is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing
philosophy when I want to.
-The one that gives
philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented
by questions which bring itself in question. The
clarity that we are aiming at is’indeed complete
clarity. But this simply means the philosophical
problems should completely disappear.’ [PI, Sec.133].
Wittgenstein makes it quite clear what he was doing.
‘The results of philosophy are the uncovering of one
or another piece of plain nonsense and ?f bumps that
the understanding has got’ by running its head up
against the limits of language.’ [PI, Sec.119].
This negative (or ‘critical’ in the Marxian sense)
philosophical task of uncovering or unmasking bourgeois philosophy is made abundantly clear when
Wittgenstein .said, ‘Where does our investigation
~et its importance from, since it seems only to
destroy everything interesting, that is, all that
is great and important? .. What we are destroying
is nothing but castles-in-the-air and we are clearing
up the ground of language on which they stand.’
Wittgenstein conceives his philosophical task to
be helping those who are obsessed by philosophical
problems to achieve complete clarity, so that they
are no longer tormented by those questions. Philosophy, in this sense, ‘leaves everything as it is.’
[PI, Sec.124]. Once this clarity is achieved, once
their mental health is recovered, they can go on to
do other things. Like psychoanalysis, therapeutic
philosophy can help afflicted individuals gain
sanity. However, like psychoanalysis too, which can
be of only a very limited use because it fails to
deal with the underlying social causes of mental
illness, Wittgenstein’s therapeutic philosophy can
only have a limited function because it does not
deal with the social causes of the philosophical
disease. It would only be fair to point out that
Wittgenstein seems to be aware of this when he said,
‘The sickness of a time is cured by an alteration in
the mode of life of human beings, and the sickness
of philosophical problems can be cured only through
a changed mode of thought and of life, not through
a medicine invented by an individual.’ [RFM, pS7].
Wittgenstein’s medicine was, in the’end, impotent
against the philosophical sickness of the time.
His goa of dissolving bourgeois philosophy could
not be S 8cessful. As Marx and Engels pointed out
long ago, ‘ ••• all forms and products of consciousness cannot be dissolved by mental criticism ‘”
but only by the practical overthrow of the actual
social relations which gave rise to this idealistic
humbug; that not criticism but revolution is the
driving force of history, also of religion, of
philosophy and all other types of theory. ,3
Abbreviations: BB for Blue a;d Brown Books,
PI for Philosophical Investigations, Z for Zettel
and RFM for Remarks on the Foundations of
Compare this with Marx: ‘Man is in the most
literal sense of the word a zoon politikon, not
only a social animal, but an animal which can
develop into an individual only in society.
Production by isolated individuals outside of
society – something which ~ight happen as an
exception to a civilized man who by accident
got into the wilderness and already dynamically
possessed within himself the forces of society
– is as great an absurdity as the idea of the
development of language without individuals
living together and talking to one another.’
A Contribution to the Critique of Political
Economy, Chicago, 1904, p268.
The German Ideology, Moscow, Progrl:ss Publishers,
Language, I”ulhand polilics:
l.The significance of insignificant acts
In this book I shall criticise a variety of everyday
communicational acts and omissions, including both
those which occur in face-to-face situations and those
which emanate from the mass media.
I do so in the
context of an attempt to theorise a practice or
practices of intervention already carried on in
opposition to such phenomena but which I think might
well be developed further.
It is therefore not the
object of this book to contribute to anyone, nor
even several, academic disciplines (though I draw on
a range of academic work), but rather to produce a
sort of manual which might be used in the conduct of
But why is everyday life important? Why should
making it different make any difference? I answer
these questions by stating and illustrating a central
assumption of the book, namely, that nothing o~e
may say or do is non-significant; every action has
meaning, even if that meaning is unconscious to
oneself or others.
In contrast to this position,
when an action is taken for granted,l it is treated
as non-significant, that is, without meaning.
taking for granted is habitual, probably unavoidable
if we are to get on with a job in hand, but often
disastrous in its consequences when it is never
challenged. To take for granted an action is equivalent to naturalising it, that is, consigning it to
the realm of nature external to Man and lacking
meaning in itself. Thus the action hardens into an
alien thing, over and against Man, unamenable to
control or change – despite the fact that it is
nothing but Man’s own action which is being thus
reified. When generalised, such reification gives
rise to a metaphysics of meaninglessness, and its
practical consequences are variously theorised as
alienation, privatisation and apathy. The causes of
such development clearly lie not in the mind of the
individual, but in the specific forms of social
organisation which generate such a consciousness.
And the irony is that the very consciousness which
is generated by these social forms is incapable of
understanding the processes which have given rise to
it and, thus, unable to criticise these processes in
theory, it reproduces and strengthens them in practice.
Developments in Western society – bureaucratisation, technologisation – intensify the process of
reification in everyday thought and behaviour: the
use of phrases such as ‘I only work here’ or ‘I’m
This article is a slightly edited version of the
first chapter of Trevor Pateman’s forthcoming book,
to be published by the Harvester Press in paperback
and hardback in Spring 1975. The editors of
Radical Philosophy are grateful to the Harvester
Press for permission to print.
doing my job’ clearly reveal a state of mind and a
state of affairs in which my work or my job is
something other than I, as if I did not do my work
or my job. Of course, such prhases can have a nonreified and positive use, as when a worker uses them
to reject demands from those who exploit him for
greater ‘involvement’ in his work, that is, demands
for higher productivity and, hence, higher profits.
But much of the time, such phrases are not used like
Some political developments are working against
the taken for grantedness and,hence the naturalisation or reification of meaningful acts, and it is by
reference to them that I can answer the questions witr.
which this short discussion began and illustrate the
central assumption which I stated above.
Consider, then, that one of the small effects of
the rise of the Women’s Liberation Movement has been
to make it more difficult for quite a few men to unselfconsciously use such expressions as ‘chick’ or
‘bit of stuff’ in referring to women.
the use of these terms was taken for granted, and
their use could be seen simply in terms of drawing
on the resources of the vocabulary, where ‘the
vocabulary’ is seen as an objective store of words
to be drawn on as and when needed. Whilst the
general reification of vocabulary into an entity
outside our control may be maintained, the use of
‘chicks’ and ‘bits of s~uff’ can be no longer seen in
the neutral way just characterised. Many men have
been made aware of the fact that the use of such
expressions is actively depersonalising, and that
this is something for which they are responsible.
But what are the effects of giving up the use of
such offensive expressions? Certainly, it does not
follow that in giving up the use of such terms a man
ceases to depersonalise women; he may continue doing
it in other ways.
So do the effects of giving up
such words exhaust themselves just in the giving up
itself? Or do such small acts have wider consequences? I think they do, and I shall try to show how.
Suppose, then, that the person who gives up
using ‘chick’ or ‘bit of stuff’ has undergone no
conversion, no fundamental change of heart.
has a fundamentally depersonalising attitude to women.
