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Symposium: What is Radical Philosophy?



Peter Binns
[Reprinted with permission from Times Higher
Educational Supplement. 5th May, ]972]

The recent conference of radical philosophers in
London attracted hundreds of dissident intellectuals.

Yet it became apparent that there was no single clearly
defined direction in which the philosophers wanted to
move as a whole. Some saw the faults of the current
academic orthodoxy in terms of its concern with the
“wrong” ideas instead of the “right” ones. and suggested
instead that perhaps we should be teaching Marxism
(for instance) instead of the language of morals.

Others stressed the form rather than the content of
philosophical education. and argued that merely
replacing one syllabus by another would still leave
unchanged the authority structure of the university and
its role in the self-reproduction process of bourgeois
society. These people suggested instead the need
for action to change the structure of the institutions
of tertiary education.

Both these views are half-truths. For while it is
obvious that no philosopher can be progressive (let
alone revolutionary) if he confines his activities to
the analysis of just those concepts which constitute
“normal” social intercourse in bourgeois society; it
does not follow that grounding one’s thoughts in a
more genuine social reality, and using the more
significant concepts of “class”, “exploitation” and
“alienation”, necessary though it is. can ever be
sufficient in itself, either. Unpalatable though it
may be for professional philosophers. using the “right”
concepts does not guarantee progessiveness. Unless
these concepts form the weapons of a politically
progressive movement, they can also be used against
the forces of progress. For instance Hundman of the
Social Democratic Federation in 1914 had a clearer
grasp of these concepts than most oth’ers. but it did
not stop him supporting British imperialism in 1914
against Lenin’s working-class internationalism.

The social significance of any set of concepts.

therefore. does not depend solely on their content.

but rather upon the role they play in society. In
1914 the crucial question was the war. Reactionaries
supported it while progressives and revolutionaries
opposed it. No amount of couching support for it in
”Marxist” terms in the manner of Hyndman could make
this support progressive. Today the issues have
changed but the principle remains the same. Nobody
who is not politically involved in the fight against
British imperialism in Ireland, against the attack
on tenants in the Fair Rents Bill. and against the
direct assault on the wor~ing class through productivity deals, unemployment and the Industrial Relations
Act, can pretent to be radical or progressive in any
sense, whatsoever. A philosopher, like any other
thinker. can thus only be radical in virtue of things
extrinsic to philosophy itself.

As Gramsci realized, the crucial task for inte11ec-,
tuals in general and philosophers in particular who
want to give expression to their desires for social
change. is first of all to give up the notion that the

validity of philosophical ideas can be settled within
~he.r~a~m of these ideas alone. We must begin with
cr1 tlc1sm of the philosophy of the intellectuals”.

Instead our positive philosophical work must be “to
make coherent the principles and problems raised by
the masses in their practical activity … “By doing
so we shall have taken thought outside the confines
of thought itself and into the realm of action
is ~here thought which is genuinely progressiv~ can

Our purpose in doing so is to “construct an
1ntel1ectual-mora1 bloc which can make politically
possible the intellectual progress of the mass and not
only of small intellectual groups”.

That is why radical philosophers must take as their
starting point the current problems facing the working

~ramsci correctly saw the only organ through
wh1ch th1s could be achieved as the revolutionary
party. It is the place where the experience of the
class is generalized. It is the “crucible where the
unification of theory and practice understood as a
real historical process, takes place”.

Here then we can see the seeds of a view which
neither ~rivia1izes the importance of ideas, nor
allows the criteria for their acceptability to be
restricteq to something as narrow as their internal
logics. It prevents us being first of all philosophers
and only then radicals, but instead requires our
commitment to political change, and to the destruction
of philosophy as the property of professional philosophers, before we begin to practice it.


Tony Skillen
In his discussion of “radical philosophy”, Peter
Binns counterposes the (ievelopment of “correct ideas”
in a political vacuum to the development of ideas
subsequent and subservient to the pursuit of a correct
political line. Offering himself these alternatives
he understandably takes the second, but it may be
wondered whether he poses the choice facing radical
philosophers in adequate terms.

Peter Binns speaks of “commitment to political
change” as the starting point of radical philosophy.

But what is this commitment to change supposed to be
based on? Boredom? He speaks of Hyndman’ s “clear
grasp” of Marxist concepts as failing to stop his
pro-war position in 1914. But were his “ideas” about
the war neutral, and were they not mistaken? Is his
position vis a vis Lenin and the pacifists simply to
be understood in terms of conflicting “commitments”?

Peter Binns’ account seems to reduce ideas to
rationalizations of non-rational and unexplained
“canmi tments”, rationalizations to be evaluated, not
in terms of truth (of what is objectively the case)
but in terms of promotion of the “committed’s” cause.

(In which case the question of truth would re-emerge,
for we would have to ask whether it is the case that
such and such views (e.g. Gramsci’s) really and truly
do promote the cause, whether such and such lines of
thought do relate “organically” to the revolutionary
movement) .

By speaking of “the (which?) revolutionary party”
as “the crucible” of theory and practice, Peter Binns
presents as a priori solved problems that many of
those involved in the Radical Philosophy group are
trying to grapple with. One problem for example is
that if, following Lenin, it is accepted that unity
of practice requires unity of theory, th~re is a
difficulty about the possibility of vigorous open and
even heated philosophical and theoretical discussion
given that this is to go on within the “democraticcentralist” party. And, in general, it is curious
that such a thing as the Radical Philosophy Group
should seem to meet with such’ a positive response if,
already, The Party(ies) is the answer. Our arguments,
our disagreements ate public. Indeed this is essential
to the “politics” of such a movement for it involves
people in the activity of critical thought, an activity
which involves more than the techniques and routines
of criticism handed down in academic departments and
more than the passive acceptance as unexamined
“conunonsense” of left intellectuals’ ideas that Gramsci
envisaged as the fate of the bulk of the workers,
(thus the patronising hand-me-down Marxism that some
left wing groups teach “the workers”).

