Metaphysics & Reification:

In this, I wish to explore the movement of epistemology and history of philosophy, to look at a certain concept most associated with Georg Lukács. I believe this Marxist concept can be traced in its preconception to a debate between Absolute and Transcendental Idealism. Reification. With this, I want to try and show how reification can be used to re-interpret metaphysics and vice versa, how metaphysics can re-interpret reification. To take Lukács’ concept and examine it through the lens of Whitehead, Bergson, Nietzsche and Deleuze with the Philosophy of Difference, in conjunction with the dialectical approaches of Marx and Hegel. 
Specifically, this is to introduce reification to the concept of the Body without Organs.

Huge thanks to:

please check this out for a thorough examination of Deleuze! 

Concept Creation

Reification is described in many different ways. It has a specific usage in Marxism, as a term used by Marx in Das Kapital. It has a dialectical aspect. And it has a metaphysical dimension that can be seen best expressed in the works of Gilles Deleuze: Nietzsche and Philosophy, and Difference and Repetition.

Before we dive into Lukács and his interpretation of Marx. As well as how the dialectic of reification can be taken through a metaphysical process. I want to explore how we get to these concepts and their conception. Though not an entire account of the History of Philosophy behind the concept. This will be an attempt at a genealogical account of ‘reification’ as both the object of inquiry and as the method of approach. In this case, to answer ‘what is reification?’ We begin with a debate between Hume and Kant, on the question of what can be said to be true? Something that still drives the movement of continental philosophy today.

This point in epistemology (as opposed to a much earlier history of the idealism and materialism of Plato and Aristotle) serves as a start on our journey to finding where reification can be seen to originate as both the concept to be created, and as the concept which can retroactively create “new life” out of the very ideas which were involved in its gestation. As a metaphysical concept, rather than just a historical object.

What can be said to be true?
 Is a question that has led to an unfolding of a multiplicity of answers, that have themselves become the foundations of currently existing dominant frameworks of knowledge. Such as positivism. This is key to understanding the process of reification itself. Not as just a dialectical moment but also as a metaphysical process.

The debate between Hume and Kant on this question leads to a certain concept creation on behalf of Kant. The synthetic a priori. I’ll try to summarise this debate and concept, before moving to other key moments in the development of reification. 
Hopefully, through examining the origins of this concept (genealogically) we can see how this concept may have been first formed, and how we can use it today.

The synthetic a priori is a concept that plays a role in metaphysics and the works of Hegel and German Idealism. Which became one of the largest influences of continental philosophy. 
One that went on to inspire philosophers such as Marx, Heidegger, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

Metaphysics took a back seat to Phenomenology and Dialectics. With Marx’s Dialectical Materialism becoming the dominant philosophical system of Left Hegelianism.

Reification found itself as a term as a translation of a term used in Das Kapital and was taken further by Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukács in History and Class Consciousness. In the vein of Nietzschean-Marxism, this concept can be discovered in the metaphysical texts of Deleuze. This discovery is also an attempt at ‘concept creation’, this is something that will be explored throughout this essay.

This ‘concept creation’ is also a renaissance, a rebirth. As we look at reification in its different forms, we will also see how it works as a process. A moment of this process is the concept’s creation, this is also the moment of the synthetic a priori.

So, before reification can be defined, what needs to be defined is the order in which we can produce definitions.

How do we produce definitions? 
Or equally, how do we produce truth?

To answer this, or to look at how we can begin to answer this on our wonderful journey to understanding a metaphysical reification, we make our departure with a metaphysical debate between Kant and Hume, and its consequent concept creation: synthetic a priori.

Hume and Kant: Synthetic a priori

‘Hume’s Fork’ is our first criteria for an answer to the question of ‘how do we produce definitions and truths?’

It’s the proposition that any truth-statement can be either an ‘analytic, a priori’ proposition or a ‘synthetic a posteriori’ proposition. We find these terms in Kant’s Critiques of Pure Reason in response to Hume.

All the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided into two kinds, to wit, relations of ideas, and matters of fact. Of the first kind are the sciences of Geometry, Algebra, and Arithmetic … [which are] discoverable by the mere operation of thought … Matters of fact, which are the second object of human reason, are not ascertained in the same manner; nor is our evidence of their truth, however great, of a like nature with the foregoing.