(Equally, a person with a fundamentally human relation to women might use (1epersonalising terms simply
through failure to reflect on their meaning).
an unreconstructed chauvinist as I am supposing may
still have an effect on his hearers, if they notice
the absence from his speech of the common terms for
women, and they may be affected by their understanding of the reason for this absence, even if the
speaker is not. Further, the speaker may be inwardly
transformed as a result of giving up outward depersonalising practices. This is an old idea: Pascal
recommends a procedure of adherence to outward ritual
as a means toward inner faith for the person who wants
to believe in God but can’t. 3
But how could an outer change affect an inner
attitude, that is, a general orientation to the world?
It seems to me that it can because the change in outward practice constitutes a restructuring of at least
one aspect of one social relationship, and that
experience in the new social relationship thereby
created (artificially, one could say) can affect the
‘inner’ change. Crudely, if you haven’t tried it, you
can’t know whether you like it or not, but having tried
it and liked it, you can try it again wanting to.
Finally, the simple vocabulary change can not
only affect others and oneself in the new social
relationships in which people have put themselves, but
can have a spill-over effect onto (for example) general
awareness of the nature and functions of language.
For to cut words out of one’s vocabulary must be one
of the better ways of generating a generalised awareness of the human character of language. For in my
act I have asserted that I can control language; I
have stopped acting as if language necessarily
In summary, then, it is not unimportant that a
person uses ‘chick’ nor unimportant that he stops
using it. 4 The generalisation which permits the
above analysis and the conclusion just arrived at
can be stated as follows: that every act always
involves doing something of social significance; that
every act reproduces or subverts a social institution
(in the above case, relations between men and women).
If every social institution is an organisation of
power (I think it is), then every act is political
for it either sustains or subverts a given organisation of power. Certainly, enough social institutions
are organisations of power for it to be possible to
speak significantly of a politics of everyday life,
though where reificatoion has petrified ‘consciousness,
such an ~ssertion will not be intelligible.
I think, the idea of a politics of everyday life
which generates the discourse of this book.
But isn’t the idea of a politics of everyday life
oppressive in its practical implications? For to take
seriously the critique of naturalisation as it applies
(for example) to the use of language surely implies
the need for self-conscious reflection on the meaning
of all one’s everyday linguistic acts, including the
most intimate and those in the spontaneity and
naturalness in which one may take, and surely should
take, great delight. The position does indeed imply
this sort of self-awareness, but I think there are
a number of lines of defence which can be taken
against the 0bjection.
First, there is the argument that what is taken
to be natural or spontaneous is generally something
which is just well-learnt, like going to the lavatory.S
Second, that the delight derived from such ‘spontaneous’ practices as wolf-whistling women, thumping kids,
or – for that matter – writing allusively, has to be
offset against the oppression, suffering and mystification they cause. Third, that things which have been
learnt can be unleart or forgotten and new things
learnt, which then in turn become ‘spontaneous’.
Fourth, and polemically, isn’t there something to be
said for knowing what one is doing in life – that is,
to oneself, to others and for the future? Where has
‘spontaneous’ patriotism got soldiers but to an early
grave? What has the ‘spontaneity’ of the natural
‘instict’ produced, except frustrated women and
If in spite of these summary arguments, my acrossthe-board defence of self-consciousness is rejected,
it remains open to the reader to pick and choose
between those areas in which she thinks self-awareness
is important, and those in which she thinks it is not.
There is a lot to be said for half measures. To begin
with, you don’t get drunk so quickly.
But to conclude
this section, I want to indicate one area in which I
think reflection is important, namely, that of
reading, and I want to do it here because you are
just beginning to read my book.
Does a reader generally have any clear idea of
what she is doing in the act of reading a book? Does
she know how to read it, when her task is not to
extract a number of key points in order to write an
essay? Does she enjoy reading? If such questions can
now be asked and make some sense, it must in part be
due to the efforts of modern writers, such as the
creators of the Nouveau Roman in France (6n which see
the brilliant book by Stephen Heat~),6 to frustrate the
expectations which the average reader has when she
picks up a book.
If the reader of the nouveau roman
reads seriously, she will end up posing questions
about her expectations, their legitimacy, and about
possible alternatives to her own practice of reading.
otherwise, she will write off the writer. Barthes
summarises the mechanism: ‘I don’t understand you;
therefore you’re an idiot.’
Rhetoric, or The Art of Speaking
Logic, or The Art of Thinking
— , or the Art of Reading 7
2.What’s your subject?
For ~e, it was a discovery that I could reflect on
the significance of my everyday acts; that they could
form the starting point for theoretical exploration;
and that they might be changed in an informed way.
This discovery was slowly made, and I am sure that
its application is far from complete. But however
incomplete, the possible unity of knowledge (as
theory) and everyday life (as practice) had to be
discovered because formal (i.e. school) education
systematically forecloses the awareness of this
possibility. Certainly, it doesn’t realise the
possibility. Formal education equates knowledge with
a range of subjects, thrown up haphazardsly in history, and parochial history at that. A first effect
of this equation is to inhibit people from realising
that they know a great deal which school has never
taught them: Everyman is a geographer and Everyman
detests Geography, and in doing so fails to recognise
that he already is a geographer. Geography is then a
directionless, disorienting knowledge. A second
effect is to obscure the usefulness of knowledge.
Whilst Everyman recognises that reading, writing and
arithmetic have a utilitarian value, he does not see
that this could be true of other ‘subjects’, because
the present structure of their teaching bears no clear
relation to human needs. Ivory towers may never have
existed, but the alienation of which the term is a
symptom certainly does. Third, because subjects are
made and taught as theories of an object not of a
practice, they further obscure the possible usefulness of knowledge. This does, of course, fulfil an
ideological function, and the uses to which the subject is put may contradict its own theory. Thus,
whilst economics is presented as the neutral theory
of an object – the economy – outside of and not
including the researcher, it can be and is given a
non-neutral application as the theory of a practice
such as ‘managing the economy’, i.e., managing other
people. And the theory may be useless for certain
economic practices, certain ways of operating on the
‘object’, in which case its claim to neutrality
The effects of the equation of knowledge with
subjects is evident in the stereotyped critical
opposition of everyday philosophy: experience counterposed to theory, practical knowledge to book learning
and so on. The academic researcher is as affected by
the equation as anyone. There may be and often is a
vast disparity between his professional and his
‘personal’ knowledge. Social scientists often don’t
‘see’ how their discipline’s concepts apply to their
own behaviour and how they might be used in understanding or changing it. Freudian psycho~nalysts
seem to provide a notable exception (the~~ey~l~pment of a theory of the analyst’s counter-transference
is evidence for the claim) and it is partly from
Althusser’s sketch of the structure of Freudianism
that I have derived my own theory of the desirable
relation of theory and practice. In the following two
sections I contrast one area of knowledge, P/philosophy
conceived on the one hand as a subject and on the
other as theory and everyday practice.
