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Ordinary Language

immediately; he cannot see it, as it were, face
to face •.• Instead of dealing with the things
themselves man is in a sense constantly conversing with himself. He has so enveloped himself in
linguistic forms, in artistic images, in mythical
symbols or religious rites that he cannot see or
know anything except by the interposition of this
artificial medium.

(An Essay on Man, pp24-25)
As the basic concepts of science are obtained by a
synthesising act of the mind, so,’ Cass,irer goes on
to argue, that synthesisirig activity of the mind
determines all types of knowledge. Our concepts,
in whatever field, are man-created intellectual
symbols by means of which experiential contexts are
established.

Natorp of the Marburg school had stressed that
particulars do not remain isolated but are merged
into a context determined and defined by causal
interrelations. Cassirer extends this, holding
that the causal mode of integration is but one of
many possible modes. ‘Objectification’ is achieved
and the particular is fused into a context by many
means other than logical concepts and laws of
logical relations. Art, mythology and religion
are all held by Cassirer to exemplify those other
possible types of integration – but they do not
merely reflect an empirically ‘given’. All constitute their ‘objects’, their ‘world’ in conformity
with some independent principle of integration.

Each creates its own symbolic forms, forms which
are not of the same type as the symbols of science
but which, nevertheless, are epistemologically
equivalent to them, coming as they do from the same
sources. N~ one of these differing types of symbols
can be fully represented by any other, nor can it
be translated into or derived from any other.

These types of symbols are not to be regarded as
different ways in which the one and same ‘thing-initself’ reveals itself to us – rather, they are
modes whereby the mind achieves its ‘objectification’

of experience. Kant’s ‘Copernican Revolution’ then,
has to be extended to all spheres. The validity
of each approach cannot be derived from an object,
for that object presupposes the symbolic activity
and is constituted by it. There is no realm of
absolute fact serving as an immutable datum. What

we call fact is always theoretically orientated in
some way, $een in regard to some context and implicitly determined thereby. Theoretical elements
do not somehow become added to a ‘merely factual’

but they enter into the constitution of the factual
itself.

Cassirer published a number of works on the history
of philosophy, notably those on the Renaissance and
the Enlightenment, and in his more systematic works
he makes extensive forays into the history of philosophy. Criticism has been levelled at Cassirer on
the lines that his approach to the history of
philosophy is limited by his overriding concern
for the idea of symbolic form. SUch criticism is
certainly justified about his last work, The Myth
of the state, written in 1945, in which Cassirer
tried to offer some critical light on the theories
that allowed the rise of National Socialism in
Germany in the ‘305. Here, Cassirer’s concern with
man’s symbolic activity shapes his whole analysis
of political thought. He argues that man by his
symbolic activity creates his world, and that any
attempts t6regard symbolic worlds as absolute
realities, beyond critical discussion and change,
constitutes a denial and evasion of man’s proper
freedom. If The Myth of the State is seen as a
history of political thought then there are obvious deficiencies but the work does reveal
Cassirer’s fundamental concern: to show that what
is offered as ‘fact’ or ‘reality’ is but one of
many possibilities, and that symbolic thought
endows man witQ the ability to constantly reshape
his human universe.

Bibliographical Note
Cassirer’s most important work is the Philosophy
of Symbolic Forms. The English translation has a
useful introduction to the work of Cassirer by
C.W. Heldel (in vol.l). Cassirer also write An
Essay on Man (New Haven, 1944) as an introduction
to his thought for English readers.

For a full bibliography to 1964, consult H.J.

Paton and R. Kiblansky (eds) , Philosophy and
History’, Essays presented to Ernst Cassirer. NY,
1964. For a more comprehensive and criticalappreci~
tion.of the significance of·1 his workc:onsult P.A.” Schflpp
(ed) , The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer, NY, 1949.’

