The Individual and History

Karel Kosík


In contrast to the usual practice which never takes titles literally and pays little attention to them, I should like to draw the reader’s attention to the conjunction “and” standing between the words “history” and “the individual” and to consider its special function. An individual remains an individual, but if he gets into the proximity of history, he becomes either the great individual making history or the helpless person being crushed by history. The historical individual views history differently than the average individual. Does this mean that there are two kinds of history—one for the historical individual and one for the average individual? Is the real individual only the one who makes history and real history only that which results from the activities of the historical individual; or is this an extreme view and the correct position is held by those who stress what the great individual and the average individual have in common and consider history as a chain of events in which all have their share and in which everyone may show his abilities? Which individual and which history have we in mind when we speak about the relationship between history and the individual?

Their mutual relationship seems self-evident and, what is more, seems to suggest the proper approach to the problem, “The Individual and History.” If we know what is history and what is the individual, we should also be able to recognize their relationship. However this way of thinking assumes that the individual and history are two units which are independent of each other and which can be recognized in isolation and that later their mutual relationship can be sought. The relationship between history and the individual is expressed in mutually exclusive theories; one maintains that history is made by great individuals while the other states that history is made by superindividual forces (Hegel's “World Spirit,” the “forces of production” of simplifying Marxists, the “Masses” in the view of the Romantics). On the first sight these views seem to exclude one another. However by penetrating further, we find that they consider the other and that they percolate. What they have in common is that they consider the making of history a privilege granted to some selected factors: either to great individuals or to hypostatized abstractions. In order that Man may interfere with history, he must, according to one view, differ from other individuals seeking the same goal, that is, who also want to make history; his historical greatness depends on the degree of his difference from the others. In the perspective of the great individual, people may be divided into two groups: the majority is merely the material of historical events and is subject to history, whereas the second group is made up of individuals wanting to play a historical role; they must, therefore, become each other's enemies. Historical individuals create for themselves a world in which they stand up to those who oppose or may oppose them.

The individual becomes a historical being to the extent to which his particular actions have universal Geltung; that is, bear general results. As history exists only as continuous, the theory of the great individual must state whether history ceases to exist, or is interrupted, in those periods which lack any great individual and in which “there is a rule of mediocrity.” If the actions of great individuals do not fall within a certain continuity of events and have no share in creating it, history breaks up and is replaced by the chaos of isolated and discontinuous events. If the continuity of history—created, according to this theory, by the actions of great individuals—is admitted, the particular activity of each great individual clashes with the existing universality of history. The great individual either denies this universality in his words (and by this he does not destroy its existence or his dependence on it), or he recognizes it and becomes the conscious representative of the universality. At this moment the individual proclaims his particular activity to be the immediate expression of universality and History itself is manifest in his actions, Being itself resound in his words. Thus the great individual that first appeared as the maker of history turns out to be an instrument of History.

The results that follow from this approach are, in fact, the starting point for those who hold the opposite view. In the universalist theory the individual becomes a historical factor if through his actions he expresses rightly the tendencies and trends and/or the laws of the superindividual formations or forces. History is a transcendental force, the processes of which may be accelerated by the great individual or may be given a particular historical tinge by him, but he cannot destroy or fundamentally change this force. Whatever the importance of the great individual’s role in these conceptions, his mission is not at all enviable for two reasons. Such an individual is a historical automaton founded on the proper calculation of knowledge (information) and will (action); these are adequate elements of his function, and all the other human qualities are redundant or subjective from the point of view of his historical role. The great historical individual of this theory is not identical with the universally developed individual, i.e., with the personality. As the great individual has the function of an accelerator and modifier in history, a second question arises: will not his existence become superfluous or outdated as soon as both functions may be performed by “someone” or “something” more perfectly and not accidentally (as the individual’s existence is considered to be accidental)? The view that considers great individuals as particular beings realizing general laws leads ultimately to the conclusion that their functions may be performed more reliably and with greater efficiency by those automatic institutions that can be managed by average individuals; this is in line with the prophetic views expressed by Schiller, Hölderlin and Schelling: [1]

In such institutions everything is of some value only if it can be expected and accounted for with certainty. . . . Consequently those who are least distinguished by their individuality, the average talents and the mechanically educated souls, get to power and manage affairs in such institutions.

