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In Search of a Method

In Search of a Method:

Hegel, Marx and Realism
John Alien

The development in recent years of a realist philosphy of
science has provoked considerable interest within Marxist
social science (1). Its attraction lies in the potential it
holds for the construction of a philosophical antidote to
posi tivism and conventionalism. In a short space of time
‘transcendental realism’ has established itself as a rigorous
contender in the epistemological arena. For some, it holds
the promise of a firm foundation to a Marxist epistemology
that has been sadly lacking in most variants of post-war
Marxism. My concern here is neither to develop nor undermine the philosophical ground upon which transcendental
realism is based, rather it concerns the pragmatic development of a realist philosophy into a methodology suitable for
the social sciences: a form of method that is capable of
challenging the hegemony of empiricist modes of research.

It is becoming increasingly fashionable to refer to the
predominance of positivism in the past tense as a philosophy of science which, by virtue of the glaring cracks in
its infrastructure, is straining under the weight of criticism. Such references are wholly misplaced. Despite the
loss of considerable ground in the philosophical arena, positivism in its empiricist guise is alive and well, and winning
more than its fair share of methodological battles. Its
strength lies in its accessibility. There are numerous texts
available on the practice of empiricist social research,
most of which offer ‘easy-to-follow’ rituals, but no comparable accessible accounts of how the critical analysis of
concepts may be approached. No matter how much the situation may be lamented, the pragmatism of the empiricist
package cannot be denied. Like British reformism it is
strong because, within limits, it works.

Interestingly enough, the problem for the Marxist tradition does not rest with the absence of methodological insights. Virtually every direct reference, tantalising insight
and obscure allusion to method has been trawled from
Marx’s texts, particularly from his later works. Rather, the
problem lies with the inability of Marxism to present such
insights in a form that illustrates their potential use (2).

Whereas empiricism arrives on the methodological scene
with its bag of statistical and research techniques ready
for operation, the Marxist methodological inheritance adds
up to little more than a series of vague incantations of
doubtful application. How, for example, do you get behind
‘appearances’ to the underlying ‘essences’? What criteria
are available to establish arrival at this point? How do you
peel historical forms from ‘given’ concepts? Identify levels
of abstraction, or better still a ‘mediation’? In what way
does an abstract universal concept differ from a general
abstract concept? Despite the rhetorical nature of these
questions they do highlight the problem that currently con26

fronts and limits substantive Marxist research. It is as if
the methodological insights gleaned from Marx’s work, once
grasped, fall between speculative fingers when an attempt
is made to analyse a social object other than the capitalist
mode of production. Marxism, however, is well qualified to
step outside of the mode of production matrix and face
empiricism on its own ground. Empiricism is not simply a
statistical concern, it is also a conceptual discourse, and it
is precisely upon the ground of conceptualization that
Marxism is competent to engage. The unproblematic manner
in which concepts have been taken up in empiricist studies
is one area in which Marxism can offer a lead.

The lack of a coherent initiative in. this area can
partly be explained by the reaction within certain traits of
Marxism to the notion of method. The term ‘method’, perhaps because of its lingering positivist associations, tends
to conjure up an image of rigid methodological protocols formal grids, as it were, capable of invariant application.

Reaction to such a system is, of course, understandable and
entirely justified, but it is an overreaction to reject
method out of hand. Methodology is not limited to a set of
repeatable formulae that fashion objects in their own
image, it may also refer to a looser notion: a set of
guidelines which outline how to critically analyse and
re-work existing conceptions of social processes.

The mode of conceptual analysis proposed in this
paper is not particularly new (3). Its roots lie in Greek
philosophy, particularly in Plato and Aristotle’S work,
although in its developed form it owes a considerable debt
to Hegel’s revision of analytical method in the Science of
Logic. The approach is encapsulated in the demands that
both Plato and Hegel made of cognition:

…. that it should consider things in and for themselves, that is, should consider them partly in their
universality, but also that it should not stray away
from them catching at circumstances, examples and
comparisons, but should keep before it solely the
things themselves and bring before consciousness
what is immanent in them (4).

In the second part of the Science of Logic Hegel re-works
the familiar categories of traditional subjective logic. The
outcome is a series of logical tools capable of constructing
objects within a specific ontology: one characterised by
depth and structured by real universals whose properties
are capable of generating certain effects in the contingent world. At a general level, Hegel’s ontological
framework may be considered loosely similar to Bhaskar’s
construction of a realist ontology in a Realist Theory of
Science. The point here, however, is neither to show how
‘realist’ Hegel ‘really was’, nor deny the idealist matrix


that he imposes upon his logical categories; rather the
reason for embracing this somewhat opaque text rests
squarely upon the repertoire of analytical tools contained
within its pages. The value of Hegel’s methodological insights rests upon their potential to identify the diverse
kinds of structured social relationships that are present in
the social world, and offers a key to understanding the
logical tools which characterise Marx’s analytical approach
to social processes.

Such a methodological development has obvious implications for political practice. Honing the tools of conceptual
analysis is not simply a process designed to improve theoretical rigour; such a cache of critical techniques offers a
greater degree of engagement with the results of studies
conducted along empiricist lines. A re-evaluation and reworking of empirical material that moves beyond the taken-for-granted nature of empiricist concepts will provide a
surer footing for political practice. This paper represents a
limited attempt to develop a realist antidote to the practices of empiricism. The first section sets out the analytical task to be achieved and looks at the recent proposals for the role of abstraction in ~arxist studies.

Following this, a number of methodological insights drawn
largely from Hegel’s Science of Logic are raised which
have received scant attention in the lengthy debate on
Marx’s analytical method. Lastly, the manner in which we
should approach the subject of methodology is outlined.

Realism and Abstraction
It would be a mistake to assume that realism as a philosophy of science is concerned with each and every relationship in the social world (5). The attraction of a realist
philosophy for the social sciences ‘lies in its concern to
identify a series of structured relationships which possess
causal powers, which, in turn, may explain the regular
pattern of events that pre-occupy much of empiricist
thinking. Briefly sketched, realists acknowledge a dual
structure of reality: a domain of phenomena and events and
a domain of structured relations which possess causal
powers which mayor may not be realised at the empirical
level. The powers reside within the structures, but operate
through the activities of agents, if, and only if, they come
into contact with certain kinds of contingent relations in
specific spatial and/or temporal arrangements. The social
relationships that are directly of interest to realism are
only those that exhibit a structure which admit emergent
causal properties capable of explaining events in the social

Realism, then, is only concerned with the
identification of particular constellations of social
relations: the basic properties which constitute certain
structures and constrain them to act in certain ways and
not in other ways.