‘philosophy’ to refer to the subject; and ‘philosophy’
to the alternative).
3. Philosophy as a subject
I studied Philosophy as an undergraduate and graduate
student. In Philosophy as a subject, one of the
things you do is read Great Books, or – more
frequently – bits of Great Books. You read a bit of
Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding dealing
with ‘the Problem of Universals’. In doing so, you
fail to discover at least the following: why Locke
wrote the Essay; what his Problems were; how he
thought his book might be useful (see his own Preface)
how his treatment of universals fits into his overall
approach or paradigm – for it is possible to ‘do
Locke’ yet never discover what that approach is.
Again, you can read (I read) within the context of
writing an Essay. on some Problem the whole of
Descartes’ Discourse on Method without noticing that
it is, among other things, an autobiography (my eyes
were opened here by Kenner), an appeal for funds (?),
a Preface to three other essays (the Dioptrics,
Meteors and.Geometry, themselves described as applic-
ations [essais] of the Method), and a practical
manual. You can even fail to notice the full title
of the work which emphasises the last item on the
list: the Discourse on Method is really a Discourse
on the Method of Rightly Directing One’s Reason and
of seeking Truth in the Sciences (in the original:
Discours de la Methode Pour bien conduire sa raison,
et cherchei la verite tlans les sCiences)8
In general, historical and structural appropriation of a philosopher’s work is obstructed by the way
you are made to read the Great Works, as grist for
the weekly essay mill. More precisely, Locke,
Descartes or whoever are seen as having an a-historical
existence, as occupying’a place (Greek topoi +
English topic) in the eternal architecture of Philosophy. The result is that the young essayist can
only come to the conclusion that Locke oi’Descartes
or whoever was a muddle-headed old fool. For he
didn’t ‘solve’ ‘the Problem’ to the satisfaction of
the latest local contributor to Mind.
For as a Philosophy student you don’t only read
the Great Works like a schoolboy reading Lady
Chatterly’s Lover. You also read the contemporary
journal articles on the Problems of Philosophy.
Usually, you are sent off to read them without having
any idea of any wider perspective in which the Problem
might exist, or why it is important. The journal
article itself will almost certainly have nothing to
say on sue.l matters. In consequence, the Problems and
problem-solving exist for the student in an intellectual and practical vacuum. He can only interpret what
he is doing in the most wretchedly formalistic manner
and, given the context in which he is working, most
likely on the model of a competitive game, in which
you make moves, counter-moves, annihilate an opponent
(this i~ rare) or imitate the style of some Grandmaster (this is common).
The socialisation into a competitive game, whether
theorised as such or not, is probably a more important
ideological function of instruction in Philosophy than
any substantive content or method which is transmitted,
many of which have been well criticised elsewhere.
Most people give up Philosophy when they are given
their BAs; what they do not give up is their fGrmalism
4. Philosophy as theory and practice
In cont’rast to doing Philosophy as a SUbject, I want
to indicate a number of everyday activities which
seem to me paradigmatically philosophical and with
which a conception of philosophy as a theory and a
practice can be generated. These paradigmatic
activities are already engaged in by almost everybody;
they might well be done more frequently, systematically and self-consciously for reasons which the
remainder of this book will try to display.
Consider the following minimal list, comprising
four everyday activities:
– pausing to think;
– querying the truth or reasonableness of an
– answering ‘I don’t know’ when you don’t know;
– asking ‘What do you mean by the word “X”?’
It will be said that this list is trivial. I shall
try to counter this charge by bringing out the significance of these trivial acts in the rest of this
section. The points made below will be returned to
throughout the book.
– pausing to think
To speak ‘without thinking’ is usually, though
not necessarily, to utter a conventional, that is,
predictable, response. The exact form of words may
differ from person to person in the same context, but
the meaning remains invariant. To speak without
thinking implies unselfconsciousness of what one is
saying, its status and even of the very fact of speaking. In Orwell’s theory of Newspeak, duckspeak is
the ideal type of speaking without thinking. Basil
Bernstein has a paper in Class, Codes and Control on
hesitation phenomena as indices of the verbal planning
involved in using social-class correlated
restricted and elaborat~d codes.
speaks of hesitation as being a condition
of lexicon and structural selection in verbal planning and thus for greater appropriateness between the
speech sequences and their referents. Quite aside
from the social-class/code differences with which
Bernstein is concerned (and the significance of such
differences has been challenged: see Coulthard) ,
dominant in the culture in which I live is the demand
to be able to think and act quickly, a demand most
~learly revealed (and success rewarded) in the exam
system. Compare the furious rush to ‘get it all down’
in an exam with the hesitation involved in trying to
mean exactly what one writes when outside an exam
I think that the social premium on quickness
is destructive of accura~e and original thought, and
it is for this reason that I think the little act of
pausing to think is socially significant.
sophical character I try to show later in this
Academics suffer from a variant of the premium on
quickness, namely, the premium on quantity. Academic
success is measured by the volume of articles produced.
No matter how thoughtless they may be, so
long as no one chooses to hold them up for ridicule,
all such articles count.
– querying the truth or reasonableness of an
In many situations, to let an assertion pass
without challenge is to tacitly endorse the truth or
reasonableness of the belief it expresses. Though
it may not imply that you share or agree with the
assertion, to fail to challenge where you do disagree may suggest to the speaker that you do not
know how to challenge the assertion, and this may be
Gnough to convince him that his position is
Of course, there are often conventional reasons
for not challenging an assertion with which you disagree and sometimes they are good reasons. There are
unwritten, context-specific rules of conversational
etiquette which, for example, keep families from
becoming scientific battlegrounds. There are also
therapeutic situations in which listening to the
patient without challenging him is a condition of
successful therapy, though the therapy may however
involve getting the patient to challenge his own
But there are important considerations
about the appropriateness of all these rules, the
circumstances in which they should be overridden and
the definitions of (for example) therapeutic situations. Further, as indicated above, it is not the
case that people always challenge assertions even
when the conventions give them the right to do so.
Things turn into their opposites, and whilst
failure to challenge an assertion may sometimes be
taken to confirm it and strengthen the conviction
with which it is held, a general policy of not
challenging assertions serves to invalidate them and
their utterers, especially when a mechanism operates
of tacitly converting claims to knowledge (which must
be true or false) into expressions of opinion (which
are neither). There is a sort of conversational
liberalism or positivism which devalues what people
are saying and the status which they might give to
In the light of such considerations as the above,
I think that the activity of ‘querying the truth or
reasonableness of an assertion’ should not go without
– answering ‘I don’t know’ when you don’t know
In Teaching as a Subversive Activity, Neil
Postman and Charles \1eingartner go so far as to
recorrunend that teachers reply ‘I don’t know’ even
where they do know the answer to a student’s question.
their object is to get teachers to change from being
people who convey discrete bits of information into
people who teach the skills needed to carry out
information search and retrieval. They want to
encourage cognitive self-sufficiency (even if
collective rather than traditionally individual) and
discourage reliance on Authority.