At its most modest then, the Radical Philosophy
Group involves a practice of developing and, exchanging
ideas in an attempt to break from the oppressive load
of bourgeois “conunonsense” that so much academic
philosophy puts on our minds. But inunediately this
kind of activity involves us whether we are “teachers
or students” or whether we are outside the colleges in
conflict with the existing practice of the “institutions
of learning”. We see ourselves as subverting these
structures and as undermining the security of hitherto
untroubled (and by no means politically neutral)
ideology. Thus at the same time as we break through
our own mystifications, our own academicism, our own
individualistic careerism, we are also breaking through
the cultural freezing compartments that are our
universities, with their prepackaging examinations and
prepackaged “courses”. Ideas, then, already have a
“practical life” in the academies, and many of us have
no intention of quietly working on “ideas” in the
academy during the week and noisily working on “action”
outside the factory at the weekend. (Workers, for one
thing, can sniff comfortably academic lefties a mile
off, and have a right to know what sort of struggle
their prospective guides are involved in in their own

But academies do not affect only those who have
their permanent jobs in them or those who pass through
them. They contribute to the total culture in which
they exist. And certainly, as Peter Binns so rightly
implies, a radicalism simply of the academy does not
amount to much. In this context it must be stressed
that capitalist oppression relies on the maintenance
in the heads of the people of a political culture, of
systems of habits and beliefs. (“The rule of law”,
“free speech”, “violence”, “the cOJIlllon good”,
“politicians”. “experts” etc etc). Clearly. if the
independent Radical Philosophy Group is to play some
role in breaking through such mystification-at-Iarge.

it has to organise itself in such a way that it
includes and is conununicating to workers, women.

children. people involved in struggle against the
forces that oppress them. And while I myself would
question the force of proprietary conununiqu6s
distributed by one or other of the left political
parties. it is clear that this aspect of organisation
is ahead of us.

Peter Binns’ statement “the social significance
of any set of concepts depends on the role they play
in society” is unlikely to be denied. But like any
tautology it tells us little. especially about the
complex ways in which ideas. whether our own or the
status quo’s. are socially located. and therefore
little about the different levels of practice in a
movement of radical philosophy.

Mary Warnock
All professional philosophers, probably since the
days of the pre-socratics, have been accustomed to
abuse and misunderstanding. They have variously been
accused of undermining the state, corrupting the youth,
destroying true religion. killing poetry, and probably
other things as well. It is therefore not surprising
that they still come in for attack. But, at the
present time, the attack seems to be taking a rather
new form; it is conducted with more than usual dislike
and scorn and it is, in a way, more highly organised
than usual.

The new radical philosophy group is an attempt to
set up a rival philosophical school to replace all
academic philosophy whatsoever; to replace the present
unsatisfactory set of teachers of philosophy in
universities and other places of learning with a new
and more acceptable lot. The difference between the
present type of discontent and previous discontents is
easy to account for: it is precisely the difference
made by marxism. On the whole, marxism made a very
slow start in British universities. The detached. cool
empirical goings-on of British philosophers may have
had a good deal to do with this.

Certainly, when Sartre wrote in 1960 that marxism
was the “inescapable philosophy of our time”, readers
in England were inclined to say, with an air of
superiority, that they at least had escaped it. The
supposition that no philosophy could hereafter be
written except as a conunentary upon, or an expansion
of, marxist philosophy seemed an absurd exaggeration.

Rightly. But the fact remains that the present
attack on philosophy as taught in our university
departments, starts from this very thought. Possibly
the most-quoted words of Marx are those in which he
says that whereas previous philosophers had been
content to analyse the world, the real point of
philosophy was to change it. From this the whole
notion of philosophy as an essentially practical
subject could be seen to arise.

The present critics of traditional philosophy,
the radicals. wish above all to ensure that philosophy
shall have practical effects. Though. of course, they
speak with many voices. and at their recent conference
in London did not come up with any agreed programme,
the most nearly agreed proposition which they uttered
was that philosophy must start from the working classes.

Translated into something a little more concrete. this
seems to mean that there is no part of philosophy that
is non-political. The point of the philosopher’s
work is to change the world – and to change it he must
change the consciousness of the working classes.

Either this entails that all the traditional objects
which have been the concern of philosophers ought to
be dropped. under the new scheme, or it entails that
the traditional objects of concern are in fact
political. though no one hitherto had thought so.

There seems to me to be a real, but not unfamiliar,
difficulty here. It is the kind of conflict which
inevitably arises when two people have completely and
absolutely different aims. though they are brought
together by the fact that. in name, they are doing the
same thing. One can think of any number of examples.

If one person thinks that education is a matter of
acquiring practice in making free choices. and another
thinks of it as the teaching to children of certain
prescribed skills and facts about the world. the fact
that they are both apparently concerned with education
will not prevent irreconcilable conflict. Thus, in the
case of philosophy. the common name does more harm than


Reprinted with permission from New Society. 8 June 1972.


good. Of course, there are many philosophers, marxist
and non-marxist, who simply go on pursuing their subjec
because they find it interesting, and do not stop very
often to raise any question about their aims. On the
other hand, one is quite often asked, especially by
people who may be thinking of embarking on the study bf
philosophy, what it actually is, and what is the point
of it.

The traditionalist may well say, in answer to such
questions, that philosophy is concerned with problems
which are very general; not specific ones which may be
answered by physicists or historians or geographers
or chemists, but questions which may lie behind all
these studies, such as on the nature of knowledge
itself, or of causation in general.

All such questions as these have been raised by
philosophers since Plato and, for the traditionalists,
this is in a way a part of their answer. Certainly,
part of what they will expect to occur in a university
department of philosophy is an examination of the
philosophers of the past. As to the point of the thing,
apart from its intrinsic interest, which may be thought
to be great, there is the further important point of
philosophy being, above all, a rational undertaking,
which must proceed by argument. A great part of the
study of philosophy, the traditionalist will say, is
the study of arguments, and this is something which
is of value in itself. To be able to distinguish, not
merely between a good argument and a bad one, but
between what is an argument of any kind and what is
mere statement or rhetoric, is neither an easy skill
nor is it trivial. Now if the traditional philosophy
course at university were explained in something like
these terms, it is easy to see that what may conveniently be called the marxist course, the radical
philosopher’s philosophy, differs from it at every

The most obvious point of difference is the lack
of any specifically political interest in the traditionalists’ statement of aims. The point is to
understand, not to intervene in the world. The purpose
of the course is not to get anybody to do anything or
to behave in a particular way. It is specifically to
enable them to judge for themselves whether there are
good reasons for action or not; whether or not there
are good reasons for belief, not in a particular area
of action or belief, but in any area whatever.

The point of conflict, then, is precisely this.

Is philosophy essentially political or is it not? Is
it really aimed at political change, or is it not aimed
at any.kind of change, but at an enlargement of the
understanding? The conflict, let it be clear, is not
one between the left and the right, in the sense in
which there may be left-wing politicians and right-wing
politicians who would nevertheless agree about the kind
of problems they had to solve. It is between two sets
of people who differ totally about the nature of the
activity they profess to pursue, though each side claims
the name of philosophy for what they do.

It is this claim which has generated the extreme
resentment on each side. Traditional philosophers tend
to raise the question of why they should be castigated
for failing to do something which they never had any
intention or desire to do anyway. They think of
themselves as following in the steps of Plato,
Aristotle, Hume and Kant who certainly interested
themselves in political questions among others, but in
a speculative way and with the help of arguments, not

The radical philosophers, on the other hand, say
that the traditionalists who have a stranglehold on the
universities are simply occupying themselves with
trivilialities and refusing to do what they ought to do.