The logical outcome of this theory of the great individual is the defense of average individuals. The individual may be great, that is, influential and powerful, even while he is not a personality. The greatness in question does not spring from the power which he exercises as the result of certain circumstances and by which he makes history. The individual with the greatest power may simultaneously be the individual with the least individuality.

Hegel and Goethe were correct in defending the hero, i.e., the great or historical individual, against the views of the butler. But the butler’s idea of the great individual is not a view from below, i.e., a plebeian criticism, because the butler is not the hero’s opponent but his complement. The hero needs the butler as witness to his human weaknesses (he represents a means of making them public); this is the way society learns that the hero remains human even in his responsible and exhausting historical function. The great individual is not only a hero who, through his actions, is different from others, but he is also a human being (he loves flowers, plays cards, cares for his family, and so on) and in this respect he does not differ from other people but is like them. What, however, is indicated by the butler’s view and what the uncritical public accepts as the great individual’s human nature is, in fact, the degradation of human nature to an anecdotal and secondary level: the human side appears in the form of insignificant details or in the sphere of private life.

The butler belongs to the great individual’s world and his view does not bespeak any criticism but only a direct or indirect vindication expressed in stories, in the betrayal of background secrets or in slander and minor intrigues. This is the explanation of why we encounter the ridiculous, the comic, the humorous, the satirical only in marginal anecdotes that have no historical value in this conception of history and the individual. Such history means gravity, self‑denial, seriousness; moreover, according to Hegel, a period of happiness is something of an exception in it. The butlers may tell anecdotes about their masters, but the ridiculousness of a certain historical individual and the comic side of his doings can be revealed only through another view which is inaccessible to butlers and servants.

Both theories, however contradictory they seem to be in details, fail because of their common inability to solve the relationship between the particular and the general in a satisfactory manner. Either generality is absorbed by the particularity, and history becomes an irrational and senseless process in which every particular event appears with a general meaning and in which there is only arbitrariness and chance; or the particular event is absorbed by generality, which means that individuals are mere instruments, that history is predestined and that people only seemingly make history. In the latter view we may discover a remainder of the theological doctrine that considers history to be a scaffolding with whose help a building is erected; the scaffolding, as the sphere of temporality. is of an ontological nature that differs in principle and is, therefore, separable from the building that bears the signs of eternity. In the view of St. Augustine, the machinamenta temporalia and the machinae transiturae are qualitatively different from what they help to build: illud quod manet in aeternum. If the metaphysical assumptions of this theory are repudiated but the view of the qualitative, ontological difference between “scaffolding” (the temporary thing) and the “building” (the thing outside of time) is accepted in a transformed and therefore implicit and unclear likeness, we are faced with a bastard‑like idea that has catastrophic consequences. Hegel’s “cunning of history” is outwitted. By using and wearing out particular passions and interests, pure generality in which particularity is embedded. In order not to be discredited, generality seeks to turn particularity into an instrument, but this cunning is outwitted. “The scaffolding” with the help of which the building of history is constructed cannot be removed from “the building itself.” Particularity and generality are interlinked and the attained goal bears some likeness to the sum of the means employed.


The principle of universality and the principle of particularity, through which the relationship between history and the individual is expressed in the form of rigid antinomies, are not only abstractions which fail to express the concreteness of history but also only appear to be principles: these principles are not the beginning and the foundations (principium) from which the movement springs and in which reality is manifest; they are rather deduced and petrified degrees or stages of this movement. In disclosing the shortcomings and contradictions of the two theories, we may discover certain dialectics in which the relationship between history and the individual is no longer expressed by means of antinomies but rather as a movement in which the inner unity of the two members is constituted. This new principle is the play.

