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The Inorganic Body and the Ambiguity of Freedom

The Inorganic Body and the
Ambiguity of Freedom
Andrew Collier
The universality of man manifests itself in practice in that
universality which makes the whole of nature his inorganic
body, (1) as a direct means oflife and (2) as the matter, the
object and the tool of his life activity. Nature is man’s
inorganic body, that is to say nature in so far as it is not the
human body. Man lives from nature, i.e. nature is his body,
and he must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if he is
not to die. To say that man’s physical and melltallife is
linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself,
for man is a part of nature.

(Marx, Early Writings, p. 328)
If we place this notion in the foreground of Marx’ s early thought,

that thought immediately becomes more fertile and suggestive of
important in sights than if it is interpreted with ‘humanism’ in the
foreground. We can once again learn from it, even if we entirely
accept Althusser’s critique of that humanism.

No doubt the’ inorganic body’ thesis was not in the foreground
for Marx himself. It is an aside,and he never works out its
implications. But there are a few things to be said about what is
implied by Marx, in context, before I go on to draw on other
sources to elaborate this notion.

In the first place, it means that we interact causally with the rest
of nature, and are dependent for our existence, and for what we
are, on that interaction. That we are dependent on nature is
obvious enough, but Marx is drawing attention to the special
nature of that dependence: on the one hand, that it is not dependence on something external, in that we are constituted as the
beings that we are by the way we live out that dependence; and on
the other hand, that we ‘live from’ nature actively, and thereby
transform it, so that nature (at least on this planet) is always shot
through with human history. For instance, the New Forest, in
which I walk at every opportunity, and in which I conceived many
of the ideas in this paper, is no gift of nature ~ except in the sense
that everything is; it is a monument to the Norman tyrants’ lust for
blood-sports. Taking these two points together, our transformation of nature is also the transformation of ourselves, and the
primary way in which we, as a species, do transform ourselves.

(This last clause is another way of formulating the materialist
conception of history.)
While this position is as far as could be from any ‘Luddite’

hostility to our cumulative productive powers, it does highlight
their peculiarly destructive potential – a potential actualised by
capitalism. It does so in three ways:

(1) if the world ‘outside’ us is essential to our being, then the
propertylessness of the proletarians is not a deprivation of
something ‘external’, leaving them in free possession of their

Radical Philosophy 57, Spring 1991

essential being. Our advantage over the animals is transformed
into a disadvantage, in that our inorganic body is taken away from
us, as Marx comments on the page following the above quote.

When he goes on to say that’ estranged labour’ estranges us from
our own body, from nature outside us, from our spiritual essence
and from our human essence, he may be read as saying the same
thing in four ways, rather than four things. 1
(2) While we must use nature if we are to live, the idea that it is
our inorganic body suggests that this is essentially more like the
way that we ‘use’ our own bodies-actuaI,2 our own limbs and
organs, than it is like any means-end relationship. Treating nature
as a means to individual existence is specially mentioned as part
of estrangement, in the passage just referred to (Early Writings, p.

329). This distinction between two kinds of use of nature is taken
up later in Marx’s manuscripts (Early Writings, pp. 352-53): under
communism ‘nature has lost its mere utility in the sense that its use
has become human use’ – while ‘the dealer in minerals sees only
the commercial value, and not the beauty and peculiar nature of
the minerals; he lacks a mineralogical sense’.

(3) The manuscript on money (pp. 375-79) can be read as spelling
out two ways of living our inorganic bodies. The omnipotence of
money in the market economy does not, of course, make us any
less dependent on our interaction with nature, but it takes away the
personal, situated, integrated manner of exercising our physical,
emotional and intellectual powers upon the natural and human
world about us, each from their historical and geographical
perspective, with its specific links to others and to one’s habitat.

Instead, our powers are subsumed under a single, infinitely
divisible and amassable power, indifferent to its agent and the
content of its exercise: money.

He who can buy courage is grave, even if he is a coward.

Money is not exchanged for a particular quality, a particular thing, or for any particular one of the essential powers
of man, but for the whole objective world of man and
nature. (ibid., p. 379)
In the next two sections, I shall try to work out a fuller conception
of what is involved in thinking of ourselves as bodies-cosmic
rather than bodies-actual, drawing on the work of Heidegger and
of Spinoza; in the final section, I shall spell out the political

Body as World: the Heideggerian Approach
One way of following up the ideas that our material being is more
extensive than the space enclosed in our skins is Heidegger’s
concept of Being-in-the-World as definitive of human existence,


and his analysis of what it means to be ‘in’ the world. Heidegger
makes a sharp break with all accounts which locate our minds
inside our bodies; we are our worlds – and whatever it is that gives
unity to our selves (and Heidegger has two alternative accounts of
what it is, according to whether we exist authentically or
inauthentically), it is not that either body or mind is a substance.