Ordinary Language
and Radical Philosophy
Vincent di Norcia
Prior to the task of educating the workers,

peasants
al polarization of Moore’s common (?) sense to
and soldiers, there is the task of learning from them.1 Russell!s logicist scientism. While the debate bel
tween ordinary and ideal language models is a histoMao Tse-Tung
rical fact, philosophically it constitutes a pseudo.

.,
problem. There is no real dilemma. The choice pre~
The debate provoked ~n RPB by the relat~vely ~nnocu- sented is not between two and only two alternatives.

ous editoriai comments in RP6 on the problem of ‘ortho Moreover the two alternatives presented are not what
dox English-language philosophy’ surprised ~e. It has they ap~ar to be. Russell and company did not .

seemed unable to sort out the complex relat~ons beprovide us with a genuine logic of empirical knowtween radical philosophy and common sense. Some
ledge or scientific inquiry. Moore and friends gave
fundamental distinctions are not being made. And they us at best pedantic reflections on the smart talk of
must be made, if one is to develop an emanCipatory
an Oxcam common room (without even the homosexual ‘inphilosophy and not an ideological one. Sayers, in
sinuations which would have given it life). So
his zeal to reject ord~ary lan~age p~ilosophY (or
through these portals the philosophical problems
OLP) tends to see only ~deology ~n ord~nary language~ which common sense and science actually raise cannot
Of course OLP has represented a propaganda victory
enter.

of upper class talk over the levelling realism of
The Russell/Moore debate is really between variants
plain people’s language. 2 But both usages are part
of an imperial ideology. The underlying and unspoken
of ordinary language.


issues involved in it are: (1) whether the King’s
The RP editorial itself started with the tradition- English is the proper model for all common sense.

Does it only too ‘properly’ screen reality through
1 Quoted in RP6, p46
the silken nets of language? Nets woven and mended
2 See Ernst Gellner’~ WOrds and Things (Penguin,
by the Oxford mandarins of ordinary language philo.1968), p266

25

sophy. Or (2) whether the newfangled logic of the
mathematicians and science of the physicists so
adulated in the common rooms of Cambridge (UK or US)
should support imperial power in the future.

I am
not insinuating (bless us) that Bertie and George
explicitly thought of themselves as vehicles of
imperial sway. All the more tragic for them.

Indeed
neither could ever integrate their full lives into
their philosophical reflections.

The imperialism of recent British philosophy is
revealed in its insularity. Russell’s treatment of
pragmatism, for instance, was a sad joke to anyone
familiar with Peirce. Wittgenstein’s style seemed
completely insulated from the major philosophical
works of his time.

OLP has continued the tradition of disdainful
neglect. Perhaps the centre of Empire could not
deign to accept Truth from intellectual upstarts in
the colonies.

Or perhaps the answer lies on Austin’s faith that
‘all that is happening is entirely explicable’, in
terms of proper usage. This fetish of use certainly
seems like imperial arrogance, just as it must look
upper class to non-U Britons. Ryle explicitly proposed his abstract criteria of use in order to avoid
the vagaries of actual usage. 3 But Ryle’s style confuses me. At times he openly says ‘I’ and ‘you’ (D
75), and I know who is claiming what. But very often
an abstract ‘we’ is used. It is variously identified
as excluding our ancestors, or being anyone. But the
‘we’ in ‘when we speak of the ordinary stock use of
a word’ may be ‘us’ or the author’s royal ‘we’ (OL
109). So ‘we’ has different usages (uses?). Might
the differences not be philosophically revealing?

Not to Ryle, since he seeks only the ‘underlying
logical pattern’ or invariant ‘use’ within varying
usages. Significant changes in usage, from class to
class, or country to country and any contradictions
they may involve as with terms like ‘fair’, ‘just’,
‘democratic’ etc, seem irrelevant to Ryle’s concern
for the abstract universal.

Since examining the full range of genuinely ordinary usages 7an lead to the criticism of established
usages (or uses) as ideological, and since Ryle
cannot criticize OL use (for it supplies him with
his standards of criticism), his avoidance of such
philosophically relevant conflicts in usages is
significant.

