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Sanity, Madness and the Problem of Knowledge

grasp Marx’s thought ‘did not succeed in the r intentions,’

above all because they ‘approached Marx ones dely,’ and
deliberately ‘isolated the economist, the ph losopher, or the
historian,’ etc. Of course there is an element of truth in
these remarks, since all scientific work is necessari ly partial
and needs to be complemented by the contribution of later

But to our knowledge, no biography of Marx has
previously had the idea, a ridiculous one to say the least, of
radically separating the study of his thought from that of his
political action. An ‘intellectual’ biography which speaks of
‘the deep-rooted anarchism’ of Marx (p 85), of his ‘anarchist
profession of faith,’ (p 146), etc, but contains no mention of
his struggle, in theory and practice, against Bakunin; a
biography in which ~larx is attributed with an ethical conception
of socialism, but does not even mention the conflict with the
German socialist leaders at the time of the Hochherg case,
during which ~larx and Engels resolutely took up a principled
position against any collaboration with those who based
socialism on morality; such divisions (which, however, derive
naturally from Rubel’ s view which totally separates theory
and practice) seem to us questionable in the biography of any
thinker, but become purely and simply a distortion in the case
of Marx, for whom thought was never separable from struggle
and action. 30

We could add, in dealing with Mr Rubel’s book, very many
more criticisms of the same scope and kind. Obviously the
dimensions of an article do not permit this.

Let us simply say that all this does not seem serious to
us. Mr. Rubel has wasted a considerable effort in order to
affirm, without proof, that Mar x ‘s thought is ambiguous, confused
and contradictory, and in particular to write an ‘intellectual
biography’ of Harx which scarcely touches on the real problems
posed by a genetic study of Marxist thought. Doubtless he has
read very many texts by Marx, but he did not possess the
necessary philosophical, economic and political culture to bring
to a successful conclusion the extremely complex and difficult
task he had set himself. Further, he never discusses the works
already in existence on the subjects he treats, being satisfied
with sometimes indicating their key idea and passing value
judgments on them (usually negative judgments in the case of
Marxist works), which, however, he hardly ever tries to justify.

By its dogmatism, its peremptory tone, the inadequacy of its
conceptual equipment, Mr Rubel’s book is simply the other side
of the coin to the Stalinist works of recent years, for, despite
its opposite positions, it shows just the same faults as the

Thus the radical critique of works of this kind is an
indispensahle condition for a real rebirth of Marxist thought
and the development of the scientific ‘Marxology’ which Mr
Rubel, rightly, so keenly desires.

30. Admittedly Mr Rubel writes (p 14) ‘An examination of Marx’s
strictly political career would reveal these motivations
even more clearly; however, we have deliberately excluded
everything not immediately relevant to the subject in view,
‘A second work will be devoted to this examination.’

It is precisely this radical separation of the intellectual
and practical which seems to us, from the methodological
point of view, highly disputable. (LG)

Trevor PatemaD
The republication of R.D. Laing and A. Esterton’s Sanity
Madness and the Family as a paperback (Penguin Books, 1970)
made me buy it and read it again. Despite myself, I re-read
the book as a philosopher, but in the event this proved to he
frui tful. It is a philosopher’s reading of the first case
study of the book, the study of the Abbott family, that I
present in this article.

was imagining things to be going on between her parents.

These open yet unavowed non-verbal exchanges between
father and mother were in fact quite public and perfectly
obvious. Much of what could be taken to be paranoid
about Maya arose because she mistrusted her own mistrust.

She could not really believe that what she thought she
saw going on was going on.” (p.40)

A glance at the Appendix to the chapter on the Abbotts
(pp.a9-50 of the Penguin edition) will show that many if not
most of the statements made hy the parents ahout the ‘schizophrenic’ daughter, Maya, and by Maya about herself are factual
statements. For example, Maya says that she worried ov-er–examinations; the parents contradict this: she did not worry.