Outside of school, most people seldom have nothing
substantive to say in answer to a question,IQ not
because they know but because they would rather guess
at an answer than say ‘I don’t know’ or more helpfully ‘I don’t know, try ….. In different circumstances, I’m sure there are different reasons for the
premium put on being able to give an answer: in quiz
prograrrunes, it’s money I
In general, I would say we
are too quick to give an answer because that is what
is socially demanded.
It is not some psychological
weakness which is to be held responsible.
It is significant when people give an answer when
really they don’t know, because they create an illusion of knowledge, which at the collective level may
function as a real obstacle to understanding.
– asking ‘\1ha t do you mean by the word “X”?’
In a society in which knowledge competes with
wealth as the supreme conventional value, ignorance
becomes more and more difficult to admit and puzzlement is no longer an admirable state of mind. The
illiterate go to vast lengths to cover up their
illiteracy, and more and more people claim fictitious
‘0’ and ‘A’ level successes; some actually buy a
PhD from a box number in Private Eye. To an assertion
containing a problematic word it is not usual to
respond with a request for clarification; you assume
that you ought to understand and thus conversations
can go on in which key words are bandied about in
different senses of which no one seems aware. Worse,
the introduction of words not in the vocabulary of
undergraduate textbooks makes supposedly educated
people feel threatened. Rather than ask for clarification, they resent the speaker and uncritically treat
any such word as unnecessary jargon. In consequence,
they are unable to learn anything new or think anything dangerous, let alone allow other individuals
If the reader of this book
comes across a word he doesn’t know, will he fume at
the author or get down from the shelf hts dictionary?
(I think that for an educated person, the nonpossession of a good dictionary is as good a sign
as any of intellectual hubris.
Philosophy students are specially instructed in
asking questions about the meaning of words, but this
does not always produce a good result. For the
question can cease to be asked as a genuine one, as
an expression of a desire to understand. It comes to
assert plenitude rather than want, fixed in the
mythic function 11 of connoting to the hearer that the
speaker knows how to do Philosophy.
Yet the original emphasis on asking questions
about the meaning of words remains, in my view, valid
and important, though I do not accept the notion that
generally accompanies such an emphasis, namely that
the meaning of a word should remain the same
throughout a given discourse.
But that is by the way.
What do the above four activities have in corrunon
that makes me want to call them ‘philosophical’? It
is that they are all in their paradigmatic uses,
means of promoting the reasonableness and truth of
assertion, belief and argument, of which understanding
what is said is a presupposition.
If a non-institu-‘
tional philosophy or an institutional Radical
Philosophy wants a starting point, then I offer it
as a model the kind of everyday philosophical intervention which I have briefly characterised.
I should like to propose a philosophical practice
whose scope might be defined in a formula as that of
reflecting on one’s own thought and discourse and
intervening in discourse and thereby in social relationships from the point of view of promoting the
truth of what is thought and said; the rationality of
thought, discourse and action; and the conditions of
possibility of these things. As well as those four
activities listed above, philosophical activity could
include such political and practical things as leaf-
letting a meeting or operating a Trades Description
The conception of a philosophical practice can
itself be subsumed under a more general conception of
communicational practice as concerned with promoting
(1) the conditions for and actuality of ‘appropriate’
reciprocal emission and reception of messages and
(2) the adequacy of the codes used in such messages.
Thus, for example, one could have – and does have practices concerned with the expression of feelings.
The psychotherapy of neurosis is a good example of
helping someone find and use a code appropriate for
what it is that they wish to express but have been
stopped from doing. Thus, if a wish gets expressed
in an unintelligible hysterical symptom, it must be
translated into a code intelligible to the patient. 12
Only in this way does it become operable – e.g. can
catharsis take place.
Such practices need not be carried on by professionals or in separate and watertight compartments.
the psychotherapist can also be a philosopher.
Perhaps he should be. 13
In this book, I shan’t
confine myself just to the development of the theory
of a philosophical practice, which is why I use
‘communication’ rather than ‘philosophy’ in the title
of this book.
Of course, both the existing and my proposed
everyday philosophical practice inevitably perform
functions other than the promotion of reason and truth.
A major difficulty with the practice I have suggested
is precisely whether one could engage in it without
inevitably doing other things which contradict the
philosophical impulse toward reason and truth.
Especially, can the enterprise avoid becoming one in
which those who know or think they know dominate
those who don’t know, don’t think they know or can’t
successfully assert that they do? I shall be arguing
that a whole range of existing communicational
activities make people ignorant, mystified, repressed
and unfree. Can the philosophical or more generally
communicational practices which I want to promote be
part of collective and democratic, that is, nondominating endeavours? It all depends on who takes
part and how. In the next section of this chapter,
I try to show how I see the ideas of this book in the
context of my own political beliefs. But before I do
that there is one major question which should perhaps
be confronted now.
Paul Feyerabend asks the question ‘Can the
abstract aim to come closer to the truth be reached
in an entirely rational manner, or is it perhaps
inaccessible to those who decide to rely on argument
I am convinced by Feyerabend’s own work that
this question has to be answered in the negative, if
by ‘in an entirely rational manner’ is meant the
sticking to Aristotelian or any other logic as the
sole heuristic device. There are many more patterns
of discovery than are dreamt of in logic. But what
can remain, even in the maverick remark or action, is
the impulse toward truth, and this Feyerabend has not
yet (to my knowledge) challenged. When Feyerabend
uses a maverick device it is with an educational
intent; he uses it to get his audience or reader to
see things in a radically different perspective, and
this is something attempted in all revolutionary
If I provide no canon of rules for the
conduct of the practice I have proposed it is because
I share Feyerabend’s position. But this does not
entail that one abandons the pursuit of useful knowledge; only that one will pursue it in many different
ways, the development of which would only be stunted
by the laying down of rules.
5. The politics of this philosophy
By 1969 I thought I was a revolutionary socialist and
was a graduate student in search of a thesis topic.
I was engaged in student politics (where the key issue
was the University’s complicity in imperialism),
living for a while in a North London commune, trying
and failing to do some community work, and doing some
adult education teaching. I believed that the material
conditions were ripe for a socialist revolution and
that the system was held together by little else but
bourgeois ideology. But since I was trying to engage
in day-to-day contact with people who were not for
the most part self-conscious revolutionaries, my
intellectual interest focused not so much on structural features of ideologic~l thought, or on the means
of its transmission, but more on the hold which
ideology had on individuals or, equally, on the way
in which they held to ideology. In this context, it
was unsurprising that my research supervisor,
Professor Richard Wollheim, should suggest that work
on my thesis-to-be-written should proceed under the
title ‘False Consciousness’. Of course, since I was
a PhD student in Philosophy, I was meant to get on
with a conceptual rather than a substantive analysis,
and the impossibility or emptiness of doing such a
thing is one reason why this book exists and not a
thesis shelved in the Library of the University of
London. In any case, this book refocusses the problem of consciousness in a communicational perspective.
