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65 Editorial

EDITORIAL

The Radical Philosophy Group, so the mission statement on
the inside cover used to announce, grew in part out of
opposition to ‘the sterile and complacent philosophy taught
in British universities and colleges’. And, as any radical
philosopher would have told you, nothing more typified this
sterility and complacency than the school of ‘linguistic
analysis’ or, as it was sometimes called (usually by outsiders
and opponents), ‘ordinary language philosophy’, which
once dominated English philosophy like an incubus from its
headquarters in Oxford. It was the defining antithesis of
radical philosophy: not merely sterile and complacent, but
elitist, insular, frivolous, formalistic, anti-substantive and
second-order, conservative, trivial, boring and bourgeois.

The image of Oxford philosophers called to mind by this
was nicely and predictably captured in the cartoon
accompanying Ted Benton’ sand Sean Sayers’ article in the
Times Higher Education Supplement celebrating the fiftieth
issue of RP , in which copies of Radical Philosophy shoot off
the press and hit slumbering dons of advanced years in the
backs of their necks.

In contrast to this picture Jonathan Ree’s account of
English philosophy in the fifties recounts a period of
dynamism, energy and vision, carried forward with revolutionary enthusiasm by a group of mostly young philosophers
under the organisational leadership of Gilbert Ryle and the
intellectual domination of J. L. Austin. Yes, it was elitist,
insular, frivolous, formalistic and all the rest of it, but it was
also a period of great excitement and promise for those
involved, and without parallel in subsequent British
philosophy.

Supposedly the defining approach of linguistic
philosophy had to do with attention to established linguistic
usage: lack of care with which had been the primary source
of the metaphysical conundrums of the past. Thus, just as in
many a good philosophical revolution, the main enemy was
the metaphysics of the bad old days. According to Ree,
however, those who sought to find a distinctive approach in
linguistic analysis were usually disappointed (indeed, asking for one would show you up for having missed the point).

When pressed to declare the method of linguistic analysis,
its apostles were apt to be reticent, or even to deny that there
was one. The reason for this, Ree suggests, is to be found in
what was called ‘the paradox of analysis’: that if there is
anything misleading in the expressions of ordinary language,
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

any philosophical translation with the same sense as the
original would be unnecessary, and any translation with a
different sense would be false.

This fundamental methodological paradox was publicly
glossed over by much reflexive irony and bluff, and internally
by the iron discipline of the Oxford tutorial system. The
teaching of philosophy has been one of philosophy’s
perennial preoccupations, and emerges in Ree’ s account as
a persistent concern of the linguistic revolutionaries, who
appear to have regarded the Oxford system as inheriting the
mantle of Plato’s Academy. The tutorial system was the
bulwark against all of the pernicious influences metaphysics, continental philosophy, logical positivism against which linguistic analysis set itself. Ree describes a
routine in which undergraduates were repeatedly browbeaten
into explaining what they meant by this or that word, this or
that sentence, until any stray item of metaphysics· had been
winkled out and dispatched.

Despite its self-defining insularity and supposed
commitment to nothing more than fidelity to settled linguistic
usage, Ree locates the Oxford revolution within the currents
of fifties intellectual culture. As such it was bound to end.

Its influence in professional philosophy in Britain and
elsewhere has been diminished and tempered, but still
persists. Lacking the confidence and sense of mission of
Ryle’s army, troubling questions about its identity and
place in the world are increasingly difficult for British
professional philosophy to evade.

Problems of identity and relations to other are also raised
(this time in respect of nationality) by Francis Mulhern in ‘A
Nation, Yet Again’. Mulhern examines the organising
assumptions at work in the Field Day Anthology of Irish
Writing. The anthology, which appeared in 1991, has been
the subject of considerable criticism for its meagre
representation of women writers and feminist texts, and its
lack of attention to some of the momentous campaigns for
women’s rights and freedoms in Ireland. Mulhern argues
that such exclusions reflect more than sexist prejudice, and
are the unintended consequences of a guiding idea that
Irishness and Irish national identity is the dominant theme
of Irish culture. The editors of the anthology did not, he
stresses, set about the task of compilation with the aim of
giving expression to an unproblematic national identity.

Seamus Deane in the introduction to the anthology explicitly

rejects any justification of the principles of selection by
appeal to Irish identity, or authentic history, and sets out its
aim as being ‘to re-present a series of representations’

exploring a ‘nexus of values, assumptions and beliefs’.

Throughout the anthology the notion of ‘Irishness’ is
deliberately and methodically questioned, and the problems,
inconsistencies and shifts in its historical meaning are
brought to the fore. But the open, pluralistic and complex
conception of Irish ne ss the anthology seeks to express at the
same time excludes and misperceives writing, cultural
projects and political events whose concerns are other than
those of national identity.