Thus, the first task of realist analysis appears straightforward: identify the number and variety of propertied
structures before moving on to consider their place in the
contingent world. The question, however, is how? Naturally
enough no check list of such entities is provided, but more
significantly neither are the criteria by which such structural relations may be identified. This opens up the risk as
Urry has pointed out, of catching at general processes
which are capable of literally explaining too vast a range
of empirical phenomena (6). The categories of political
economy are perhaps among the best known victims of this
practice. Theories which attempt to understand the nature
of the capitalist state by starting with the abstraction
‘capital’ fall directly under this criticism (7). The danger
here, of course, as Adorno recognized, is that to conceptualize everything in terms of the ‘grail’ categories of political economy is to turn the whole of the social world into
a giant workhouse. What is required is an analytical method
that assists our identification of social structures, their
causal relations, and their potential range and scope.

Sayer’s work on the process of abstraction in RP28 is,

to my knowledge, the only attempt to provide a nonarbitrary procedure to achieve this task. Drawing upon
Marx’s comments on method in the 1857 Introduction, Sayer
sets up a distinction between ‘rational’ and ‘chaotic’

abstractions and outlines them as follows:

Good or ‘rational’ abstractions should isolate necessary relationships. This concrete, as a unity of
diverse determinations is a combination of several
necessary relationships, but the form of the combination is contingent, and ••• a bad abstraction or
‘chaotic conception’ is one which is based upon a
non-necessary relationship, or which divides the
indivisible by failing to recognize a necessary
relationship (8).

Sayer clarifies the distinction between ‘rational’ and
‘chaotic’ abstractions by pointing out that the necessary
relationships isolated by rational abstractions exhibit
internal relations, as, for example, in the master/slave
relationship or the landlord/tenant relationship; whereas,
in contrast, the non-necessary relationships of ‘chaotic
conceptions’ are characterised by an external relationship
between objects. The importance of the necessary/internal
criterion rests upon a specific notion of causation. Causation is located in the nature of the structures themselves:

a structure possesses a necessary way-of-acting by virtue
of the relations that constitute its existence. Individuate
the sets of necessary, internal relations within an object of
study and you have the basis of a framework for understanding the external relation between successive events
that empiricism acknowledges as a causal association.

How far, then, does the dichotomy – necessary/internal
and non-necessary/external – which underpins ‘rational’ and
‘chaotic’ abstractions – take us towards the establishment
of a non-arbitrary procedure, a guideline for identifying
social structures which generate causal powers? My
answer is: not very far. The validity of the distinction
between the two types of abstraction is not in question; I
consider the listed characteristics of each type to be
correct. My reservations, however, concern ‘their role in a
method of investigation that considers conceptualization an
important part of the research process. The problem is, if
you like, one step removed from the problem of incantations in Marx’s method. How do you isolate ‘necessary’ conceptions? Are they all so blindingly obvious as the
landlord-tenant, or master-slave relation, and if so, does
that not cast doubt upon their value? Where are the causal
powers in those relationships? It appears as if the process
of analysis has yet to take place. Secondly, are chaotic
conceptions readily identifiable? Do some objects lend
themselves to chaotic conceptualization, are the intrinsically ‘chaotic’, or does it depend upon the mode of analysis
brought to bear upon an object?

In answer to the second question, the ‘chaotic’ quality
of a concept is not strictly the property of a concept but
the product of the type of analysis performed upon an
object. Concepts are not in themselves ‘chaotic’. The
rubric may only be applied to conceptions which are the
end product of an analytical exercise, commonsense or
otherwise, which designates the superficial aspects of an
object – and goes no further.

To take an infamous example: the concept of population is, perhaps, the best known ‘chaotic conception’. Few
concepts in Marxist social theory have been dismissed so
abruptly as a consequence of Marx’s comments on the
method of political economy in the 1857 Introduction. Its
crimes appear to be two-fold: first, it is posited as an
~ abstraction, that is, an abstraction that does not
reveal the social relations upon which it rests; and
secondly, it offers only a vague, general directional sense
of the whole, rather than a precise specification of type.

The first is a serious offence; the latter, however, is only
a misdemeanour; analysis requires a datum, it does not
start with simple abstractions for these are the very product of analysis. Chaotic conceptions are acceptable starting points for analysis; they are the fodder of conceptual

practice. Such conceptions would constitute a felony if,
and only if, they were presented as the results of analysis,
and herein lies the paucity of much empiricist analysis.

Class, for example, would be a chaotic conception if it
were presented in terms of a series of common, shared
patterns of empirical instances – such as income, education,
attitudes, beliefs and so forth. This leathery conception
may, however, form the starting point for a different mode
of analysis; one that did not involve looking around and
catching at circumstances, but attempted to specify the
relations that presupposed its existence.

Most of the phenomena that form the starting point of
analysis are already known under some form of description,
and chaotic· conceptions, inadequately analyzed abstractions, are the very subject matter of a more rigorous analytical method. The shortcoming of many analyses can be
located in their failure to interrogate the simple objects
facing them. The mistake is to assume as known that which
is to undergo analysis. Most objects that enter into our
frame of reference are known to us in one form or another
and thus, they are a product of a prior synthesis. A synthesis that is invariably worked up from commonplace conceptions drawn from immediately accessible experience. An
inadequate mode of analysis would simply reproduce this
descriptive immediacy and fail to treat ‘given’ concepts as
the very source material of analysis. What is at issue,
therefore, is not that abstractions such as population are
wrong or bad in themselves, but that certain analytical
methods produce chaotic abstractions and other methods do
not (9).

This takes us closer to the meaning of an empty
abstraction. This type of abstraction is inadequate because
the type of analysis and form of classification that is
brought to bear upon an object distorts or fails to reveal
the basic relations that make it what it is and no other.

Each and every object may be regarded from different
points of view, and abstraction may have different lines
open to it. The richer the object to be analysed, that is,
the more complex are the properties which it offers to our
attention, the more open an object is to diverse forms of
presentation. Thus, population, for example, could be analysed along many different lines: demographic, branches of
production and so forth. In a similar vein, the abstraction
‘capital’ could be analysed as a ‘mere thing’ and not as a
specific social relation, and presented in its different
forms of wealth. In this instance, everything from cattle
to usury could be subsumed under the concept of ‘capital’

(10). This ‘catch-all’ mode of analysis represents one way
among a number of alternative ways in which an object
may be broken down. But the deficiency of this analytical
procoedure, a procedure which breaks down an object on
the basis of external comparison, is that it is both
exhaustive and arbitrary.