It discloses the self-delusionary,
abstract and ideological dimensions of OLP. And it
confirms my suspicions that what ‘use’ refers to are
simply British upper class, ‘U’, usages.

This and the insularity of OLP are exemplified in
the way Ryle insinuates a philosophical model of man
as a set of technical skills in The Concept of Mind.

That this technological model may imply an instrumentalist theory of values (cf. OL 118) goes unnoticed. But such views have been debated in Europe
since the time of Marx. Just two years previous
to Ryle’s work Max Horkheimer in his Eclipse of
Reason presented a critique of instrumental reason.

Such discussions, moreover, fit Ryle’s requirements
of being an ‘intertheoretical’ problem, located between theories, in their ‘external’ rather than
‘domestic logic’ (D 128), and also as belonging to
the ‘full-blooded subject matter concepts’ or actual
discourse (Dl16, 118). Unsurprisingly, Ryle cursorily refers to the concept of Economic Man as if it
were philosophically an insignificant issue (D 69f,
l19f). His comments on the selectivity of scientific
abstraction (D 78,124), also bypass the issues they
raise, in contrast to the discussions of Husserl,
Whitehead, Scheler and Mumford. 4 Better examples of
OLP’s insularity and insulation against the full implications of the ordinary linguistic usages of real
people could hardly be found.

OLP has also been instrumental in proposing a model
of man as a rule-following game-player. For instance,

26

Hare’s neo-Kantian Freedom and Reason sees moral evaluation primarily in terms of words like ‘good’ and
‘ought’ (p27, 29), and declares, ‘the meaning of
“ought” and othe’r moral words is such that a person
who uses them commits himself thereby to a universal
rule” (p30). Yet his treatment omits Kant’s sustained attempt to define human freedom in terms of
self-determination. It also ignores classic critiques
of Kant and ethics, e.g., in Hegel’s Phenomenology of
Mind (Baillie, p6ll-79) and Marx’s famous essay ‘On
the Jewish Question’. Philippa Foot, in contrast to
Hare, notes the connection of moral obligation and
practical choices with people’s interests and actual
social institutions. 5
Peter Winch continu9s the OLP commitment to the
game-playing paradigm in his The Idea of a Social
Science. 6 In it a conservative view of man is openly
presented, but not openly as conservative. That
would be asking too much. For Winch human behaviour
is constituted as meaningful inasmuch as it is done
for reasons. It follows, he claims, that it must be
rule-governed, where rules allow for mistakes, arise
from a social consensus, are analogously and fallibly
applicable to similar situations, and are criteria
for evaluating actions (pp28f, 32, 35,45).

Winch’s analysis in e~ect obfuscates the common
experience that an action is so complex that clear
and common agreement on its rules, if any, is not
always or easily formulable.

If it is not achievable
in even one case because of the limits of ordinary
powers, then it is not in principle formulable in
that case; but the action might still be meaningful.

For the full meaning of every act may not be formulable. Winch implies this when he says that the
drawing of a logical inference is an activity not
itself apparently governed by any discernible logical
rules, and, with Oakeshott, that rationality is not
‘summarisable in explicit precepts’, (p58) , and
‘meaningful development in’ response to environmental
changes’ entails ‘the means of assessing the significance of the behaviour which it prescribes’ (p64).

But he also argues that rules of proper performance
are constrained by ‘current, socially established
standards’ which constitute an ‘external check’ for
the individual (pl19, 32), and, as Wittgenstein
wrote, ‘justifications must be brought to an end
somewhere’. These standards must therefore be ‘established independently of the individual’s will’

(p39). It is not surprising then that for Winch the
anarchist differs from others inasmuch as he lives
according to implicit but different and flexible,
‘stylistic’ rules (p52). But surely an anarchist’s
‘style’ (1) implies the critique and rejection of
conservative ‘established standards’, and (2) may
constitute the creation of new social rules and

standards.