In g2neral, both parties make claims to knowledge – the daughter
about herself and the parents about their daughter – but claims
,,’hich contradict each other.

My reading of this runs as follows. We learn to ‘tell
right from wrong’ mainly from our parents. They are our chief
moral authorities, from whom we learn not simply a list of
particular rights and wrongs, but general rules of right and
wrong (ethical principles) and, importantly, criteria for
telling right from wrong where no general rule obviously
applies or where it is a case of making an exception to a
general rule. Of course, all of this, no doubt, goes on

Most of the argument which Laing and Esterton transcribe
from interviews with Maya and her family and reproduce in the
chapter on the Abbotts is also about matters of fact.

dominant feature of these arguments is, in my reading, conflict
over what is or was the fact of the matter. In this conflict,
tile feature of the ‘schi zophrenic’ daughter, as evidenced in
her statements, which I wish to single out is her inability
ei ther to state or, more radically, to know what is true and
what is false in a given situation. I shall suggest as a
possible explanation that this could be because she has not
learnt to tell true from false. Despite the strange protestations of Laing and Esterton in the Preface to the second
edition, there is good evidence in the text for inferring that
this failure to learn must be explained in a way which involves
reference to the behaviour of the parents and not simply hy
invoking some (undiscovered) organic deficiency in the patient,
Haya. In short, I>’aya does not learn because she is unable to
and she is unable to partly because of the way her parents

Though there is no common phrase like ‘learning to tell
right from wrong’ to express it, I suggest that we also learn,
mainly from our parents, how to tell true from false – veridical
from delusive perceptions, correct from incorrect statements.

Here again we learn not just lists; we also assimilate criteria:

we acquire an unconscious mastery of the criteria and the ways
of applying them which indicate to us when, for example, we can
legitimately say’ I know . . • ‘ and when we can only legitimately
say ‘I believe . . .’: when we have a right to be sure, when not,
and so on. In other words, parents are our epistemological
authori ties, that is, authorities on questions like: what can
we know? How can we know? How can we know that we know? When
can we claim to know? and so on.

Maya, like most children, regarded her parents as epistemological (‘ cogni tive’ would be a possible al ternati ve) authorities.

In her case, as in all of the cases studied by Laing and
Esterton, the degree of reliance she had to place on her parents
was increased by the closed nature of the Abbott family.

addition, these families were often very Christian and this
could add another reinforcement to the reliance on parents. For
rej ection of the parents as epistemological authorities could
be construed as a breach of the rule: Honour thy Father, and
thy Mother.

Consider the following passage from Laing and Esterton’s
commentary on this case:

“An idea of reference that she [the daughter – TP]
had was that something she could not fathom was going
on between her parents, seemingly about her.

Indeed there was. When they were all interviewed
together, her mother and fa ther kept exchanging wi th
each other a constant series of nods, winks, gestures,
knowing smiles, so obvious to the observer that he
commented on them after twenty minutes of the first
such interview. They continued, however, unabated and

The consequences, so it seems to us, of this failure
by her parents to acknowledge the validi ty of similar
comments by Maya, was that Maya could not know [my
italics – TP] when she was perceiving or when she


Maya’s parents consistently deny the truth of her statements
and thereby undermine any developing mastery of epistemological
criteria and/or her perceptions themselves. She is thus disabled from achieving a cognitive mastery of the world. The growth
of cognitive autonomy is inhibited or destroyed – it depends
when and for how long these interactions continue. In the case
of Maya the analysis is complicated by the fact that she was
away from home from the age of 8 to the age of 14. In the
absence of a clear knowledge of what happened in that period,
my formulations of necessity vacillate a little. She remains
epistemologically dependent on her parents, just as a child
whose parents treated all cases of morality/immorality as
unique and therefore failed to transmit any means of discrimin-

support to this non-Cartesian posItIon which one can find, for
instance, in both Hegel and Wi ttgenstein – authors whom Laing
has read. In Hegel’ s Phenomenology of Spirit, in the section on
the dialectic of Master and Slave, the non-Cartesianism is
perfectly clear:

ating morally would render their children morally dependent.

