- A pivotal concept in the philosophical writings of Hegel, Feuerbach and Marx, and subsequent writings in both idealist and Marxist traditions. Alienation (German Entfremdung, also translatable as estrangement) is centrally the idea of something being separated from or strange to something else: I am self-alienated in so far as I cannot understand or accept myself; thought is alienated from reality in so far as it inadequately reflects it; I am alienated from my desires in so far as they are not authentically my own, but assail me as it were from without; I am alienated from the results of my labour in so far as they become commodities ; and I may be alienated from my society in so far as I feel controlled by it, rather than part of a social unity that creates it. In Hegel the progress towards the Absolute is one of the growth of self-consciousness, itself a process of ‘dealienation’ whereby what is separate and falsely objectified regains its unity through self-creation and self-consciousness (although finite minds, the agency of this growth, alienate themselves in activity and in the ‘objectification’ of their material and social products). In Feuerbach, by contrast, the absolutist trappings of Hegelian alienation are abandoned, and the concept is replaced by self-alienation, a condition to be overcome by the self-consciousness that proper relations with our own activities and products brings. Marx's use of the concept is sometimes thought to separate his early, Hegelian, period from the later writings, but there seems little doubt about his permanent attachment to the idea of a human nature as self-alienated so long as the communist transformation of society has not taken place. See also anomie , authenticity, Dasein , false consciousness.
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.