If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

Kant’s response in The Critique Of Pure Reason is to highlight that for Hume there are two types of statements. Of the world (“matters of fact”) and of ideas (“relations of ideas”). Kant believes there are three ways to make a truth statement. This involves the creation of the terms: ‘Synthetic’ and ‘Analytic’. 
‘a priori’ and ‘a posteriori’.

‘a priori’ refers to any statement that can be said to be true, without any experience being necessary to produce the truth. This is also what can be referred to as ‘tautological’. The logic or truth of the statement is contained within the statement being made. This would be like a mathematical equation “2 + 2 = 4”. This can be said to be true a priori. It is true (or at least it can be claimed to be true) because of the logical necessity of its truth. So no experience is required for this to become or present itself as true. It is true, regardless of experience.

‘a posteriori’ then, refers to that which comes true through experience. Through the world. “The sun rose this morning”. Something that became true through its experience. Experience is what necessitates the truth of the claim.

‘Synthetic’ statements add something that wasn’t already the case, they add in something about the world and of experience to the subject. “All bachelors are sad”. This isn’t necessarily true, but its claim to truth comes from the experience of whoever is making the statement. It can’t be said to be already true or necessarily true by the nature of the subject (“bachelor”).

‘Analytic’ statements, therefore, add nothing new, they simply define what is already true about the subject. “All bachelors are single’. The predicate (“single”) is already contained within the subject (“bachelors”). It is already true and necessarily true by the nature of the claim.

So now to come back to the claim known as ‘Hume’s Fork’, only 2 types of statements can be produced and said to be true. “Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?” (analytic, a priori) “[…]Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?” (synthetic, a posteriori).

But what about the two other options? We now have four categories of truth, let’s see what other types of statements we could make with these Kantian terms:
Analytic a posteriori and Synthetic a priori.

Analytic a posteriori statements we can disregard, something tautologically true, or logically necessary, doesn’t need experience.

However, synthetic a priori statements? Something that can be true without experience, something that can be said to be already the case, but nonetheless a predicate is added to the subject of the statement. Something new is added to the statement.

Here we find the nature of metaphysics that begins to be laid out in Kant’s Transcendental Idealism, a step away from Humean thinking. 

I freely confess: it was the objection of David Hume which first, many years ago, interrupted my dogmatic slumber[.]

Preface to the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics
Abraham Anderson: Kant, Hume, and the Interruption of Dogmatic Slumber

What this ‘new’ thing is concerns what we are a priori given of the perception of space and time; faculties which according to Kant, shape our cognition and are the foundations for reason itself. Without space and time, we cannot produce reason. 
How do we know when something can be said to be necessarily true, logically, yet not tautologically?
In other words; when must something be the truth, and also something new. When can we declare that something is a new truth?

Newtonian Absolutism was proposed as an initial answer to this. Science can produce new truths that are necessarily true. This is what it means to produce a ‘science’, to produce new truths that were always already the case. To discover truth that was previously undiscovered. Such as Newtonian laws of physics. Newton, who can’t be said to have invented time and space (although some memes and jokes would proudly disagree here) but instead that he gave a language to that which is already the case. A new language.

In my last upload; Deleuze & Guattari on the Dialectic. I referred to this as ‘concept creation’. “The synthetic a priori as a concept’s creation”.

Of course, if Newtonian Absolutism is the synthetic a priori of its time, then what about departures from this idea in science? Such as Einsteinian Relativity?

That which comes to be a new truth doesn’t remain a new truth forever. A new truth replaces it, a new synthetic a priori, a ‘newer’ truth.

This process of a new synthetic a priori for another. The process of concept creation. Is the process of reification as a dialectic. A dialectical reification. That is to say: new truths produce newer truths, they are the process of their own replacement. Or, more precisely, their own renaissance. Rebirth. Reification. The process of new truths is a historical process, the production of new truth is the very process of history. This involves an understanding of new truth and synthetic a priori as Hegel describes the dialectical relationship between consciousness and history. Both unfold in each other. New consciousness produces new truth and moves history.