They just state that there is one “correct” procedure
for philosophers, and this is the procedure which will
lead to a revolution of values. They, on their side, ~
resent the fact that there are so many people called

philosophers who are doing nothing at all according to
this correct procedure. There is, as far as I can see,
no way to end this mutual resentment. In practice it
is tiresom, because it leads to a great many frustrations. There are students who desperately hope for
something from their philosophy course which they will
not and cannot get; and there are teachers of
philosophy who fail to make any contact with at least
a proportion of their students – all because they are
not really concerned with the same subject at all.

It is hard to know what to suggest. The rational
solution might seem to be to invent a different name
for one or other of these two philosophies. But it is
doubtful whether either party to the dispute would be
willing to give up the old and honourable title. And
in any case it would be years before the ambiguities
in the expression “philosophy” were finally cleared up.

For my own part, I must confess to a reluctance to
allow the word to be preempted for so irrational or so
politically involved an activity as that proposed by
the radicals. It is not that I wish philosophy
necessarily to be uncommitted. But commitment should
come, if at all, by way of arguments. And it has
always been the pride of philosophy to try to follow
the argument, as Plato said, wherever it leads. To
have it laid down in advance, in the book of rules,
that there is one and only one correct way to go.

seems to me to be contrary to what ought to be the
free and sceptical spirit of the subject.

“If philosophers are scandalized by the
death sentence meted out to Socrates. this is
due not so much to the indignation provoked by
the execution of the Just One. as to professional
anger over the fact that those who acted as
judges were not specialists in conceptual logic
or reflexive analysis, but merely living human
beings who, for better or for worse. were moved
to pass judgement on the philosophy of Socrates
because of the actual effect his ideas were
(Paul Nizan, The Watchdogs)

• RoyEdglq
Mrs Warnock’s attack on radical philosophy does
her target a service: it exemplifies the very vices
the radicals attribute to their opponents. I won’t
say that the vices are those of blinding prejudice
and complacent obtuseness. since she would regard
that as ‘rhetoric’. I’ll do what she admires and
argue the case. leaving readers to draw their own
conclusions. rhetorical or otherwise.

Her criticism rests on an array of distinctions
characteristic of much twentieth century Englishspeaking academic philosophy, the very distinctions
radical philosophy rejects. She contrasts radical
with ‘traditionalist’ philosophy, and this contrast
is aligned with the following: whereas traditionalist
philosophy aims at understanding and proceeds by argument. radical philosophy. being Marxist. seeks change.

specifically by action. and more specifically still it
seeks political change by political action. How do
these distinctions provide grounds for objecti
radical philosophy? Mrs Warnock sees that to object
that therefore radical philosophy isn’t really philOsophy would be simply to make a verbal point about
the word ‘philosophy’. and her substantive objection
is that these distinctions show that radical philosophy.

by contrast with traditional philosophy. is irrational.

These two objections might be brought together if it
could be shown both that radical philosophers use
arguments of the same logical kind as traditionalists
and that such arguments logically can’t have the
substantive practical and political conclusions the

radicals require
:hough she nowhere ~akes it
explicit, perhaps a view of this sort was in ~trs
Warnock’s mind: certainly anyone familiar with contemporary academic philosophy in England will recognise
it as strongly connected with the distinctions she
does use.

Before looking at these distinction$, let .e
first clear away the muddle, relliniscent of so auch
newspaper argument, in her peroration against radical
philosophy’s Marxisa. ‘I .ost confess,’ she says,
‘to a reluctance to allow the word [‘philosophy’]
to be pree.pted for so irrational or so politically
involved an activity as that proposed by the radicals.

It is not that I wish philosophy necessarily to be
unca..itted, but c~itaent should COIIe, if at all,
by way of arguaents. And it has always been the pride
of philosophy to try to follow the arguaent, as Plato
said, wherever it leads. To have it laid down in
advance, in the book of rules, that there is one and
only one correct way to go, SeellS to be to be contrary
to what ought to be the free and sceptical spirit of
the subj ect ‘ •
This assuaes that characterising one’s philosophical position in teras of a set of ideas already
expounded, as e.g. Platomst, or Aristotelian, or
Cartesian, or llJaean, or lantian, or Wittgensteiman,
or perhaps as e.piricist or analytical-linguistic,
iJaplies two things: first that that position contains
nothing new and does not .odify the ideas fre. which
it derives; and second that one’s c~itaent to that
position is irrational and has not ·co.e ••• by way
of arg-.-ents·. Is she really suggesting that. because, for instance, can describe his linguistics
as rationalist and Cartesian he says nothing new and
has not argued or is not capable of arguing for his
views? And doesn’t ‘the sceptical spirit’ follow a
line that has been ‘laid down in advance’, especially
if this is the spirit of ‘traditionalist’ sheep rather
than ‘radical’ goats?

The .ost general of Mrs Warnock’ s contrasts is
presented as follows: ‘Is it [philosophy] really n-ed
at political change, or is it not aiaed at any kind of
change, but at an enlargaent of the understanding?’

I’ll ignore the question whether such ‘traditionalists’

(or were they radicals in their tiae?) as Socrates and
Plato, for instance, didn’t seek, by their philosophy,
to change the world. or perhaps to prevent change, and
in any case to have saae effect, hopefully for the
better, on the course of events, political or otherwise.

That aside, could anything but a deeply-rooted prejudice
against cer~ain sar~s of change obscure fre. Mrs
Warnock the fact that an enlargaent of the understanding
is a kind of change. and one that Marxisa’, like .ost
philosophies, traditional or otherwise, regards as

More specifically. as Marxists, radical philosophers,
according to Mrs Warnock, see philosophy ‘as an essentially practical subject and ‘wish above all to ensure
that philosophy shall have practical effects’: they
seek to get people to do things. In traditionalist
philosophy, on the other hand, ‘The point is to understand, not to intervene in the world. The purpose of
the course is not to get anybody to do anything or
behave in a particular way. I t is specifically to enable them to judge for thellselves •.. ‘. Certainly the
ala of philosophy ought to be to get people to think for
themselves, this qualification ‘for theaselves’

presumably meaning ‘with seae degree of rationality,
i.e. clearly and with awareness of the pressures,
including social and political pressures, tending to
produce bias and prejudice’. But thinking is of course
an activity. a kind of doing. and in order to think
clearly and rationally we .ay need to do many things.

such as study, read, write. argue. and so on. Is there
any a priori limit on this list of activities that
might be necessary? Might it not, for instance. include
such things as going to see for oneself what life is
like ~ong factory workers? Or aren’t the ‘detached,
cool e.pirical goings-on of British philnsophers’ quite 2!1

emprical enough for that? But the question, I take it,
is also whether understanding and thinking for oneself,
when achieved, or at least clarified and made more
rational, won’t have iaplications for and effects on

If there are such practical implications,
accepting Plato’s reca.aendation to follow the argument
wherever it leads will involve acting accordingly.

