Craig Stroupe   Ideas 

Dialectical Thinking & Moral Positions (Jameson)

In Postmoderism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Fredric Jameson proposes an ideal of intellectual practice by distinguishing between thinking dialectically and merely taking moral positions. Jameson writes:

The distinction I am proposing here knows one canonical form in Hegel's differentiation of the thinking of individual morality or moralizing (Moralitfit) from that whole very different realm of collective social values and practices (Sittlichkeit). But it finds its definitive form in Marx's demonstration of the materialist dialectic, most notably in those classic pages of the Manifesto which teach the hard lesson of some more genuinely dialectical way to think historical development and change. The topic of the lesson is, of course, the historical development of capitalism itself and the deployment of a specific bourgeois culture. In a well-known passage Marx powerfully urges us to do the impossible, namely, to think this development positively and negatively all at once; to achieve, in other words, a type of thinking that would be capable of as in the demonstrably baleful features of capitalism along with its ordinary and liberating dynamism simultaneously within a single thought, and without attenuating any of the force of either judgment. We are somehow to lift our minds to a point at which it is possible to understand that capitalism is at one and the same time the best thing that has ever happened to the human race, and the worst. The lapse from this austere dialectical imperative into the more comfortable stance of taking moral positions is inveterate and all too human: still, the urgency of the subject demands that we make at least some effort to think the cultural evolution of late capitalism dialectically, as catastrophe and progress all together. (47)

Work Cited

  • Jameson, Fredric. Postmoderism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke UP, 1991.

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