chapter  4
Subject and object in bourgeois philosophy
Pages 9

The classical philosophy being discussed by Lukacs is roughly European philosophy from Descartes onwards and including, in addition to Kant, the rationalists, the empiricists, Fichte and Hegel, the vast complexity of whose thought Lukacs reduces to permutations of the twin problems of: (a) the content of the forms and categories which men bring to their objects of cognition, through which they to some extent ‘create’ the world (and are thus able to know it); and (b) the problem of the ultimate substance of knowledge, i.e. the

quality of what extra knowledge is needed to bring partial knowledge up to a system of perfect knowledge of the world. These problems are epitomized in the epistemological debates associated with the Kantian ‘categories of the understanding’ and the issue of the unknowable ‘thing-in-itself’. The notions result, putting it simply, in the view that the subject filters the world of objects through a priori categories which he brings to it prior to experience, ever ignorant of the ultimate knowledge of the world’s real nature. Lukacs has clearly simplified the concerns of the philosophers he is dealing with here, overstressing their epistemological deliberations at the expense of other areas, such as moral and political philosophy or aesthetics (although he could argue that these, too, were caught up in the same limitations deriving from the same basis in existence.) Simplified this way, however, it renders more straightforward the task of presenting the basic prob­ lematic of Western philosophy since Descartes as being the relation between subject and object and tracing this to the reified society of abstract commodity relations - thus paving the way for the notion of the proletariat as the identical subject-object of history. (The issue of the legitimacy of Lukacs’s reduction will be taken up in the next chapter in relation to Hegel.)

Lukacs’s recurring argument about the insuperable problem of the ‘given’ perennially facing bourgeois philosophy, and that of Kant in particular, can be seen as the application and reapplication of the following statement by Hegel :

The critical philosophy . . . like the latter idealism . . . was overawed by the object, and so the logical determinations were given an essentially subjective significance with the result that these philosophies remained burdened with the object they had avoided and were left with the residue of a thing-in-itself, an infinite obstacle, as a beyond.5