A REACTION TO RADICAL PHILOSOPHY
No one, I believe, can yet say with any confidence to
what extent the ‘mere’ attempt to uproot perennial forms of
falsehood from our ways of thinking may itself change the
world. If only for this reason, it is a mistake to reach
the conclusion that contemporary British philosophy is “at a
dead end”, from the premiss which mayor may not be true,
that this philosophy has “largely abandoned” any more constructive kind of “attempt to understand the world”. A great
deal has been done, in detecting the subtler mechanisms of
widespread false consciousness, by Russell, Moore, Wittgenstein,
Wisdom, Ryle, Austin and others. An indefinite amount remains
to be done along the same lines – no fear of a dead end, there.
Nevertheless, a younger generation of international
socialists, many of them associated with the New Left Review,
has managed to convince some of us Old Leftists that the
rultural-bolshevist attitude towards would-be-constructive
philosophy, which those writers have tended to induce, has
long ago become politically and hence philosophically
reactionary in some of its aspects.
(Not that it is too
hard to see ways i~ which the rather culture-vultural attitude
of the ‘sons’ might become first philosophically and then
politically reactionary, in its turn.) They have also convinced
us that the first remedial steps lie in curricular changes
suggested by the student protest movement, and which might
have taken too much time to occur to us.
What I mainly have in mind is this. An international
socialist, who is also a teacher of philosophy in the tradition
·.,·hich derives from ~loore’s and Russell’s philosophically
radical, anti-academic rebellion against English Right
Hegelianism and from Ryle’s philosophically radical, antiacademic rebellion against Phenomenology, and from
Wittgenstein’s philosophically radical, anti-academic philOsophies, finds a disrelation between his political convictions
and his way of making a living. Not only does his teaching
not involve socialist advocacy, but also he may suspect that
its social and political function is conservative in the main,
even if it does undermine the prevailing vulgar-empiricist
ideology to a certain limited extent. As already implied, I
accept that the best way to escape from the trap is to broaden
One will find enough to endorse in the area,
Hegel-~larx-Anarchi srn-Existentialism, for a certain amount of
political advocacy, philosophical rather than pragmatic, to
HINTON’S REACTION: A REPLY
Sean Sayers and Tony Skillen
We take this opportunity to reply to Mr. Hinton’s note,
first because it contains a misconception about the aims of
the Radical Philosophy movement which we are in a position to
correct, and secondly because it well illustrates some of the
major problems of working in academic philosophy departments,
problems which we are trying to confront and overcome.
It is a misconception about Radical Philosophy to think
that it stands for the total rejection of the British philOsophical tradition. And it is certainly a misconception to
believe that the Radical Philosophy Group is “mainly a coalition
of people who for various reasons are disposed to see little or
no merit in the [post-Moorean] tradition”. (Cf. also Hinton’s
last paragraph). Radical Philosophy does not stand for the
total rejection of the British tradition in philosophy. The
Group has no corporate attitude to this or any other philosophical tradition; and although the Group’s Statement [inside
front cover] seems to have given rise to this misconception,
the Statement in fact says: “the Group will not attempt to
lay down a philosophical line”.
However, the emergence of the Radical Philosophy movement
is most definitely occasioned by the extreme poverty of recent
thought within this tradition, and the major motivation behind
the Group is a strong dissatisfaction with the present state of
philosophy in this country. And so, major questions which the
Radical Philosophy Group is seeking to raise are: What are the
reasons (causes) of this poverty? and What is to be done to
It is essential to keep these questions clearly in mind.
Hinton continually poses the problem in terms of the question:
The British tradition: For or Against? This is a fruitless and
mystifying question which leads him to lose sight of the inadequacies of recent British philosophy.
The problems of a period in which post-Moorean methods
of scrutiny are applied to Marxism, and Marxism is applied to
post-Moorean methods of scrutiny, promise to be interesting.
It will also be interesting to see whether Radical Philosophy
turns out to be one of the places in which these problems are
fruitfully discussed. The ideal locus would be a group of
international socialists who know about, and value a good deal
in, both the ~larxian and the post-Moorean traditions. In twofold contrast, the Radical Philosophy Group appears to require
no commitment to international socialism, and to be mainly a
coalition of people who for various reasons are disposed to
see little or no merit in the’second of those traditions. But
ideal conditions are not always attainable.
One problem which is sure to be encountered, and which
looms among more parochial matters in Jonathan Ree’s article
in Radical Philosophy I, is that widely-used methods of critical scrutiny will be declared to be out of order by some of
one’s fellow-radicals if one tries to apply them to Hegel, or
Marx, or Sartre.
The methods I mean involve asking “Can we
take that bit by bit?” and then, of some ‘bit’, “What reason
is there to think so?”.