Mrs Wamock seeas to reject this very possibility. and
without a shred of argtaent. Philosophers, radical or
not, .ay suspect that she agrees with that well-worn
doctrine, ‘laid down in advance’, that the nature of
philosophy is such that it logically cannot have any
substantive iaplications, and .ore specifically that
.oral philosophy aust be neutral with respect to moral
and practical issues. On this .atter Mrs Wamock tars
Benthaa and Mill, to say nothing of Professor Hare
(see his inaugural lecture), with the same broad and
indiscriainating brush as radical philosophers. But
does she .ean what she seems to say? In her last
paragraph she adaits that ‘ I t is not that I wish
philosophy necessarily to be uncmuaitted’. As far as
I can see, this can be squared with her anti-activist
view of philosophy only by supposing that she regards
philosophy not as unca.aitted to action but as
ca..itted to inaction. If so. she’d better stop
pretending tbat all or even .ost traditional philosophers. to say nothing of reason itself. are on her

More specifically still, Mrs Wamock objects to
radical philosophy’s ca..itDent to change and action
of a political kind. JUt if philosophy can be
ca..itted and have a practical relevance, why not
politically c~itted and with a practical political
relevance? EIIpirical knowledge .ay be necessary for
rational political ca.aitaent, but that should not
deter anyone engaged in ‘the detached, cool empirical
goings-on of British philosophers’. Or did “Irs Warnock
.ean ·e.piricist’? Modern eapiricist philosophy is
of course extremely a priori and uneapirical. and its
detach.ent – fra. eapirical as well as practical
.atters – is for radicals one of its chief vices.

Radical philosophy doesn’t object to argument or
reject reason, properly understood. I t does object
to the tendency, exeaplified by Mrs Warnock’s article,
to suppose that argu.ent and reason saaehow exclude
action, political or not • • . . . there is the further
iaportant point’, she says, ‘of philosophy being, above
all, a rational undertaking, which must proceed by
arguaent·. This ide_ that • a rational undertaking …

.ust proceed by arguaent’ conflicts with radical
philosophy only if it’s thought, as Mrs Wamock seems
to think, that this .eans ‘by arguaent alone’. Is
she identifying arguaent with reason, or assuming that
it’s only in arguaent that reason can be exercised?

‘ ••• Plato, Aristotle, IlDae, and Kant … ” she says,
‘certainly interested the.selves in political questions
.ong others, but in a speculative way and with the
help of arguaents, not strikes’. BGt couldn’t there
be arguaents for strikes? And if they were rational
arguaents, wouldn’t the action of striking be
rational? Arguing is itself an activity, and the
question whether it’s reasonable to argue with someone
doesn’t depend solely on the logical validity of one’s
arguaents, which is presuaably what Mrs Warnock has
in aind when she talks about the ability to distinguish
‘good and bad arguaents·.

The question is a practical one, and the answer
to it will depend on the circuastances: it will be no
good arguing, for instance. if arguing is ineffective
in those circuastances. Whether or not the radicals
hold that ‘there is no part of philosophy that is nonpolitical’, conte.porary acade.ic philosophy in England
is too little concerned with the social and political
conditions of rationality, especially with such
conditions as may frustrate and inhibit the exercise
and growth of rationality and knowledge. Mrs Wamock’s
touching faith in argtaent alone, regardless of (or
‘detached’ frea) the circuastances, is typical of the

irresponsibility of intellectuals in both philosophy
and politics. It represents an ideology of reason
articulated by ‘traditional’ philosophy, an ideology
that has a conservative political function, and which
has not surprisingly helped to bring reason itself
into discredit.

2 John MepbaIn
The great value of Mrs Warnock’s article is that
it exposes so clearly just what we are up against:

ignorance and arrogance. She understands neither
Radical Philosophy nor marxism. The Radical Philosophy
group does not “attempt to set up a rival philosophical
school to replace all academic philosophy whatsoever”.

Mrs Warnock offers no evidence that this might be true
of the group. Perhaps the easiest way she might have
discovered that it is not so is by having actually
bothered to read either of the first two issues of
Radical Philosophy. In both there is printed the
following statement of purpose. “CAlr aim is to
encourage and to develop positive alternatives .. For
this there are other traditions which may inform our
work (e.g. phenomenology, existentialism, Hegelian
thought and Harxism). However. the Group will not
attempt to lay down a philosophical line. CAlr main
aim is to free ourselves from the restricting institutions and orthodoxies of the academic world, and thereby
to encourage important philosophical work to develop:

Let a Hundred Flowers Blossom!” It is precisely the
exclusiveness of contemporary English philosophy,
especially that practised in Oxford since the war, that
is the aim of our discontent. This exclusiveness is
illustrated by the extraordinary arrogance with which
Mrs Warnock, quite without any argument, implicitly
repeatedly identifies philosophy as it is practised
and taught in English universities with “traditional
philosophy”, with that philosophy which follows in
the steps of Plato, Aristotle, Hume and Kant. My
opinion is that “Oxford philosophy” is to be condemned
precisely because it is not the “free and sceptical”
inquiry to which these philosophers were committed,
because it does not take seriously questions which all
of these philosophers took to be important philosophical
questions (for example, but not only, questions in
political and social philosophy), and because it has
refused, to generations of students, access to these
questions in the work of the great modern European

It is not only the more or less complete absence
of significant research in social and political
philosophy that exposes this local tradition as out of
touch with the tradition of philosophy as practised
from Plato to Hegel. It is also its rather laughable
refusel to recot ise the existence of the works of,
for example, Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Husserl,
Sartre, Merleau-Ponty. In seven years as a student in
Oxford I only once ever heard a tutor mention (let
alone discuss) any of these philosophers. The one
exception was the ‘brave Mrs Warnock herself. Her
rather idiosyncratic lectures on Sartre were the one
hint a student might have got that any philosophy
(apart from that of Wittgenstein) had been written
since 1800 in any language other than English. In my
view philosophy as practised in Oxford, far from being
identifiable with “traditional philosophy”, is actually
a rather narrow and provincial version of it which,
by virtue of its hegemony in English universities has
managed to pose for far too long as its unique modern

As for Marxism: Radical Philosophy is not a
marxist group, though some of its members are marxists.

This mayor may not be a pity, But it is anyway a
fact, and one that Mrs Warnock could easily have
ascertained. It is not· the case that marxist philosophers interest themselves in political questions by
way of strikes and not argument. If Mrs Warnock had
done ~ome reading she would not have made any of these 30
silly mistakes. Unfortunately it is quite normal that

philosophers in Oxford combine the programme of
ignoring Marx (and Husserl and Freud etc etc) with that
of remaining ignorant about them. Mrs Warnock manages
to misquote the 11th Thesis on Feuerback (the “mostquoted words of Marx”) in such a way as to actually
produce the opposite of Marx’s meaning (since his
point in the Theses, in relation to philosophy, is
that it cannot change the world). Had she bothered
to read Radical Philosophy No.2 she would have found,
boxed and conspicuous on the first page, the following
passage from a letter of Marx to Ruge.

