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Karl Mannheim (1893 – 1947)


Hungarian-born social philosopher and sociologist, influential with his development of the sociology of knowledge.
Karl Mannheim
Relativism is a product of the modern historical-sociological procedure which is based on the recognition that all historical thinking is bound up with the concrete position in life of the thinker [Standortsgebundenheit des Denkers]. But relativism combines this historical-sociological insight with an older theory of knowledge which was as yet unaware of the interplay between conditions of existence and modes of thought, and which modelled its knowledge after static prototypes such as might be exemplified by the proposition 2 x 2 = 4. This older type of thought, which regarded such examples as the model of all thought, was necessarily led to the rejection of all those forms of knowledge which were dependent upon the subjective standpoint and the social situation of the knower, and which were, hence, merely "relative".
Mannheim quotes
At this point in history when all things which concern man and the structure and elements of history itself are suddenly revealed to us in a new light, it behooves us in our scientific thinking to become masters of the situation, for it is not inconceivable that sooner than we suspect, as has often been the case before in history, this vision may disappear, the opportunity may be lost, and the world will once again present a static, uniform, and inflexible countenance.
Mannheim
The thought of every group is seen as arising out of its life conditions. Thus, it becomes the task of the sociological history of thought to anlayse without regard for party biases all the factors in the actually existing social situation which may influence thought. This sociologically oriented history of ideas is destined to provide modern men with a revised view of the whole historical process.




Mannheim Karl quotes
It may indeed be true that in order to act we need a certain amount of self-confidence and intellectual self-assurance. It may also be true that the very form of expression, in which we clothe our thoughts, tends to impose upon them an absolute tone.
Mannheim Karl
What is intelligible in history can be formulated only with reference to problems and conceptual constructions which themselves arise in the flux of historical experience.
Karl Mannheim quotes
When the empirical investigator glories in his refusal to go beyond the specialized observation dictated by the traditions of his discipline, be they ever so inclusive, he is making a virtue out of a defense mechanism which insures him against questioning his presuppositions.
Karl Mannheim
Whereas the particular conception of ideology designates only a part of the opponent's assertions as ideologies and this only with reference to their content, the total conception calls into question the opponent's total Weltanschauung (including his conceptual apparatus), and attempts to understand these concepts as an outgrowth of the collective life of which he partakes.
Mannheim Karl quotes
It may possibly be true that, to continue to live on and to act in a world like ours, it is vitally necessary to seek a way out of this uncertainty of multiple alternatives; and accordingly people may be led to embrace some immediate goal as if it were absolute, by which they hope to make their problems appear concrete and real. But it is not primarily the man of action who seeks the absolute and immutable, but rather it is he who wishes to induce others to hold on to the status quo because he feels comfortable and smug under conditions as they are.
Mannheim
We are faced with the curiously appalling trend of modern thought, in which the absolute which was once a means of entering into communion with the divine, has now become an instrument used by those who profit from it, to distort, pervert, and conceal the meaning of the present.
Mannheim Karl
Once we recognize that all historical knowledge is relational knowledge, and can only be formulated with reference to the position of the observer, we are faced, once more, with the task of discriminating between what is true and what is false in such knowledge.
Karl Mannheim
In our contemporary social and intellectual plight, it is nothing less than shocking to discover that those persons who claim to have discovered an absolute are usually the same people who also pretend to be superior to the rest. To find people in our day attempting to pass off to the world and recommending to others some nostrum of the absolute which they claim to have discovered is merely a sign of the loss of and the need for intellectual and moral certainty, felt by broad sections of the population who are unable to look life in the face.




