Philosophical classics vs. non-classical philosophizing (axiology criticism)

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №8 - 2016

Mareev Sergei, Modern Academy for Humanities, Moscow, Russia
Mareeva Elena, Moscow International Higher Business School MIRBIS (Institute), Russia

Classical philosophy began with the search for the perfect in the human soul, where the general predominates over the particular. Socrates was the first to recognize the independence of the individual choice, while adhering to the principle that in any activity or action people should strive for the ideals - Truth, Goodness, Beauty. These are the highest ideas that crown a pyramid of Plato’s ideas. And wisdom, according to Plato, is to climb to the top of this pyramid.

Plato dreamed of the establishing an aristocratic republic, where people would be guided not by selfish, material motives, but rather by the idea of Supreme Good. That is why following his teacher, Socrates, and followed by his student Aristotle, he did not represent "the revolt of the masses". Rather, there was a reaction to the democracy that tore apart and lead to decay of the Athenian state. And it gradually destroyed Athens, which were defeated by totalitarian Sparta, then by Alexander the Great, and, finally, by the Roman Republic, where service to the home land was considered the highest duty, while the Greeks started to favor mainly “rootless cosmopolitans”.

When in the XIX century Dr. Friedrich Nietzsche stated that “God is dead”, he meant Plato’s God -God-Idea, God-Ideal. So, according to Marx, the Sun went out, and everyone started to light for oneself one’s own little lantern. It was a shift in the entire European culture, which lost its ideality. Nietzsche’s follower Scheler tried to understand why the bourgeois democratic society, in which everyone has equal rights, started generating resentment on a mass scale of, i.e. impotent rage and envy towards everybody.

Nietzsche treated it as a manifestation of "morality of slaves," but it is a patriarchal society where everyone knows “one’s place”. Hence the “naturalness” of patronizing, paternalistic relationships idealized by the first Russian Slavophones. I. Kireyevsky and A. Khomyakov, in a sense, were Democrats, who treated paternalism associated with serfdom as a “natural” care about people.

Scheler is closer to understanding the essence of ressentiment, which is based on difference and contradiction between the formal, legal equality and actual, material inequality in a bourgeois society. According to Scheler, the sources of ressentiment are to be found in modern democracy resulting from the strain of authoritarianism of the past centuries, which was the background for the development of high art and classical philosophy. Down-to-earth mind, ability to adapt, pursuit of security, thrift and pedantic precision in making and adherence to contracts are the main virtues of a modern man, according to Scheler, for whom “courage, self-sacrifice, enthusiasm of determination, generosity, indifference to the economic benefits, love to one’s homeland and family, loyalty, devotion to the emperor, the ability to rule and reign become less important” [1]. This way of life has a value in the form of ressentiment.

Scheler thought the spiritual crisis could be overcome not through the development of democracy but through return to natural life values, on the basis of which the majority of people will no longer give rise to what we call “mass culture”, but will assimilate a high culture of the past [2]. Scheler's “natural” inequality became a prerequisite for the development of a high culture, which happened, in the Russian culture of the nobles that developed in the so-called “Nests of Gentlefolks”. Classical culture and philosophy, with its ideals of Truth, Goodness and Beauty developed for centuries based on free communication of those fed with by the serfs. And this culture started to cease in the places where serfs got freedom. Does this mean that saving classical culture is only possible through returning to the Middle Ages? Does this also mean that the philosophical classics is naturally linked to a patriarchal society?

The prevailing idea of the classical philosophy was idealism, including the grand system of absolute idealism of Hegel. Nietzsche was the first to decisively reject not only Hegel’s idealism, but also that of Socrates and Plato, who treated the perfect as something real. Nietzsche believed both of them to be “decadents”: "I recognized Socrates and Plato as the symptoms of death, as the instruments of Greeсу decadency, as pseudo Greeks, as anti Greeks” [3]. The only authentic culture of the Greeks, in Nietzsche’s mind believes, was Dionysusism, i.e. orgy, feeling, and passion. Nietzsche exalts the natural origination of a man, as opposed to the culture of a mass society, in which personal life, material well-being and philistine peace became the highest value. But can this be the Ideal?