Here there is a distinction to be
made between what would clearly be foolish, the attempt to
condense some complex philosophical idea into a succinct
statement, and what would not clearly be foolish, the attempt
to extract from a complex philosophical idea some relatively
simple statement to which among other things the proponent of
the complex idea is committed. It was this, of course, which
Moore and Russell tried to do at the turn of the century when
they turned on the Hegelianism they had accepted. If we are
tOld, not only that you can go wrong in using this method,
but that the whole approach is wrong, so that there must be
no looking for what Wittgenstein called ‘the first, unnoticed
steps’ in an ambitious philosophical construction, then it
seems that someone is trying to put the clock back. The
alternative usually offered is the indistinct one, of considering the philosophy in question as a whole. The most
obvious things this boils down to are a sort of acceptance
or rejection based on ideological affectivity, or a bemused
state of mind in which one hardly knows whether one accepts
the ‘system’ or only reckons to know how it goes. It would
surely be sad if the son’s conception of progress were to
coincide quite so exactly with the grandfather’s conception of
what had to be left behind; thesis, antithesis, thesis.
One of the most unsatisfactory features of recent British
philosophy has been the extraordinary narrowness of its intellectual and practical horizons. The student movement and New Left
Review have impressed this upon Mr Hinton too. However, the
only “remedial steps” he suggests are “curricular changes”.
Indeed throughout Mr Hinton’s note, “broadening the syllabus”
is the only respect in which it is suggested that the ills of
British philosophy might be remedied.
Unfortunately, all our experience as teachers and students
tells us that such changes (although important and desirable
reforms) will not in themselves produce the sort of radical
changes we are working for. Without other essential changes,
the effect of broadening the syllabus is all too likely to be
the substitution of a new academic orthodoxy for an old one.
The academicism of recent British philosophy is a major
source of our discontent.
Hinton seems to be incapable of
recognizing this academicism. He describes Hoore, Russell,
Wittgenstein and Ryle as radical anti-academic philosophers.
It is difficult to see what he could have meant by this. Whatever
else one might want to say about them, Moore and Ryle were academic professionals of the purest kind; and although Russell and
Wittgenstein were not, their philosophy drew its problematic
from the academy (e.g. absence of a humanistic or social motif
from Wittgenstein’s critique of mechanism and scientism; the
narrowness of his philosophical preoccupations. Apparent
divorce of Russell’s academic philosophy from his social and
political life — a divorce which is portrayed as absolute and
not discussed bv his academic commentators).
The crippling effects of this academicism are well
illustrated by Hinton’s own words. Essential to the academic
conception of “The Philosopher”, which Hinton shares, is the
idea that “The Philosopher” is aloof from political reality in
his academic role as “Philosopher”, even though he may also be
an “international socialist”. “The Philosopher” who has the
fortune — or misfortune as it would appear — also’to be an
“international socialist” is even perceptive enough to “suspect”
that his teaching is not merely not an expression of his socialism,
but actually “conservative in the main” and in contradiction to
it (3rd paragraph).
Her ‘ideas of influence’ are certainly the symptom in
respect of which the best case is put up for social intelligibility.
However even here the authors report, ‘As she recalls
when she was 15 she began to feel her father was causing these
sexual thoughts’, an observation which is not translated into
family praxis. And they write up this feature of her illness:
‘These open yet unavowed non-verbal exchanges between father
and mother were in fact quite public and perfectly obvious.
Much (my emphasis) of what could be taken to be paranoid about
Maya arose because she mistrusted her own mistrust. Much, but
But how can an international socialist philosopher be content merely to remain “suspicious” that his life work might be
conservative? Surely this is a matter which any self-respecting
socialist or philosopher would investigate. This sort of “disrelatio~’ between political convictions and philosophical work
is the very division which Radical Philosophy aims to make
people conscious of and then to question and subvert. Hinton
again sees curricular changes as the answer: he says, “the best
way to escape from this trap is to broaden the syllabus”. But
this is remarkably complacent. Isn’t there something much more
fundamentally wrong with a philosophy like this, which fails to
engage itself politically by confronting current ideology and
mystification; and isn’t there something much more fundamentally
wrong with a form of politics which is uninformed by any philosophy
and which fails to confront a great deal of contemporary British
philosophy as ideological and mystifying?
This reservation is part of the same inconclusiveness
Trevor Pateman cannot understand in the preface when Laing and
Esterson say that they have not ‘set out to test the hypothesis
that the family is a pathogenic variable in schizophrenia.’
They are also reserved in their conclusions about the Abbott
family. They say of Maya’s symptoms that ‘They seem quite in
keeping with the social reality in which she lived.’
keeping’. As I have indicated in some detail a great deal more
would be required of this family history (and besides that in
other histories, and control work, etc.) to prove that they
were the result of this social reality.
The problems which Hinton’s paper raises: (i) the nature of
recent British philosophy and the reasons for its poverty; and
(ii) the dilemma for the socialist academic — these problems
are very real and important ones; and we are not trying to suggest
that we have quick and ready answers to them. However, it is
clear to us that Hinton’s note obscures these problems and reveals
a complacency about their solutions which the Radical Philosophy
movement is committed to disturbing.
SANITY, MADNESS AND THE
PROBLEM OF IGNORANCE
(A Reply to Trevor Pateman)
However if Trevor Pateman had read the text a little more
carefully he would have discovered that, ‘Maya sometimes commented fairly lucidly on these mystifications.’ Not a possibility,
presumably, if she had failed to learn the ‘verification
criteria’ required to make such comments.