These possibilities are obscured by Winch’s uncritical desire to bring justifications to an end.

This surely means merely that in the normal course
of events people take the ‘bases of their everyday
activities for granted.

It does not mean that they
can or should not put the most fundamental social
standards of·action into question if the need arises.

If they can, do, and should, then the limit to
justification represented by social standards is
merely practical. Winch’s thesis is not a philosophically fundamental one. No public debate concerning justice, economic exploitation, ecological
destruction by modern industrial economies, could
get off the ground with so arbitrary a limitation
to its extent. And such discussions are not to be
restricted to the intelligentsia. They arise and
form part of everyday life, at its (anarchistic)
best. To such debates we might apply the phrase
Collingwood used in his Autobiography for Marx’s
views, ‘gloves off philosophy’, just as we might
apply to OLP his equally accurate label ‘minute

We have been seeking independence from all the
empires to which our history has bound us. One would
think we would be less prone to accept the ideologies of Oxford ordinary language or Cambridge (UK or
US) scientism. Paradoxically that is not the case.

Rather they are successfully paraded in our universities as superior wisdom. Anglophiles have used
the Oxford position in opposition to ,the US-ophiles;
and vice versa. Philosophically, only raqical
critique can dissolve these false ties and free us
to think for and about ourselves. This situati~
has interesting implications for philosophy’s relation to popular common sen~e. That relation was
suggested in Mao’s words quoted at the beginning.

It is more developed in Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of
the Oppressed. ID That both are from the third
world is no accident.

But what does it mean to listen to ordinary people?

Especially when, as in colonial Canada, our culture
is so alike the imperial culture of the US (and
previously the UK), the messages sent by our common
sense are often those of cheerful slavery and dependence. Cultural domination, C.W. Mills warned, can
produce ‘cheerful robots’. The critical theorists
of the Frankfurt School, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse
et al, who have been long engaged in analysing the
repressiveness of modern culture, have. shown how
advanced industrial societies can co-opt to its
purposes culture, common sense and language. l l
What then are the relations of common sense to a
radical philosophy? First, such a philosophy must
be intellectually sound. It would accept the help of
linguistics and other sciences in understanding and
describing how ordinary language operates internally,
J h
.

.

.

logically and socially. It would not ignore the
o n Aust1n, Philosoph~cal Papers (Oxford,
findings of genuine research in the area.

It would
~96l), p132). Gilber~ Ryle, ‘ordinar~ Language’

not only talk about deep grammars but about ~e
1n C~ C~ton (ed.), Philosophy. and Ord~nary LanguagEcl ass structure implicit in normative grammars.

(Il11n01s UP, 1963); hereafter to be referred to
‘Grammer’ for example is grammatical if spoken
. th e t ex t as OL • S1m1
. . 1 ar 1 y, I,w1ll
.

1n
use D to
where it ”
occurs as a part”
of a local dialect. If it
refer to his Dilemmas (Cambridge, 1964).

is acceptable among some people to say ‘grammer’ for
I refer to ~itehead’s Science ~nd the Mo~ern
‘grammar’ and ‘hoit’ for ‘hurt’, then why is it only
World (Cambr1dge, 1926) and LeW1S Mumford s
acceptable to write ‘grammar’ and ‘hurt’ and not the
Technics and Civilisation (Harcourt, Brace, 1934) other way around? The answer to this question reWm. Leiss in The Domination of Nature
veals the double-edged integrating function of print
(Braziller, 1~73), ppl05-l9, 125-40, shows how
media as a social binder not only across regions but
Scheler and Husserl drew out the philosophical
across classes. The same might be said of midimport of scientific abstraction. Cf. Husserl’s
atlantic English, but not about the British use of
Crisis of the European Sciences (Northwestern
an upper class dialect to control the other classes.

UP, 1970), sections 33-36, appendix 1.