The most important point I should like to make is
that my work has proceeded under the pressure of
political impulses. I do not now know what it would
be like to write a ‘disinterested’ work.
In 1968-9 I read most of the available work of
Herbert Marcuse and, reading back I see that many of
the ideas worked out in the chapters which follow
derive from those of One Dimensional Man and the
essay on Repressive ‘l.’olerance. In particular, there
are the Orwellian themes of the ‘closure of the
universe of discourse’; the themes of lexical,
syntactic, semantic and pragmatic pathology in the
uses of language (themes which Marcuse seems to
develop from the work of Karl Kraus 16 ); and the reformulation of a theory of repressive tolerance.
Most generally, what I think I take from or share
with Marcuse is the concern to establish the noneconomic context within which radical or revolutionary
discourse can be effective. I see the philosophical
practice proposed in section 4 above as one of the
means of realising such a context.
Similar themes to those of Marcuse appear in the
work of George steiner. 17 though the politica~ perspective is different
and his concern is with high
culture, whereas Marcuse’s (as also my own) is mainly
with face to face interaction and the relation of the
mass media to their audiences.
I no longer believe that all the obstacles to
revolutionary change are ideological, even when
‘ideological’ has the very broad sense it has been
given in recent Marxist work, for example, in
Althusser’s essay on the ideological state apparatuses. IS And I think my project can escape the charge
of idealism (in the Marxist sense). For I am not
going to say that the world can be changed by converting the majority of (abstract) ‘people’ to general
ideas upon which they then proceed to act. What I
shall say is that unless certain channels of communication are open, and used in certain ways, within
those groups capable of bringing about social change,
and unless certain forms of communication between
rulers and ruled are stopped, disrupted or combatted
then radical and revolutionary groups will not be able
to expand their active base among the relevant groups,
nor will organised large scale action be possible.
This has nothing to do with improving the ‘dialogue’
between rulers and ruled. That ‘dialogue’ can only
be broken off as of no use to the ruled!9
does have to do with are differences between revolutionaries and ‘ordinary’ people in cognitive and
linguistic behaviour (as also other behaviours) some
of which differences make the former ineffectual and
serve to maintain the latter in exploited and
oppressed positions, and all of which are obstacles
to revolutionary social change.
6. Rationalism, conservative Bc radical
Perhaps I can make my position clearer on a number of
issues raised so far by outlining what I take to be
features of an implicit theory of Establishment
rationalism and by stating criticisms and alternatives, in particular criticisms to show how the theory
can’t or doesn’t work in practice for radicals and
revolutionaries, though it tells them that they can
use the procedures it specifies to achieve their
Here is a list of features of what I take to be
– that everyone is interested to discover the
– that T/truth will out in the dialectic of
– that everyone can contribute to this argument
– that where the T/truth is practical, men will
act upon it to bring about the situation which
accords with their needs, interests etc and
that if only they are a majority there are no
institutional obstacles to their bringing
about this accord.
shall examine each of these features in turn, but
first I must indicate what are the different meaning
I attribute to ‘Truth’ with a capital T and ‘truth’
with a small t.
– Truth and truth
reject the position that there is a single
Truth in favour of the idea that there is no Truth,
that is to say, I adopt a relatavist position.
use ‘Truth’ to refer to absolute Truth, and ‘truth’
to refer to truth established relative to a given set
of conventional rules – rules which may always be
and sometimes are, incommensurable and untimately unjustifiable by reference to any higher order set of
A few pages back I defined a practice of philosophy in terms of the promotion of reason and truth,
and this is consistent with my relativism because
the i~junction ‘pursue truth’ and my assertion
‘There is no Truth’ are made at different levels.
Ivhilst I do not believe that there is “.n absolute
Truth, it is clear that – of necessity – all societies have conventional rules for assigning truth to
propositions, and when I urge ‘pursue truth’ I use
‘truth’ (without a capital) in this conventional sense.
But it may then be further objected that this position
is a rather conservative one for a suposed radical
If there is no Truth, why not throw
away conventional logical rules and language, as do
surrealists, dadaists and schizophrenics? Ivould this
not be more revolutionary?
‘ly responses to this objection are ad hominem.
First, that surrealists, dadaists and schizophrenics
have never been able to build up a political movement,
or even convert people to their way of life.
that the possibilities of ‘working within the system’
should not in this area be underestimated. Consider
the following two instances of changes which might be
effected through restricting oneself to the rules which
conventionally define rationality and truth:
At the level of isolated truths, consider that a
person may at one moment express a belief in the sovereignty of British political institutions and at
another speak of the determination of policy by the
US government or international financial institutions.
ny conventional logical standards and given the conventional meaning of terms, not both of the propositions can be simultaneously true.
In an argument one
could demonstrate their inconsistency and seek to get
a person to choose the more justifiable of them.
Note that one of the propositions embodies a conventional principle or definition which one might learn
at school, and the other an empirical (or quasiempirical) counter-instance which one might pick up
from reading the right newspapers or the vrong news;Japers in the right kind of vay.
I think this structure of a principle contradicted by evidence is fairly
common in people’s political consciousness and also
important: if the principles dominate consciousness,
they may prevent a person from noticing counterinstances; and if the counter-instances are spotted
but no alternative principles are available, the
person may become cynical, confused or apathetic,
for a cr~s~s in a political belief system need not
be resolved in the way scientific crises typically
In science, a paradigm shift21 will
sooner or later occur, whereas in a political belief
system the paradigm may simply disintegrate. A
person can more easily give up on politics than a
scientist can on science, for the latter risks losing
his job, his reputation or both if he does give up.
A person who gives up on politics seems to risk
The above example concerns beliefs inconsistent
in terms of the logical ‘processing mechanism’ which
is accepted for use in evaluating consistency etc.
But what of the processing mechanism itself? Can
this, or parts of it, be challenged internally?
Consider the following example:
The reason for admitting memorx as a ground for a
claim to knowledge is that it is reliable.
a right to say ‘I know she was wearing a green jacket’
if you can truly say ‘I remember she was wearing a
Invoking memory allows one to pass
through one of the gates which are placed on the path
to justified knowledge claims.
But memory is not a
fixed, invariable capacity, the same for all individuals in all times and places.