Terms referring to plays and games may be found in every meditation about history, e.g., “part,” “masque,” “peril,”  “victory,” “defeat” and so on; the idea of history as a play or a game is quite common in German classical philosophy. Schelling illustrates this in System of Transcendental Idealism:

If we think of history as a play in which everyone involved perform his part quite freely and as he pleases, a rational development to this muddled drama is conceivable only if them be a single spirit who speaks in everyone, and if the playwright, whose mere fragments (disjecti membra poetae) are the individual actors, has already so harmonized beforehand the objective outcome of the whole with the free play of every participant, that something rational must indeed emerge at the end of it. But now if the playwright were to exist independently of his drama, we should be merely the actors who speak the lines he has written. If he does not exist independently of us, but reveals and discloses himself successively only, through the very play of our own freedom, so that without this freedom he himself would not be, then we are collaborators of the whole and have ourselves invented the particular roles we play. [2]

In The Poverty of Philosophy Marx characterized the materialistic idea of history as a method “which investigates the real profane history of the people in each century” and which “describes these people both as authors and actors of their own drama. As soon as you describe these people as the actors and authors of their own history, you have come back . . . to the true beginning.” [3]

For the time being, I leave aside the differences in the views of Schelling and Marx since I am primarily concerned with the meaning of the idea that identifies history with a play. In the idea of the play as the principle of the individual’s unity with history we no longer confront linear abstractions but rather find that the various heterogeneous elements are united through some inner link. The individual and history are no longer entities independent of each other but are interlinked by a common base. The theories mentioned earlier considered participation in history to be a privilege; either they did not explain a number of features or else distorted them by means of forcible constructions which disagreed with experience, History as a play, however, is open to everyone and to all; history is a play in which the masses and individuals, classes and nations, great personalities and average beings, all partake. It is a play as long as all people have a part in it and as long as all parts are included and no one is excluded. All genres are fully developed in historical tragedies, comedies, and grotesque plays. We cannot agree with those who transform the tragic in history into the tragedy of history or the comic in history into the comedy of history, because here one aspect of history becomes absolute and is raised above history itself;, this view also disregards the inner relationship among the various aspects and history as a play.

As every play requires actors and audiences, the first of the basic assumptions of the interpretations of history as a play is the relationship of Man to Man, of Man to other people; the basic forms of this relationship are indicated in grammar (I‑You, I‑We, They‑We and so on) and its concrete content is determined by its position in the totality of social and historical conditions and circumstances (slave, capitalist, pope, revolutionary, and so on).

The relationship of Man to Man and of Man to other people may become a play, if a second assumption is fulfilled: each actor or player, on the basis of the encounter of his actions with those of others, learns to know, or may learn to know, who the other individual is and who he is himself, but he may also disguise his intentions, hide his face, or be deceived by others. The relationship of people in the play becomes concrete through the dialectics of acting and knowing. The individual performs a certain historical role within the framework of what he has learned and what he knows. Does this mean that knowledge and action are variable, that the individual performs his historical role more perfectly the more he knows? The real actions of the individual are not based only on the quantity and quality of information (correct or incorrect knowledge, probable and uncertain information) but especially on the way it is interpreted. Consequently efficiency of actions is not and need not be adequate to the quantity and quality of knowledge since rational activities may be interwoven with irrational actions. The relationship between action and knowledge is realized by way of calculation and forethought, by way of premature, timely or belated information and actions, by way of conflict between what is expected and what is unexpected.

The third assumption is the relationship among past, present, and future. In the metaphysical conception of history the future is determined on the general and basic level and is open and uncertain in details: these secondary factors, which cannot disturb or interrupt the basic predestined trend, open up the field of activity to significant and insignificant individuals. The principle of play undermines this metaphysical determinism inasmuch as it neither conceives the future as ready-made on the basic level nor as complete in details but rather considers the future a wager or risk, and uncertainty and ambiguity, a possibility penetrating into the basic tendencies and details of history. Only the interplay of all three assumptions or elements comprise the play of history.