When Laing and Esterton say that she ‘could not know . . . ‘

(see quotation above) this ‘could not’ is a logical could not:

it is not that the girl failed to exercise her cognitive
skills; she simply had no sure cognitiVe skills to exercise as the authors put it “Her difficulty was that she coufd not
know when to trust or mistrust her own perceptions and memory
or her mother and father”. (p. 43)

“Self-consciousness exists in itself and for
itself, in that, and by the fact that it exists
for another self-consciousness; that is·to say,
it is only by being acknowledged or ‘recognised”‘.]

One could say that with Maya the educational process has
broken down. If education is about leading out a child into
autonomous existence, then epistemological education is about
making the child cognitively autonomous.

In transferring
their cognitive skills to their children, parents dissolve
the position of ‘natural’ (perhaps ‘contingent’ is a better
word) authority which initially they have. It is precisely this
and other dissolutions or abolitions of authority which Maya’s
parents will not tolerate. They cannot let their daughter grow
up. (cf. parents who try to stop sexual growing up.) Here IS
Maya’s mother speaking, the first and last sentences being those
of Laing and Esterton:

But Maya does not appear to have adopted Wins ton Smith’s
strategy. There is no reference to her keeping a Diary. More
to the point, she’ has not left home. Her way out has been to
withdraw into her own world’ though (significantly) ‘feeling at
the same time most painfully that she was not an autonomous
person’ (p.43). I say ‘significantly’ for her way out is doomed
to failure. It is only in the intersubjective \Iorld that
criteria for knowledge can be found, and hence only in this
world that the distinction between real and imaginary, and the
stability of perceptions and conceptions, can be maintained.

Maya’s withdrawal is an impossible project. It cannot (logically
cannot) lead to autonomy. For autonomy is tied to knowledge and
the knowledge of kno\lledge. Here again \le have some sort of
empirical illustration of the philosopher’s thesis about the
connexion between knowledge and freedom.

“She recalled a ‘home truth’ a friend had given her recently
about her relation to Maya.

‘She said to me, you know, “well, you can’t live
anyone’s life for them – you could even be punished
for doing ie” – And T remember thinking “What a
dreadful thing to think”, but afterwards I thought
she might be right. It struck me very forcibly.

She said to me, “You get your life to’live, and
that’s your life – you can’t and you mustn’ t live
anybod yl”51ife for them”. And I thought at the
time, “Well, wha t a dreadful thing to think.” And
then afterwards I thought, “Well, it’s probab1 y
quite right”.

Without levity, one can suggest after this reading that
if Maya needs anyone it is an epistemologist, not a psychiatrist.

Unless, of course, some psychiatrists are really epistemologists. 4

This insight, however, was f1e&ting.” (p.47)

The study of th how parents can maintain
their children in dependence not merely by material means or
control of the purse, etc. – but also by cognitive means. These
means inc lude, in particular, the fai lure to transmit epistemological criteria, the Knowledge of Knowledge. The parents keep
these criteria to themselves, and in the conversations reproduced
in Sanity, Madness and the Family one can see them using these
criteria as instruments of control and coercion. l
This ‘is plain from the dialogues which daughter and mother
have about daughter’s memory'” Memory is a source of knowledge,
but can be invoked in justification for knowledge claims only to
the degree that it is reliable. Our individual assessment of the
reliability of our own memory is made not just on the basis of
our awareness of how often and in what sorts of cases we can’t
remember something which we think we could or should be able to
remember. It also depends on the frequency etc.with which other
people in a better position to know (epistemological authorities)
validate our memory claims. Maya’s mother uses her position as
an epistemological authority2 with respect to her daughter’s
memory as a means of controlling and, hence, denying autonomy to
her child. Thus, according to Laing and Esterton:

“Mrs Abbott persistently reiterated how much she
hoped and prayed that Maya would remember anything
i f it would help the doctor to get to the bottom of
her illness. But she fe1 t th2t she had to tell Maya
repeatedly that she (Maya) could not ‘really’ remember
anything, because (as she explained to us) Maya was
always ready to pretend that she was not really ill.