One way in to this idea is by contrasting a metaphor of
Heidegger’s with two of Popper’s: Popper refers to buckettheories of the mind, and searchlight-theories. Heidegger’s metaphor is of a clearing in the forest. Only by virtue of the clearing are
the trees visible, yet the clearing is nothing except the trees and the
relations between them. We are not in the clearing, we are the
clearing. And this indicates that this conception is no longer on the
Cartesian ground of a theory of ‘mind’ at all: rather, we have
extended the boundaries we assign to our bodily beings: we have
exosomatic parts.

Our way of being is ‘Being-in-the-World’, but the ‘in’ does
not signify spatial containment: we are our worlds. It is not difficult to find everyday examples to make such an extended
definition of our bodies plausible: we habitually regard our
clothes, tools we are using, bicycles we are riding etc. as part of
us. We feel the road with the wheels of the bike; the motorist refers
to ‘my wing’ getting scratched; the victim of a burglary feels
violated, even if nothing has been taken and no damage done.

Also, distant objects may be existentially closer to us than
spatially nearer ones: the scene I look at through the window is
more ‘part of me’ than the window; this is a sort of ‘intentional
inexistence’ ,3 i.e. the scene exists in me in that I comport myself
towards it; what I am being cannot be understood without reference
to the scene, yet it can be fairly well understood without reference
to the window, or indeed to my toenails or my appendix.

being necessary and unsuccessful, are unnecessary and foolish,
since the ‘external world’ is not external- and not because it is ‘in
our minds’, but because we are’ out there’ in it.

However, granted (as Heidegger grants) that we are always
partly in error about the world, do not ‘our worlds’ come apart
from ‘the world’ as practically determined appearances of it? May
not the way things are organised in my world be unlike the way
they are organised in the world?

Here a few remarks are in order about all those existentialist
polemics against ‘objectivity’. In the empiricist culture of the
Anglophone world, we are accustomed to understand ‘objectivity’ and ‘subjectivity’ primarily in an epistemic sense. When we
hear objectivity decried, we assume that some sort of epistemological subjectivism such as Feyerabend’s is being defended. I
think that there is in fact scarcely a trace of such subjectivism in
the works of Kierkegaard or Macmurray or Heidegger or Sartre.

Rather, ‘subjectivity’ is taken in an ontological sense, as referring
to (epistemically quite objective) realities such as emotions,
beliefs, encounters, reasonings etc. Thus when R. D. Laing, for
instance, under the influence of these thinkers, says ‘objectively
there are no intentions’ ,4 he is not saying that intentions are in the
mind of the beholder, but that intentions belong to the world of
‘subjectivity’ that a certain kind of beholder – one in the grip of
a reductive metaphysics – might miss. At this point it might look
as if their anti-objectivism is no more than anti-reductivism. It
does include anti-reductivism, but I think it also includes something less acceptable: resistance to a certain kind of knowledge,
contrasted with the knowledge inherent in practice, and variously
labelled ‘objective’, ‘contemplative’ or ‘intellectual’. I shall not
consider here whether there really is some dirty bath water to be
thrown out under these headings, but I do think that the existentialists have thrown out a baby in the process. That baby is
counter-phenomenal knowledge. For the capacity of knowledge
to contradict appearances is essential if knowledge is to have a
liberating function: it is, as Marx and Freud have indicated,
precisely because appearances can be false and enslaving that
knowledge can be liberating.

Before discussing this matter with reference to Heidegger, it
may help to clarify what is at issue if! quote and comment briefly
on a passage from Macmurray’s book Interpreting the Universe.

That immediate knowledge of the world which is the
effortless result of living in it and working with it and
struggling against it has a much higher claim to be taken as
the type of human knowledge than anything science either
has or can make possible. For the scientist takes this
immediate know ledge of the world for granted and bases
himself squarely upon it by his continuous appeal to facts.

His particular business is simply to interpret it, to express
it in such a way that we understand what we already knew
in a quite different and immediate fashion. (pp. 16–17)

The unifying force which organises my world is my practical
concern. ‘My world’ in this sense is unique to me; ‘your world’

is organised around your particular concerns, which may be quite
different. Yet ‘my world’ is not composed of appearances, of
‘things for me’. It is the real bicycle, the real road, the real sunlight
that go to make up my world – and of course they may go to make
up your world too. We need to clarify this point, since Heidegger’ s
phenomenological heritage places him under suspicion of subjectivism, and at times perhaps the suspicion is well founded. But he
certainly thinks that he has shown the error of idealism, in that
attempts to prove the existence of the’ external world’ , so far from


The first two sentences, rightly interpreted, may be accepted; but
it does not follow that the scientist ‘simply’ interprets prescientific knowledge; he or she may produce radically new
knowledge, and therewith new practices; and this new know ledge
may contradict the’ immediate’ knowledge which preceded and
gave rise to it.