Today it is clear that liberal democracy historically turned by a mass public into its surrogate. These conditions appeared to be favorite for the blooming of surrogate philosophy based on subjectivism and vulgar materialism. A typical example here is a popular now axiology, Scheler being one of its founders.

While the Idea and the Ideal were the main concepts of classical philosophy, the concept of “value” turned out to be in the focus of non-classical philosophy - the philosophy of the twentieth century. The world of culture has lost its ideality, but “values” remained. If we speak about material values, they steadily grow in number.

Here it is worth recalling neo-Kantians of the Baden school, who were among the first to speak about the world of values to eliminate some gaps in the philosophy of Kant. Unable to explain the origin of Kant's a priori forms of cognition, V. Windelband declared them a particular case of the “realm of universal significance” or “reasonable values”. Kant’s successor H. Rickert said:”... the values them selves are neither objects nor subjects. They form a completely independent realm, which lies in the area beyond the subject or the object” [4].

The realm of absolute values is more similar to the world of Plato’s ideas, since neo-Kantians’ values are, of course, universal and perfect, although there are located in “the skies”, but somewhere between the heaven and the earth, and more specifically - in the specifically interpreted concept of culture, and thus neo-Kantian doctrine becomes the “philosophy of culture”. The neo-Kantian philosophy of the Baden school, similar to Kantian transcendentalism, interprets the world of values as a specific absolute reality. Thus, their philosophy becomes an intermediate stage on the way from the classic philosophy to contemporary philosophical axiology.

Axiology blocks the contradiction of the ideal and the material, sealing it with the abstract notion of “value”. But abstract concepts hide significant differences. Hegel goes from the abstract concepts of "being" and "nothingness" to a particular notion of “becoming”. Marx from the abstract concept of “goods" goes to a particular notion of “commodity labor power”. And this is the only way to develop a scientific content to solve a real problem.

Many people, including educated ones, think that abstraction is the main attribute of scientism. Among philosophers it turns out that more abstract, the better. But abstraction in scientific knowledge is a necessary condition, but, nevertheless, just a condition of the movement to the concrete. According to Hegel’s “Who Thinks Abstractly”, scientists think in concrete terms and a market saleswoman thinks in abstract terms [5].

Narrow-minded thinking is stuck on abstractions. Who does not like today to speculate about “values”, “mentality”, “information”. In one case, these concepts moving from the field of science to everyday language, as it happened to the concept of “information”. In another case, there is an attempt to drag these notions from the ordinary language to the field of science and philosophy, as is the case with the concept of “value”. In each case the concepts lose their specific distinctness.

The concept of value is very broad and abstract. For example, we appreciate love and we appreciate delicious food. Sometimes we appreciate both. Normally, a man will refer to the former as to a spiritual value, and to the latter as a material value. Behind the contradiction between the two, there is a real problem. To solve it, we need dialectics. Butas far back as the dawn of non-classical philosophizing Nietzsche argued not only against the idealism of Socrates and Plato, but also against the dialectical method.

Contemporary axiology is far from both the dialectical method and the historical method, which does not allow it to specify its content with the consideration of the entire history of humankind. Values for an axiologist are something eternal and immutable, which is postulated and does not require any further clarification. At most, axiology is oriented at the classification values at the level of Linnaeus Botany or Aristotelian Zoology.

But even when the classifications of values reveal discrepancies between the ideal and the material, these discrepancies are smoothed over and not brought to the extreme. This is what Marx Scheler did when he placed all values on one scale from the highest, spiritual to the lowest, vital, or in other words, material. Between them Scheler places values of varied degrees. But the transition from the material to the ideal is not possible through simple quantitative increment. “The gap” between the material and the ideal cannot be filled with intermediaries, each of which is more or less ideal, and vice versa. It is just as it is impossible to be “slightly” pregnant.

The concept of value according to Scheler determines understanding of a human nature, which Scheler always splits in tow. Once he describes it as a naturalistic spirit is, the next time as a spiritual nature. Scheler seem to escape from dualism, but again and again combines the spiritual and the physical in a man, ignoring the negativity.

Socrates ideality of beauty is related to the denial of its physicality. The first manifestation of the dialectic - negativity. The ideal is the negation of the material. If we stick to this point, then the ideal is nothing, an empty space. The first denial must be followed by the second, the negation of negation, when the material is recovered as a special form of materiality having the ideal content. It is dialectics that allows to theoretically recreate the way the material is converted (German Aufheben) into the ideal.

