather than the individual generation of events. Yet this question is simply
not tackled by Bhaskar . Consequently, the failure to account for how a complex system tends,
because of its inner nature. to generate an event
produces the double and related failure to account for
(i) how there can be a multiple generation of conjunctures; and (ii) the articulation of this multiplicity
of generating mechanisms. Given this lack of a
theory of a system of systems, Bhaskar’s transcendental realism cannot account for why there is this
plurality, i.e. it cannot account for it in sociological terms (which, correctly, are the only ones
acceptable to him). Thus, Bhaskar must resort to:
(1) the individual scientist as the generator of new
theories, and (2) the ‘creative employment of his
[i.e. the scientist’s] imagination’  as the motor
of the production of knowledge. True, Bhaskar
emphasizes, correctly, that ‘man never creates, but
only changes his knowledge’  and that knowledge
‘can never be seen as a function of individual senseexperience’ , so that the sociological dimension
of knowledge is given by its being a non-individualistic acquisition. Knowledge, ‘though it exists only in
virtue of human activity … is irreducible to the
acts of men’  and men are active agents rather
than passive sensors (which is the view of the empirical realist). However, it is the individual rather
than the aZass which is still the unit of scientific
production. Bhaskar’s theory might not be individualistic a Za empirical realism but it is still individualistic . On his account, individuals are not
atoms, they presuppose each other, they are carriers
of social relations, but they are not embodiments of
aspects of class relations, and, if they are, their
being carriers of class relations is not given any
privileged (determinant) status . On this fundamental point, again, Bhaskar is much closer to Weber
than to Marx. He is perfectly entitled to be so, but
the~ again he should not give the opposite impression.
Hore recent writings have shown concern for some
of the issues mentioned above. Even though my critique hinges upon Bhaskar’s incorporation of the
closed/open system dichotomy in his thinking, I shall
comment briefly also on how Bhaskar elaborates on,
and aJ11plifies, the fact/value distinction and the
possibility of making predictions. My general point
will be that while (further) concern for these issues
marks a welcome development in Bhaskar’s approach and
might add much to his already stimulating work, I am
not convinced either that the direction in which
Bhaskar goes will lead to the development of a Marxist dialectical view or that these new developments
in his theory are consistent with the bulk of his
In respect of the closed/open system dichotomy, a
distinction can be made between the meaning that
Bhaskar thinks should be attached to this dichotomy
and the way he deals with the problem posed by the
lack of theorization of a ‘system of systems’. As
regards the first, the closed/open-system dichotomy
plays a double role. On the one hand, this dichotomy
is used to generate an immanent critique of empiricist
ontology. But if one uses a certain concept to
criticize a certain view, then, having shown this
concept’s validity as a critical tool, one will use
the same concept as a building block of his own view.
And this is exactly what Bhaskar does. My contention
is that, given this connection and the conservative
nature of the closed/open-system dichotomy, this
concept should be discarded as a tool of theoretical
criticism, and empiricism should be criticized on
different grounds. On the other hand, Bhaskar’s
strategy is to use this concept to highlight the
epistemological difference between the social sciences
and the ‘classical’ natural sciences of physics and
chemistry. Again, while it is correct to point out
that such a difference exists, it is incorrect – if
one aims at a dialectical view – to draw that distinction on the basis of an inherently adialectical concept. Therefore, the boundary should be drawn but
along different lines. To sum up, the notion of
closed and open systems does play a very important
role in Bhaskar’s theory, perhaps even more important
than that author is willing to concede.
Even more important is the way Bhaskar tackles the
question of the interrelations between generative
systems. In a forthcoming article  Bhaskar con-
siders, without further elaborating on it, the case
(case 1I) of the ‘determination of events within a
“system” in an open system’, where event Eo is determined by three interrelated mechanisms (MI, M2 and M3)
and by a fourth mechanism (M4) completely separated
from the first three. This, however, does not overcome my objections, for the following three reasons.