The difference between the theories of Marx and Schelling, as we have cited them are as follows: in Schelling’s view, history is both the appearance of a play and the play of appearance, whereas Marx considers history to be a real play and a play of reality; to Schelling history has been written before people perform it and the play of history is prescribed, for only thus may the

entire arbitrary play of freedom which each individual plays for himself (aus dem vollig gesetzlosen Spiel der Freiheit, du jedes freie Wesen. . . . für sich treibt) become something that is reasonable and harmonious (etwas Vernunftiges und Zusammenstimmendes).

This predestination of history turns the historical play into a sham drama and degrades people to mere actors and finally to puppets. With Marx, on the other hand, the play of history must be performed before it is written, in fact, be first played in order to be written, because its course and outcome is in the play itself; that is, it is part of the play, and springs from the historical activities of individuals. Schelling had to place the creator (Providence, Spirit), the one guaranteeing the rationality of history outside history or more specifically outside the play, whereas for Marx the rationality of history was simply the rationality in history which is realized through the struggle with the irrational. History is a real dream: its outcome, the victory of reason or nonreason, of freedom or slavery, of progress or obscurantism, is never decided beforehand outside history but only within history and its events. Consequently the elements of uncertainty, incalculability, openness, and inconclusiveness that appear to active individuals as tensions and things that cannot be foreseen are the constituent components of real history. The victory of reason is never decided definitely at any point: to claim this would mean to annul history. Every epoch fights the battle for its reason with its nonreason and every epoch realizes an attainable degree of reason through its own means.

This infiniteness of history assigns to the present its real meaning as the moment of decision and returns to each individual his share of responsibility for history. To leave the definite solution of anything to the future means a surrender to illusions and mystification.

In history there are not only actors but also spectators; one and the same individual may at one point take an active part in events and at another time only look at things. There will be various types of spectators: he may be a person who has already played and lost his game or he may not yet have entered the play and may view it with the intention of some day taking part in it; moreover there are persons who are actors and spectators simultaneously, who as participants in the play contemplate its meaning. There is a difference between views about the meaning of the play and contemplation on how to acquire the technique and rules, so that the play will have meaning for those who consider it as an opportunity to assert themselves.

Can the individual grasp the meaning of the play that is performed in history? Is it necessary to step out of history to learn what history is, i.e., is it first necessary to lose in history to discover its truth? Or is it necessary to perform the play to the very end, inasmuch as its meaning is revealed to the individual at the moment of death and death is the privileged moment in which truth reveals itself? Twelve years after the French revolution, Hegel wrote in his notes about the reasons for the fall of Robespierre:

The necessary happens but each part of necessity is usually assigned to individuals. One is the prosecutor and advocate, the second is the judge, the third the hangman; but all are necessary.

Hegel’s necessity, however, is an illusion because he evokes the appearance of unity where there is contention, he obscures the sense of the individual roles and identifies the play with a play which has been agreed upon beforehand. History is not a necessity which happens but a happening in which necessity and chance are interwoven and where lords and serfs, hangmen and victims, are not components of necessity but exponents in a struggle which is never previously decided and in which mystification and demystification play their parts. Either the victims discover the play, of the hangman, the accused that of the judges and the heretics, that the play of the inquisitor is a false one: they refuse to play the parts assigned to them and thus spoil the play. Or else they do not discern it and submit to the play, which deprives them of their freedom and independence. They evaluate their actions and look at themselves through the eyes of their fellow players and express this surrender and loss of their own personality in the prescribed formulae: “Ich, Stinkjude” (I, bloody Jew . . . and so on). Since they act and speak as captives of their counterplayers, they do not escape their confines, and therefore it seems to future observers that they played a prearranged play.