Suppose one had empirical evidence to show that, as a result of developments
in the media of communication, or geographical or
social mobility, that people’s memories were getting
Though this claim may itself be entered
using the existing memory-criterion, it could be used
as a ground for arguing the need for a change in the
memory criterion itself. The philosopher could say:
for a large class of cases, we now need not merely a
memory claim, but a Diary entry to vindicate the
knowledge claim, if knowledge claims are to serve the
purpose for which they are intended by us.
State might have different ideas about the purpose of
knowledge claims; Winston Smith, the hero of 1984,
commi ts a crime in keeping a Diary. For Harold l’Jilson,
part of his power rests on the fact that a veek in
politics is a long time – i.e. that people forget.)
In summary, I think this memory example does illust-rate how part of the knowledge processing mechanism
can be challenged internally.
However, the. critique
which follows seems to me to be independent of a
decision between absolute and relative T/truth.
Readers who reject my personal relativism are not in
consequence obliged to reject the critique which
– the interest in T/truth assumption
Texts like J S ‘lill’s On Liberty tend to as~ume
that ‘men’ in general vant to know the T/truth. ~1i11
argues that if some men are silenced, this is not
because they are believed to have found out the truth
but becausE’ they are believed to be wrong.
this assumption plausible? That is, is it a guide to
reality? As evidence against the plausibility of the
assumption, consider how there are not only situations
in which those in power suppress information about
themselves, but more widespread phenomena of disregard
of one’s own logical standards (irrationalism
properly speaking), large scale self-deception, and
even simple lack of curiosity: people do not want to
know and in extreme cases shut themselves off to an
extraordinary degree: they switch off the TV when the
news comes on, they don’t read newspapers, they taboo
(like the Army) political and religious discussion.
In short, they try not to think about things.
If people do not want to know, there is little
point in trying to conduct with them rational argument leading to positive conclusions at least until
the necessary preliminary task of explaining and
overcoming the ‘negative orientation’ towards knowledge has been accomplished. >”y own feeling is that
not wanting to know is closely connected to feelings
of powerlessness, themselves to be explained by the
real powerlessness most people experience.
to know may, symmetrically with this situation, only
become established as people discover the possibility
of changing the world in changing it, in the discovery
of their mm strength and the recognition of repressed
It is not knowledge which makes people feel
free; it is more likely that struggling for freedom
makes people want and need knowledge. 22
It is not always necessary to eliminate the cause
in order to eliminate the effect; not all situations
are symmetrical in this way. Thus, for example, to
come by a belief irrationally – i.e., by ignoring
one’s own cognitive standards – does not entail that
one is not now amenable to rational argument with
respect to it. 23 After all, to come by a belief
irrationally (as opposed to non-rationally) is to
ignore rules which one possesses and the authority of
which one in some sense acknowledges: this is perhaps
why people make great efforts to rationalise after
the event beliefs they have come by irrationally.
Similarly, self-deception can only occur in people
who have a commitment to being reasonable but where
reasonableness is over-ridden by a conflicting force,
usually the prospect of pain: knowledge is avoided
because it threatens suffering.
In cases where the
suffering cannot be mitigated or removed, I don’t
see why knowledge should be defended at all costs.
For example, it seems to me a defensible position not
to tell people that they are suffering from incurable
diseases. But in practice, I think we avoid knowledge
in cases where the suffering is eliminable. For
example, if we reify the social order – that is to
regard it as unchangeable – they we may avoid knowing
about its defects. And even if we don’t reify society,
we may still avoid knowledge – and is this justifiable? One could pose a general question in these or
similar terms: does Bad Faith have any rights? That
is to say, in what circumstances if any is the avoidance of knowledge to be treated as legitimate, that
is, free from sanction? My own position is that where
another person’s refusal to know affects the prospects
of my happiness and freedom, I have a right to try to
make him know. That is to say, I can legitimately
impose sanctions upon him for his refusal to know,
though only – of course – if those sanctions are
effective as a means to getting him to know.
– the ‘T/truth will out’ and free access
If people don’t want to know, truth will out in
arglment purely by chance. Even if they do want to
know, it only seems plausible to think that the truth
will Ollt if everyone who has something to say can say
Here I share the classical liberal position. But
in that position it tends to be assumed that because
everyone has the legal right to speak the condition
of access is fulfilled.
But quite aside from the
existing multitude of legal, quasi-legal, and conventional impediments to free speech, the assumption
based on legal freedom is clearly unrealistic, especially in the age of the mass media.
Vf1at is required
is that everyone with something to say can actually
say it, effectively as well as without fear, and
this means that the media of communication must be
open and available and not only that a vast number of
sanctions must be got rid of.
In Mill’s On Liberty what strikes me forcibly is
the relative insensitivity to the vast problem of the
social distribution of the possibilities of contributing to debate and discussion. This cannot be put down
simply to his having written before the age of the
mass media, which have forced an awareness of this
problem upon us.
In my opinion, the omission results
from the peculiar ideological nature of ~ill’s project: Mill’s interests were particularistic: he wished
to defend the freedom of thought and expression
specifically of intellectuals in opposition to the
masses (by which he means the middle classes 24 ), in
order that the intellectuals could have a directing
role in public affairs. But Mill couched his particularistic interests in universal terms; yet a
properly universalistic treatment would require much
closer attention to the problem I have indicated.
To achieve some sort of equality of access to
means of communication requires political action of a
sort which may mean that the desired situation cannot
be brought about independently of much broader social
change: for example, can the question of access to
the means of communication be separated from questions
about media ownership and legal constraints on the
freedom to broadcast and receive? I think not.
Prior to any such radical changes of ownership and
contrcl being achieved, one has to ask what can be
done in a situation of inequality of access to
maximise the possibility of truth emerging. Nany
radical students came to the conclusion in 1968-70
that the denial of freedom of expression to individuals
and groups and disrupting the workings of certain
media, might be the most effective means of maximising
the possibilities of reason and truth prevailing.
This position is only paradoxical if it is assumed
tha t the necessary background conc-,i tions for free and
equal debate are fulfilled.
The radical argument was
meant to cope with the si tua tion in whi,~h they are
Finally, let me note that there are situations in
which because of cognitive or linguistic deprivation
some people can’t have anything to say on some subjects, just as skill deprivation means that some
people can’t say effectively what they want to say,
and are thus even more clearly excluded from the Great
Debate out of which Truth is supposed to emerge.
– the unity of theory and practice assumption
It is difficult to prove that, where someone
knows how to satisfy a need in a situation where there
appears to be no conflicting, overriding need, failure
to act to satisfy the need is to be explained in terms
of weakness of will or apathy.
Isn’t it usually the
case that the person estimates the probability of
success relatively low and the risks of things going
unpleasantly wrong relatively high and thus, quite
rationally, does not act. This is the iclea which
lies behind the claim that the workers have much more
to lose than their chains.