The reification of the synthetic a priori, or the process of new truth, is not only dialectical and historical. It also contains a metaphysical dimension.

To reveal this dimension, we’ll follow Georg Hegel. One of the most influential philosophers in his response to this idea of the synthetic a priori. To use concepts from his works such as Phenomenology of Spirit, where we discover determinate negation within Hegelian Dialectics. As well as take the synthetic a priori through reification, where we explore dialectical reification and metaphysical reification. By re-interpreting phenomenology and Dialectics with the metaphysics of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

To clarify further on the nature of this debate in epistemology, please refer to:
  • Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics.
  • Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason.
  • David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.

Hegel, Deleuze & Guattari: Abstract and Concrete or Potential and Actual

Reification. “To make into a thing” or “thing-ification”. “Verdinglichung”
This is how the term can be found in the writings of Marx, such as Das Kapital, which becomes translated into reification. To reify, to ‘make into a thing’. In Marx’s case; the making of abstract, social constructs (such as the state and ‘capital’ as an abstract universalisation of exchange/value) into things that seem concrete – things that seem ‘real’ and ‘natural’.

In a broader sense, reification can also be referred to as just the ‘mistaking of human creations for natural creations’ but this leaves a lot to be said. 

In the case of defining a ‘human creation’ as something distinguishable from ‘natural creation’. Aren’t humans natural? By saying ‘human creations’ are not ‘natural creations’, we perform what’s called a determinate negation. By declaring what a thing isn’t, we specify what the thing actually is. This means whatever we’re describing, is also at the same time something ‘in-itself’: It exists. Or at least, we treat it as if it does. We reify it. We bring it to existence. We bring it to life.

It exists, however, insofar as it doesn’t exist in a certain way. ‘Human creations’ exist only insofar as they are distinguished by being not ‘natural creations’. It exists by not being something else. 
To mistake something as being simply because it isn’t something else (the mistake of determinate negation) is how we also make the mistake of reification.

Does this mean there is no distinction between ‘human creations’ and ‘natural creations’? That the idea of ‘human creations’ is flawed?

To be aware of reification; that we mistake something abstract for something concrete, doesn’t mean it necessarily can’t become concrete. It means that the way in which we’ve made the abstract into something concrete is missing something crucial. In its becoming-concrete. In its becoming in-itself. 
The thing of ‘human creations’ is only made concrete by determinate negation, it only exists as a negation of something else. It is therefore void of its own content. Its content is purely the negation of the content of something else.
It is no-thing rather than some-thing. A some-thing needs to have content of its own, in order to be a some-thing. A concrete thing is something. An abstract thing is nothing.

So, the mistaking of abstract objects for concrete objects -mistaking nothing for something- might serve as a clearer, more accurate example of what it means to reify something. In Marx’s example, when we reify the commodity. We bring it to life. What we bring to life is dead labour. However, to forget that all the commodity is dead labour, to elevate it beyond just the raw materials and the labour that went into its production, is to fetishise it. Commodity fetishism. For Marx, commodity fetishism is a type of reification. Which is a type of Alienation. These would be Marx’s ‘human creations’. The mistake of something human for something natural. The mistake of fetishising the commodity. 

Accordingly, the real error is an example of what I have termed: The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.

Alfred North Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World

This becomes what you might see as the very process of reification. Misplaced Concreteness. Here, we are clarifying reification, treating it as a thing-in-itself. We are reifying reification. We are turning reification from an abstract object into a concrete object. We are turning reification from nothing (or from being an ’empty signifier’) into something.

‘Human creation’ must have its own content as well as its negational content (non-content) in order to come to life as something in-itself. In order to really exist as something concrete. For us to use it and give it power as a concept, we must overcome this lack of content. What is it, and not just what isn’t it. This is the process of reification.

This is what I mean by reification as the “object of inquiry” and also the “method of approach”. To declare that reification is just a ‘Whiteheadian Fallacy’ is to give content to reification. To distinguish it from just determinate negation.

Reification isn’t just a ‘mistake’. It’s also a take. It critiques its object (“this isn’t a real thing but an abstract thing you’re perceiving as real”) and it also creates the conditions for that same object, the ‘abstract thing’, to become more than just a determinate negation. To become a concrete thing. To become something. Here, when I say we reify reification, we first reduce it to nothing. And then we give it the forces it needs to return to life. This is the heart of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept creation.

