HomePHAVISMINDA Journalvol. 10 no. 1 (2011)

The Existentialist Notion of Alienation

Roland Paulsen

Discipline: Philosophy, Political Science



Since the creation of the Marxian alienation theory, the development of the productive labour and new philosophical insights has made this theory obsolete. In this paper, a concept of alienation, free from essentialism and historicism, will be proposed. This alienation theory starts from the most fundamental source of knowledge to the human existence: our sensuous experience of the material world.


The existentialist notion of alienation focuses on the free intention and defines alienation as the distortion of this intention when the individual praxis are put into a system that makes the consequences of the individual praxis alien to the agent. I argue that work within the frames of modern capitalism by this definition is alienating. This alienation is reinforced by the immaterial, indirect character of the work in an economy where human knowledge becomes the principal force of production and where the physical-sensory faculties of the human being consequently are rendered superfluous. Today’s alienation is inherent in the means of production and a complete dealienation therefore seems impossible.


This discussion will help provide a framework to perceive critique against post-Fordist industrial production and how this production, despite an intensified devotion of the worker, in no way has lessened the alienation of work. In a concluding discussion, some assessments will be made on the endeavour to liberate the worker within his work rather than from his work, judging that given the tremendously increased productivity of human labour generated by the process of rationalisation, the latter alternative carries most conviction, i.e. the maximum reduction of work in favour of an activity which is neither alienating, nor governed by necessity.