For the latter represents a blatantly class-based
In the introduction to Theories of Ethics
paradigm of ‘proper English’ and binds classes in a
(Oxford, 1967), pll. Also. see Hegel’s Philosophy different, more traditional manner: upwardly. The
of Right, sections 105, 207, 208 and Marx’s
Upper-crust uses its dialect to hold the whole loaf
Critique of Hegel’s ~hilosophy of Right
in place. However, that philosophers should respect
(Cambridge, 1970), p136f.

the relevant findings of scientists regarding ordin(Routledge, 1958). Cf. Gellner (ch.2) on languary language and common sense does not make the reage games and,the Argument from the Paradigm Case lation of philosophy and science any easier to formu(Oxford, 1970), p152
·late.

(I will have more to say about this in a
minute) •
Insight, A Study’ of Human Understanding (Longmans
I am not suggesting for a moment that onl~ through
1958). Whiie Lonergan’s work attempts to intescientific methods can one develop an understanding
grate Thomism into Bourgeois philosophy he at
of how language operates and reflects a social strucleast openly acknowledges and is affected by the
ture. The ordinary person’s feel for the concrete
works of other philosophers.

phrase which tellingly hits off a point, his/her
See Insight 1:3, IV:2.4, VI, VII, XI, and XVIII:

disdain of artsy, high class wordiness and euphemisms,
3.1, 3.2; John Dewey, Experience and Nature
testify rather to a genuine linguistic realism,
(Dover, 1958), chapters III to V; C.B. Macpherson,
usually found in working class ways of speaking.

Democratic Theory, Essays in Retrieval (Oxford,
This realism is testimony to the ability of unscient1973)” chapters II and III; and G.G. Simpson,
ific consciousness to correctly use language to
The Meaning of Evolution (Yale, 1949), pp258-62
d~scribe how the world is.

This is my second point.

(Penguin, 1972). See D~nis Gleeson’s review in
Common sense and language, as ordinarily used by
RP8, pp6-10; and mine in Our Generation, vol.9,
people in their everyday affairs, can and does
no.3 (Montr~al), pp68-76.

disclose how the world is. It often does this better
See
Horkheimer and T. Adorno’s Dialectic of
than do scientific formulations, general theories or
Enlightenment (AlIen Lane, 1972, pp120-67; H.

sophisticated high-class euphemisms. For in plain
Marcuse, One Dimensional Man(Beacon, 1964),
talk shit is ‘shit’; and pro’fit is a ‘rip-off’. So
ch.1-4;’and C.W. Mills’ The Power Elite (Oxford,
ordinary language must be listened to by the radical
1956), chapters 4 and 13

philosophy,.7 But he also is a source of some of
Winch’s. views; for he held that ‘in a great part of
our actions we act according to rules’; for this
makes them ‘successful’ (not ‘meaningful’, note;
pl02). Collingwood, however, suggested two exceptions: (1) Where a situation does not belong to
any of the types covered by the rules available,
and (2) where one is ‘not content’ to refer a situation to a known type even though one coulQ do so.

In both circumstances ‘you must act without rules’

(pl04) •
In a similar spirit a Canadian philosopher, Bernard
Lonergan writes in his work Insight B that ‘conformity
to a set of general rules valid in every instance of
a defined range’ (e.g., Winch’s set of social rules
and standards), is foreign to common sense, for which
‘every concrete situation is particular’. For ‘no
set of general rules can keep pace with the resourcefulness of intelligence and its adaptation to the
possibilities and exigencies of concrete tasks’ like
communication and judgment. Life, then, is not
logic but ‘a work of art’ (p177). Logic and system
are but the formulation of the end
products of
knowledge and action. For Lonergan, like the pragmatists, Marxists and some evolutionary theorists,9
does not hold to a philosophical model of man as a
passively adjusting social rule follower and game
player. Rather, human beings actively adapt the
world to their needs and intelligently and rationally construct insights and interpretations of it. 9
This critique of imperial ideology masking as
philosophy is one that comes natUrally to a Canadian.