A clear example of the
bankruptcy of this mode of analysis is demonstrated by
Marx in his Marginal notes to Wagner’s ‘Textbook on a
Political Economy’.

In this text Marx ruthlessly pilloried Wagner’s analytical technique which attempted to ‘demonstrate’ the
importance of economic goods and use values over commodities and exchange values. Starting from the concept of
need and the economic nature of man, Wagner derives
(connects) the concepts of good, value and use value in
turn, and then pronounces the importance of use value over
exchange value on the assumption that the majority of
economic goods, state services in particular, are not commodities. As is well known, Marx chastises Wagner for
starting his analysis with concepts and not particular historical conditions; but of equal significance is Marx’s condemnation of a method that attempts to arrange the world
under abstract rubrics, without regard for the actual relation and inter-connection of the objects to that rubric.

Marx points out the paucity of this practice in a bitter

(The only clear thing that lies at the basis of
German stupidity is the fact that linguistically the


words: value or assessment were first applied to the
useful things themselves which existed for a long
time even as ‘labour-products’ before they turned
into commodities. That, however, has just exactly as
much to do with the scientific determination of
‘commodity-value’ as the circumstance that the
word salt was first applied by the ancients to
cooking-salt and consequently even sugar, etc.,
count as species of salt since PUny’s time (indeed,
all colour less, solid bodies which are soluble in
water and have a particular taste), and for that
reason the chemical category ‘salt’ contains sugar,
etc., within itself.) (11).

The example is instructive; much of what passes for analysis has adopted a similar procedure. A number of externally related phenomena are drawn together on the grounds
of certain similar attributes, yet the importance of the
common properties enjoyed by a series may have no bearing
upon the nature of the object in question. Value is an
empty abstraction, therefore, if it has been analysed as a
form of ‘worth’ which in turn subsumes all economic goods
which possess the property of usefulness for ‘man’s need’.

As Marx indicates, the conflation of worth and value
••• has just as much, and just as little, to do with
the economic category ‘value’ as with the chemical
value of the chemical elements (atomicity) or with
the chemical equivalent or equivalent values (compound weights of the chemical elements) (12).

This type of analysis, which neglects the particular features which distinguish different relations from each other,
and retains only those that are common to them all, yields
the inessential and the contingent. Analysis in the realist
sense occurs through rigorous specification and not through
exhaustive comparison; it can be made in a single instance
and involves the identification of the characteristics of a
particular social object that make it tend to act in certain
ways by virtue of its properties.

Initial attempts to analyse ‘corporatism’ in the mid1970s, for example, yielded a series of general assertions
parading as incisive abstractions which failed to reveal the
distinctive nature of a corporate state. On the basis of
four isolated features – unity, order, nationalism and
success (the subordination of democratic rights to economic
goods) – corporatism was deemed to be a distinctive economic system in contrast to both capitalism and socialism
(13). Yet, as a number of critiques have pointed out, the
four properties of corporatism identified are perfectly
compatible with the long-term interests of capital. They
‘do not clash with the general use of profit yardsticks’, the
basis of capitalist social relations (14). Abstracting a set of
common features which add up to a series of generalities is
a peculiarly poor mode of analysis. The end result, an
empty notion of corporatism, is precarious; and merits the
status of chaotic conception.

Before attempting to construct a realist mode of analysis it is important to say a little more on the relationship
between generalization and abstraction. The methodological
protocol that states that abstraction is not generalization
is correct, but quite a difficult guideline to follow. To
abstract is to focus upon one aspect of a particular object
at the expense of its other features. The point of abstraction is to brush aside those features which are held to be
complica ting and obscur ing to our comprehension of an
object. This task, however, which is achieved by abstracting from particular cases or individual instances, produces
a conception characterised by generality. It is necessary,
therefore, to distinguish between abstractions which possess the quality of generality and abstractions which are
merely generalizations. The distinction between the two
types of general abstraction is not simply one of degree,
that is, one abstraction covers more or less phenomena
than the other, but more significantly, one of perspective:

what features of an object are held to be complicating and
obscur ing. The empty abstraction is, if you like, too
general; it gives the user a vague sense of reference,

rather than a specification of the properties of an object,
their combination, and their powers.

Locke’s notion of abstraction produces the hollowness
of the empty abstraction: the higher the level of abstraction, the higher the degree of generality. From this standpoint, abstr,action is equivalent to the process of generalization. In contrast, the process of abstraction for Marx,
involved a grasp of the particular significance of particular objects. Both Locke’s and Marx’s notion of abstraction exhibit the characteristics of generality and onesided ness, but what differentiates them is the degree of
specification. An empty, general abstraction is likely to be
found at the top of a pyramidal arrangement of conceptions, ‘where the less abstract conceptions are subordinated to the more abstract conceptions. The conception
of the local state which is developed in terms of institutions or the functions carried out at the local level is a
case in point. In this instance, the local state represents
little more than a collective name, an aggregate of particulars that fall under it at one point in time (15). What is
lost in this type of abstraction is the particularity of the
general conception. Analysis should concern itself with the
particular social form of an object to ascertain what, if
any, necessary properties it may possess and under what
social conditions such properties are likely to be found. It
may be that, in the case of the local state, analysis will
reveal that its usefulness as a concept is Hmi ted to a
collective representation. This, however, is an open question and one that can only be decided through the
painstaking process of analysis.

In analysis, the work of abstraction should not be represented as one of selective omission, where concepts
summarize or classify a formless mass of detail, but as constructive analysis. There is little reason in pursuing
abstraction to a useless point, a point, that is, at which
the conception reached ceases to possess any penetrating
insight. Marx sharply rebuked Proudhon in The Poverty of
Philosophy for adopting just such a procedure (16). In contrast, Marx considered the conceptualization of an object
to be an achievement, obtained by forging more exact
specifications of an object; namely a series of judgements
which revealed the substantive nature and form of an
object (17). An achievement which, it should be stressed, is
worked out a posteriori; it does not spring, as if by magic,
from the analyst’s mind.

The Notion of Method
The role of judgement is central to the process of abstraction and directly relevant to the task of identifying any
necessary relationships an object may possess. We do not
possess a concept of an object if we are unable to say anything about a particular object except apply a concept to
it. This is the basis of Wittgenstein’s argument against the
notion of a private language (18). Concepts are explicated
by other concepts, they do not produce meaning in
isolation. The role that judgements perform in this context
is one of explication. This is the nub of Marx’s point in the
1857 Introduction where he refers to classes as an empty
phrase if the elements upon which they rest are not
elaborated (19).