First, this case (case II) is a ‘modification’ of
case I which is the ‘determination of events in an
open system’, where there is no relation at all among
HI, M2 and M3′ The relations between systems seems
to be taken as logically prior. Secondly, there is
here no solution, only a shift of the problem. For
how can an event be the outcome of two categories of
systems (one category being constituted by interrelated mechanisms and the other by discrete mechanisms) if no relation is established between these two
types of mechanisms? And, thirdly, the concept that
at least some systems generating an event might be
interrelated is neither given a theoretical elaboration (we only find a statement to the effect that
those systems or mechanisms which are interrelated
are tied by a relation of ‘causal interdependence’,
itself a Weberian rather than a Marxist concept) nor
organically integrated in the body of Bhaskar’s
theory. Something which, in my opinion, should be at
the center of his theorization is nnJ.v mentione(~ in
Similar remarks apply to the question of predictability. Bhaskar distinguishes between conditional
predictions (which can and must be made) and unconditional or categorical predictions. If conditional predictions are predictions about tendencies and
their possible developments (the only concept of
prediction consistent with a dialectical view), then
again how can this be organically integrated within
(reconciled with) the essential elements of Bhaskar’s
theory? Take the above-mentioned statement (based,
as I have attempted to show, on the clbsed/open-system
dichotomy) to the effect that Marxism is revolutionary in virtue of its cognitive power ‘alone’. How
can conditional predictions (which are possible only
on a clear and well developed view of the relation
between the several generating mechanisms and thus on
a different concept of tendency than Bhaskar’s) be
fitted within this approach?
Lastly, a few comments on the fact/value distinction. If I understand him correctly, Bhaskar’s
latest position on this point is that ‘if we have a
consistent set of theories T which (i) shows some
belief P to be false, and (ii) explains why that
belief is believed; then the inferences to (iii) a
negative evaluation of the object S (e.g. system of
social relations) accounting for the falsity of the
belief (i.e. mismatch in reality between the belief P
and what it is about 0) and (iv) a positive evaluation
of action rationally directed at removing (disconnecting or transforming) that object, i.e. the source(s)
of false consciousness, appear mandatory CP’ .
The crux of the matter is of course verification: how
do we know (actually, who – e.g. individuals, classes
etc. – knows and by means of which method?) that a
belief is false, i.e. that there is a mismatch (lack
of correspondence) between that belief and its object?
Since discussion of this aspect of Bhaskar’s theory
would require a paper of its own, the most sensible
thing to do, within the limits of these notes, is not
to go into it at all. My only comment, therefore,
will be similar to the previous ones. A positive
evaluation of the action rationally aimed at removing
the causes of false beliefs (consciousness) is not
enough for me, if I want a theory which not only reassures me that I am morally justified in my action
but also which tells me ‘what to do’. Bhaskar’s view
in earlier writings that to expect this from a theory
is a ‘mistake of the greatest magnitude’ is echoed
again in his more recent article, so that no change
can be discerned on this point: ‘Diagnosis is not
therapy. We may know that something is causing a
problem without knowing how to get rid or change it
… an explanatory critique of this type … does not
tell us what to do’ . It has been my thesis that
Bhaskar’s acceptance of this (false) belief, the difficulty he has in theorizing an epistemology in which
the principal role of knowledge is precisely to tell
us what to do, is a result of the central role accorded to the open/closed-systems distinction and of the
consequent impossibility of reconciling this element
with a dialectical view.
Science, Vol.III (1950), pp.23-29, reprinted in F.E. Emery (ed.), Systems
Thinking, Penguin, 1981, Vol.l, pp.82-89.
Systems Thinking, op.cit., p.69.
For a critical discussion of the adoption of systems thinking by other
disciplines, see R. Lilienfeld, The Rise of Systems Theo1’1J, John Wiley and
4 op.cit., p.1l3.
5 For two such attempts, see the reviews by P. Halfpenny, and book review
of R. Bhaskar, The PossibiUty of Natumlism, in Sociol,ogy, Vol.14, No.4,
November 1980; and H. Radder, ‘Realisme in natuur-en menswetenschappen’,
Jaoisis, No. 2, October 1980.
6 Similar, in fact, to Marx’s concrete-in-thought and real concrete. See,
e.g., Grundrisse, Penguin, 1973.
