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Sartre's contribution to Marx's concept of alienation Bogardus, John Arthur

Abstract

Marx's concept of alienation has proven to be a subject of controversy for many social theorists. One of the more provocative treatments of this concept has been outlined by Jean-Paul Sartre. Drawing heavily on Marxism's Hegelian tradition, Sartre portrays alienation as being a crucial element in the formation of the individual's perception of social reality. An appreciation of Sartre's project and its relevance to Marxist theory necessitates the examination of the origins and development of the concept of alienation. For this purpose, a brief account of Hegel's usage of the term is followed by a discussion of Feuerbach's efforts to counter Hegelian idealism with an explicitly materialist perspective. Alienation makes its first appearance in Marx's work with the publication of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and the concept was to be a topic of concern throughout Marx's life. In particular, his analysis of commodity fetishism in his later work shows an obvious connection with alienation. Georg Lukacs' presentation of the reification of consciousness is a valuable addition to the examination of the fetishism of commodities. Lukacs provides numerous insights concerning the relationship between alienation and commodity fetishism as well as offering a useful articulation of the role of consciousness in Marxist theory. Lukacs' contribution is especially helpful in clarifying the nature of Sartre's project. Both theorists seek to outline an exposition of consciousness which counters idealistic excesses with a materialistic perspective faithful to the basic tenents of Marxism. In addition, Sartre employs the notion of reification as well as that of alienation in his psychoanalytic approach. His technique is intended to illuminate the class biases inherent in the consciousness of each individual, a proposal which finds an immediate application in explaining the distorted awareness which petit bourgeois intellectuals such as Lukacs and Sartre himself bring to the study of Marx's method.

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