Now there is more than one way in which judgement
may be considered in this process of specification. Within
formal logic, a judgement is an activity which attributes a
particular property to an object; for example, capital is an
instrument of production, or capital is accumulated labour.

Ei ther judgement is considered correct if the two conceptions joined together by the copula ‘is’ are indeed found
together in reality. Here the matter ends for formal logiC;
the logical task of judgement has been achieved if the proposition is true. An alternative conception of judgement is
available, however, which pays more attention to the structure of the judgement, that is, the extent to which a
judgement captures the ontological basis of an object. This

conception of judgement is to be found in Hegel’s Science
of Logic, a text infamous for its idealist presentation of
logic. Locked within this text are, I believe, the analytical
insights that informed Marx’s incisive penetration of social

Conceptual raids on Hegel’s Science of Logic have produced a series of ca tegorial trophies. The quest for the
dialectical grail has given us a number of unfamiliar and unwieldy categories: negation, negation of negation, being,
essence, absolute; together with a few familiar sounding,
yet apparently different categories: identity, difference,
quality, quantity, appearance and contradiction. The categories have been drawn from all three books of the Logic,
but commentators have generally paid a disproportionate
attention to the categories in the first two books which
comprise the Objective Logic of Being and Essence, at the
expense of the categories in the Third Book which covers
the ground of Subjective or formal logic (20). The general
neglect of Hegel’s re-working of formal logic is perhaps
somewhat surprising given that the subject matter
comprises the familiar ground of judgements, syllogisms,
universals and the processes of cognition generally.

Perhaps, this familiarity is the reason for this neglect.

Yet, like all of the categories mentioned in the Logic,
they also undergo a particular twist in Hegel’s conceptual
hands. In formal logic the categories of thought are treated
as empty receptacles indifferent to their content. In
Hegel’s hands they suffer a reversal: content determines
and limits the application of the categories. The categories

,,’~ ~


are partly defined by their objects. Hegel bathes the
categories of formal logic in an ontological pool
characterised by depth and structured by objects in
possession of necessary, causal properties.

The category of judgement, for example, takes on
board an ontological dimension. The copula ‘is’ between
subject and predicate carries an ontological burden, but
this burden does not express a uni-dimensional ontology,
rather the different modes of judgement correspond to different levels of reality. Within traditional logic, the fourfold classification of judgements – Quality, Quantity, Relation and Modalty – are treated on a single plane; no one
class of judgement represents a better or more adequate
form of judging than another. In contrast, Hegel’s classification, which mirrors the above order, but appears under the
different headings of – Inherence, Reflection, Necessity and
Notion – represents differences in the content of the real
world. Judgements, for Hegel, add up to more ‘than a childish game of fitting together the pieces of a coloured jigsaw
puzzle’ (21); they reveal the substantive nature of an
object – what makes it what it is and no other- by forging
more exact specifications of an object.

The simplest form of judgement in Hegel’s schema is
the judgement of Inherence, which simply affirms, either
positively or negatively, one of the many properties an ob29

ject may possess (22). The proposition, that capital is an
instrument of production, is a judgement of this kind. It is
a simple judgement because it lacks specifici ty; it lacks the
specification of the basic combination of properties that
distinguish capital as a particular historical relation of production. An instrument of production may take the form of
a stone or even a hand, and as such it is appropriate to a
wide range of societies (23). The judgement may be
correct, but it is limited to the designation of a superficial
particular fact.

All this is fairly trite, particularly in relation to the
concept of capital, but the importance of including this
step in an outline is the need to actually start analysis at
this level. Specifying what properties form a contingent
and superficial aspect of an object is a precondition of
further analysis. The unproblematic manner in which
objects are taken up in empirical research, particularly if
they are so ‘real’ (class, landlord and so forth) that we
cannot afford to ignore them, is an indication that no
object should be simply taken for granted.

The second step in Hegel’s schema is the judgement of.

Reflection (24). The role of this type of judgement is not
to attribute a single property to an object, but to establish
the relational nature of an object, that is, a connection to
something else. Whereas the judgement of inherence is primarily a judgement of quality, the judgement of reflection
is defined as a quantitative judgement. Within this category
fall enumerative judgements of the ‘Some or several landlords are ••• ‘ and the collective judgement of the’ All landlords are ••• ‘ variety. The first, the enumerative judgement,
is more commonly known under the description of statistical aggregation. Judgements, in this instance, do not
escape from the distractions of mere association; relations
between objects are aggregated up with little concern for
why such relationships occur, or what causal mechanisms
mayor may not be at work. Quantitative judgements of
this kind do not reveal what kinds of things there are;
number only has significance in relation to number.

Enumera tive judgements are, if you like, a cautious
approach to collective judgements or judgements of
completed enumeration.

At their worst, collective
judgements simply draw out the common, general properties
of a number of individual objects and represent this
property as the hallmark, the ground of the individual
objects. Wagner’s notion of use value fits snugly into this
category of judgement; and so too does the judgement that
corporatism is based upon the properties of unity, order,
nationalism, etc. Neither common, nor apparent features
necessarily help us to explain what is essential to an
object’s existence.

At best, such judgements may identify a set of properties which constitute an object but fail to draw out the
implications of this identification. For example, studies of
landlords may isolate the rent relations between landlord
and tenant, but fail to unpack its significance for understanding the activities of landlords in the housing market.

Hegel reproaches collective judgements for their superficial
generality and inability to lay bare the principal properties
of an object. This drives Hegel onto the ground shared by
modern realist philosophers who argue that abstraction
should isolate the necessary and not the superficial aspect
of an object. The judgement of Necessity, Hegel’s third
mode of judgement, specifies the substantive properties of
an object (25).

The problem here, however, is how do you recognize a
‘necessary’ property? The sifting, sorting and discarding of
incidental properties occurs in the judgement of Inherence,
but the process does not magically lead to the individuation of a set of necessary properties. Some objects may
have no causal properties within their bounds. As mentioned earlier, the simple pointing out of necessary relationships, as for example in the capital-labour, master-slave, or landlord-tenant relationships, is not enough. They
are not judgements; they do not specify the necessity of
the relationships, any causal powers or potential ways of


acting inscribed in the relationships. Hegel’s account of the
judgement of Necessity in the Logic does not produce any
methodological insights as to how the necessary properties
of an object may be identified, the properties are merely
stated in judgement form. In keeping with his idealist concern for categorical progression in the Logic, we have to
wait until the last judgement, the judgement of Notion, to
gain an insight into the methodological steps required. At
its simplest, to unravel the basis of necessity in a relationship such as the capital-labour relation requires an analysis
of the social conditions which presuppose it, which make it
possible for the relation to be given (26). The ‘necessity’ of
any property an object may possess can only be known on
the basis of this analytical step. Although for Hegel the
judgement of Necessity is logically prior to the judgement
of Notion, for methodological purposes the two practices

This analytical step can be illustrated by contrasting
the two following judgements: capital is an instrument of
production and capital is money that begets money by purchasing labour at its cost of reproduction. Now onto logically speaking these are two different types of judgement.