See, e.g., R. Bhaskar, ‘Feyereband and Bachelard: two philosophies of
science, New Left Review, Nov-Dec. 1975.
A Realist Theo1’1J of Science, Harvester, 1978, Chapter 1; ‘Realisme in de
natuurwetenschappen’, Jaoisis, No.l, 1980.
‘ … law-like statements … make a claim about the activity of a tendency,
i.e. about the operation of the generative mechanism that would, if undisturbed, result in the tendency’s manifestation. A Realist Theo1’1J of
10 Contrary to Bhaskar’s opinion. See op.cit., p.23l.
11 The arbitrariness of the distinction between different systems is clear.
On the other hand, on a dialectical view rooted in the concept of social
class, the different areas of social phenomena (and thus the different
soctal sciences, or sub-systems, if you prefer) can be discerned because
they are different types of cl,ass domination.
12 op.cit., p.ll9.
Moreover, as T. Benton correctly stresses, it is doubtful ‘whether
decisive tests of theory are possible in the natural sciences either’.
‘Realism and Social Science’, Radical, PhiZosophy, Spring 1981, No. 27, P .18.
However, Bhaskar’s closed systems are not ideal constructs but are real
The Possibility of Natumlism, Harvester, 1979, p.82.
As Bhaskar himself mentions, without however drawing the same conclusions.
See A Realist Theory of Science, pp .104-05.
It is not by chance that ‘Physics’ and ‘Biology’ appear in the title of
Von Bertalanffy’s article.
Let me stress that Bhaskar does not conflate the social and the natural
sciences. He uses the open/closed-system device to argue for the existence
of generating mechanisms in both the natural and the social world (and it
is in this sense that he extends a scheme derived from the natural sciences,
from a certain type of natural sciences, to all science) as well as for an
(1) Joe McCarney’s article on Rortes in RP3l
contained a printing error which significantly
altered the sense. The phrase about the
‘opposition to historicism and conservatism’
should have referred to the ‘opposition of
historicism and conservatism’.
(2) Mark Tebbit’s article ‘Lukacs, Heidegger and
Fascism’ unfortunately appeared in RP3l with
some of the footnotes missing. We reproduce
here all the notes:
Sartre, Critique of Dial,ectical, Reason.
See Poster, ExistentiaUsm in Post-War France, for a critical survey of
these attempted syntheses.
See J.P. Stern, Nietssche, as a recent example of such prevarication.
See especially Lukacs, The Destruction of Reason.
Weber’s influence on Lukacs has been greatly exaggerated. Lukacs draws
extensi vely on the insights of Weber, Simmel, Toennies and others, but
is unambiguous in regarding them as essentially bourgeois.
This is not to suggest that there was no confusion in the way in which
Lukacs presented his argument at this stage, nor that it was entirely
free of contradiction. As I hope will become clear from this article,
some confusion was inevitable in the circumstances, and the contradictions
are either apparent or peripheral.
Al though this was large lyon poH tical grounds, Lukacs’ s position was
profoundly misunderstood – as it also has been in many Western Marxist
circles – as philosophical retativism.
It should go without saying that this intellectual process is regarded as
an essential component of the practical revolutionary overthrow of
capitalism. Lukacs is not shifting the emphasis from ‘action’ to le8RSe;l8I1S
‘consciousness’, but on the contrary is stating the conditions in which
they can be brought together.
Lukacs, Histo1’1J and Cl,ass Consciousness, ‘Reification and the Consciousness
of the Proletariat’.
See especially HCC, pp.83-1I0.
HCC, especially pp.16l-72.
He is also emphasising the inevitability of this failure, unless the standpoint of formal rationalism is transcended.
HCC, P .92.