In Heidegger’ s account of phenomenology in the introduction
to Being and Time he distinguishes ‘phenomenon’ in the sense
used in his version of phenomenology – ‘that which shows itself’

– from ‘appearance’ in senses in which there is a contrast with
something that does not appear, i.e. firstly, from semblance;
secondly from senses this word has in”contexts where something
that does not appear ‘announces itself’ in something that does
(e.g. disease in a symptom); and thirdly from the Kantian sense,

Radical Philosophy 57, Spring 1991

in which an appearance is of something that can never appear (the
thing-in-itself). Yet ‘phenomenon’ does contrast with something:

‘Behind’ the phenomena of phenomenology there is essentially nothing else; on the other hand, what is to become
a phenomenon can be hidden. And just because the phenomena are proximally and for the most part not given, there
is a need for phenomenology. Covered-up-ness is the
counter-concept to ‘phenomenon’. (p. 60)
Phenomenology then has the task of making things show themselves, which were previously covered up. That looks like counter-phenomenal knowledge – the sort of knowledge that can
liberate. Yet Heidegger is reluctant to allow science its appearance/reality distinction. Indeed, he tends to invert the relation
between scientific and pre-scientific knowledge, treating scientific results, despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that they are
the product of a laborious work of uncovering, as merely subjective, and as tending to cover up Being, to which the knowledge
implicit in everyday practice gives us genuine access.

Heidegger, in fact, sees his analysis of Being -in-the-World as,
despite analysing what is closest to us, running against the
difficulty that our world has been pre-interpreted to us in terms of
something that is existentially further from us – i.e. the world of
mechanically related objects. In the world that is closest to us – the
work-world which we inhabit prior to theoretical explanationsthe hammer is encountered as that with which we fix the shutter,
which in turn is that with which we make a dwelling weatherproof.

This world as a whole is composed of the gear that we use, and
structured by its reference back to some projected being of ours.

Only when the head flies off the hammer are we forced to consider
it as an entity with properties other than being hammerable with.

So begins objective inquiry. And we habitually misread our lived
world as like the objective reality thus discovered. As so often
with Heidegger, a good and a bad point are mixed up together
here. There really is a Cartesian or empiricist picture of the world
as composed of mutually external and independent entities,
related only mechanically. Consider such ideas as: sense data, the
knowledge of other minds as inferential, action as intentional
muscular contraction, etc. I believe that Heidegger gives a more
thorough and less obscurantist antidote to these errors than, for
example, Wittgenstein. But one does not have to be an empiricist
or a Cartesian in order to recognise that objective inquiry may

Radical Philosophy 57, Spring 1991

yield deeper knowledge of what is there than that vouchsafed by
the knowledge implicit in unexamined practice; that it may
contradict, correct and explain that knowledge. Indeed, since the
function of objective inquiry according to Heidegger (and also to
Macmurray) is to put to rights some upset which has occurred in
the everyday work-world, it must be able to produce more
adequate ideas than were already implicit in the understanding of
that work-world, or fail in its function.

At this point, I begin the transition from Heidegger to Spinoza:

implicit in our worlds, the worlds of our practical concern, is a set
of assumptions about how the world is causally ordered; the elements of my body-cosmic are linked by relations of causality and
dependence which I must assume in my concernful dealings with
them. I may be mistaken about these relations, and the project of
rectifying these mistakes is always implicit in those dealings. All
this is often at an entirely unreflective level: I grasp a branch to
swing across a muddy stream on; I give it a little tug before
trusting my weight to it, and then swing across.

If then we distinguish the practical relations of ‘in order to’

and ‘towards which’ which organise my world as analysed by
Heidegger, and the objective relations of causality and dependence which organise the world, we may say that the former presuppose and imply the latter, and tend to rectify themselves
towards correspondence with the latter.

World as Body: the Spinozan Approach
When Spinoza writes about the human body, what does he mean?

The idea that he means the body-actual has been held up to
question, though finally defended, by Odegard, who considers the
possibility that only the brain might be intended, since it is
supposedly this that corresponds under the attribute of extension
to the mind under the attribute of thought. s
However, the following points require consideration: (1)
Complex bodies, for Spinoza, are relatively stable equilibriating
systems composed of less complex bodies. Our bodies-actual are
of course such bodies, as are some of their parts. But our bodiesactual also interact causally in relatively stable ways with the
world about them, and can go on being so only so long as they do.