The first is a qualitative judgement which, as shown, lacks
specifici ty; the second judgement, however, identifies two
necessary aspects of the nature of capital. It is necessary
for capital to be money that grows, otherwise it is just
plain money. It would be quite meaningless if the quantity
of money at the end of the formula M-C-M were identical
with that at the start. Unlike the process of commodity
exchange, C-M-C, which involves a qualitative change in
products, the only rationality for M-C-M lies in an increase
in money. Secondly, the property of expansion attributed to
capital is only possible through the exploitation of labour.

Capital buys labour power which it necessarily misrepresents as a commodity in order to reproduce itself on an
expanded scale. The necessary, internal relation between
capi tal and labour is established on the basis of the
requirement of capital to expand.

This may be familiar ground for some; but the point of
interest here is not one of political economy; it is one of
method. To arrive at a necessary judgement, I have had to
. touch upon the social conditions that underpin that necessity. The appropriation of a surplus through the purchase of
labour-power is only possible under certain social conditions. The prerequisites of the relation are a population
that is divided into possessors of wealth in the form of
money and non-possessors of money who only have their
labour to sell in order to live. The ‘obviousness’ of the
necessity in the judgement is not apparent until the conditions which shape and structure that necessity have been

In contrast to the oft-quoted examples in realist texts
of physical or chemical objects whose necessary properties
appear readily accessible, the changing structure of social
activities, and their concept-dependent nature (they are
already known under conventional descriptions) implies the
need for a more explicit justification of ascribed necessary
properties. This is particularly important given that the
combination of properties within a structure of relations
which produces causal powers may only occur within
limited time/spatial conditions. It is not simply the case
that necessary judgements require mediating specifications
to support them, rather the mediating specifications have
to be known prior to a specification of an object’s necessary properties. It is a question, then, not of this or that
object possessing necessary powers, but of a particular
form of an object possessing necessary powers under
specific social conditions.

It is the analysis of the ‘form’ of necessary properties,
the social conditions that underpin necessary relationships,
that has been neglected in accounts that have attempted to
apply a realist philosophy to the objects of the social
world. What makes an object what it is, can only be ascertained by a grasp of both its social form and content (27).

Capital for example i’S”””a”sum of values; but under certain

social conditins, a particular form of money, namely money
capi tal, comes to possess the necessary property of

The limitations of the judgement of necessity to
express the particularity of objects was recognized by
Hegel. The last form of judgement, the judgement of
Notion, acknowledged that individual objects possess necessary properties if they are constituted in a particular
way (28). Unlike Hegel’s discussion of the other types of
judgement, however, the judgement of Notion is clouded
with idealism. The World Mind, in the form of the Notion,
is swept in to unify the individual object and its particular
constitution with the universal genus. It is not the individual subject who produces the adequate concept of an
object, it is an all-embracing thought process – the World
Mind – of which individual thought is merely an expression.

It is this aspect of Hegelian thought, the idea that universal thought determines the real, which Marx decisively
rejected (29).

For Marx, the value of Hegel’s treatment of formal
logic did not rest with the p~i.(ticular mental tricks he performed upon the categories; rather it lay with Hegel’s
assessment and revision of the categories in accordance
with their ability to produce a substantive specification of
the object in question. There is nothing peculiarly idealist
about this type of procedure; all methodological prescriptions are based upon an ontological conception of
some nature. For example, empiricism assumes an atomistic
ontology of separate events or phenomena with no necessary connections between them. hence, it was not a different conception of ontology that p.rimarily distinguished
Marx from Hegel’s mode of analysis, but the fact that marx
did not conflate logic and ontology; he maintained a distinction between the knowing object and the material
object (30). The fact that we, as subjects, possess and use
a particular series of logical categories to forge more
exact specifications of an object does not imply, as Hegel
believed, that those same categories produce the real.

Rather, it is because the social world has the particular
structure that it has, that the categories of judgement
reveal the necessary and contingent aspects of objects.

Engels recognized this philosophical point in his use of
judgements in the Dialectics of Nature (31).

Marx’s methodological debt to Hegel can partly be
located in the critical analytical judgements developed by
Hegel in the Science of Logic (partly because, for reasons
of space, I have not developed the role of synthesis in
either Marx or Hegel’s methodology) (32). The common
ground they occupy is characterised by a profound distaste
for a shallow analytical method that, at its worst, treats
social objects in an unproblematic manner, as given
entities; or at best, mechanistically breaks down objects
into their self-evident properties which produce little
insight into the nature of the objects themselves. Marx and
Hegel, however, as I have indicated, do not stand alone on
this ground: it is also shared by modern realist

Analytical Method
At this point it might be useful to briefly draw together
the analytical guidelines raised in this paper in the form,
as it were, of a realist antidote to empirical modes of conceptualization. Two general threads can be drawn from the
argument before moving on to specific guidelines. First, the
mode of conceptualiza tion advocated in this paper forms
part and parcel of the research process; it does not constitute an autonomous domain separate from or prior to
submersion in empirical detail. The properties of an object,
their combination and structure, cannot be known in
advance of the social conditions that underpin them. There
is a constant interplay between the conceptualization of
an object or objects and the conditions under which it is
possible for the object to be given; it is not an a priori


On the same point, but on a different tack, realism
does not cede the world of events and conjunctures to
empiricism. A plea for greater attention to be paid to the
conceptualization of objects is not intended to detract
from or replace the crucial activity of actually detailing
under what circumstances the inscribed causal properties of
objects are likely or are not likely to be realized. Realism
is not concerned to reduce or subsume the complexity of
the social world to a string of general concepts; it is concerned with the relationship between social structures
which possess causal powers and their particular manifestation in an historical and spatial context.

Putting these points to one side, I would like to return
to the explici t focus of this paper: the practice of conceptual analysis. At the risk of formalization, four specific
methodological guidelines can be drawn.

