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Co-ordinating Left-Wing Intellectuals, Education and Oppression, Canadian Philosophical, Letters Association Radical Philosophy Group, Day School, Literature Teaching Politics

Co-ordinating Left-Wing
A number of editors of Radical Philosophy took part
in a meeting in June to discuss the formation of a
society to bring together the activities of the
various left-wing intellects’ groups in Britain and
co-ordinate their activities politically. The society
is provisionally known as the Socialist Society.

Many questions about the form of organisation remain,
but a steering committee has been formed and a conference towards the end of the year is being considered. Among the problems are how to operate both
regionally and nationally through organisationally
diverse groups; how not to become a society of intellectuals in the worst sense (though many of those
taking part are already active in left political
orga~isations); what sort of relationship to foster
with the Labour Party’s new theoretical journal New
Socialist, which is about to be launched; and how to
be a sort of Fabian Society to the left of the Fabian
Society without reproducing the reformist tendencies
inherent in Fabian Society organisation.

Radical Philosophy readers who would like to know
more about the Socialist Society should write to
Roy Edgley, Arts Building, University of Sussex,
Falmer, Brighton, Sussex. Roy is a member of the
steering committee.


Parker/Roy Edgley

Education and Oppression
Day School
Only one thing is to be regretted about the dayschool on Education and Oppression held in Manchester
on 3 May, that so few people were there to take part
in such an interesting discussion. (Unhappily, a
break-up in our distribution meant that readers were
not informed of the event in the magazine beforehand.)
A philosopher, two sociologists of education and an
historical sociologist each began a discussion centred on a theme which must be of concern to all those
purveying or pursuing education; namely, the oppressive dimension of education and the other institutions
surrounding young people. both in their day-to-day
practice and in their global role. The discussion
examined both the rationale and the evolution of these
institutions. Across the different terminologies, the
various approaches addressed the common problem in its
many manifestations.

The day began with John Harris, a philosopher in
the Department of Education at Manchester University,
arguing against traditional justifications, both
explicit and implicit, that licence the denial of a
variety of rights to children and young people. In
his view, these justifications are used prejudicially
against children. for applied consistently they would
justify the denial of rights to a large proportion of
the adult population. The three types of justification he identified were the claim that children’s
incompetence makes them incapable of exercising rights

accorded to others; the related claim that children
would cause danger to themselves or others if they
were accorded the rights others enjoy; and the view
that parents as such have rights over children which
rule out children’s having the same rights as others.

The claim of incompetence and consequent danger
was to turn up again and again during the day as
grounds for the treatment of young people. But John
showed how doubtful it is that a sharp and obvious
distinction exists between children and adults in
these terms. Although we commonly imagine that adults
are competent to have dealings with others which make
them independent and entitle them to claim rights, no
point can be shown where adults become capable of
sustaining themselves independently, if indeed they
ever do. If people’s competences were to be investigated empirically, the most likely implication would
be an infinite regress, in which the dependence and
incompetence of each successive group justified their
being limited by the next more competent group. Of
course, it is common to formulate children’s incompetence in terms of a supposed irrationality, implying
that their behaviour is not properly adapted to their
ends or is adapted to improper ends. In more common
or garden terms this is often expressed in the fear
that children would harm themselves or others if they
were allowed greater freedom – although adults’ behavious is frequently harmful to themselves without our
drawing any general inference about their rights. As
means to an end, John argued, many aspects of childrens’ behaviour are perfectly well adapted if we consider them fairly. Apparently the most obvious case
of their incapacity, helplessness, for example, is
not only often appropriate to obtaining the help they
need, but is also to be found in different forms
throughout the adult population. As regards the
rational choice of ends, John argued that only paternalism, again liable to turn into an infinite regress,
could justify the sweeping claim that children are
unable to choose rational ends. In common terms, it
is, for example, not unusual for people to say, where
they disapprove of a decision by the young, that they
will regret it later, even though this could equally
be said of all manner of decisions made by adults.

Or again, it is commonly said that children will be
harmed or exploited by others (usually adults!) if
they were allowed greater liberty. But John argued
that the granting of liberty in no way implied that
protection should be denied – and, indeed, the liberty
of adults does not prevent their being protected in
various ways.

More theoretically, John raised Dworkin’s formulation of an ‘argument from insult’, according to which,
though it is wrong to impose one’s will so as to insult the status of plans of life that another individual has, children are not sensitive to this kind of
insult. John saw every reason to suppose that many
young people or children do have plans of life in the
required sense, and are sensitive to the ‘insult’.

Finally, John disposed of a view which he found
formulated in Charles Fried, but which must underly
many social attitudes to children, that children can
be denied rights because of their place in the lives
of others, especially parents, who must have a free
choice of life-style. While it is true that children
live in households with others, so that their lifestyles affect those of others, he argued, the same
could be said of any other member of the household

(notably the wife!) so that there was in this fact no
justification for the blanket denial of rights.

John followed his attack on the grounds for denying rights to children with an alternative sketch of
the sort of being qualifying for rights. Working
from the supposition that we are in any case naturally responsive to beings who appear to value their
own existences, he argued that self-awareness over
time ought to be the key criterion. What this
amounted to was that many children from the age of
eight or nine could have sufficient ideas about controlling their lives, and planning and assessing
their own activities to claim a range of rights presently denied them. Having rejected already the linking of rights and protection and the assumption that
rationality would b0 the same for all ages, John now
wished to define citizen statuses specific to different age-groups taking account of unequal needs for,
say, medical care or education. For children he
wanted to suggest a ‘junior citizen status’ analogous
to the ‘senior citizen status’ of which there are
already some signs.

