Alienation and Reification

  • Joachim Israel


‘The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstractions can be made only in imagination. They are the real individuals, their activities and their material conditions of life, including those which they find already in existence and those produced by their activity’.1


Productive Force Human Species Practical Activity Capitalist Society Human Labour 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (Mega), The German Ideology, I. 5 p. 10, Berlin, 1932.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    A. N. Whitehead, Science and the modern world. New York 1948.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (Mega), The German Ideology, I. 5 p. 553, Berlin, 1932.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    A similar postion as held by Marx is found in Piaget’s genetic epistemology. See e.g. The mechanisms of perception, London, 1969, where he in a foot-note p. 362 acknowledges his affinity.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    M. Marković, Dialektik der Praxis, Frankfurt, 1968.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Traditionally, in Marxist writing, one speaks about the ‘unity of theory and praxis’ and not, as I have done here, of ‘theoretical and material praxis’. My distinction is due to my attempt to place ‘praxis’ into a central position and to view different human activities as aspects of this general concept. To clarify this distinction I would like to refer to ‘Capital’. Here Marx, when analyzing human labour, makes the following statement: ‘We presuppose labour in a form that stamps it exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resembles those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best bee is this that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement’, p. 178 in Vol. I (Engl. edition). ‘Imaginative’ and ‘material’ construction then would correspond to my distinction.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    About the role of stipulations in social scientific theory see J. Israel ‘Stipulations and construction in the social sciences’ in J. Israel & H. Tajfel (ed.), The context of social psychology. A critical assessment, London & New York, 1972.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    The concept was coined by G. Lukacs, Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein, Berlin, 1923. In the preface to the edition published 1967 he rejects the concept of reification.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Mega 1.3 p. 156. Economic and philosophical manuscripts.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Mega 1.3 p. 33. Economic and philosophical manuscripts. In the introduction to the ‘Manuscripts’ Marx also acknowledges the influence which Moses Hess and Friedrich Engels have had on his thinking. Especially Engels’ treatise ‘Umrisse zur Kritik der Nationalokonomie’ seems to have instigated Marx to study economics. For a detailed account of the history of the theory of alienation see I. Meszáros Marx’s theory of alienation, London, 1970.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Mega 1.3 p. 116. Economic and philosophical manuscripts.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    For an analysis of the concept of ‘Gattungswesen’ as used by Marx see A. Schaff, ‘Der Marxismus und das menschliche Individuum’, Wien, 1965.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Mega 1.3 p. 82–3. Economic and philosophical manuscripts.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Mega 1.3 p. 85. Economic and philosophical manuscripts.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Mega 1.3 p. 89. Economic and philosophical manuscripts.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Mega 1.1 p. 60. Bruno Bauer, The capacity of the present-day Jews and Christians to become free.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    A detailed treatment of this problem can be found in the present author’s book Alienation, from Marx to modern sociology, Boston, 1971.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Mega I.3 p. 87.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Megal. I.5.535.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    The problem of the presupposition of the theory of alienation and the problem of transformation of this theory into the theory of reification is treated more in detail in chapters I, II and IX in the author’s book referred to in note 17.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    A. Lundqvist, Kapitalem bevidshetsformer (Forms of consciousness of the capital), Grenå, 1973.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    In a forthcoming book (Foundations of a dialectical social science) the process of negating has been elaborated as a central epistemological process. There we use an example to elaborate the notion of ‘negating a negation’: ‘Recently in an art exhibition a sculptor showed sculptures of small elephants. Looking more closely at these elephants, one was amazed to discover, that he had used common ceramic tea-pots, but turned them upside down. The handle of the tea-pot became the elephant’s tail and the spout its trunk. In addition he put ceramic ears and legs on the “not-(longer)-tea-pot”. In this case, something categorized as a tea pot was treated as a “negative fact” ...: The sculptor viewed or used the tea-pot, as being not a tea-pot, as being a non-tea-pot. Thus he negated the tea-pot. But in order to create something new he had to “negate” the non-tea-pot by an act of transcendence (Aufhebung). Of the old material he used everything which was useful, but handled it in another way and added new things (the ceramic ears and legs) to it.’Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    See Capital vol. I and Grundrisse zur Kritik der Politischen Ekonomie (Rohentwurf). Berlin, 1953.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    K. Kosik, Die Dialektik des Konkreten, Frankfurt, 1967.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    For a detailed analysis of the problem of dialectical relations see J. Israel Foundations of a dialectical social science (op. cit.).Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Capital vol. I p. 542.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Capital vol. I p. 19.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    J. Zelený Die Wissenschaftslogik bei Marx und ‘Das Kapital’, p. 53. Berlin, 1968.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Capital vol. I p. 8.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Capital vol. I p. 73.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Capital vol. I p. 72.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    For an analysis of the process of reification see the essay by L. Goldman in Recherches dialectiques, Paris, 1959Google Scholar
  33. 32a.
    and J. Israel Alienation from Marx to modern sociology, Boston, 1971.Google Scholar
  34. 33.
    Mechanisms of this transformation are analyzed in chapter 9 of the author’s book mentioned in footnote 18.Google Scholar
  35. 34.
    A. Schaff, ‘Alienation and social activity,’ Bonnier s Litterära Mänadsskrift 36 (1967), p. 609.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© H. E. Stenfert Kroese bv, Leiden 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joachim Israel
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LundSweden

Personalised recommendations