First, where do we start? The answer to this question
is literally ‘given’ to us. We have no choice; our objects
are already known to us under some form of description,
whether commonplace or trading under the banner of
‘scientific conceptions’. The task of analysis is to discern a
unified structure of properties and relations within our
object of study. Some objects which are assumed to possess
a structured combination of relations may, after analysis,
fail to reveal such a structure. The local state may be a
case in point. However, such a result can not be known in
advance of analysis. Second, the internal properties and
relations of an object, both common and distinctive, should
be specified. This is not a prescription for exhaustive analysis, the orientation is one of depth, not breadth. The analysis of the inter-relations between different objects in a
particular conjuncture or the comparison between similar,
individual objects, occurs after each object has been
examined in itself. For example, although racism in contemporary Britain can not be fully understood without a
grasp of Britain’s colonial legacy and the structural
demands of capitalist production in the post-war period,
nor can it be reduced to these features. . The specific
dynamic of racism in Britain since the 1950s has to be
understood ‘in itself’ prior to any questions of articulation.

This analytical step requires not only a specification of
what something is, but also what something is not (e.g.

racism is not a universal, natural social condition). The
rationale for outlining this step does not rest upon the
grounds of innovatory method, but quite simply upon the
grounds of neglect. The unexceptional methodological step
is equally the most important: it provides a direction for
inquiry, it limits the number of possible ways in which an
object may be considered.

The next step is one of analytical separation and isolation. The properties and relations that are basic to an object’s existence are abstracted from the properties of an
object which are considered incidental and superficial. Or,
to put it another way, abstraction is concerned with the
properties of a particular object which, if absent, would no
longer allow the. object to be the type of thing it is. This
takes us into the realm of classification: the sorting and
sifting of the necessary from the contingent properties, the
enduring from the ephemeral properties, and the basic from
the common properties. For example, if we take a closer
look at the landlord/tenant relationship, a frequent line of
classifica tion in research texts exhibits an alarming
artificiality (33).

Invariably, two characteristics of
landlords are abstracted which form the basis of a
classification: the number of dwellings owned and their
legal title (i.e. company, institution, trust, individual, and
so forth). In the case of individual landlords, their
classification may be subdivided to take account of the
characteristics of age, sex, marital and employment status.

On what grounds such characteristics are selected, one is
never quite sure. Nor is it clear how the characteristics
identified relate to any causal capacity of the types of
landlordism produced.

In terms of the schema of judgements outlined earlier,

attributes of size or legal status are, respectively, enumerative and collective judgements which, although not of an
incidental quality, do not express any necessary characteristics of landlordism. Attributes of sex, age and marital or
employment status are judgements of inherence which offer
no insight into the nature of landlordism. In consequence,
studies of landlordism based upon these pre-given characteristics exhibit a disturbing arbitrariness in their findings. The inconsistency of the size criterion, for example
the disagreement over how ‘small’ is a small landlord across
the studies, is a testament to the lack of rigour produced
by this mode of analysis (34). The concept of landlord is no
less chaotic at the end of the analysis than it was at the

This type of un reflective analysis highlights the significance of adopting the previous methodological step: the
need to unpack the ‘given’ object through a careful description of its internal characteristics. What, if any, are
the basic characteristics of landlordism, by virtue of which
the term may be applied? In this example, the basic characteristic of landlordism is residential property rent,
although in other objects there may be more than one
necessary characteristic. In the absence of a rent relation,
that is, a monetary payment from the tenant to the landlord in exchange for the right to use a residential space,
the term landlord-tenant would be an inappropriate term to
describe the relationship involved. The abstraction of the
general rent relation, however, does not magically divine a
coherent classification of landlords, it is in itself an object
of further interrogation, as Engels demonstrated in The
Housing Question (35). The merit of the abstraction is that
it provides a selective focus for the construction of a typology of landlords. The role that property rent fulfils for
different landlords, a process that can only be known
through an empirical analysis of the economic, social and
historical conditions that shape and constrain landlords’

activi ties, may provide structural groups of landlords which
admit the possibility of emergent causal powers (36).

Whether the causal powers inscribed in a particular
group of landlords are realized or not, however, will vary
according to the local conditions in which they operate. It
is at this stage of the research process, when individual
landlords in particular areas are being considered, that the
characteristics of size, legal title, age and so forth, of
landlords may be of value in an explanation of the workings
of the private rented housing market.

For the purpose of presentation, I have glossed over a
fourth methodological point in the outline of the landlordtenant relationship. The identification of any necessary
properties or characteristics of landlordism in general or
groups of landlords in particular can only be ascertained on
the basis of a knowledge of the social conditions which
produce that necessity. Those conditions are limited in time
and space, and hence subject to change and modification.

Hence analysis is not concerned with ahistorical or aspatial
objects, but objects with a particular form that possess
necessary causal properties under specific social conditions.

ate relation, no rigid top-down explanation between the
causal powers of a particular object and their expression in
the social world. Realism, as Sayer has demonstrated in
RP28, is not a philosophy of reductionism. The complexity
of a particular conjuncture cannot be unravelled by something as simple as a string of necessry definitional terms; it
involves a detailed grasp of the plurality of the structures
present, in particular their internal causal powers and their
capacity for joint power by virtue of their combination,
together with an understanding of the material circumstances in which they are to be found.

This paper has concentrated upon the conceptualization
of social objects or structures of relations within the
research process. The methodological guidelines offered are
specific to the study of social relations; they are not field
invariant (38).

The very fact that social objects are already known to
us under a particular description, that such conceptions
are open to change, and that structured relationships are
only reproduced by virtue of the activty of human agents,
implies a methodic activity that is constructive rather than
preventive (39). By constructive I wish to convey the
notion of achievement mentioned earlier in the paper, in
contrast to a preventive procedure which simply transfers
or imposes a grid upon a particular content. With a
constructive method the subject matter is worked up, not
multiplied. The analytical guidelines in this paper do not
rest with the formal application of the labels ‘chaotic’ or
‘necessary’ upon an unsuspecting content, nor do they
involve a roll-call of judgements, or for that matter a
simplistic plea for ‘historical specifici ty’. The guidelines in
this paper address a problem that besets both Marxist
research in particular and empirical research in general:

the ambiguity and vagueness of its conceptual propositions
and, in consequence, an imprecision in the specification of
the relationships that hold between objects.

There are, I
am sure, few opponents of conceptual precision, yet at the
same time, aside from the ‘grail’ concepts of political
economy, which have been subject to botA positive and
negative criticism, there appears to be an unwillingness
within substantive Marxist research to question and
re-work our existing stock of concepts and their meanings.