“Since it is not for us to create a plan for
the future that will hold for all time, all the
more surely what we contemporaries have to do
is the uncompromising critical evaluation of
all that exists, uncompromising in the sense
that our criticism fears neither its own
results nor the conflict with the powers that
be •..• Therefore, we can express the aim
of our periodical in one phrase: a selfunderstanding (critic~philosophy) of the
age concerning its struggles and wishes”.

No doubt what Marx meant in saying this, and
whether or not he was right on this or any other
occasion, ought to be open to discussion. In Oxford
it de facto is not open to discussion and those who
are responsible for this fact are an active denial of
all that philosophy stands for.


Guido Frongia
Every initiative is relative to a particular
situation. And it is clear that both the existence
of your group and its polemical position reflect a
real situation of discontent in England which had
already found some expression, though perhaps not in
such a vocal and explic1t way. But only when the
motives of this cultural phenomenon are understood not
simply in relation to its local and contingent
dimensions, but within a wider historical perspective,
will it be possible to assess their real force and
clarify their meaning.

With this in mind, I feel that, whatever we think
of that trend of philosophy usually referred to as
“conceptual analysis”, we must not overlook its
importance. Many writers who are more or less
accurately placed in this- current of enquiries expressed
in their work a need, which is in my view justified, for
greater rigour and clarity in philosophy. They
contributed to the perhaps permanent disappearance of
the imprecise, presumptuous and quasi-theoretical forms
of philosophical speculation which in late Victorian
England were mostly expressions of the aristocratic,
normally conservative, conception’of culture produced
by the dominant ideology.

In order to put the anlysis in a wider historical
perspective one should ask, furthermore, whether the
narrowness of issues and interests which Jonathan R~e,
in the first’issue of this journal, rightly I think,
finds in the present practice of English (or perhaps
more generally anglo saxon?) philosophy, reflects needs
of an objective character. We must ask, for example,
whether all this is in some way expressive of a radical
change (compared with a century ago for example) in
the contribution that a philosopher can make, or the
function that he can have, in cultural debate.

Certainly Jonathan R~e’s accusations against some
aspects of modern philosophy are justifiable: that it
adopts an uncritical and dependent attitude towards
scientific disciplines, and that it accepts implicitly
a technocratic and purely instrumental perspective

with respect to the achieveaents of science (cf. the
siJailar critique by Haberaas). Nevertheless this line
of cri ticiSJll aight partly be understood as an anachronistic, even nostalgic, appeal for a “restoration” to
philosophy of the fUnctions and ca.petence for which
it is no longer equipped. No possibility Seell.S to ae
less realistic today than that a philosopher. however
powerful his intellect or broad his ~ition. is
capable of constructng with any credibility the kind
of grand synthesis with which llegel in the last
century could still frea his pontifical chair dazzle
his astonished audience.

The various recent atteapts at such a systellatic
account of …….an thought” and “its famlties” (fro.

Il1sserl to Sartre, fro. Croce to Merleal-Ponty).

ioweter interesting, have been rather epheaeral; and
the price of their -spemlative adventuriSll has often
‘een a sacrifice of clarity for literary style. ne
works of these writers, as I see in ay 0IRl daily
experience, have been aade a .ere backdrop to fruitless
.isputes between “learned aen” and experts- in smae
pieceaeal aspect of the history of mlture. 11lese
debates are often characterised by an acadeaicisa at
least as obtuse and aristocratic as the one which
Jonathan R6e cc.plains fibout .ong those responsible
for the “intellectual isolatioluSll” of British
universities. This partimlar kind of acadeaic
professionaliSll, which seeas to have alaos~ ca.pletely
_isappeared frea English philosophy deparblents,
~ontiDles to flourish, especially in the areas of
European mlture which have been aost tyrannized by
~he high priests of various foxas of Pbilosopbie des

I do not wish to deny that these atte.pts at
c(IIprehensive synthesis have played an iIIportant part
in aodern western mlture. Yet it;- seeas worth
eaphasising that their aajor function has been a
l1egative one: they have given us evidence of the
objective liaits that confront anyone today who wants
to take the way of spemlative dedUctive systeas.

I _ i.apelled to aake these points also because
t live and teach in a country where the philosopher
still very often retains, in line with idealist
tradition, the position which Croce gave hi.a at the
beginning of the century – the supreae prophet of truth.

In many Italian acadeaic circles, for all the unfailing
distinctions and reservations, grand spemlative
statements are still taken very seriwsly. I should
aention, for instance, the widespread practice of
organising meetings (on television and elsewhere) about
issues of a “scientIfic” nature where the place “Of
honour is reserved for a philosopher who, after the
various scientific experts have expressed their
“technical and particular” points of view, is given
~he task of su.aing up the parts of the debate into
a “higher synthesis”. This capacity is a recognised
attribute of the philosopher who takes his privilege4
position from not making particular investigations
and having no specific area of competence. Since he
is not subject to the law of division of labour, he
is capable of facing probleas with a aore general
-perspective and of reaching knowledge of the ”totality”.

Needless to say, the results achieved in this way are
limited and, even in the best cases, do not go beyond
~he production of fascinating passing suggestions.

I am saying all of this in order to make clear
£irst of all the directions which I think your
journal’s search for greater generality and significance in philosophical enquiry ought not: to take.

But then, more positively, the question remains: wha~
to do in philosophy?

In my opinion you should not obscure the impol~anc
of certain results obtained from the experience of
analytical philosophy in Britain: it has established
rigorous methods of enquiry; it has achieved relevant
results for example in the fields of the philosophy of
logic, the theory of meaning, the analysis of moral,
juridical and scientific language; it has tried to
unravel, with an original perspective, the knots formed

by the intersection of different probleas of classical
western spemlation (dualiSll between body and aind, the
”Problea” of other ainds. the a prior and a post:eriori_, and freedc.of the will etc); finally it
has aade an to “fiDd out how these probleas are
rooted in our conceptual schoaes and in what way their
solutions are reflected in our wrrent foxas of
linguistic behaviour and aodes of thought.

It is interesting to note the contiDlal growth,
in Italy, for exa.ple, in the uu.ber of philosophers
who loot with interest in the analytical direction
and who regard analytical aethod as an iIIportant
instn..ent, especially of a heuristic kind, to build
a wider awareness of the nature of philosophical enquiry and to clarify and select what today appears
redundant and superfluous.