The world in its causal interaction with my body-actual, insofar
as that interaction forms a relatively stable system, constitutes a
composite body: my body-cosmic, considered in its objective
being. To a degree, however tiny, I interact with the whole of
nature. There are degrees of causal closeness of entities with me,
as they are more or less essential to the equlibrium that makes me
be. But ‘closeness’ here does not mean proximity to my body
actual- it means necessity to my body-cosmic thus constituted;
I am not my body-actual, I am my body-cosmic. I may very well
do without my tooth or my tonsils, but not without a roof over my
head, or the sun to warm my planet. 6 (2) Granted that my bodycosmic is a composite body in Spinoza’ s terms, is it that composite
body to which, under the attribute of extension, there corresponds
my mind under the attribute of thought? Well, I certainly think
more about my house and my bike and my path to work across
Southampton Common than I do about my spleen or my lymph
nodes. The usual reading of Spinoza is that the mind is the idea of
the body-actual, entities outside of which are known only indirectly, through their effects on the body-actual; to greater clarity
and knowledge there corresponds, under the attribute of extension, greater causal interaction between body-actual and world.

On this reading, Spinoza is very hard to defend; my idea of the
kitchen stove is not an idea of the effects of the kitchen stove on
my body-actual. But suppose the mind corresponds to the bodycosmic; it is quite defensible to say that perception is the


proprioception of the body-cosmic. The clarity of that perception
is certainly bound up with the degree and kind of causal interaction between the elements of the body-cosmic (and not just
between the body-actual and other parts of the body-cosmic, but
also between different ‘external’ parts of the body-cosmic, e.g.

television and aerial, thermometer and atmosphere, etc.).

Insofar as we interact causally with all of nature, but to
different degrees, the body-cosmic has no clear boundaries – it
has the form of a cross, not a circle; but it can be said to be extended
to the degree that direct and indirect causal interaction between
the body-actual and its world is increased – not just any interaction,
however, but that which serves to maintain the equilibrium ofthe
system. The more we are sensitive to the world around us, and the
more we control it, the more it is part of us. Now let us consider
the implications ofthis for Spinoza’s derivation of morality from
the drive for self-advantage, the conatus. (3) When we hear selfadvantage praised, and assessed only insofar as it is rational or
irrational, we are apt to think in terms of that most irrational of
human vices, ‘economic rationality’. We think ‘self-advantage’

means increasing one’s bank balance, and that it is done rationally
if it is done with the minimum productive labour. But of course for
Spinoza rationality is not the means to self-advantage, rationality
is the definition of self-advantage. Thus at Ethics IV, p. 26:

Apart from men [homines] we know no singular thing in
nature whose Mind we can enjoy, and which we can join
to ourselves in friendship, or some kind of association.

And so, whatever there is in nature apart from men, the
principle of seeking our own advantage does not demand
that we preserve it. Instead, it teaches us to preserve or
destroy it according to its use, or to adapt it to our use in any
way whatsoever. (IV Appendix XXVI, Curley, p. 592)

What we strive for from reason is nothing but understanding; nor does the Mind, insofar as it uses reason, judge
anything useful to itself except what leads to understanding.

(Curley, p. 559)
Under the attribute of extension, this is matched by p. 38:

Whatever so disposes the human Body that it can be
affected in a great many ways, or renders it capable of
affecting external Bodies in a great many ways, is useful
to man; the more it renders the Body capable of being
affected in a great many ways, or of affecting other bodies,
the more useful it is; on the other hand, what renders the
Body less capable of these things is harmful. (Curley, p.

Since this increase in understanding, equivalent to the extending
of the body-cosmic, is aided not hindered by the same development in others, rational self-advantage is for Spinoza inherently
a co-operative, not a competitive good.

But on the basis of my interpretation of the human body as the
body-cosmic, we can take Spinoza’s system even further away
from egoism than he wants to go. For I take it that Spinoza
recognises the existence of part-conatuses (conatuses of parts of
the body-actual) which, while they may be harmful if they
override the conatus of the individual as a whole, have legitimate
claims to balanced satisfaction within that conatus. But if the
conatus of the individual as a whole is not that ofthe body-actual
but of the body-cosmic, then conatuses of parts of the bodycosmic, whether or not within the body-actual, can enter their
claims. Not only those of other people (for other people are
included in anyone’s body-cosmic), but of animate and inanimate
parts of our civic and natural environment. So that, to the extent
that my active and passive powers are increased, the world
becomes to a greater degree my world – more of the universe
becomes more closely incorporated into my body-cosmic; correspondingly, its claims on me are greater. The limit of this process
– approached from an infinite distance – would be the identity of
the personal conatus with that ‘providence’ which preserves the
whole universe in its complex interaction (or to translate into
Freudian, of libido with Eros).