Conceptual innovation appears to attract greater credence
than conceptual re-presentation. Terms such as the local
state, collective consumption or social reproduction, to
name but a few, are invoked as if, in themselves, they
actually explain something. There is a general reluctance
to reflect upon the analytical potential of the more
commonplace social objects and the local form of the
macro-structures that shape our social world. This is not to
argue that under every commonplace object, or local social
structure, a devastating political insight is waiting to be
revealed; but it is an argument to at least reflect upon
‘given’ objects. The rewards of such a practice are not
necessarily a number of political insights at the level of
the mode of production, but they may inform and assist in
the construction of local socialist strategies.



The analytical guidelines presented in the landlord-tenant
example raise the question of the connections and tensions
between the general object, its particular form and its
individual instance (37). Within realism there is no determin-

I would like to thank Allan Cochrane, Sue Himmelweit,
Doreen Massey and Andrew Sayer for their comments on an
earlier draft of this paper. Needless to say, the usual
disownership comments apply.

Notes and references



For a comprehensive account of a transcendental realist philosophy
of science see Roy Bhaskar,1975, A Realist Theory of Science, Leeds; and 1979,
The Possibility of Naturalism, Harvester Press, Brighton.

See, for example, L. Althusser 1969, For Marx, Penguin, Part 6; S. Hall, 1974,
Marx’s Notes on Method: A Reading of the 1857 Introduction, in Cultural Studies
6, pp.132-171; T. Carver, 1975, Karl Marx: Texts on Method, Blackwell, Oxford;
R. Rosdolsky, 1977, The Making of Marx’s ‘Capital’, Pluto, London; J. Zeleny,


1980, The Logic of Marx, Blackwell, Oxford. The exception is Derek Sayer, 1979.

Marx’s Method: Ideology, Science and Critique in Capital, Harvester Press,

It is, however, distinct from the conceptual analysis developed at Oxford and
Cambridge in the mid-20th century and exemplified in the works of J.L. Austin
and G. Ryle.

G.W.F. Hegel, Science of Logic, trans. A.V. Miller, 1969, Allen and Unwin,
London, p.830.

R. Bhaskar, 1975, op. cit., p.212.

J. Urry, 1981, Localities, Regions and Social Class, in International Journal of
Urban and Regional Research, Vol.5, No.4, pp.455-474.






For a critique of the ‘capital-logic’ approach see B. Jessop, 1982, The Capitalist
State, Martin Robertson, Oxford, Chapter 3.

A. Sayer, 1981, Abstraction: A Realist Interpretation, in Radical Philosophy 28,

Interpretatioins of the 1857 Introduction which latch onto the ‘obviously scientifically correct method’ – the movement from the abstract to the concrete – tend
to overlook the fact that the final conception arrived at is once again ‘population’ – “but this time not as the chaotic conception of the whole, but as a rich
totality of many de terminations and relations” (K. Marx, 1973a, Grundrisse, p.l00).

“If the concern is the word, capital, which does not occur in antiquity then the
still migrating hordes with their herds on the Asiatic high plateau are the biggest
capitalists, since capital originally means cattle…. We shall likewise find later
that many things are subsumed under capital which do not seem to belong within
it conceptually, e.g. capital is lent out. It is stockpiled, etc. In all these designations it appears to be a mere thing, and to coincide entirely with the matter in
which it is present.” (K. Marx, ibid., p.513).

K. Marx, 1976, Marginal notes tc>A. Wagner’s ‘Textbook on Political Economy’ in
Value: Studies by Marx, New Park, London, pp.217-218.

K. Marx, ibid., p.219.

See J. Winkler, 1976, Corporatism, in European Journal of SOCiology, Vol.17,

J. Westergaard, 1977, Class, Inequality and ‘Corporatism’ in A. Hunt (ed.), Class
and Class Structure, Lawrence and Wishart, London, p.178. A more extensive critique of the concept of ‘corporatism’ in contemporary literature is offered by L.

Panitch, 1980, Recent Theorizations of Corporatism: Reflections on a Growth
Industry, in the British Journal of Sociology, Vol.31, No.2, pp.159-187.

For a critique of conceptualizations of the ‘Local State’ see S. Duncan and M.

Goodwin, 1980, The Local State and Restructuring Social Relations, University of
Sussex, Urban and Regional Studies Working Paper No.24.

“It is surprising that, if you let drop little by little all that constitutes the individuality of a house, leaving out first of all the materials of which it is composed,
then the form that distinguishes it, you end up with nothing but a body; that if
you leave out of account the limits of this body, you soon have nothing but a
space – that if, finally,you leave out of account the dimensions of this space,
there is absolutely nothing left but pure quantity, the logical category?” (K.

Marx, 1973b, The Poverty of Philosophy, Progress, Moscow, p.92.

Analytic judgements are not value judgements or subjective choices, they are
judgements of the properties of an object.

L. Wittgenstein, 1963, Philosophical Investigations I, Blackwell, Oxford, para. 258.

K. Marx, 1973a, op. cit., p.l00.

The categories of essence and appearance, quality and quantity, identity and difference, whole and part, negation, contradiction, and being tend to hold the
centre of the stage in discussions of Hegel’s Science of Logic by Marxist authors.

The category Absolute Idea, which appears in the third book of the Logic, is
often entertained but rarely dwelt upon by virtue of its obvious idealist connotations. See, for example, L. Colletti, 1973, Marxism and Hegel, NLB, London; H.

Lefebvre, 1974, Dialectical Materialism, Jonathan Cape, London; T. Carver, 1976,
Marx – and Hegel’s Logic, in Political Studies, Vol.24, No.l, pp.56-68; R. Norman
and S. Sayers, 1980, Hegel, Marx and Dialectic: A Debate, Harvester Press,
Brighton. The materialist ‘feel’ of the categories in the first two books of the
Logic, Being and Essence, in contrast to the subjective categories of thethird
book, the Doctrine of Notion, may explain this preoccupation. An interesting


The Radical Philosophy Group has affiliated to the Socialist

The Socialist Society’s summer school 1982 and the
Moving Left Show organised by the Communist Party were,
in their own terms, very successful events. Many people
attended, and ‘plenary sessions’ and ‘workshops’ went reasonably well. Whatever criticisms there might be of the form
of these events, it was a gap in content that interested a
number of Conceptual Commissars, including me. Much of
the discussion continues to employ the quasi-military rhetoric of ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’, and to talk as if the problem
for ‘socialists-and-the-Iabour-movement’ were largely problems of being, if not ‘in retreat’, certainly not poised for
victory in the face of various onslaughts. Gramsci’s ‘war’

discourse playing out the Vietnam themes in a minor key!