Reification isn’t just the ‘negation of the negation’, but it is also affirmative. 
It can be used to not only “defend the vanished concept” but “to give it the forces it needs to return to life” – What is Philosophy? By Deleuze & Guattari.

When I say the abstract is nothing. I don’t refer to a pure nothingness, such as the Hegelian ‘pure nothingness as pure being’. Instead, I refer to nothingness which is better understood as a return to potentiality. When I abstract or reify ‘human creation’, I do not just simply destroy it. Instead, I take it from an actualized concept, into a potential one. Reification is a process. It takes a concept, critiques it, and then sends this critiqued concept through a “new milieu” through which the concept is given new life. It finds a new line of flight.

Marx’s alienation, in this mode of recognising reification as the process of becoming and not just the destruction of a concept, alienation has both negative content and positive content.

One needs to be alienated in order to become something else, to be reified and to embrace the process of becoming. Something coined by Deleuze in The Logic of Sense as the Body without Organs.

It is the raw product of social alienation and destabilization, and a surface on which repressed and uncontrollable desires flow without organization, but with consistency.

To reify at one level, to mistake the abstract for the concrete, is also to begin the process of which the abstract can now become concrete. To negate, but also to affirm. To reify is a constant process.

The abstract therefore isn’t just nothing, but a nothingness meaning the potential to become something. The abstract isn’t the nothingness of the Real, but the potentiality of the Virtual. Reification isn’t just the destruction of a concept. But the process of the concept’s creation. Reification is the concept’s renaissance. From concrete, into abstract, from actual, into potential.

As I give ‘human creation’ the potential to return to life. I more so want to give new life to the concept of reification. To show that we can create the concept of reification as a process. One can now explore ‘human creation’ in the same way. Not as something destroyed, because it’s just the determinate negation of ‘natural creation’, but as something returned to potentiality, which can find new life.

It’s not just determinate negation. It’s also the potentiality to find new content. To become actualised and concrete again. In the same way, I have tried to present reification as this very process. The process of concept creation. Or, the process of the synthetic a priori; something which was always already the case, that has found a new language in which to express itself. Always becoming already the case.

Reification is not just the mistaking of what isn’t for what is, but the process of the synthetic a priori, of actualising the potential. From concrete to abstract to concrete (sniff and so on and so on…). Nietzschean eternal recurrence. In other words: reification is the process of concept creation and the synthetic a priori is the moment of a concept’s creation. Both contribute to the renaissance of the concept.

From Slavoj Žižek’s The Sublime Object of Ideology:

Money is precisely an object whose status depends on how we ‘think’ about it: if people no longer treat this piece of metal as money, if they no longer ‘believe’ in it as money, it no longer is money.

Here, one might see the beginning of reification. Where we first establish the mistake, for Žižek, the ‘mistake’ of the Sublime Object of money is that it is an abstract thought made concrete by ideology. So now to engage in the process of reification, we can look at how this ‘vanished concept’ might return. 
In the case of hyperinflation, money is made abstract, into something without value (nothing). We can look to the image:

A woman feeds her stove with money 
because it’s cheaper than wood

Here, the reification of money has first destroyed money in its concrete form of value that’s exchangeable (exchange-value) into nothing. Valueless. But nothingness is full of potential. And now money as its concrete form as paper and metal is actualised into fuel for a fire. It has found use-value. 

This is also what we might see as the Deleuzo-Guattarian description of deterritorialization and reterritorialization. The breaking of the boundaries and limits of a thing, and the return of that thing with new boundaries and limits. Reification is not just deterritorialization but also reterritorialization.

The synthetic a priori can therefore be recognised as the moment or object of reterritorialization.

The example above of exchange-value into use-value. This is concept creation. Or, in an attempt to create a concept: this is metaphysical reification. How we use the concept. The use of a concept is its creation.

The meaning of a word is its use in the language.

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations

We produce the meaning of a word -we produce meaning- through usage. By using the concept, we give it its meaning. We create it. Creativity is usage. Usage is creativity.