Karl Mannheim quotes
A modern theory of knowledge which takes account of the relational as distinct from the merely relative character of all historical knowledge must start with the assumption that there are spheres of thought in which it is impossible to conceive of absolute truth existing independently of the values and position of the subject and unrelated to the social context.
Karl Mannheim
The particular conception of "ideology" makes its analysis of ideas on a purely psychological level. If it is claimed for instance that an adversary is lying, or that he is concealing or distorting a given factual situation, it is still nevertheless assumed that both parties share common criteria of validity it is still assumed that it is possible to refute lies and eradicate sources or error by referring to accepted criteria of objective validity common to both parties. The suspicion that one's opponent is the victim of an ideology does not go so far as to exclude him from discussion on the basis of a common theoretical frame of reference. The case is different with the total conception of ideology. When we attribute to one historical epoch one intellectual world and to ourselves another one, or if a certain historically determined social stratum thinks in categories other than our own, we refer not to the isolated cases of thought-content, but to fundamentally divergent thought-systems and to widely differing modes of experience and interpretation.
Mannheim quotes
The non-evaluative general total conception of ideology is to be found primarily in those historical investigations, where, provisionally and for the sake of the simplification of the problem, no judgments are pronounced as to the correctness of the ideas to be treated. This approach confines itself to discovering the relations between certain mental structures and the life-situations in which they exist. We must constantly ask ourselves how it comes about that a given type of social situation gives rise to a given interpretation. Thus the ideological element in human thought, viewed at this level, is always bound up with the existing life-situation of the thinker. According to this view human thought arises, and operates, not in a social vacuum but in a definite social milieu.
Mannheim Karl
As long as one does not call his own position into question but regards it as absolute, while interpreting his opponents' ideas as a mere function of the social positions they occupy, the decisive step forward has not yet been taken.
Mannheim Karl quotes
In general there are two distinct and separable meanings of the term "ideology" the particular and the total.
The particular conception of ideology is implied when the term denotes that we are sceptical of the ideas and representations advanced by our opponent. They are regarded as more or less conscious disguises of the real nature of a situation, the true recognition of which would not be in accord with his interests. These distortions range all the way from conscious lies to half-conscious and unwitting disguises; from calculated attempts to dupe others to self-deception. This conception of ideology, which has only gradually become differentiated from the common-sense notion of the lie is particular in several senses. Its particularity becomes evident when it is contrasted with the more inclusive total conception of ideology. Here we refer to the ideology of an age or of a concrete historico-social group, e.g. of a class, when we are concerned with the characteristics and composition of the total structure of the mind of this epoch or of this group. Although they have something in common, there are also significant differences between them.
Karl Mannheim
In attempting to expose the views of another, one is forced to make one's own view appear infallible and absolute, which is a procedure altogether to be avoided if one is making a specifically non-evaluative investigation. The second possible approach is nevertheless to combine such a non-evaluative analysis with a definite epistemology. Viewed from the angle of this second approach there are two separate and distinct solutions to the problem of what constitutes reliable knowledge the one solution may be termed relationism, and the other relativism.
Karl Mannheim quotes
Mannheim also realized that the enlarged concept of ideology in Marxism raises a fundamental problem of knowledge. By denouncing something as "ideological," one takes an ideological position. Mannheim sees this as a spiritual and intellectual crisis in what is now a "Post-Marxist world". Our world is a polemical conflict between different worldviews, each labeling the other as "ideology." There are no criteria common to all with which to arbitrate the validity of one cultural perspective versus another. Even the class consciousness of the proletariat becomes one perspective among many.
Karl Mannheim
Every bureaucracy, therefore, in accord with the peculiar emphasis on its own position, tends to generalize its own experience and to overlook the fact that the realm of administration and of smoothly functioning order represents only a part of the total political reality. Bureaucratic thought does not deny the possibility of the science of politics, but regards it as identical with the science of administration. Thus irrational factors are overlooked, and when these nevertheless force themselves to the fore, they are treated as "routine matters of state."
Mannheim Karl
In order to be transmuted into knowledge, every perception is and must be ordered and organized into categories. The extent, however, to which we can organize and express our experience in such conceptual forms is, in turn, dependent upon the frames of reference which happen to be available at a given historical moment. The concepts which we have and the universe of discourse in which we move, together with the directions in which they tend to elaborate themselves, are dependent largely upon the historical-social situation of the intellectually active and responsible members of the group.


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