"The arguments will appear to many readers as refreshingly common sense"by Alex Dean / January 17, 2017 / Leave a comment
Materialism by Terry Eagleton (Yale, £16.99)
What do Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Ludwig Wittgenstein have in common—beyond the fact they are all philosophers?
In his new book, Terry Eagleton undertakes the ambitious task of showing they were also all materialists. He does not mean that each held a superficial attachment to possessions, but that they believed the material world deserves serious philosophical attention. The job of the philosopher, in Eagleton’s view, should not just be to focus on a “higher plane” of ideas.
Marx set out to dismantle the distinction between the corporeal world and the abstract. As he once wrote: “the element of thought itself… is of a sensuous nature.” As Eagleton puts it, Marx believed that “it is matter (marks, sounds, gestures) that are constitutive of meaning”—and he often poked fun at idealists who disagreed.
Nietzsche, too, was convinced the abstract and the corporeal are not distinct categories. “It is our affects, not our intellects, that interpret the world,” he wrote.
For Wittgenstein, it is through intuition that we know most of the things we do. “Our relationship to the world is not primarily a theoretical one,” Eagleton paraphrases. Wittgenstein’s famous argument that our words constitute our form of life, rather than shed light on it, entails this.
This book is not written in an accessible style: the language is often frustratingly opaque and a grounding in academic philosophy is useful. Still, the arguments will appear to many readers as refreshingly common sense. As Eagleton writes, in a phrase worthy of Wittgenstein, “It is not by recourse to theory that we know there is a tarantula under the toast rack.”
Purchase the book here on Amazon