Mulhern critically examines the editorial contributions
of Luke Gibbons, who, while striving to reveal diverse and
pluralistic currents within Irish nationalism, at the same
time attempts to assimilate the whole of modern Irish
cultural debate to an argument between nationalism and its
opponents, and to cast all critics of nationalism in the form
of a group of liberal revisionists, including Conor Cruise
O’Brien. Gibbons’ post-structuralist critique of monolithic
nationalism, therefore, is the foundation for yet another
reductive metanarrative in which the historical materialist
lames Connolly is sequestered exclusively to the cause of
nation and it is the bourgeois liberal critics of nationalism
who alone cling to failed universalist Enlightenment values.

The Ireland that emerges from the pages of the anthology,
Mulhern argues, is one viewed symbolically from the point
of view of Derry – ‘the capital of the northern crisis’: a
perspective from which southern society is ‘rendered
marginal to itself’. The struggle of Irish feminists against
the Catholic church’s attack on women’s rights is hard to
see in an imaginative landscape dominated by the North,
and yet it is the struggle against the’ confessional ascendancy’

that has been the recurring issue of southern politics. Seamus
Dean had imagined that the anthology’s self-conscious
metanarrative could provide a home for the plurality of Irish
micro-narratives. According to Mulhern, the fact that it is
national identity, ‘yet again’, that is taken to define Irish
culture renders this otherwise remarkable achievement
unable to perceive forms of difference and otherness that
cannot be represented within its purview. He concludes by
arguing that the Irish story now unfolding is not a national
one, and that it is time for Ireland’s critical intelligentsia to
recognise that Irishness is not the key to Irish culture.

We also publish in this issue a review article, by Kelly
Oliver, of Teresa Brennan’s book The Intelpretation o/the
Flesh: Freud and Femininity, in which, again, relationships
of identity and difference are explored. Brennan breaks
with Freud’s and Lacan’ s accounts of the development of
ego identity, in claiming that the ego does not occupy a selfcontained or self-generating position within its relationships
to others, but that it is an affect of the interplay of
intersubjective psychic forces. Brennan’ s account of these
psychic forces involves a physics-based model of psychic
energy exchanged within a spatio-temporal field that is
constructed through such exchanges (Oliver does not take
up the question of whether the model is effectively dualist,
and this might provide fuel for further discussion).

2

Psychophysical exchange ongmates in the relationship
between mother and foetus. Subsequently psychical
exchanges between human beings can be unequal,
particularly between women and men. Directed energy
from external sources is necessary, according to Brennan,
for constructing and sustaining a self-image. Unfortunately
the passive feminine ego (which is not essentially female)
becomes a receptacle of disabling affects projected out from
the active masculine ego, and a net looser of energy.

Oliver believes that Brennan’ s intersubjective theory of
drives can be combined with work done by Irigaray and
Kristeva on maternity, to provide what she describes as an
alternative model for the primary ethical relation between
self and other that is disabling to neither. She argues that
Brennan’s account of interdependence and exchange
originating in the placental relationship challenges Kantian
conceptions of autonomy and provides us with a new image
of reciprocal relationships in which maintenance of identity
is recognised as intrinsically dependent on others.

In the last issue of Radical Philosophy we published an
article by Axel Honneth on conceptions of civil society and
their relationship to possibilities for democratisation. The
theme is taken up again in the interview with Honneth we
publish in this issue. In the first part of the interview
Honneth describes his early intellectual development and
peregrinations between German universities, alongside
developments in the politics and philosophical debates of
the German student movement of the early seventies. He
goes on to describe his work in attempting to reconstruct the
normative background of critical theory, arguing that
philosophical anthropology will provide a . stronger and
richer normative basis for a critique of contemporary societies
than Habermas’s communicative rationality. He also
considers whether that critique must be confined to prospects
for greater democratisation in which capitalism is taken as
given, or whether the anti-capitalist character of critical
theory can be preserved. The interview concludes with a
discussion of the current political situation in Germany, in
which Honneth argues that the left has failed to provide an
intellectual alternative to the economically and politically
centralising tendencies of the Maastrichth treaty, and must
begin to think about a model for a unified Europe of
federated local democracies.

An analogous but more profound failure is identified by
Bob Brecher in his provocative Commentary. Brecher
castigates much of the British Left for its abandonment of
any substantive vision of the good life and its accommodation
to the spurius but trecherous neutrality of recent liberal
thought.

Finally, from the next issue onwards Sean Sayers replaces
lonathan Ree as reviews editor. lonathan has held the
position, which has a heavy workload, for the last five years
and has done much to ensure readable and concise prose in
the reviews section. The Editorial Collective would like to
express its appreciation for lonathan’ s sterling work, and its
thanks to Sean for taking on the position.

Kevin Magill
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

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