I aa not saying that this choice of direction and
aethod is the only possible one; nor do I overlook its
risks. It aight reduce the analysis to a shapeless
constellation of tiny probleas, each one. considered: as
altonc.QUS and iDdependent. Or it aight even ca.proaise the capacity to understand the very nature of
the proble.s taken into consideration (a danger, however,
faced especially by those with DO genuine interest and
philosophical perspective in the first place). Finally
it aay run thefrisk of losing all the historical
~imension of the ques
ns involved by overlooking the
fact that not only do the answers given to thea change
over tille, but also, and above all, that the “saae”
probleas have a substantially different significance
at different periods in the history of the ml ture,
and therefore sa.etiaes also in different countries
at the saae time. I do not deny that all these shortcmaings have liaited’the developaent of aodern
philosophy in Britain. On the contrary, I believe
that, especially in the last decades, there has been
a real iJIpoveris_ent of theaes and interests; and
this certainly has- coaprc.ised the disposition to learn
and to achieve valuable insights even from the work of
aany widely read and “respected” writers ( the case of
Wittgenstein to which Jonathan R6e refers in his
article seems to ae indicative). It is also true that
there has been a general tendency to reduce forcibly
the ca.plexity -and theaatic breadth of these writers
within a rather narrow and liaiting range of arguments.

I do agree that it is aost mportant in the future
to give aore attention in English philosophy departaents to the study of works and writers who have for
too long been kept out of syllabuses. Nevertheless,
rather than Hegel and the later followers of idealistic
_speculation, I would aention here writers of German
historicisa – frea Dilthey through Windelband and
S~el to Max Weber; also Luk4cs; perhaps some aspects
of the existentialist probleaatic; among contemporary
writers, Horkheiaer, Marcuse, Habennas; and to clarify
the fUnction of intellectuals in the struggle for a
socialist society Graasci and of course Marx. And it
is crucial to rediscover the taste for a more “faithfUl” analysis of a historical character, with greater
concern for the physiognc.y of the writers considered
and of the cultural nature of the epochs in which they

From this wider perspective it may be easier to
recognise the importance of “conceptual analysis”.

Its task is to reconstruct a ”map” of the complex
network of relations between different areas of our
languages, and by these means to make explicit the
almost always implicit, and often unconscious, presuppositions which are at the base of conceptual
schemes in which and through which we organise our
experience. This means, following the lines suggested
~y Wittgenstein (set out with particular clarity in
pn Cert:aint:y), to identify and describe the foundations
pf a metaphysical character on which different
effective systems of knowledge are based, or were based
In the past. I am referring here not only to those
relatively more stable, if perhaps more complex and
elusive logical and epistemological conventions which
we tacitly accept in learning our language, but also
to what, in a more homogeneously structured way lies

at the foundation of different scientific theories.

This “descriptive” method, though applicable only to
restricted fields of inquiry, could make available to
the critical judgement of the reason, aspects of our
conceptual equipment which are less accessible and
usually less known.


I do not think that the philosopher, by means of
his intellectual criticism or his visionary power only,
has any chance of changing at will the substantial

part of what in this investigation he has unearthed
from underneath the actual manifestations of human
thought. Perhaps we should definitively rule out any
possibility for him to substitute successfully one
form of metaphySics for another,or even, more
restrictedly, to elaborate possible alternative
metaphysical systems. To invent a new metaphysics
would mean, in Wittgenstein’s terms. to invent an
entirely new form of life: a new culture. And the
complexity of this task seems today to transcend the
limited possibility even of the best equipped school
of philosophy.

It is true that quite often in the past. the best
contributions in speculative philosophy have brought
to the surface important ferments which in some way
had already been operative in the depths of the reality
of the time. It is equally true, from our point of
view of historical observers, that these works seem to
have sometimes anticipated, or perhaps even accelerated.

profound transformations in society. To quote only one
name which I have found quite often in the first issue
of Radical Philosophy, an analysis of the relations
between the writings of Hegel ~d the first development
of romantic culture, could exemplify precisely this
point, besides being of considerable theoretical
interest. SUch an analysis could make us aware. for
example. of the fact that the somehow revolutionary
power of these works presupposed a capacity (perhaps
only an illusory one) of dominating and unifying in a
universal synthesis Qf a speculative nature all the
manifestations, past and present, of what at that time
was usually called “the activities of the Spirit”:

from science to art, from religion to law.

Today it is precisely such a synthesis (or even
its figment) which we are denied. This awareness
determines that aspect of contemporary western culture
which I would call, using once more a Hegelian term,
its “unglUckliches Bewusstsein” (unhappy consciousness) ..

Such a statement appears all the more dramatic since
today it seems no longer possible. as Hegel envisaged
it in his Ph!nomenologie des Geistes, to transcend
this state of consciousness in the sense of its
“pacification” by means of philosophy. And this is
true for various reasons: because of ·the progressive
division and specialization of knowledge as we have
witnessed it especiaily in our century; because of the
great complexity and relative theoretical autonomy
assumed by the various disciplines; and finally, and
most of all, because meanwhile it has become generally
accepted that what at that time was preferred as
“universal” manifestation of the “life of the Spirit”
was no more than a particular and contingent expression
of human thought, privileged by an aristocratic and
Eurocentric conception of culture. A greater critical
awareness, favoured by many different factors, makes
it easier for us today to understand and accept the
fact that besides the Western tradition of thought
there are other cultures which are at least as rightfully entitled to an autonomous existence. But with
all this, the possibility of dominating, by means of
an universal synthesis, even a transitory phase of
human knowledge seems to become more and more remote.

from the continuous change in that complex set of
natural and social conditions which determine our ways
pf living; and it depends, in the first place, on
~hich components of our societies succeed in moulding
reality in accordance with their own will to change.

Put this is of course an answer DE FACTO which then
becomes an object of analysis. and as such susceptible
pf description and interpretation


CoIln Beardoa
It is part of the manifesto of the Radical
Philosophy Group “to encourage and to develop positive
alternatives” to contemporary British Philosophy. In
a certain sense this aim is admirable. The present
content of most of what passes for philosophy is not
only of “little relevance or interest’! to’ the vast
mass of people. it is decidedly working against their
interests, and therefore some alternative is imperative.

But the Group’s distinctly liberal “refusal to lay down
a line”, combined with the frequent defences of specific figures and parts of the established philosophy,
make me wonder, what kind of alternatives you have in
mind. Traditionally, philosophy has set very narrow
limits on what it will consider as an alternative to
itself, but if we are really going to be radical we
must not be hoodwinked by our inheritance. For example,
any conception of a real alternative being formed by
combining all that is best in existing philosophies,
would be. both idealistic and naive, as it would fail
to recognise the wider significance of the complaints
made against philosophy.

Firstly, I find it odd that you should think that
it is only contemporary British Philosophy that is
trivial and boring and is at a dead end. If modern
philosophy is trivial and boring, then so are the
historical figures that undergraduates also have
to read. And if anything is at,a dead end I would
have thought that it is the whole tradition that led
up to the present impasse.

In saying that the whoie tradition in philosophy
is trivial and at a dead end, one is not necessarily
‘committing it all to the flames’. There are a number
of good reasons why studying particular figures or
ideas rewarding. It may be that one can get
a sense of historical change by studying the development of a particular idea. It may be that the connection with other things one knows about a period makes
a particular historical figure or period interesting.

