Structuralism as a philosophical system emerged in the early twentieth century . Being grounded in the Durkheim school, structuralism in the 1940s and in the postwar period became very popular in historiography and sociology.
This is a philosophical direction that interprets the phenomena of being as a certain structure, the parts of which are interconnected and form a more comprehensive system or structure. Structuralism aims to uncover the structures that underlie all the things people do, think, perceive and feel. According to the philosopher Simon Blackburn, structuralism is “the belief that the phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their relationships.”
The ideas of structuralism are actively covered on the pages of peer-reviewed scientific and philosophical journals and religious press published on all five continents. The idealistic picture of the world is considered within the framework of television programs, documentaries and videos shown on scientific and educational channels.
A brief history
The fascination with structuralism lasted until the 1960s.
Many structuralist theorists, such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Lacan, continue to influence European philosophy.
Originated in the 50-s in France, structuralism chose as a target of scientific criticism “the immediate “I” of the existentialists and the “I” doomed to freedom.” So-called “humanism” was condemned for being unresponsive to the results of scientific research. In almost all processes and phenomena of a social nature, the supporters of structuralism represented the structure and built their cognitive process in accordance with this.
To confirm their reasoning, they cited:
– structural linguistics of F. de Sausure (1857-1913), which revealed the complex phonological and syntactic mechanisms of language as a structure within which the ability to think is formed;
– ethnolinguistics of E. Sapir and B. Whorf, which showed how and to what extent our vision of the world depends on the language we use;
– the influence of the economic structure on the structure of the personality and the system of relations in society in Marxism;
– immersion in the structure of the unconscious, slowly controlling the supposedly conscious behavior of a person in psychoanalysis;
– a system of rules, values, ideas, myths that form a person from birth to death in anthropology and ethnography;
– updated historiography with the idea of ”epistemological break” (G. Bachelard), legitimizing the view of the history of knowledge as a discontinuous process of development of structures that form the thinking, practice and institutions of different eras and discrete cultural segments.
Thus, before the presence of comprehensive structures (psychological, economic, epistemological, social, and others), reasoning about a person as a subject, his consciousness, the free course of history, becomes, according to structuralists, simply inappropriate.
In general, we can say that the main idea of philosophical structuralism is not “being”, but “relationship”; not a subject, but a structure. People are like chess pieces, linguistic, mathematical or geometrical units: they do not exist outside of established relationships, but only specify the kind of behavior. The subject in structuralism is replaced by a certain form of it, which is not the substance of society.
Structuralism tries to explain the essence of man. But, while explaining, at the same time it proclaims that a person is dead (by analogy, we can mention F. Nietzsche and his statement about the death of God). Structuralism does not speak of the development of knowledge about man by the humanities, but emphasizes the killing of him by them. According to structuralist views, the science of man is impossible if one does not abstract from consciousness.
In this regard, K. Levi-Strauss in «The Savage Mind” noted that the ultimate goal of the humanities is not to create a person, but to dissolve him.
Biography of creators
Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) French philosopher, playwright and writer. Sartre was one of the most famous and influential thinkers of his time. Sartre’s works are a mixture of literary and philosophical views. In his early philosophical writings, he focuses on emotion, imagination, and the nature of the individual.
Michel Paul Foucault (1926-1984) French philosopher and cultural historian. Born in the city of Poitiers. Foucault’s intellectual abilities attracted the attention of university professors, he became close to Louis Althusser, who taught there, who, after five years in concentration camps, was a convinced Marxist and developed the theory of Marxism in the direction of structuralism. At his insistence, Michel became a member of the French Communist Party, but did not accept its ideas, especially regarding the disapproval of homosexuality, and did not attend party meetings. In 1952, Foucault completed his studies at the Higher Normal School and became its teacher, specializing in philosophy and psychology. In 1953 he became interested in the philosophy of Nietzsche. He taught at the universities of Clermont-Ferrand, Uppsala, in the USA at New York University at Buffalo and California University at Berkeley. In 1960, he met a student of the Faculty of Philosophy Daniel Defer, they were brought together by ideological and sexual views, they lived in mutual love for 25 years. In 1964, Defer was called up for military service, but he preferred volunteer work and was sent to teach in Tunisia. Foucault followed him and in 1966-1968 was a visiting professor at the University of Tunis. At the end of 1968 he returned to Paris and received a position at the ultra-modern experimental university in Vincennes on the eastern outskirts of the city.
Michel Foucault died on June 25, 1984 in Paris.
Structuralism came under fire in the 1970-s for being rigid and unhistorical.