As an interpretation of Spinoza, this would be far-fetched, for
he is undeniably anthropocentric:


(So far as his theory of perception is concerned, on the other hand,
it cries out to be interpreted in terms of the body-cosmic – as do’

the more ‘mystical’ parts of his thought, if they are to be given any
rational sense.)
Nevertheless, I don’t think the idea of a conatus of the bodycosmic is an implausible view of human motivation. Our attitude
to death bears witness to that. We fear the dissolution of our world,
rather than of our body actual. We care what happens to its
components after our death: ‘to part is to die a little’; that is not a
metaphor, but a literal truth: to die is to part altogether. On the
positive side, not only love but such things as intellectual curiosity
and the love of beauty fit better with this hypothesis than with
many others. And I don’t think there is anything utopian about it.

It is not, for instance, a claim that we are ‘naturally altruistic’, but
that the ontology on which the egoism/altruism dichotomy makes
sense is a false one.

Freedom in the Common World
This conception of our place in the world has several consequences for our thinking about freedom. In the first place, it
commits us to an ‘in gear’ rather than an ‘out of gear’ conception
of freedom: a freedom that pre-supposes that we interact causally
with the world, and a freedom which is enhanced as our active and
passive powers in that interaction are increased – i.e. our powers
on the one hand to affect the world in various ways, and on the
other, to be affected by more of the world in more ways. Causal
laws, while they constrain what we can do, also enable us to do
what we can do; we could not act at all where they did not operate.

More or less freedom, then, means more or less effective interaction
in one’s world – not disengagement from the causal processes
operative in the ‘outside world’, as in Cynic, Stoic and Kantian
ethics, and in Cartesian, Kantian and Sartrean metaphysics. Since
causal laws are a function of the structures that exist in the world,
and there are alternative possible structures in some aspects ofthe
world (e.g. economic structures), more or less freedom may also

Radical Philosophy 57, Spring 1991

involve more or less congenial structures. But more freedom
never involves escaping causal interaction, freewheeling.

Secondly, the conception of the inorganic body, and hence the
non-privacy of the body, undermines the idea that individual
rights or freedoms could have some’ natural’ basis in an ontological
boundary between individuals. There is no such boundary. The
world is a common world. Even the body-actual of each is part of
the body-cosmic of all, and thus others may in principle have
some legitimate claim over it. If there are boundaries within
which an individual may do as they please, these are socially
demarked boundaries. They may differ in different societies, and,
though one way of drawing them may be better or worse than
another, none are ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’.

So, thirdly, all freedom, as freedom to interact with and hence
change the world – which is never just ‘my’ world but everyone’s
world – all freedom, I say, is to a greater or lesser degree freedom
to transform the common world. It is important to note that this is
to a greater or lesser degree. Certainly, I am more causally enmeshed with some parts of the world than with others. My bodyactual has a unique part in determining how close a part of me (i.e.

of my body-cosmic) any given entity is. But it does not follow that
nothing outside by body-actual can be closer to me than my bodyactual. I am far more causally dependent for my existence and
essence on some beings outside of my body-actual – including
some other people – than I am on some parts of my body-actual.

The causal/existential ‘closeness’ or ‘distance’ of various things
is relevant when we come to decide where to draw the lines
between people’s freedoms, which powers to prioritise, and so on.

Nevertheless, that which we are apportioning in such line-drawing is always power to transform the common world. And so it is
always pertinent to ask whether a given exercise of freedom – a
given transformation of the common world – is with or without
common consent.

Now let us consider a few commonplace examples: the
question of ‘passive smoking’ for instance. The anti-no-smoking
lobby typically uses libertarian language, as if, whatever might be
said for ‘no smoking’ it is unambiguously a restraint on freedom,
and not an increment of freedom. Another example is that I am
free to walk a dog on Southampton Common, but not free to take
my child for a picnic there without risk of his being frightened by
dogs, or infected with toxicaria from dogs’ turds. Most people’s
assumption is that the former freedom is a straightforward freedom, the latter something else. In these cases there is a little more
awareness now, in reaction against the ‘libertarian’ culture of
Thatcher’s Britain, that the freedoms from smoke and uncontrolled
dogs are real cases of freedom. B ut it is still taken for granted that
the onus is on the advocates of these freedoms to prove their case;
the smokers’ and dog-walkers’ freedoms are treated as the obvious ones. The cards are stacked against freedoms to live in a
congenial common world, and for freedoms to transform the
common world without common consent. And this bias is not just
a matter of custom, 7 it is backed up by liberal political philosophy,
and the whole ontology of the isolated but mobile individual that
underlies it.