This constant return of the synthetic a priori, or the rebirth of the concept, is also a Deleuzian interpretation of Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence. The concept describing how ‘that which occurs, will occur again, in the same way’.

What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness, and say to you, “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science

Deleuze in his work Difference and Repetition explores the belief that Nietzsche was not referring to a ‘literal return of the same moment.’ Instead, Nietzsche was attempting to explain the very process of ‘being’ and ‘becoming’:

It is not being that returns but rather returning itself that it constitutes being insofar as it is affirmed of becoming.

Gilles Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy

In the case of Nietzsche: liberate the will from everything which binds it by making repetition the very object of willing.

Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition

Heraclitus will remain eternally right with his assertion that being is an empty fiction.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols

Metaphysical reification as I’ve called it is the deterritorialization and reterritorialization of the synthetic a priori. Or “making repetition the very object of willing”. Involves all its dialectical processes, and also it’s metaphysical. Because it is its metaphysical processes that produce the new truth about it. This is an attempt at being a metaphysical process in which a new concept is created. As a rebirth of a concept. As the eternal recurrence of the concept. To use and create the concept.

This is the process of becoming. “Becoming-_
Becoming-true. Becoming-animal. Becoming-imperceptible. Becoming-reified. 
For Deleuze, as for Nietzsche, there is no being. There is becoming.

Here, we are using metaphysical reification to produce metaphysical reification. Something took through the paths of identity and dialectics of Hegel and Lukács and embraced in the Philosophy of Difference (which concerns process metaphysics and ontology of becoming) that Deleuze finds in Nietzsche and Bergson. The Body without Organs produces itself.

Whitehead refers to reification as misplaced concreteness. What Bergson calls “the habit of acquiring habits (the whole of obligation)” would more accurately describe metaphysical reification. The habit of acquiring habits, something like Kojève’s ‘desire for desire’. Instead of just desire (for the Lacanian, all there is, is desire) we consider that there are other forces in motion. Dialectical forces, forces of Will. The force of immanence. The movement of becoming. Difference. There is desire, and there is difference. There is no pure repetition. Desire is not a lack, but a production. It differentiates. It becomes.

the moment one attempted to measure a moment, it would be gone.

Bergson’s concept of Duration.

There is no being. Being is becoming. 

This is what Whitehead describes in his Process and Reality as how metaphysics can be found. As the process of discovering previously unknown truths. In Concept Creation.

Each creative act is the universe incarnating itself as one, and there is nothing above it by way of final condition.

Change is the description of the adventures of eternal objects in the evolving universe of actual things.

Error is the price we pay for progress.

In the real world it is more important that a proposition be interesting than that it be true. The importance of truth is that it adds to interest.

Creativity is the universal of universals characterizing ultimate matter of fact. It is that ultimate principle by which the many, which are the universe disjunctively, become the one actual occasion, which is the universe conjunctively. It lies in the nature of things that the many enter into complex unity.

The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanations of complex facts. We are apt to fall into the error of thinking that the facts are simple because simplicity is the goal of our quest. The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, “Seek simplicity and distrust it.

from Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reality, and Science and the Modern World

In the process of a metaphysical reification, there must also be the reification of metaphysics.

Metaphysical reification is concept creation.

This is the Body without Organs.

Huge thanks to J&J’s Learning Community for providing a space for free education and discussion! I would be clueless when it comes to certain concepts if it wasn’t for the weekly materials and lectures provided by J&J, as well as with the excellent conversations I’ve had within the community!

and of course, thank you network23 for providing a platform for my ludicrous writings, and for making publishing available for all kinds of excellent writing!

  • Phenomenology of Spirit by G. W. F. Hegel, A. V. Miller.
  • Science of Logic by G.W.F Hegel. 
  • Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness.
  • Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus.
  • Deleuze & Guattari, What is Philosophy?
  • Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus.
  • Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition. 
  • Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy.
  • Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense.
  • Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology.
  • A.N Whitehead, Science and the Modern World.
  • A.N Whitehead, Process and Reality.
  • Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Vol. 1. Ben Fowkes. New York: Penguin, 1990
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science.
  • Henri Bergson, The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations.

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