It may be that one is particularly interested in a
specific problem and anything that anyone’has to say
on it is of significance. All this may be granted
and the attack on establishment philosophy maintained.

For there is an important distinction to be made

between the significa~ce of particular people or ideas
for someone who is pursuing a special interest, and
the significance of all these people and ideas when
lumped together and presented in a particular way as
a comprehensive course in philosophy.

To the Radical Philosopher who is also a
professional philosopher (I am referring mainly to
staff and postgraduates), his or her personal concern
will generally be their specialist field of research.

Naturally enough, they will be extremely reluctant to
cut their ties with their past work, and will automatically tend to relate their ideas to those philosophers which they had to study when they were underFrom what I have said above, must one then deduce
graduates. Also, of course, their teaching duties
that the philosopher’s role today is only that of a
provide yet another link to the established tradition.

passive observer of the eventual change of those
To the Radical Philosopher who is an undergraduate, and
aspects of reality to whose individuation and descripis perplexed or disillustioned about what has been
tion he himself has contributed? I personally believe
presented to him at University or wherever such
that one must rule out even the possibility that he
considerations are largely irrelevant. Probably he or
can determine in what sense this mutation could or
she will not be pursuing philosophy after graduation,
should be oriented. An answer to this last problem is’a=! so the Philosophy Department needs to be seen in its
rather, provided from what results, quite unpredictably,
role as a producer of a particular type of graduate,

rather than, as it tends to be professionally, a
collective for the production of ideas.

years of a 4-year philosophy course are devoted to
western non-Marxist philosophy. In Britain you are
lucky if you get 1; hours of Marxist philosophy in an
undergraduate course. Such dogmatism is indicative
of the threat that Marxist philosophy poses to our
irrelevant University courses and the system that
supports them. The triviality of contemporary
philosophy is a class-weapon, and to be opposed it
requires a class-opposition.

This role of Philosophy as a part of deliberate
educational policy is, obviously, played down by the
establishment, but also we find many liberals ready to
deny its importance. Without a doubt reactionary forces
do not want the social significance of di~erent
disciplines to be widely discussed and brought into
question. But unfortunately there is a trendy image
of an academic which, consciously or not, lends support
No-one (of any importance) would recommend
to this reactionary desire. The not-uncommon view
• .~committing vast amounts of philosophy books to the
that research is what being an academic is really all
flames. But if revolutions in Philosophy do not
about, whilst teaching is a necessary evil, can only be
come from destroying the past, neither do they come
from compiling a kind of ‘Best of Philosophy’.

seen as a withdrawal from the fight. One frequent outcome ~ the stereotyped ‘objective’ and impersonal
They do come from the adoption of a fundamentally
lecture where a specific topic is taken and all attitdifferent viewpoint, so fundamentally different that
udes and counter-attitudes to it are explained. The
the ensuing ideas are strictly not comparable with
those produced from the orthodox viewpoint. This
result is that a student is trained to see ‘all sides
feature enables the British tradition to dismiss
of the problem’, thus almost guaranteeing that any
Marxism as “not philosophy”. We must be careful
solution he comes up with will not cause any great
neither to aecept their analysis, nor adopt the

<?pposite', either in the sense that the establishment
I think we could give more consideration to what
philosophy is 'not philosophy', or in the sense that
three years of such training does to a young man or
the two are readily comparable. Where traditional
woman. One obvious result of it is the production of
philosophy goes wrong, where it becomes trivial and
graduates with a certain 'state of mind', ideally
uninteresting, is at a very fundamental level. Our
suited (from an establishment point of view) for the
initial job must be to expose and criticise at this

civil service, management services and teaching
professions. And make no mistake about it, it is the
As an example of what I mean I would like to
production of such graduates that is the economic
sketch some suggestions as to what these fundamental
reason why philosophy departments are tolerated at all
weaknesses might be. They are attitudes which seem
in our Universities.

to me to be often accepted by philosophers of all
This realisation has a sobering effect on anyone
persuasions. Each operates as a defence mechanism
who has a determination to see the present situation
against a possible attack on Philosophy’s irrelevance
in our Philosophy Departments cha~ged. Just as it is
and triviality.

not rational arguments that bring down governments,
neither is it rational arguments that persuade Faculty
Firstly there is the conservative idea that any
Boards. It took a sit-in in Bristol in 1968 in order
new philosophy should bear a ‘family resemblance’ to
to get even liberal reforms accepted, and many of the
previous philosophies, especially in the sort of
advances made then have since been eroded. It is the
problem it concerns itself with. But even more than
examination of the nature and strategy of the actual
just this, we often find that ‘Philosophy’ itself
struggle that is the theoretical priority of any group
becomes informally defined in terms of this continuity,
dedicated to finding a real alternative. Philosophies
so that grosser irregularities can be dismissed as
do not grow in vaccums, they arise in concrete
just ‘not philosophy’ .

situations where an orthodoxy is being challenged at a
very deep level. They both reflect that struggle is a
Secondly we have the notion of autonomy, which
necessary part of it. We need to both recognise the
states that it is philosophers who tell other
larger struggle and to discover its manifestations in
people what they (the other people) are really doing.

that most obscure of disciplines, Philosophy.

It can never be the other way about, with people from
other disciplines putting the philosopher in his place.

Philosophy itself cannot, according to this idea, be
the object of another theory, it is strictly aloof
When we say that Philosophy is irrelevant or boring
from all theories. This myth ensures philosophy’s
or trivial or at a dead end, many philosop~ers will not
isolation from other disciplines.

agree with us. Things are only relevant to some particular aim or position, and all we are really saying is
Thirdly comes the lack of purpose, which views
that all this verbal thrust and counter-thrust is
any talk about the purpose of philosophy as involving
irrelevant to us, as individuals with our own interests
some kind of logical mistake. In order to protect the
and aspirations. If you were raised on the playing
philosopher from the charge of being a parasite,
fields of Eton, or are merely looking for something
interesting to do, you would have different interests
Philosophy’s purpose is shrouded in subjectivism and
mysticism. Anyone who doubts the usefulness of what
and aspirations, and this type of philosophy would
he is doing is dismissed as a bad philosopher.

prhaps be just what you were looking for. What we
would describe as “trivial”, someone with such intt~rests
Finally there is the myth of neutrality which
might describe as “paying attention to detail”. And
views it as wrong to examine philosophical disputes
so I would not describe the traditional philosophy as
in the light of non-philosophical ones. This myth
universally trivial. It is absolutely essential to the
claims more than just that Philosophy does not represent
upper classes as part of their domination of everyday
any sectional interest, it goes as far as to say that
ideology. It is irrelevant to me merely because I have
individual philosophies do not either. Both Philosophy
no wish to support that domination.

and particular philosophies are an attempt at some
Absolute Truth.