3

4

5

6
7
9

9

10

11

M.

27

philosopher, that is, if ‘ordinary language’ means
of a fundamental critical reflection which is in~e actual languag~ of ordinary people.

frequently encountered in everyday practice or is
But my third paint, already suggested., complicates expressed in uncommonly abstract categories.

matters. In both ordinary and scientific discourse
In that world those on the top know they are on the
the world is concealed as well as.disclosed. I do
top, but they have difficulty in justifying tneir
not have to repeat Marx’s welL known views concerning position to others. Those in the middle do not·
the reality-masking function of classical political
like to admit there is a top and bottom, but blitheeconomy and bourgeois morality. But it is necessary ly struggle on to reach the top, whilesensi.ng
to note the implication of the neo~Marxist critique
qualms of conscience in climbing over the bodies of
their friends and standing on the shoulders of those
of modern -cu]’:EUre’ s Ideological i>otentiai. Namely,
that the language of the oppressed worker, peasant
underneath th~ Unfortunately the latter group are
and colonial can and does conceal the fact of their
hardly noticeable, precisely because they are down
oppressed status from themselves. It has been
below’. Those on the bottom, like those on the top,
successfuily manipulated by the ruling ~lites through are usually more conscious of their soc~al position.

mass media and other forms of their communication
Unlike those on the top they are more aware that
with workers ‘and citizens. That manipulation has
their position is a result of sb,eer power and its
effectively raised a screen between popular language lack among themselves and systematically unfair
and common sense, and the reality in which it is
allocation to others. Explanation and description
embedded. In Canada, for instance, many of us
:of the structure and its mechanisms are here not so
realise tn~threat to our -independence represented
easily transmuted into moralizing judgements or
by the power of the US. But most Canadians can’t
rhetorical legitimations. And when one seeks to
see how we can manage without the Americans, just as climb up from the bottom it is necessarily in
our forebears couldn’t understand how one could cope opposition to one’s own fellows. Consequently at
without the English. Many Canadians desire independ- the bottom divide-and-rule may be more easily seen
ence vaguely.. They just as vaguely sense the fatal
as a mechanism essential to maintaining the strucweakness of their dependency and the awesome threat
ture of domination.

to freedom and economic wellbeing from south of, our
More could be said. ‘rhe· top-middle-bottom model
border. But we don’t like to be ‘anti-American’.

is hopelessly simplified. And the forms of typical
We can’t understand how we could be anything but
consciousness typical to each position are caricastarving, jobless and poor without close economic
tures. But my point is that common experience and
ties to the US. Culturally Canadians lap up
its ordinary description contain many sound perAmerican entertainment and information media products.ceptions, evaluations and beliefs, available for the
Therefore radical philosophy has to carefully mine
taking. These are potential resources in common
Canadian common sense if it is to find the rich ore
sense for radical philosophy. Philosophy’s tools of
of a sense of freedom, independence, self-worth, etc. acce~s to common sense and of processing what we
Refined out in this critical process should be all
find there may be common or technical, as long as
trace eleme’nts of colonial inferiority, fatalism and they work. But the project of liberation of which
fear.

radical philosophy is a part begins in everyday life.

This does not mean that common sense is just an
It is origiilaTly a practical problem ~-no’f a , theoreobject of radical philosophy’s critique or study and tical and remote issue.

not itself a source of philosophical truths and
Now I will return to a problem left hanging, the
norms •. Rather radical philosophy’s relation. to
relations of radical philosophy to the sciences.

common sense are selective, critical, and reciprocal. Inasmuch as the sciences successfully achieve what
Philosophy, like any inquiry, is selective. It can
they seek, a correct description and understanding
not take common sense as a whole. Moreover, since
of how specific sectors of the world behave, they
not all of common sense is progressive its conserva- perform something of value. True. But this litive elements must become the object of critique.

censes no monopoly for the sciences over all knowOther elements can reciprocally interact with radical ledge and rationality. Nor are they the sole
philosophy. Here each can help the other. As I see matrix of social critique and emancipation. SUch
it, such is the character of the complex interscientism involves a philosophical error of massive
relations of radical philosophy and common sense.

ideological proportions. Rather, the sciences have
Philosophy, moreover, can not but arise from and
become a quasi-autonomous new productive force whose
return to the. everyday world, for that world embraces potential for good is often not directed to the
all human projects, ordinary and scientific, concommonwe~l.