‘arbiter’ is the word Laing and Esterton use (p.43).


It would be better if some psychiatrists were really

child-snatchers. For Maya and those like her are not in
a position to take the obvious way out and leave home;
they can perhaps only be taken away and certainly they
need help in establishing their own independence. It
would be even better to abolish the form of family which
Laing and Esterton study; but I am trying to interpret
the situation of its victims not simply from the point
of view of proving the necessity of this aholition hut
also to discover what can be done in the situation with
which we still have to live.

It will be clear from these remarks that I do not accept
what Laing and Esterton have to say in the Preface to the
second edition of the Sani tv, Madness and theFaiiiily. The
disclaimers they make there are so obviously contradicted
by their own text as to appear Simply bizarre. They have
explicitly produced a theory of .ocial causation in
schizophrenia, though one which, admittedly, does not
preclude the possibility of an organogenetic component.

But whatever the constitution of Maya’s brain cells,
there is no good reason for accepting the behaviour of
her parents.

Michae1 Chanan has recently completed a series of six
documentary films on Oxford Philosophy. In this article he
discusses the project and the problems which it presented.

Here I am reminded of George Orwell’s 1984, where control
over the records against which one could check1J1e veracity of
one’s memory eliminates this as a possibility and throws people
back entirely on their own resources. But without any intersubjectively accessible sources, or inter-subjective confirmation of memories, each individual’s memory capacity is itself
weakened., The first act of defiance which Orwe 11 ‘s hero,
Winston Smith, commits is to keep a Diary – an objectified
record against which he can check his own memory and which is,
in principle, publicly accessible. In philosophical terms,
Orwell is working with a non-Cartesian conception of the
thinking self: the thinking self for Orwell does not exist,
essentially, in isolation from other thinking selves; its
existence is interdependent with their existence.

It seems
to me that Laing and Esterton’s work gives some sort of empirical
It is usual to add at this sort of point a phrase: “no
doubt unconsciously”. But in these families there is
room for some doubt.

Hegel – Phenomenology of Mind, trans. J.B. Baillie. (AlIen
&Unwin, 2nd edn, revised, 1949), p.229.

Michael Chanan

She frequently questioned Maya about her memory in
general, in order (from her point of view) to help
her realize that she was ill, by showing her at
different times ei ther that she was amnesic, or
tha t she had got her facts wrong, or tha t she on1 y
imagined she remembered what she thought she
remembered because she had heard it from her mother
at a later date~’. (p.46)




Can there be anything of interest in a series of films on
Oxford Philosophy, especially to a group of philosophers whose
relationship to Oxford Philosophy is essentially critical?

hope the answer is yes. In the first place, the idea of such a
film series is sufficiently out of the line of thinking of both
philosophers and television programme planners (for whom this
series is initially intended) to make the outcome undetermined.

In the second place, the films should serve a teaching purpose
(they will also go to the American Campus circuit, and we hope
to make them available for non-television screening in this
country, too) by documenting graphically various aspects of
Oxford Philosophy which otherwise remain vague in students
minds. I’m talking about the concrete way in which Oxford
Philosophy is situated in the world. Transcribed on paper the
content of these films may seem to some to have only a marginal
interest. But to see and hear, not in strange surroundings but
in their natural habitat, the Oxford philosophical sub-species,
is one of the main opportunities these films are intended to
provide. (They also have historical and archive value, and
include a unique tape of Austin lecturing). Unlike the printed
page, celluloid has a built in alienation effect always available

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