It would be a hopeless task to set out to devise
a philosophy that is not trivial, all we can do is to
It is at the level of myths such as these that
devise philosophies that reflect certain viewpoints.

the attack needs to be mounted. For example,
There are many possible view-points that differ from
Wittgenstein, who undoubtedly has many virtues as a
the orthodox one, but the important point is, how
philosopher, is guilty of harbouring all these myths,
many reflect the viewpoint of a large enough body of
some of them quite explicitly. Any radical criticism
people to make effective changes in the educational
of his work must, I would have though, concentrate
system even feasible? Only a Marxist philosophy
on such weaknesses.

sets out to do just that, and fundamentally it is for
this reason that is treated with such hostility in our 33
Philosophy Departments. In a University in Moscow, 1;

Turning now to what we ought to do in the Group,
feel that the division of interest must be raised
again. The tendency is for professionals to want to
achieve an element of academic freedom. But it has
sometimes happened that this freedom, once gained, can
be used against the interests of students. For example,
where you have a system that allows lecturers a certain
amount of freedom, students who make specific demands
on course content can get the reply, “But nobody wants
to do it. Surely you don’t want to attack our academic
freedom?”. Academic freedom can be a two-edged sword
from the student’s point of view, for we do not just
want our ideas tolerated, we want them put into effect.

From the student’s point of view the tendency is
to see their complaints against the department as part
of a much larger struggle, taking place through their
Union, against the whole University system and, ultimately, the social system. Unless the professionals can
also make the same sort of connections (not so easy
perhaps with the AUT), and are able to see their
a~ademic struggle as a part of other struggles, the
success of any of which can only come through unity,
I see no hope of a real alternative emerging. It is
only by this committment to unity that a practical
alternative viewpoint can be adopted. Alternative
philosophies do not blossom like flowers, they have
a job to do and are forged in a situation of conflict.

I have heard Radical Philosophy described as a
kind of ‘Philosopher’s Liberation’, on a par with
Women’s and Gay Liberation. I think the analogy useful,
for just as these liberation groups started out thinking
that the world would be changed by being made aware of
their reasonable demands, they quickly found out that
the reality is something different. Those parts of the
Liberation groups which are seriously concerned with
changing certain oppressive features of society have
rapidly become overtly political and have unified with
wider political movements. I see no other alternative
for Radical Philosophy. Either a few like-minded
professionals will have found an outlet for their
interests, and little else will happen, or the Group
must become seriously committed to changing the present
state of philosophy. In which case it must take the
task seiously, for it will be no easy business.

“And finally, for heaven’s sake, what business
have our YQuth with the history of philosophy? Shall
the confusion of opinions discourage them from having
opinions of their own? Shall they be trained to join
in the jubiliation at our wonderful progress? Shall
they even learn to hate and despise philosophy? One
would almost think the latter was the case if one
knew how students have to torture themselves for their
philosophy exams in order to cram into their brains
the craziest and sharpest ideas of the human mind
together with the greatest and most difficult. The
only criticism of a philosophy which is possible, and
which also proves something – that of seeing if one’

can live by it – has never been taught at the universities: but always criticism of words by words. And
now let one imagine a youthful and inexperienced mind,
in which fifty verbal systems and fifty criticisms of
the same are stored next to each other in confusion what wilderness, what chaos, what mockery of the philosophical education! In fact, one is not educated for
philosophy, as is admitted, but for a philosophy examination: the usual result being, as is well known, that
the person taking the test – an all too severe test! says to himself with a heavy sigh: “Thank God that I
am no philosopher, but a Christian and a citizen of
my state!”
Let one ask oneself: “What if this heavy sigh
were what the State was aiming for, and the “education
for phiiosophy” only a drawing away from philosophy?”
But if this is the case, there is only one thing to
fear: that finally youth will realize for what end
philosophy is being misused … They become acquainted
with the forbidden books, begin to criticize their
teachers’ and finally notice the purpose of university 34
philosophy and its examinations

Trevor Pateman
Martin Skelton-Robinson (Sanity Madness and the
Problem of Ignorance, Radical Philosophy 2, p.26) takes
me to task and I’d like to reply. Four points then.

Ci) My possible explanation requires modification,
since Maya can sometimes comment fairly lucidly on
what is being done to her. So instead of writing that
she is unable “to know what is true and what is false
in a given situation” I should write “in a given
complex situation” and refer say, to the complex
dyadic situations symbolised in Self and Others or
Interpersonal Perception. But the qualification still
leaves the cognitive orientation I am suggesting intact.

(ii) This orientation – which resembles 18th century
theories of madness by the way (see Foucault – Histoire
de la Folie – 10/18 edn – pp.182-200) – can account for
much. if not all, of the symptomatology which Laing
and Esterson and I neglect (perhaps justifiably – our
colleagues on Red Hat would find risible the idea that
clinical psychologists ‘encounter’ ‘experiences’ when
they make a ‘diagnosis’ which legitimates the original
hospital admission. Remember also that the symptom is
not a brute fact, but belongs within a complex and
changing ideological field -(see Foucault – Naissance
de la Clinique, 2nd edn, PUF, 1971). Leaving aside
these asides, however: with respect to emotional
impoverishment, I would argue that you can’t respond
emotionally when you can’t conceptualise the situation
to which you are responding. Alasdair MacIntyre has
been making this point for years, in terms of the
connextion of emotion and belief. Such an approach
also allows us to say: people are apathetic not
because politicians always lie, but in part because
they can’t tell when they are lying and when not.

Another example: I suspect that many more people
‘hear voices’ than say they hear voices. The only
difference could be that some people are not so good
at distinguishing what I called in my Note veridical
and delusive perceptions. When I hear voices I know
enough about knowing not to ascribe them to someone
else. This may, of course, cut me off from God.

(iii) In what is obviously meant as a magistral put
down, Skelton-Robinson deduces from my argument “And
so the theory of knowledge will have to study childrearing customs!” Tu quoque: It always has – look at
Locke or Wittgenstein. What I felt was radical about
my Note was the implication that the study of child
rearing customs could fruitfully be taken much more
seriously by ‘philosophers’, from which study might
emerge the idea and practice of a practice which would
take ‘philosophers’ out of the Academy and into “real”
social situations where they, like the psychiatrist,
might intervene. By which I mean: one of the things
they could do is to help people like Maya to some sort
of cognitive sureness in themselves. Which brings
me to my final point:

(iv) The Registrar General puts the incidence of
schizophrenia at 0.85%. I put it at 20-30%. Maya
might be me or one of my friends. When I have to
respond to the discourse of a friend, or when I have
to reflect on my own discourse — that is when I
need ideas like those of Laing and Esterson to aid
me in my self-orientation and my orientation to
another. For me, Maya is not an object of study,
but a person to whom I have to relate, for her sake
and for mine.

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