In education scientific method has
servative and revolutionary. To refuse to do so is
become a fetish used to alienate students (and
merely to do so without knowing it. For’ one thing
teachers) from their own native ability to know the
a philosopher is also a person, a citizen, a member
world. Finally, modern sciences and technics raof a society with concrete and specifiC social detionalise and suppqrt the new industrial state’s
terminants. Conse~ently he must research. his own
amperial and class’domination. Th~ also display
consciousness and practices to see how his own
its competitive and hierarchical soci~l relations.

cOIilIllon sense affects them. This too will involve
Therefore they, too, need radicalisation. 12
the dialectical ‘negation of natural consciousness’

Nonetheless the sciences of man and nature do
of which Hegel ‘spoke in the introduction to the
retain an emancipatory potential. They have served
fhenomenology of Mind, and to which Marx’s ideology
to eliminate many myths, mystifications and dogmas
critique was the materialist successor. Natural or
concerning the world and to produce an understanding
unexamined consciousness is neither philosophical
facts of reality not before comprahended. Scientnor critical.

‘ i f i c knowledge and technical know-how still do conBut what is the source of the criteria which
stitute human goods, but not unconditional or primary
radical. philosophy deploys? One source is the work
goods. 13 .

of emancipation from seemingly natural social reRadical philosophy can not then define itself
straints on perception, intention, decision and acsolely in terms of common sense or science. It is
tion. Critique can show them in fact to be man-made constitute.d by a basic human project’, that ·of social
and re-makable. I submit that through everyday
self-emancipation. Both the sciences and common
experience itself there runs such an inexhaustible
sense can aid or retard that project. Nor are all
and critical vein. For it is the everyday social
scientific findings, however valid, or equivalent
world from, in and with which radical philosophy
value to that project. It may have been better
speaks. Its message, however, may take the form
often for different research to have been prosecuted

28

inst~d

of the insignificant and useless knowledge
In sum radical philosophy’s attitude to both
so often produced. And some research has clearly
science and common sense is the same: where it
been dangerous, e.g. in biological warfare and
helps, use it; where it doesn ‘.t, criticize it;
eugenics.

where…;i.t gets in the way, remove it.

The result of this excursus is that radical
philosophy must define itself in terms of the task
12 On this problem see the references in note 8 and
of social liberation. It is part of the theoretical.

the following works: J. Habermas, Toward a
arm of that task. As such it cannot be neglected,
~ational Society and Knowledge and Human Interests
at least not until the theory is realised in prac'(Beacon, 1970 and 1971); H. Marcuse, Negations
tice. Moreover radicals can not be knownothings,
(Beacon, 1969),ch.6; The Political Philosophy of
since rationality is essential to their social
Bakunin (Free Press, 1953)., pp76-83; S. and H.

critique. The project of liberation arises within
Rose, ‘The Radicalisation of Science’ in the 1972
common human experience and practice, of course.

Socialist Register (Merlin, 1972), ppl05-33; T.