The conception of history as a play solves a number of antagonisms that could not be overcome by antinomic principles; it introduces dynamics and dialectics in the relationship between history and the individual; it breaks out of the limitations of the one-dimensional view and shows history as an event of several dimensions. Still this solution is not satisfactory either. On the one hand, history as a play cannot be identified with a play as such because the play of history differs in a number of essential points from a real play. On the other hand, the principle of the play may be used not only to explain history, but human life in general and, in this sense, a consistent solution must have the capacity to explain the relationship between history and human existence. Apart from this, we must explain why a play may become, a principle disclosing and showing the dialectics of history, i.e., ask whether this principle discloses the dialectics of history fully and adequately and whether the play is history’s true principle, in the sense of source, beginning, and foundations.

Does an individual turn into a historical individual only if he enters history or is drawn into it, does history originate only in consequence of an individual’s activity? In this view, as history originates from the chaos of individual actions and is the law of relations that are independent of every individual, the acting individual is originally unhistorical and history is constituted only subsequently. The individual is historical only as the object of history; that is, as far as he is determined by his position in the line of time, in the historical context and in the social cultural pattern. [4] Further history appears as an object, i.e., as a product of individual actions in which the objective process governed by recognizable laws which we call history, originates. [5]

If we reduce history to an object, i.e., to the objective process governed by recognizable laws and either resulting from the chaos of individual actions or predestined by a superindividual factor to which the great individual is related as an instrument and the ordinary individuals as a component part, we include in the foundations of history the notion of reified time. This notion of reified time in the theory of history manifests itself as the supremacy of the past over the present, of recorded history over real history, as the absorption of the individual by history. History as a science of past events investigates completed history; that is, is interested in history as it has passed. If history is the object of science and represents the past in the outlook of the historian, it does not follow that real history has only one time‑dimension or that the one time‑dimension marks history’s concrete time. The historical event, which is examined by the historian as a past event and about which he knows how it passed and what its results were, in reality passed in such a way that its outcome was not known to its participants and the future was present in their actions as a plan, as a surprise, as an expectation, as a hope, i.e., as an incomplete happening. The laws of the objective processes of history are the laws of completed past events that have already lost the historicity which was based on the unity of three dimensions of time which are now reduced to one dimension, to past time. These laws have only a general character and in this sense are laws of “abstract history” in which the most essential factor has disappeared, namely, historicity.

The principle of the play might disturb the metaphysical antinomic conception and discover dialectics in history because, in the foundation of history, it anticipated the three dimensions of the time. But it cannot explain its discovery and therefore recognize that the play itself has a time structure and is based on the three dimensions of concrete time.

The relationship between history and the individual is not only a question of what the individual can do in history but also what history can do with the individual. Does history tend to support the growth of the individual or does it tend to support the growth of anonymity and impersonality? Has the individual a voice in history or are the possibilities of his activities and initiative limited in favor of institutions? Marx and Lukács refused the romantic illusion that there exist certain privileged spheres that are protected from the expanding process of reification. Romanticism petrified disconnected realities in the authentic spheres of poetry, idealized nature, love, childhood, imagination, dreaming, which are powerless historically, and in reified reality in which the socially important events take place; it also creates the impression that the privileged spheres first mentioned are largely immune to reification and may become automatic sources of authentic life. As in the criticism referred to here, historicity was not consistently linked with the individual, and Marx’s most important philosophical discovery, the notion of praxis, was interpreted more or less as a social substance outside the individual and not as a structure of the individual himself and of all individuals. The analysis of the reified modern industrial societies’ relationship to the individual led to practical consequences opposed to those that were intended.