But in modern axiology, like in other forms of non-classical philosophizing, only one “half” of the contradiction is mentioned. “Vulgar” materialism always states that only the material is real. This is clear from the point of view of the “philosophy of everyday life”: today's layman is disappointed in all sorts of ideals. But it is necessary to believe in something, so the layman believes in the materiality of thought, in a kind of “nano-matter”. That is why we often hear that “the thought is material”.

The analysis of dialectics of the ideal requires proof, and therefore makes theory popular. The ideal is not present in sensual experience, in contemplation. The philosophical classics, even in German idealism sought to overcome this visibility and reveal subject matter behind it. But Nietzsche says just the opposite: the higher and the significant does not need proof. Nietzsche was among the first to oppose free artistic philosophizing to theory.

Dialectics is looking for the ideal in the universal basis of a human life being fundamentally anti-dogmatic. Ilyenkov, who was the first in the Soviet philosophy to explore the dialectics of the ideal, argued against the dogmatic “dialectical materialism”, since he interpreted the entire Marxism dialectics as a “general development theory” essentially using a metaphysical method. It was a sort of “dialectical metaphysics”–“a round square”, “wooden iron”, etc. Ilyenkov proceeded from the fact that the opposites of the ideal and the material must be taken to the extreme, to a conflict in order to see their dialectical identity in the “third” - in the material object activity. The activity provides for a match of the opposites – the ideal “project” and the material transformation of the subject, which in modern society are separated by the social division of labor into physical and mental [6].

The subjective activity, through which a man idealizes nature, is labor. In this sense, the ideal is the derivative and the moment of labor activity of a social man. But nowadays the situation is hidden behind a variety of subsequent layers, but the main thing is that the original historical “labor → the ideal" ratio is dialectically transformed, and now all material activities are preceded by the ideal “project”, an ideal target. Hence, there is the strength of the idealistic prejudice, according to which the “idea” precedes all material existence as discussed in Plato’s works.

Today's postmodernists treat the ideal as “simulacra», thus reducing the ideal tothe material [7]. Thus, they demonstrate their ironic attitude to the realities of a mass society. But this irony makes sense as a challenge to complacency of ordinary consciousness, its self-conceit and self-sufficiency. Here it is easy to slip into cynicism, which, in fact, was demonstrated by the ancient Cynics. That is why to day, as in the old days, productive development philosophy is inseparable from the criticism of present being, if this criticism is realized on behalf of the classical ideal, and not from the position of materialism – without the ideal relativism –without striving to the Absolute.

We live in a situation of crisis, or rather, a historical contradiction, when the ideals of high culture and classical philosophy, developed by aristocrats of the spirit of the past, confront democratic mass culture, which is characterized by a vulgar materialist philosophy, which expresses the interests of particular rather than common being. Compulsory moral law, which is inherent in the Kantian categorical imperative, today confronts the world of individual “values”, which are subjective, relative and corporate in both philosophy and life. Resolution of this problem in modern axiology lies not in the recognition of the multiplicity of “morals”, as Max Scheler does. In the light of philosophical classics and high culture this way is historically doomed.


1. Scheler, M. Ressentiment in the Structure of Morals. SPb: Nauka, Universitetskaya kniga, 1999. p.178.

2. Scheler, M. Ressentiment in the Structure of Morals. SPb: Nauka, Universitetskaya kniga, 1999.

3. Nietzsche, F. Problema Sokrata [Socrates’ Problem] Vol.2. М.: Mysl, 1990, p. 563.

4. Rickert, G. Filosofiya Zhizni [Phylosophy of Life]. Kiev: Nika-Tsentr, 1998. p.460.

5. Hegel, G.W.F. “Znaniye-Sila” [Knowledge-Power], #10 (1973), p. 41-42.

6. Ilyenkov, E.V. Dialektika Idealnogo [Dialectics of the Ideal].“Logos”, #1 (2009), p. 6-62.

7. Delez, Zh. Logika Smysla [Logics of the Meaning]. М.: Akademichesky proekt, 2011.

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №8 - 2016

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