Ordinary and theoretical reflection on that experiFerguson, ‘The Political Economy of Knowledge’,
ence yields and articulates the criteria used in
Telos, no.15 (Spring, 1973), pp124-38; and the
criticizing other areas of life. The criteria
March 1972 issue of Liberation (New York) •.

radicai philosophy employs to criticize OLP as
13 On the ecological critique of the technical domideological cant, for example, are derived hence,
ination of nature and its connections with modat least in significant part. However, the fatalisern science see Wm. Leiss, The Domination of
tic common sense of oppression can only be the obNature (Braziller, 1973); Barry Commoner, The
ject of radical critique, never its source. The
Closi~g Circle (Knopf, 1971) and D. McKinley and
repressive eleme~ts in common sense and the sciences
P. Shepard, eds., The Subversi;e Science, Essays
inhibit their emancipatory potential and veil the
toward an Ecology of Man (Houghton-Mifflin, 1969)
ways in which they support domination.

part 5.

DiscussioB
Me..leau-Ponly’s Polilics
MadanSarup

A reply to Sonia Kruks·article ‘The Philosophy of
Merleau-Ponty’

RPll

in the roles that the proletariat and the Party
play in history. He outlined three main interpretations of their inter-relationship which he
held were embodied in Lenin, Lukacs, and Trotsky.2
By concentrating on only two of Merleau-Ponty’s
According to Merleau-Ponty:

early works in her article, Sonia Kruks gives a
Lenin refused to recognize that the proletariat
rendering of his life-work that I do not agree with. could achieve a revolution on its own. By itself,
Only in the penultimate paragraph does it become
its consciousness was limited, and to anticipate a
apparent that in his later work he came to reject
spontaneous revolution would involve an indefinite
not only the ‘Communism of his time’ but Marxism
period of waiting. Lenin therefore asserted that
as well.

In the following brief note I offer an
the political initiative had to come from a strong
alternative reading; I give an account of his
centrally-organized, vanguard Party.

rejection of Marxism by referring, mainly, to
Lukacs had a notion of dual mediation: on the one
The Adventures of the Dialectic. Kruks writes that
hand, the Party mediates between the proletariat
Merleau-Ponty’s notion of a philosophy was of one
and history, and on the other, the proletariat mediwho examines things ‘in wonderment at the complexity ates between the Party and history. Lukacs hoped .

and coherence of the world’, but I want to ask: was
for an equal mediation in which the Party and the
his philosophy subversive? Does it bring the basic
proletariat together bring about proletarian concontradictions of capitalism to consciousness?

sciousne~s and lead·it to action •. This view howDoes his philosophy accelerate a development which
ever is in conflict with the Leninist view, in·
leads to a society without exploitation?l
which the Party is the final interpreter of history
for everyone. As is well know, Lukacs’ early work
It is often not generally known that Merleauwas repudiated by official communist circles and
Ponty’s rejection of Marxism reached its final form
by its author. Trotsky believed in the spontaneity
as early as 1955. His writing during this period
of the proletariat, with the Party playing only a
gives one the impression of an individual immersed
minor role. Such a belief in the proletariat,
in himself; the question he is continually asking
Merleau-Ponty thought, can only be based on some
is: was he a Marxist or not? Defensively, he wrote
notion of scientific predictability, or historical
that it did not make sense to ask whether one is a
determinism·- the notion that history is so deterMarxist or not, since even those who reject Marxism
mined that the proletariat will automatically come
do so only in terms of reasons which owe a lot to
to power.

Marx. He contended that the contradictions within
Merleau-Ponty was thus torn between Lenin’s elitist
communist regimes belonged to theoretical Marxism
view or some sort of historical determinism. He
as well. one of his main topics ;is.the relationdid not believe in the Leninist view because he felt
ship between theory and practice, as. exemplified
that the Party had betrayed the Revolution, and had
become the new ruling class. Nor could he be an
1 This is a brief extract from a forthcoming book
historical determinist as the proletariat had
dealing with the problems of theory and practice
failed to materialize in any universal form. As
in Marxism entitled: ‘Praxis. On Some Attempts to
early as 1948 he was acknowledging that the proleMake the World less Unacceptable’.

2 H. Merleau-Ponty, The Adventures of the Dialectic, tariat had forgotten its mission. In his last
Heinemann, 1974
statement on this question he declared that the

29

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