Motor traffic is a similar, and more far-reaching, case. Restraints on motorists’ freedom are deeply resented, yet nothing
transforms our common urban world more (aside from wider
planetary effects), and this transformation is the effect of thousands of unconnected decisions, plus the public authorities’

adaptation to them. It is not a common decision, even in a purely
aggregative sense, for each individual’s decision to buy a car or
use it on a given occasion is made in the absence of the alternative
option (a communal transport policy) which could only be made
available by a common political decision. Were the same individuals to make a common decision, and hence have the alternative
before them, the result might be quite different. My case is not just
Radical Philosophy 57, Spring 1991

that there should be no absolute freedom to transform the common
world without common consent, but that there should be much
more freedom to transform the common world with and by
common consent.

Here I come to the ambiguity of freedom referred to in the title;
many political issues concern the area of conflict between two sets
of freedoms: in political terms, we may distinguish market freedom, which is the power money gives its possessor to transform
the common world without common consent (this I call dispersed
freedom); and civic freedom, i.e. the freedom to co-determine
with one’s fellow-citizens a common project for the common
world – whether a project of conservation or of transformation.

This I call gathered freedom. In calling market freedom dispersed,
I mean in the first place that power, though inherently social, is
assigned to individuals to use without regard for others affected.

But there is more to it than that. Actions the effects of which loom
large in the worlds of their agents and small in the common world
(decorating one’s house, for instance) may well be best dispersed
in this sense. But here the claim to take that particular power out
of the remit of common agreement is dependent upon the closeness to the individual of this bit of their world, its marginality to
any other individual. Money-power, however, is dispersed in
another sense too. It is unconnected with the particularity of the
one who possesses it; it may equally well be power over their own
or somebody else’s house, their cup of tea or a tea plantation on
the other side of the earth, time on TV or time at a private clinic.

Finally, it is dispersed in that it escapes even its possessor as the
market constrains their decisions and transforms the consequences of those decisions.

Hence it may be said to be dispersed in three dimensions:

socially, in that social power is exercised by individual agents in
separation; temporally, in that it is power to get what one wants
now, but not to plan for a congenial world in which to live out
one’s days; and spatially, in that it is dislocated from the agents’

place in the world. Gathered freedom, by contrast, is gathered
socially, in that common decisions are made about the common
world; spatially, in that a community exercises its common power
over its common world, i.e. the world from its perspective, the
parts ofthe world that are existentially/causally closest to it. And
temporally in that it is exercised with consideration for the past
and future of a community, not only for some instant gain.

Perhaps a simple example will clarify the contrasts between
gatheredness and dispersedness in the spatial and temporal dimensions (I assume it is clear enough in the social dimension).

Suppose a firm of developers buys a part of a street in order to
develop it for different – more profitable, obviously – uses. The
other residents object, since the character of their street will be
ruined. But since the boundaries of their properties will not be


transgressed by the developers, their plea is treated as unreasonable; the space in which they live is treated as dispersed into
proprietary plots. As a result of this pre-supposition that the only
freedom worth having is dispersed freedom, it is impossible for
anyone settling in a neighbourhood to do so (with any degree of
confidence) as part of a project of their life as a whole, since the
power to transfonn or conserve the material character of the
neighbourhood is not with them and their neighbours, but at the
caprice of the market. So one’s freedom to live as one chooses is
short tenn, and in any case not freedom to live in a congenial
world one has collaboratively chosen, but freedom to move about
an alien world in pursuit of congenial bits.

Having sketched the ambiguity of freedom, I can perhaps
make it sharper, and at the same time remove the grounds for some
objections. My view that we are all, even in our bodies-actual,
parts (to a greater or lesser degree) of the bodies-cosmic of all,
might suggest the Sadean slogan ‘everyone belongs to everyone
else’ , which of course in the Sadean context means that everyone
has the right of use and abuse over the bodies-actual of everyone
else. That Sadean Republic is not viable because it squanders its
most precious resource: the bodies-actual of its citizens. The
freedom in Sade’ s republic is dispersed freedom, in just the sense
that market freedom is, but extended to the world of bodily
encounter, sexual and/or violent. The gathered exercise of our
mutual ownership is something quite different: the sort of mutual
care and common responsibility of all for the well-being of the
body-actual of each, suggested by St Paul’s ‘we are members one
of another’. This does commit us to what Mill described as a
monstrous principle: that which’ ascribes to all mankind a vested
interest in each other’s moral, intellectual, and even physical
perfection’ .8


With no objective criterion by which to judge the merit of
competing economic alternatives, the detenninant necessarily becomes the subjective preference of those who
hold power. (Nigel Swain, ‘Hungary’s socialist Project in
Crisis’, New Left Review 176, 1989)



Now I would like to conclude by working out more explicitly
the difference between gathered and dispersed freedom with
reference to the production and use of common resources, ‘political economy’. It is well known that one of the contrasts in Marx’ s
work is that between the production of exchange-value and the
production of use-value. I think that both Marxists and ecological
critics of Marxism have underestimated the radical nature of the
difference between the dispersed economic rationality that governs exchange-value production, and the gathered economic
rationality that would govern use-value production.