The discovery which revealed modern society’s depersonalization and disintegration of the individual, as well as his tragic position within the given possibilities and realities, that discovery which rightly stressed that only the revolution, as a collective action could stop the individual’s fixation, failed to answer the question of what the individual should do so long as this reification continues. The criticism asserted that objective reality appears to the individual as a complex of ready‑made and unchangeable things toward which the individual may have a positive or negative attitude, accept them or refuse them; in addition it also admitted that only the social class is capable of effecting practical changes of reality, but this does not entail that the individuals should primarily be defined in the light of reified reality or that he exists only as an object of reified processes. By reducing the individual to a mere object of reification, history is deprived of human content and becomes an empty abstract scheme. The existential moments of human praxis like laughter, joy, and fear, and all forms of concrete, everyday, common human life, such as friendship, honor, love, and poetry, are separated from historical actions and events as if they were “private,” “individual,” or “subjective” affairs. Or else they are seen in the light of a one‑sided, functional dependence and become subjects of manipulations (manipulations of honor, courage, and so on).

Man cannot exist except as an individual, but this does not mean that every individual is a personality or that the individual, claiming for himself the right to individualism, cannot live the life of the “masses.” Similarly the social character of the individual does not entail a denial of his individuality, and human sociability does not conflict with personal anonymity. If we understand individualism as a priority of the individual before the collective, and collectivism as subjecting the individual to the interests of the whole, according to the slogan “Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz” (public interest comes before self‑interest), the two forms are identical in that they deprive the individual of responsibility. Individualism means the loss of responsibility in that Man as an individual is a social being; collectivism means loss of responsibility insofar as Man remains an individual even in the collective.

There is a difference in principle, whether Man as an individual disintegrates in social relations, whether he is overwhelmed by them and deprived of his own appearance so that hypostatized social relations employ uniform and anonymous individuals m their instruments (in which case the transposition seems to represent the supremacy of the all-­powerful society over the powerless individual), or whether the individual is the subject of social relations and freely moves within them as in human and humanly respectable surroundings of people retaining their own appearances, i.e., of individualities. Individuality is neither an addition nor an unexplainable irrational remainder to which the individual is reduced after subtracting the social relations, historical situations and contexts, and so on. If the individual is deprived of his social mask and underneath there is no hint of an individual appearance, this privation bears witness only to the worthlessness of his individuality, not to his nonexistence.

The individual may enter history, i.e., the objective processes and its laws, because he is already historical in two senses: he is always the actual product of history and simultaneously the potential maker of history. Historicity does not come to the individual after his entry into history or after his being dragged into it; rather, historicity itself is the prerequisite of this history, i.e., of history as an object and law. Historicity pertains to every individual; it is not a privilege but the constituent element of the structure of human existence that we call praxis. History as an objective structure, and historical events, could not be introduced into the life of the individual in any way if the individual were not marked by historicity before such an introduction. Historicity does not protect the individual from becoming a victim of events or toy in the play of circumstances and accidents: historicity does not exclude chance but includes it. Historicity does not mean that all people might be Napoleons and did not become Napoleons merely “as a result of certain circumstances,” or that in the future after the removal of reification, all people would become Napoleons.

The historicity of the individual is not only his ability to evoke the past, but also his ability to integrate in his individual life what is generally human. Man, just like his praxis, is always imbued with the presence of others (his contemporaries, his predecessors, his successors) and he takes over the present and transforms it either by acquiring autonomy or not acquiring it. Autonomy means: first, to stand, not to kneel (the natural posture of the human individual is to hold up his head, not to be on his knees); second, to show one’s own face and not to hide behind a borrowed mask; third, to portray courage, not cowardice; and fourth, to remain aloof from oneself and from the world in which he lives and to include the present in the totality of history, so that in the present may be distinguished the particular and the general, the accidental and the real, the barbaric and the human, the authentic and the nonauthentic.