Trevor Pateman has offered us some reflections about one
of the families Laing and Esterson studied and wrote up in
‘Sanity Madness and the Family’.
(Radical Philosophy. Jan. ’72.
I. 22-23). Whether he intends his remarks to be relevant just
to this one case, or,more generally, he fails to mention.
However, it scarcely matters as they apply in neither case.
This first suggestion Pateman ellucidates with the
magnificent contention that ‘parents are our epistemological
authorities, 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.’ It is true that parents are
not called our ‘legitimate’ epistemological authorities, but this
is certainly implied. And so the theory of knowledge will have
to study child rearing customs! I,lore seriously the idea that
the external world or at least its sensible phenomena, on one
side, and the laws of logic, the objects of mathematics, and
notions of space and time, grammar and certain universal
functions of language, the meanings of some bodily gestures and
poses, all on the other side, are one and all conveyed to us by
our parents, rather than, shall I say, through them (for a
social nexus is of course one sine qua non of knowledge) is not
radical empiricism with all possibility of the empiricist, or
observer himself, removed.
In the one case study his article discusses Laing and
Esterson have provided comparatively little information about
those features of the girl’s experience that have occasioned
her diagnosis as ‘schizophrenic’ and which they are arguing
are probably intelligible in terms of family inter-relations.
Apart from a set of conventional symptoms set out by the
authors; ‘She had auditory hallucinations and was depersonalised;
showed signs of catatonia; exhibited affective impoverishment
and autistic withdrawal. Occasionally she was held to be
impulsive,’ and their rather optimistic translation of these
into experiential terms, we know very little of what Maya has
suffered. What were the exact experiences the clinicians
encountered; what did she hear when she was said to hallucinate,
when and in what way was she depersonalized, etc., etc?
To conclude I will take up one valuable point Laing and
Esterson put in their preface. ‘Do these things go on in all
sorts of families? Possibly.’ If Pateman imagines there are
no contentious or bitterly quarrelsome families without
‘schizophrenic’ children he must place the incidence of
schizophrenia a little higher than the Registrar General’s
estimate of 0.85% of the population. With this point some
real considerations about madness emerge. It is not the disputes, disagreements, flat contradictions which are more or
less a feature of all children’s upbringings, but what motives
these disagreements serve. As Laing and Esterson are at pains
to emphasise Mrs. Abbott did not want her daughter to grow up
and be herself, that is to become an independent and self
possessed person. If we assume that Maya’s ‘illness’ is
socially intelligible we may reflect as against Trevor Pateman
that she learnt exactly what was communicated to her, with
Only one of these features of her ‘illness’ is taken up
in any detail in the ensuing narrative, her ’emotional impoverishment’. Her auditory hallucinations, for example, are dealt with
in one or two sentences. ‘The voices, she said, were her own
thoughts anyway.’ This neither clarifies, nor explains, what is
at issue here. We still want to know, did she think her thoughts,
or were they passive thoughts thrust on her-rrom elsewhere?
Were these thoughts silent or spoken aloud, and if aloud whose
was the voice and where did it come from?
Moreover, just what
They cannot be explained till we
were these ‘thoughts’ about?
know what needs explaining. That THIS suggestion about her
voices is most misleading in its implication that the psychiatrists had got it all wrong and there were no voices, is shown
by the observation made later that ‘her thoughts thought themselves audibly in her head.’
Her depersonalization is dealt with like-wise: ‘Just as
not she but the voices thought, so not she but her body acted.’
which in its context tells us exactly nothing. Finally her
catatonia is not mentioned at all.
The other features of her ‘illness’ that are dealt with
besides the emotional impoverishment are her ideas of influence
(one wonders how prominent these were as there is no mention of
them in the list of clinical ascriptions I-Ihich, we are told,
were the results of 10 years observation), and her sense of
lacking personal autonomy.
spell all this out because Trevor Pateman says he cannot
understand Laing and Esterson’s diffidence. This failure perhaps
explains his own singular boldness. He takes up this one case,
fails to mention most of the symptomatology which Laing and
Esterson have already abbreviated precisely because they are
doing nothing conclusive, but only illustrating the plausibility
of an idea, and hypotheses just what are at the roots of this
‘illness’. First we hear: ‘The dominant feature of these
arguments (between parents and daughter) is, in my reading,
conflict over what is the fact of the matter. In this conflict,
the feature of the ‘schizophrenic’ daughter, as evidenced in
her statements, which I wish to single out is her inability to
either state or, more radically, to know what is true and what
is false in a given situation. I sharr-suggest as a possible
explanation this could be because she has not learnt to tell
true from false.’ Even as a possible explanation some qualification would be in order since not being able to tell true from
false at all is absolute mental defect or some such pristine
WEEKEND WORKSHOP ON HEGEL
Arising out of the Hegel workshop at the recent R.P.G.
Conference, plans are being made for a weekend of discussions
and papers on Hegel, to be held in London on June 24th & 25th.
It is hoped to have papers on Hegel and logic (with reference
also to the British Hegelians) and on Hegel in relation to
philosophical scepticism. Further information from Richard
Norman, Darwin College, University of Kent, Canterbury.