For, if the goal of production is to bring into being things or
states of affairs useful to people, then in the first place, not just the
‘product’ in the narrow sense – that which, in exchange-value
production, is to be sold – has to be considered, but also every
effect that the production process has – including effects on the
workers’ health and state of mind, the environment, and so on.

Many of these ‘products’ will have a negative use value. For
exchange-value production, whatever is inessential to the realisation of exchange-value is left out of account, but in use-value
tenns, there could be no rational justification for such tunnel
vision. Secondly, use-values have no common quantitative measure. Calculation could therefore have no place in deciding between different production projects. The community would have
to decide what to produce and how without any quantifiable
grounds for the decision. This does not of course mean that their
decision would be arbitrary. They would have to ask themselves
the question: what sort of world do we want to live in as a result
of our productive activities? The desires and self-understanding
and infonnation of the community concerned will detennine the
answer. That is far from arbitrary. But no sort of quantitative
‘cost-benefit analysis’, even if spiked with a few imponderables
and restyled ‘comprehensive weighing’, can help.

It is curious that the apparent ‘objectivity’ of exchange-value
calculation – which is nothing but the structurally rooted denial of
the people’s power to choose their conditions of life – has
attracted some who believe themselves to be democrats. For




But that is not, as he suggests, undemocratic. It is one necessary
condition of economic democracy. The other is that ‘those who
hold power’ should be answerable to the people. If the people
prefer to bow before an ‘objective’ measure, that is simply
abdicating their power and responsibility -like tossing a coin. For
what is measured by the objective measure is something quite
other than the people’s wellbeing. In a bureaucratic command
economy at least someone is deciding; to make that decision
process democratic is one thing; to abdicate it in favour of market
forces and the sort of calculability that only makes sense under
conditions of the alienation of human powers into market forces,
is something different. 9
Use-value planning then is an exercise in gathered freedom in
the threefold sense (social, environmental, temporal) – a community deciding the future of its material environment. Insofar as
each person is asking themselves, not ‘what can I get?’, but ‘what
sort of world do I want to live in?’ and hence ‘how shall we care
for our inorganic body?’, our self-understanding as beneficiaries
of the productive process is not as consumers, but as dwellers in
the world as transformed by our labour.

This in turn has consequences for the controversy about
‘growth’. Marxist theory has a concept of technical progress, e.g.

Radical Philosophy 57, Spring 1991

the shortening of necessary labour time; more specifically, in its
analysis of capitalism, it has the concept ofthe increasing organic
composition of capital; but ‘growth’ in the usual, consumeroriented sense has no equivalent in Marxist science. In exchangevalue terms, there can of course be no overall growth, since
exchange-values express fractions of the total social labour, so
that the total exchange-value produced, by definition = 1. In usevalue terms, one could speak of growth unambiguously only if
more of some kinds of use-value were produced without any
reduction in other kinds, or any increase in negative use-values.

But in practice, there is always gain and loss, and no commensurability between them. However, one specific combination of
use-values may be more congenial for the people who live with
them than another. The nearest we can get to a synonym for
‘growth’ in a socialist economy would be something like’ making
the world a more congenial home for people’ . IO
Am I jettisoning exact ideas in favour of vague ones? In some
cases, yes; exact but false for vague but true ones. The concept of
a consumer, for instance, may be exact enough in its place: we
consume bread and cheese and tea and beer. But it is simply
inapplicable to such ‘products’ as education, health care and the
environment. Whatever could be the product and whoever could
be the consumer of schooling, for example? There is no answer
which is not both misleading and offensive. Yet this language is
in increasingly common use, obscuring such facts as that schooling takes up a large part of people’s lives, that it can be inherently
rewarding or frustrating, that it starts when we are relatively
dependent and finishes when we are relatively independent.