The well-known dispute about whether the imprisoned revolutionary can be free and whether he is more, free than his jailer is based on a fallacy: the dispute is based upon a confusion about the difference between freedom and autonomy. In jail the revolutionary is deprived of his freedom, but he need not lose his autonomy. Autonomy does not mean to do what others do or to do something different than others, but neither does it mean to do something regardless of others. Autonomy is an independence of or isolation from others. It means establishing contacts with others in which freedom can exist or can be realized. Autonomy is historicity, the center of the activity in which the instantaneous and the “metatemporal,” the past and future, unite; it is the totalization in which universally human qualities are reproduced and revived in the particular (the individual).

The individual can change the world only in cooperation and conjunction with others. But even in reified reality and change of reality and in the interest of a really revolutionary change of reality, every individual as an individual has occasion to express his humanness and preserve his autonomy. In this connection, we can understand why the goal of effecting structural changes in society and achieving the sense of revolutionary praxis is, for Marx, embodied neither in the great individual nor in a powerful state nor in a potent empire nor in a prosperous mass society, but is rather

the development of the rich individuality which is as all‑sided in its production as in its consumption, and whose labour therefore also appears no longer as labour, but as the full development of the activity itself, in which natural necessity in its direct form has disappeared; . . . the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces, etc., created through universal exchange . . . the free development of individualities, and . . . the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific, etc., development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them. [6]

Paper presented at an International Symposium on “Marx and the Western World” at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, in April 1966. Reprinted by permission from N. Lobkowicz, Marx and the Western World (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 1967).


1. *Friedrich von Schiller (b. 1759) was a German writer of the eighteenth century, known for his drama, poetry and writings on literary theory and aesthetics. Friedrich Hölderlin (b. 1770) was a German lyric poet, a contemporary of Schiller’s. Friedrich Schelling (b. 1775) was one of the most important German philosophers of the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries, belonging to the tradition of German Idealism and Romantic philosophy.

2. Wenn wir uns die Geschichte als ein Schauspiel denken, in welchem jeder, der daran Theil hat, ganz frei und nach Gutdünken seine Rolle spielt, so lässt sich eine vernünftige Entwicklung dieses verworrenen Spiels nur dadurch denken, dass es Ein Geist ist, der in allen dichtet, und dass der Dichter, dessen blosse Bruchstücke (disjecti membra poëtae) die einzelnen Schauspieler sind, den objektiven Erfolg des Ganzen mit dem freien Spiel aller einzelnen schon zum voraus so in Harmonie gesetzt hat, dass am Ende wirchlich etwas Vernünftiges herauskommen muss. Wäre nun aber der Dichter unabhängig von seinem Drama, so wären wir nur die Schauspieler, die ausführen, was er gedichtet hat. Ist er nicht unabhängig von uns, sondern offenbart und enthüllt er sich nur successiv durch das Spiel unserer Freiheit selbst, so dass ohne diese Freiheit auch er selbst nicht wäre, so sind wir Mitdichter des Ganzen, und Selbsterfinder der besonderen Rolle, die wir spielen.” F. Schelling, System des transcendentalen Idealismus, in Schellings Werke, ed. Manfred Schröter (München: C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1927; unaltered reprint, München: Münchener Jubiläumsdruckes’, 1958), 2:602 (page references are the same in both editions). Translation in text taken from F. W. J. Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, trans. Peter Heath, with an Introduction by Michael Vater (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978), 210. This translation replaces the one in the version of the article printed in Marx and the Western World.

3. MEW, IV, 135; cf. The Poverty of Philosophy, Moscow.

4. In this sense, the historical position of the individual is interpreted among others by Dilthey, Ges. Schriften, vol. VII, p. 135.

5. “Processus objectif, régi par des lois connaissables que nous appellons l’Histoire,” G. Lukács, Existentialisme ou Marxisme, Paris, 1948, p. 150.