People talk about a crisis of Marxism rather than of

But the lack of discussion about what socialism might
be, the lack of philosophical discussion, the idea that our
problems are now to get from a here to a there equally
unproblematic, is itself a symptom of a hollowness in ourselves that needs to be sounded out. Partly the problem is
one of the poverty of the inherited socialist culture – both
Marxism and Labourism tend to put down speculative, critical and awkward questions about what a socialist society
would be like, how it would work and why, after all, it
would be so much better to live in than the order the
advanced West embodies. I find, for example, that my Marxist students regard talk about ‘rights’ and ‘justice’ as
obvious rhetoric, a view that must entail a conception of
socialism either so celestial as to be a dream or so despotic
as to be a nightmare.

It is not just a matter, though, of an inherited
‘absence’. The essentially defensive position of the left
gives the public airing of awkward questions the smell of
betrayal. A fortress mentality – a democratic centralism of







exception, however, is Herbert Marcuse’s Reason and Revolution, 1973, Routledge
and Kegan Paul, London. For a novel, yet illuminating interpretation of Hegel’s
Doctrine of Notion see C.L.R. James, 1980, Notes on Dialectics: Hegel-MarxLenin, Allison and Busby, London, pp.1l9-150. Lastly, a number of insights into
Hegel’s subjective logic can be obtained from the works of the British Idealists F.H. Bradley, 1883, The princillles of Logic, Kegan Paul, Trench &: Co., London,
and B. Bosanquet, 1888, Logic in two volumes), Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Hegel, 1969, op. cit., p.53.

Hegel, ibid., pp.630-641. The discussion of judgements in Hegel’s Shorter Logic, an
abridged version of the Science of Logic, is, however, a more accessible exposition. Trans. W. Wallace, 1975, Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp.230-243.

See K. Marx, 1973a, op. cit., pp.257-258.

Hegel, 1969, op. cit., pp.643-650.

Hegel, ibid., pp.650-657.

Derek Sayer’s account of Marx’s ‘analytic’ recognizes the importance of this
methodological point in his article Science as Critique: Marx v. Althusser, in J.

Mepham and D.H. Ruben (eds.), 1979, Issues in Marxist Philosophy, Vol.3,
Harvester Press, Brighton, p.37.

A reprinted footnote in Capital, Vol.I, illustrates this point nicely: “A negro is a
negro. In certain circumstances he becomes a slave. A mule is a machine for
spinning cotton. Only under certain circumstances does it become capital.

Outside these circumstances, it is no more capital than gold is intrinsically money,
or sugar is the price of sugar ••••”, 1974, Lawrence and Wishart, p.717.

Hegel, 1969, op. cit., pp.661-663.

See K. Marx, 1973a, op. cit., p.l00.

K. Marx, ibid., pp.l0l-102.

F. Engels-;-T974, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, pp.223-225.

The role of synthesis in Marx’s method loosely refers to his mode of exposition
rather than his mode of investigation. The question of levels of abstraction is not
considered in this paper, on the grounds of length. For an interesting insight into
this area of Marx’s method see I. Gerstein, 1976, Production, Circulation and
Value, in Economy and Society, Vol.5, No.3, pp.243-291.

See, for example, J.B. Cullingworth, 1963, Housing in Transition, Heinemann,
London, J. Greve, 1965, Private Landlords in England, Occ. Papers in Social
Administration, No.16, Bell, London; J. Short, 1979, Landlords and the Private
Rented Housing Sector: A Case Study, in M. Boddy (ed.), Land, Property and
Finance, University of Bristol, School for Advanced Urban Studies, Working Paper
No.2, pp.56-75.

In the surveys of Short, Cullingworth, and Greve respectively, ‘small’ varies from
1-2, 2-5, and 1-9 tenancies; ‘medium’ from 3-9, 6-20, and 10-99 tenancies, and
‘large’ from 10+, 21+ and 100+ tenancies.

F. Engels, 1973, The Housing Question, in Marx and Engels Selected works, Vol.2,
Progress Publishers, Moscow, pp.305-309 and 358-361.

See J. Alien, Property Relations and Landlordism: A Realist Approach (forthcoming, 1983, Society and space, Vol.I, No.I).

The precise nature of the relationship between the universal, the particular, and
the individual is basically the subject matter of Hegel’s Logic. The pitfalls of his
application of this triad can be seen from the determinism exhibited in the
Philosophy of Right. In the Logic, however, a sharper understanding of identity
and difference is present in the relatinship between the three aspects.

See R. Bhaskar, 1979, op. cit., pp.3-4.

See R. Bhaskar, ibid., pp.63-64.

the brain – strives to protect the faith while in effect
advertising its precariousness.


–Socialist feminists, disenchanted with past formulae and
assurances about a socialist utopia whose concept has been
predominantly masculine, have stirred issues up. (The recent
Socialist Society Politics of the Family conference was an
example.) Their thinking and practice have changed the
socialist movement in important ways. But there is a curious
mixture of patronage and sycophancy in the tendency of ‘reconstructed’ male radicals to leave the awkward and messy
business of clearing up the socialist kitchen to women!

Radical Philosophy has not so far been distinguished by
exploring fundamental issues of political philosophy. It
cannot therefore imagine that by affiliating to the Socialist
Society it brings with it an offering of ongoing advanced
work to ‘fill the gap’. What our affiliation means, however,
is that we open up possibly important channels for getting
involved in discussions with socialists about basic questions.

As a perhaps unpromising starter, I gave a workshop on
‘Socialism and Morality’ at February’s Socialist Society Conference. I tried to counterpose ‘amoral’ ways of picturing
both capitalist and socialist cultures to characterisations in
moral terms. Apart from anything else, I think I posed the
issues too abstractly. There was a lively discussion in which
themes of ‘objectivity’, ‘relativism’ and ‘freedom’, as well as
basic definitions of socialism, recurred. It was clear that
there was a lot of interest in and a lot of need for
philosophical discussion.

Our ‘day schools’ have been on topics: ‘Equality’; ‘the
New Right’ for example, that have a wider interest. I hope
we are able to involve more socialists outside ‘philosophy’

through our formal affiliation.

The Socialist Society is anxious to co-operate with
socialist and like-minded groups at national, regional and
local level to initiate non-sectarian discussion and
campaigning around socialist themes. Any readers anxious to
participa te should wr i te to The Socialist Society, 7 Car lisle
Street, London W1.

Tony Skillen


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