This paper has been guided by the belief that differences about
values are at bottom differences about ontology – not as a
technical philosophical discipline, but as the ontology implicit in
everyone’s ‘commonsense’. That the free market seems acceptable to so many people today indicates that freedom is spontaneously identified with dispersed freedoms, and the lost possibilities
of gathered freedom are not taken into account. That this is so
indicates the prevalence of a number of atomisms (social, temporal,
spatial: the atomisms that make dispersedness in these dimensions
appear the norm) in ‘commonsense’ ontology. I am proposing the
foregrounding of the notion of the inorganic body, the bodycosmic, as the alternative to those atomisms.

In German: ‘Sie entfremdet dem Menschen seine m eignen Leib,
wie die Natur ausser ihm, wie se in geistiges Wesen, sein
menschliches Wesen.’ Marx Engels Werke, Erganzungsband,
Schriften bis 1844, Erster Teil, p. 517.



essary to native English speakers, but I rather think that a recent
semantic shift has made it necessary.


The Voice o/Experience (Pelican, 1983), p. 28.


Douglas Odegard, ‘The Body Identical with the Human Mind:

A Problem in Spinoza’s Philosophy’, in Spinoza: Essays in Interpretation, eds. Mandelbaum and Freeman (Open Court, 1975).


Cf. Heidegger’s notion of our spatiality as ‘making the farness
vanish – that is, making the remoteness of something disappear,
bringing it close.’ Being and Time, p. 139. When we see something distant, by virtue of our seeing it we make our own being
partly constituted by it; it becomes part of us, not by anything we
do to it – it remains unchanged – but by becoming part of the
world that the perceiver is.


The feeling that a customary freedom is more sacrosanct than a
new freedom is one which should be respected. But this distinction is not the same as the one I am making. The ‘obvious’

(dispersed) freedoms are not always the customary ones. The
motorist’s freedom, for example, violates countless customary


See ‘On Liberty’, in Utilitarianism (Fontana, 1962), p. 222.


I am not making any ‘existentialist’ point against the objectivity
of grounds for choice. We may have – and may reason aboutobjective grounds for choosing one ‘possible world’ rather than
another. The point is that there will be a number of competing
alternatives, each with their objective grounds, and no mathematical aids to the choice between them.


Pre-capitalist societies have both an immensely slower rate of
technical progress, and much less tendency to insist on ‘maximum efficiency’ in the use of labour than capitalist ones. It is not
obvious that these are disadvantages, whatever other disadvantages such societies had relative to capitalism. The obsolescence
of still-working equipment, whether in production or ‘consumer
durables’ , is one form of waste attendant upon too-fast progress;
redundancy of human skills is another. It might well be rational
for a socialist community to take it easy where innovation is
concerned. Likewise, ‘overstaffing’ in e.g. a hospital may make
for a much higher level of friendliness and good humour and
willingness to do favours, and hence of healing care, than timeand-motion-studied efficiency. One should always be suspicious of talk about •disguised unemployment’, whether this
refers to the leisure of the Athenian citizen to attend the theatre
and the assembly, or that of the modem worker to chat at work.

Such talk pre-supposes an idea of efficiency that makes no sense
unless one assumes that work is nothing but an unwanted means
to an external end, and has no effects other than the production
of that end.


0/ Spinoza, Vol. I,

I adopt this phrase from Mesmer Partridge’s narrative in Michael
Westlake’s novel The Utopian. It refers to the body as that
enclosed by one’s skin. I contrast it with the ‘body-cosmic’, as
I prefer to call the inorganic body, since it is not entirely
inorganic. 1 hope it goes without saying that ‘cosmic’ is simply
a way of forming an adjective from ‘world’, and has no occult

Curley, Edwin (trans. and ed.), The Collected Works
Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1985.

On the ‘objective/subjective’ issue, I take it that the parts of a
person’s body-cosmic exist objectively and have mutual causal
relations, for the most part independently of that person’s
existence; they are parts of his or her body-cosmic to the extent
that their causal interaction with each other and his or her bodyactual is constitutive of his or her being.

Mandelbaum and Freeman (eds.), Spinoza: Essays in Interpretation, Open
Court, La Salle, Illinois, 1975.

This is the term that Brentano adopted from Aquinas to denote
the relation of the mind’s objects to the mind. When as a student
I attended Hide Ishiguro’s lectures on this topic, she warned us
against thinking that ‘inexistence’ was a negative concept, like
‘non-existence’. At the time, we all thought the warning unnec-

Radical Philosophy 57, Spring 1991

Heidegger, Martin, Being and Time, Blackwell, Oxford, 1967.

Laing, R. D. The Voice o/Experience, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1983.

Macmurray, John, Interpreting the Universe, Faber and Faber, London,

Marx, Early Writings, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1975.

Marx and Engels, Werke: Erganzungsband: Schriften bis 1844, Erster
Teil, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1968.

Westlake, Michael, The Utopian, Carcarnet, Manchester, 1989.


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