Heidegger, Being and Time, p.487. Lukacs does in fact answer these
questions with considerably more historical precision than Heidegger, who
is more concerned with proving that reification is the permanent structure
inquiry into the differences between these two basic types of science. In
fact, Bhaskar recognizes that social phenomena cannot be studied under
conditions of closed systems, and actually this is for him one of the
essential differences between social and natural sciences. However, from
this he derives the non-predictabil i ty of the former sciences (as opposed to
the possibility of complete predictions in the latter sciences). See above
and also: ‘On the Possibility of Social Scientific Knowledge and the Limits
of Naturalism’, in J. Mepham and D.-H. Ruben (eds.), Issues in Marxist
PhiZosophy, Vol.II, Harvester, 1979, p.127 and ff. My conclusion, on the
other hand, is that, if you extend a scheme developed (for specific,
historically determined and, to begin with, economic reasons) in certain
branches of the natural sciences to the social sciences, then you not only
implicitly assign a secondary status to the latter (where by definition
closures are not possible) but in fact subordinate your conception (definition) of social science to a conception of natural science that hinges upon
an inherently adialectical and implicitly conservative conception. These
features will then re-emerge in your theorization of the social sciences.
A Realist Theory of Science, p.lll
It might be worth mentioning that in systems theory the often hidden
connection between the different systems is of a hierarchical nature.
See R. Lilienfeld, op.cit., p.l64. It is at such theoretical junctures
that the conservative nature of systems theory comes to the fore.
Op.cit., p.166. Therefore, the application of one theory rather than
another to explain the latent structure of nature becomes a matter of
individual, preference, See ‘On the Possibility of Social Scientific
Knowledge and the Limits of Naturalism’, op.cit., pp.128-29.
A Real,ist Theo1’1J of Science, op.cit, p.148.
A conclusion strongly denied by Bhaskar but reached also by T. Benton (op.
cit., P .17), though via a different line of critique.
‘Sociology is … concerned .•• with the persistent retations between
individuals (and groups) and with the relations between these relations.
Relations such as between capitalist and worker, MP and constituent, student
and teacher, husband and wife.’ ‘On the Possibility etc.’, op.cit., p.1l3.
If we cannot abstract things from the relations in which they stand with
each other (metaphysics), we cannot abstract relations from the things they
relate, either. If sociology studies, to begin with, the relations between
individuals, it is these latter (and not classes as groups of individuals
essentially different from the individuals themselves) who are the basic
uni t of social life and thus of social analysis.
‘Emergence, Explanation and Emancipation’, forthcoming in P. Secord (ed.),
Consciousness, Behaviour and Social, Structure, Sage Publications, 1982.
‘Scientific Explanation and Human Emancipation’, Radical, PhiZosophy, Autumn
1980, No.26, p.23.
of the human mind. That not only this question but the whole book was
largely conceived as a response to Lukacs has been convincingly demonstrated
by Goldmann, in Lukacs and Heidsgger. But as Lukacs has himself pointed
out, Heidegger’s philosophy as a whole is an implicit critique of Marxist
philosophy as such.
Radical, PhiZosophy 25-27.
It WOUld, nowever, be as logical to argue, for example, that Popper’s preoccupation with Marxism shows that he was a communist.
I am not for a moment suggesting that this was what Waterhouse intended;
but I am sure he would agree that this attitude towards existentialism in
particular is not an uncommon one.
See, for example, BT, p.320.
By this I mean ‘liberalism’ in the broadest sense: the general idea of
This was primarily of course an artistic rebellion: ‘the modernist
revolution’. It need hardly be said that this was not a peripheral
aesthetic phenomenon, but a symptomatic indication of the conflict of
contemporary social forces.
See Sartre, Being and Nothingness, pp.252-302, for the most famous
illustration of this state of mind.
What Lukacs is calling formal, rationalism is usually understood as rationalism as such: the belief that there is no breach in the natural order of
things, the order having been already imposed on the things. Hence when
the order is shaken by crisis, ‘things’ reappear because they have not
been fully comprehended.
See Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason, p.xxvii especially, but also the
The chapter in Capital, Vol. I on commodity fetishism is, philosophically
speaking, almost entirely addressed to this problem.
See Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, pp.392-405. The argument between
Naphta and Settembrini is a remarkable illustration of this conflict.
Lukacs’ s cri tics in the Expressionist Debate failed to understand this,
and focused the debate on the secondary question of personal integrity.
For a notable exception, see Jameson, Wyndham Lewis, which is based on
Lukacs’s overall perspective.