6. “Die Entwicklung der reichen Individualität, die ebenso allseitig in ihrer Produktion als Konsumtion ist ind deren Arbeit daher auch nicht mehr als Arbeit, sondern als volle Entwicklung der Tätigkeit selbst erscheint, in der die Naturnotwendigteit in ihrer unmittelbaren Form verschwunden ist . . . die im universellen Austausch erzeugte Universalität der Bednürfnisse, Fãhigkeiten, Genüsse, Produktivkräfte etc. der Individuen . . . Die freie Entwicklung der Individualitäten . . . und die Reduktion der notwendigen Arbeit der Gesellschaft zu einem Minimum, der dann die künstlerische, wissenschaftliche etc. Ausbildung der Individuen durch die für sie alle freigewordne Zeit und geschaffnen Mittel entspricht. Karl Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, Berlin, 1953, pp. 231, 397, 593. The translation in the text is from Martin Nicolaus’ translation, published by Penguin Books, 1973, pp. 325, 488, 706. It represents an alteration of the translation as it appeared in the version of the paper found in N. Lobkowicz, Marx and the Western World (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Univ. Press, 1967).

[to A. James Gregor]

K. Kosík

From the many conceivable kinds of philosophical polemics, Professor Gregor has chosen the one which is most considerate and gentlemanlike to the opponent: his basic objection amounts to saying that he does not understand what I am saying. This objection is of course a quite current flattery among philosophers. Indeed, whenever did a philosopher under stand another philosopher; in particular, whenever did living philosophers understand each other?

Accordingly, I should like to thank Professor Gregor for having given me the opportunity to articulate my conception in a clearer and more intelligible way.

First, I wish to stress that it was not my intention to promulgate a new and further principle of history or to claim that history is a play. The critical and polemical part of my paper I may summarize as follows:

a)       the deterministic conception of history does not leave a place open for the activity of individuals and it cannot explain concrete history;

b)      the relationship between history and the individual cannot be solved by proceeding from a conception of history uncritically accepted or by confusing the historical individual with the great individual;

c)       the conception of history as a play represents a progress as opposed to the deterministic conception but still it is not satisfactory.

My own conception which is contained in the third part of my paper may be summarized as follows:

a)       there is an intrinsic connection between history and time; real historical time is three-dimensional and therefore cannot be reduced to one dimension, for example, the past;

b)       once one has realized that time is the foundation of history, it becomes possible to grasp the connection between history and the individual; for then history and the individual are not two independent magnitudes but rather have a common foundation, namely, three-dimensional time;

c)       accordingly, I do not look for a principle of history, which is above and outside history; rather, I try to show that time is history’s foundation. From this point of view I am trying to indicate the connection between, but not identity of, historicity, praxis and autonomy.

To my commentator’s friendly invitation to give a Marxist interpretation of these concepts, I may say,

first, that my whole paper precisely is an attempt to treat this question—an attempt which may of course be considered problematic and questionable, and,

secondly, that as difficult as it may be for all philosophers, including Marxists, to advance a satisfactory treatment of the problem of freedom, the individual and history, it ought to be clear that Marxism does not entail either a negation of the individual in terms of a history consisting of suprapersonal forces or an interpretation of the individual as a means.

SOURCE: Kosík, Karel. “The Individual and History,” in: Marx and the Western World, edited by Nicholas Lobkowicz (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1967), Chapter 13, pp. 177-191; A Rejoinder: 195-196. Omitted: “Comment” by A. James Gregor, pp. 191-194. (Papers presented at an international symposium held at the University of Notre Dame, April 1966, and sponsored by the Committee on International Relations, University of Notre Dame.) 

Reprinted (without comment and rejoinder) in:

Kosík, Karel (1926-2003). The Crisis of Modernity: Essays and Observations from the 1968 Era, edited by James H. Satterwhite (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995), pp. 123-134, 225-226.

All the endnotes are from the 1995 version; note 1 is new. Notes 2 and 6 indicate the changes from the 1967 publication. The version reproduced here is from 1995, plus the rejoinder from the 1967 publication.

Man and Philosophy” by Karel Kosík

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Karel Kosík - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Dialectics of the Concrete: A Study on Problems of Man and World
by Karel Kosík
[editorial preface & chapter 1]

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