But what would you say of a person who prefers a
situation of present misery to action he knows would
probably bring about a better situation with very
little risk involved? I can think, for example, that
though he knows what is required, he does not know
how to go about it. Again, might it be that “the’
desire for security is so great that he has what
economists call ‘high risk aversion’.
But might not
such an aversion eventually become pathological that is, dysfunctional for his survival? You have
to take risks to avoid risks. 25
Even where some
‘men’ do act to transform social reality, other ‘men’
may oppose them and even though a minority, may be
If on no other ground, the conventional theory of rationalism founders on the brute
fact of class society.
In summary, what I have tried to indicate in this
section are some of the ways in whic.h philosophical,
educational or political w;rk which based itself on
the four assumptions listed at the beginning of the
preceding discussion would founder, simply because
reality does not correspond to the assumptions. On
the other hand, what I have not done is to counterpose
reliance on History to reliance on Argument. Rather,
I have – if indirectly – tried to indicate the sort
of space in which a philosophical, educational or
political practice could operate effectively.
Marxist terms, I have been trying to find a path
between the opposites of voluntarism (the Establishment and activist positions are voluntarist ones) and
mechanism (historical inevitability). The third
thesis on Feuerbach which I quoted remains the
surest signpost to such a path.
7. Concluding remarks
These opening sections should indicate some of the
main areas and themes of this book and some of the
reasons why I think them important enough to write
about. The reader will already have noticed that my
style of argument and writing leaves many imprecis-.
ions, gaps and unanswered questions.
Some of these
are deliberately there.
I believe in trying to create
an ‘open’ discourse which the reader must criticise,
contribute to, engage with and interpret as she is
reading – and not just afterwards.
I don’t want her
to be confronted with a Final solution to a given
Problem which she can forget, confident that somewhere it exists, or which she can memorise for an
It is also true that in trying to work outside a
subject, I assemble by discourse from concepts and
techniques out of different disciplines.
process of bricolage (doing a job as an amateur, using
whatever happens to be around) I only hope it is
something useful I am creating and not a myth, for
Levi-Strauss tells us that myths are created in the
same way as I am working.
There are, of course, non-theoretical reasons
for the structure of this book. There are my own
intellectual limitations, and laziness. There are the
far.ts of daily life, too, such as that this chapter
was drafted in between knocks at the front door from
members of a village Youth Club, bringing in what
they have scavenged for their jumble sale.
it is important to avoin doing without such eruptions
of daily life, at least, most of the time.
that are more sinisterly reductive. And arguments
against that sort of role-reduction aren’t easily
acceptable in the way that arguments against
So I don’t accept your generalisation,
“every act reproduces or subverts a given social
institution, which means that every act is
political”; but then that’s a wide and familiar
generalisation which you could have reached from
many other places.’
Going to the lavatory can be full of meaning.
See Esterson, A., The Leaves of Spring:
Schizophrenia, Family and Sacrifice, Penguin,
London, 1972, especially Chapter 8. David Riley
wrote ‘I think you’ve missed the main point,
which isn’t the aetiology of what’s “natural”,
or whether or not some learning has been involved
It’s more important that “the spontaneous”
and “the natural” are both extremely”and transparently bourgeois categories. Look at who uses
them and who has used them (e.g. which manufacturers of Hitlerjugend ideologies or shampoos .•. )’
Heath, S., The Nouveau Roman, Paul Black, London,
Denise Riley corrects me: ‘Rhetoric is, classically, the art of organisation of verbal material,
and so could include reading – and would have, in
its original scholastic sense.’
The themes of this and the following paragraphs
recur more fully in my ‘The Making of a Course
Critic’ in Hard Cheese No.2, May 1973.
See Gellner, E., Words and Things, Penguin, London,
1968; Marcuse, H., One Dimensional Man, Sphere
Books, London, 1968, (especially Chapter 7);
Adelstein, D., ”’The Philosophy of Education” or
the ‘1isdom and Wit of R. S. Peters’ in Pateman, T.,
,(ed.), Counter Course:’ A Handbook for Course
Criticism, Penguin, London, 1972; and the journal
——- — – – – –
The concept of ‘taken-for-grantedness’ plays an
important part in phenomenological sociology (s~e,
notavly, Berger, P. and Luckmann, T., The Social
Construction of Reality, Allen Lane the Penguin
Press, London, 1967).
‘Reification’ is a central
concept of the early work of George Lukacs (see
Lukacs, G., History and Class Consciousness,
r-1erlin Press, London, 1971; an important critical
article dealing with Marx’s use of the concept is
Geras, N., ‘Essence and Appearance: Aspects of
Fetishism in Marx’s Capital’ in New Left Review,
still the best discussion of the worker and his
work is in ~1arx, K., Economic and Philosophic
Manuscripts of 1844, ed. D. J. Struik, Lawrence
and Wishart, London, 1970. An important recent
sociological study is Goldthorpe, J., Lockwood,
D., et aI, The Affluent Worker, Cambridge
University Press, 3 vols.
Both Carole Pateman and Denise Riley have queried
the truth of this assertion.
Perhaps, then, what
follows is merely self-criticism.
I use ‘mythic’ here in the sense it has in Roland
Barthes’ theory of myth, as roughly equivalent to
(See Barthes, R., Mythologies,
Jonathan Cape, London, 1972, second part, ‘Myth
The opposition denotation/connotation
is forcefully criticised by Baudrillard, J., Pour
une critique de le’economie politique du Signe,
Gallimard, Paris, 1972.
See, for example, Breuer, J. and Freud, S.,
Studies in Hysteria, translated by A. A. Brill,
Beacon Press, Boston, 1964.
See Pateman, T., ‘Sanity, Madness and the Problem
of Knowledge’ in Radical Philosophy 1, Jan 1972.
See Feyerabend, P., ‘Against Method’, in
Minnesota Studies for the Philosophy of Science
Vol.4, 1970 (especially p80).
Cf. Marx on appearance and reality: ‘Scientific
truth is always paradox, if ‘judged by everyday
experience, which catches only the delusive
appearance of things’. Marx, K. and Engels, F.,
Selected f~orks, Laurence and Wishart, London,
On Kraus, whose work is not available in English,
see especially Janik, A. and Toulmin, S.,
Wittgenstein’s Vienna, Wiedenfeld and Nicolson,
steiner, G., Language and Silence, Penguin,
London, 1969; Extra-Territorial, Faber & Faber,
London, 1972; In Bluebeard’s Castle, Faber & Faber,
‘Vous voulez aller
la foi, et vous n’en savez
pas le chemin … apprenez de ceux qui ent ete
lies comme vous, et qui parient maintenant tout
leur bien … Suivez la maniere par ou ils ont
commence: c’est en faisant tout comme s’ils
croyaient, en prenant de l’eau benite, en
faisant dire des messes, etc.
meme cela vous f~it croire et vous abetiera.’
Pascal, Pensee 233.
But note the following from Denise Riley’ s
comments on a draft of this chapter: ‘About
~he effects of the women’s movement.
You say that
fewer men can now unselfconsciously refer to
But I don’t think that’s true.
experience precisely the people who talk about
“chicks” and “bits of stuff” go on doing so,
because women’s liberation consciousness doesn’t
reach these areas and these people … You say
“he may lose more of his chauvinism in giving up
‘outward’ chauvinist practices than is entailed
by that giving up alone” and you quote Pascal.
But what do you base that supposition on, apart
from a natural and excusable optimism? I feel
the forms of chauvinism or any other social
nastiness are endlessly changeable and can endlessly recuperate any inroads. That’s my
So it happens that because of where
I am socially/politically, I don’t end up in the
“chick” box; but being called a “feminist” or
even “an unsupported mother” can function in ways
The following two quotations are from
‘But one ought not to forget the profoundly disturbing increase of actual illiteracy on the world
scale. The latest UNESCO estimate puts at almost
half of the world total that number of primary
school children who drop out before attaining
literacy.’ (p160, my italic).
‘A society with few private libraries and a
sharply diminishing readership (a survey conducted
in 1969 concludes that the per capita consumption
of books in France is of the order of one per year)
(pp166-7 – first italics mine). Now it is
elementary that you cannot prove or even illustrate
that something is increasing or decreasing with a
non-comparative statistic. Perhaps Steiner has
commi tted a crass logical error, but I ‘.10uld be
surprised that he should do so twice in the space
of a half dozen pages. Morely likely to me is that
Steiner is working with a suppressed premise that
if things look bad in the present, they were better
in the past. The enthymenic arguments quoted
above are not then illogical. It is just that the
suppressed premise, which defines a myth of a
Golden Past, is false.
See Althusser, L., Lenin and Philosophy, New Left
Books, London, 1971, pp12l-l73.
Cf., in a different context, Feyerabend’s remark
(Feyerabend, P., op. cit., pIll, fn.5l):
‘ •.• the current infatuation with “syntheses”
and “dialogues” which are defended in the spirit
of tolerance and understanding can only lead to
an end to all tolerance and understanding. To
defend a “synthesis” by reference to tolerance
means that one is not prepared to tolerate a view
that does not show an admixture of one’s o~~ pet
prejudices. To invite to a “dialogue” by
reference to tolerance means inviting one to
state one’s views in a less radical and therefore
mostly less clear way.’ What Feyerabend does not
say (as he should, following, as he does, Mill:
see Mill, J. S., ‘On Liberty’ in Utilitarianism,
ed. M. Warnock, Fontana Books, London, 1962, pp
pp18l-3) is that it is those in the one-down,
less powerful position who will have to do the
real compromising in any ‘dialogue’.
Cf. the theory that says that anyone can achieve
their ends through the liberal democratic system
and should only attempt to do so through that
system. For part of the critique of such a
theory, see Miliband, R., The state in Capitalist
Society, Wiedenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1969,
and Bachrach, P. and Baratz, M. S., Power and
Poverty, Oxford University Press, NY, 1970.
On paradigm shifts, see Kuhn, T. M., The
Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edition,
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1970.
‘The materialist doctrine concerning the changing
of circumstances and education forgets that
circumstances are changed by men and that the
educator must himself be educated. This doctrine
has therefore to divide society into two parts,
one of which is superior to society…
coincidence of the changing of circumstances and
of human activity, or self-changing, can only be
grasped and rationally understood as revolutionary
(Bottomore, T. B. and Rubel, M. (eds.)
Karl Marx: Selected Writings in Sociology and
Social Philosophy, Penguin, London, 1963). Cf.
Lukacs: ‘the proletariat always aspires towards
the truth ••. But the aspiration only yields the
possibility. The accomplishment can only be the
fruit of the conscious deeds of the proletariat. ‘
(Lukacs, G., History and Class Consciousness,
Merlin Press, London, 1971, pp72-3).
Therefore I disagree with Marx: ‘all forms and
products of consciousness cannot be dissolved by
mental criticism but only by the practical overthrow of the actual social relations which give
rise to this idealistic memory.’
(Marx, K. and
Engels,.F., The German Ideology, Laurence and
Wishart, London, p50).
Mill writes that ‘the masses’ have their thinking
done for them ‘by men much like themselves,
addressing them or speaking in their name, on
the spur of the moment, through the newspapers.’
(Mill, J. S., ‘On Liberty’ in Utilitarianism,
ed. M. Warnock, Fontana Books, London, 1962, p195.)
Cf. Wilhelm Reich: ‘We assert categorically that
the fundamental problem for a correct psychological approach is not why a hungry man steals, but
why he doesn’t steal’ (Reich, W., what is Class
Consciousness?, Socialist Reproduction, London,
1971, 125). Slater writes: ‘Most Americans still
just want to go about their business and ignore
the problems of their society, and are willing to
pay a very heavy price to be able to do so.’
(Slater, P., The Pursuit of Loneliness, AlIen Lane
the Penguin Press, London, 1971, ppi65-6.)
The root cause of
our troubles and disasters …
To the Editor, MIND
On the 6th of April of this year the British Institute
of Philosophy came of age. Founded under the late
Lord Balfour, its Council has been throughout composed
of leading representatives, not only of philosophy,
but also of science, of politics, and of industry and
commerce. For twenty-one years the Institute has
been active in promoting the purposes for which it was
founded – to serve as a link between philosophers and
the everyday world, and to spread such general understanding as can be reached of the universe in which we
live and of man’s place in it. There have been continuous courses of lectures for students on the
various branches of philosophy and popular addresses
on fundamental issues, drawing large audiences and
evoking discussion. Local branches have been formed
in several cities. Philosophy, the quarterly journal
of the Institute, contains articles by writers of
distinction on the great philosophical questions, as
well as reviews by specialists of the important new
books on such subjects, published in this or other
countries. The journal enjoys a considerable circulation outside the membership and beyond our own shores.
There must be great numbers of men and women, in
all walks of life, who recognise that our age is a
time of intellectual and moral confusion, and that
this is the root cause of its troubles and disasters.
Some may take refuge in a passive and futile pessimism; others may be tempted to plunge into some
desperate kind of revolutionary action, more likely to
make things still worse. To build up a body of
positive, instead of merely critical, thought, as a
base for well·-considered constructive action in the
spheres of morals, of politics and of economics is
the only right course. In this a leading part should
be played by British philosophy, which has won much
distinction in the past, and may render still greater
service in the future, in formulating thought and
linking it with action. But an organization is needed
to furnish a platform for discussion and to dissemin~
ate ideas. The British Institute of Philosophy is
such an organisation. What is now necessary is a
reinforcement of its numbers as a means to reinvigorating its action.
W. D. ROSS (Chairman)
LINDSAY OF BIRKER (Deputy Chairman)
from Mind, October 1946