Denis Gleeson’s account, based largely upon his
own studies of the perceptions of students in technical colleges near Keele, where he works, suggested
how the role of technical education was different
both from what it used to be and from what the left
often thinks, and how it increasingly oppresses
youth in ways not commonly recognised. Yet he also
showed how this substantial sector of education could
be a focus for initiatives to advance the status of
young people.

By virtue of its traditional image, Denis argued,
technical education was usually thought of as the
passive hand-maiden of industry, preparing and screening personnel for it or supplementing the skills
learned by its apprentices. Yet the run-down of the
traditional manufacturing base with its characteristic level of technology founded on skills and of the
general level of employment, together with the rise
of large-company training schemes and internal
labour markets, had produced a switch to two new
functions from the 1960s on. First, in the absence
of conscription (a form of which, it is interesting
to note, is now being mooted again), further education is the only means the state has to relieve the
problem of unemployment. Over half the students in
further education are there under the auspices of the
Manpower Services Commission. Secondly, with the
drop in demand for technical skills, the technical
college curriculum has shifted from teaching this
kind of skill, to guidance, counselling and the
provision of ‘life skills’. These last are intended
to prepare students not for a particular job but for
employment in general. Denis argued that the new
autonomy of the technical college curriculum vis-~­
vis the technical practices of industry gave this
sector of education a real opportunity for enhancing
the students’ understanding of social relations. Yet
his own investigation of students’ perceptions
suggest that ‘life skills’ classes, and ‘Unified
Vocational Preparation’ (UVP) were in fact vitiated
by their very idea of social competence. For social
competence was conceived as a prerequisite of employment, as technical skills were prerequisites of
skilled work. But it is not a true skill that can be
clearly seen and practised in the productive process.

Yet, by defining social competence for the students
in such terms, the UVP programme ends up justifying
their anticipated place in the social or industrial
hierarchy in terms of their possession of differing
degrees of social ‘competence’. They are thus locked
into social relations of industry reproduced in the
educational context, and their own life experience
and culture is marginalised as ‘incompetence’. The

concept of social competence comes to have the same
labelling fanction as deprivatjon or disadvantage.

There was more than a hint in this of the justification for the denial of rights by the supposed incompetence of children, which John had discussed earlier.

Hilary Dickinson works in the sociology of education in a college for technical teachers (Garnett
College). She recounted her own observations of
French technical schools, which suggested how the
concept of competence in the control of the material
world could also marginalise individuals in the
process of education. Hilary’s starting point had
been Claude Grignon’s L’Ordre des choses: la fonction
sociale de Z’enseignement technique, which she found
substantially confirmed. French secondary technical
education is divided between technical lyc~es, which
train prospective engineers, and colleges of technical education, where technicians or skilled workers
are educated. Grignon had seen a difference between
technical and craft culture, and a social hierarchy
mapped onto this educational hierarchy. Technical
discourse which, unlike the more intuitive rule-ofthumb practices of craft culture, presupposed hardand-fast regularities in physical objects and their
relations, dominated the pedagogy of the technical
education college (even though they are teaching
craft), just as the technical ]yc~e’s superiority is
impressed upon the staff and students of the technical education college. This domination is manifest in
a range of attitudes: abstract understanding of
reality, such as the educational ~lite is given, is
experienced as something beyond the students’ grasp;
questioning the order of things, the social order and
even its morality is rendered impossible; even the
regulations regarding dress within the colleges are,
according to Grignon, presented to the students in
the same order of necessity.

John Clarke works in sociology at the Open
University. His subject was the history of the
foundation in England of public institutions to contain children, and the principles upon which those
institutions operate. He used a three-part periodisation. In the years between 1850 and 1870 children
first came to be perceived as a problem by the urban
gentry, who found their streets invaded by urchins.

The dominant social perception of this problem,
against the background of that gentry’s perception of
the family, was, however, that the problem of street
children arose from the failure of the children’s
parents to protect their innocence in the bosom of
the family. The appropriately named reformatories
(and specialised juvenile prisons) were established
to cope with the precociously dangerous street

But the principle of securing a ‘safer’ environment to bring up children was extended across the
board in the second period, from 1870, when compulsory education was introduced and a new level of
supervision for children became accepted. Various
humane-seeming institutions appearing about this time
can be seen as agents of this movement: two-thirds of
the NSPCC’s prosecutions of parents, for example,
were for keeping children away from school; and a
number of laws passed at this time to protect children in public places were in fact directed against
forms of leisure which established culture disapproved of, such as gambl ing in the street or nude
bathing. The extent of the supervision over children
deemed necessary in this context can be gauged from
the notorious obsession of the medical profession and
the writers of children’s literature with the ‘evils’

of masturbation, or ‘self-abuse’ as it was sometimes
scarily call ed.

An intriguing outcome of the development of public
supervision of children was, John argued, the re-

location of the problem of delinquency. The relocation operated in various ways. The absorption of
the vast majority of school-age children into the
school system moved the age focus of delinquency to
the teens. Being associated with a period of biological and psychological change, delinquency came
to be thought of as a universal potential inherent in
the ‘dangerous age’ of our bio/psychological natures,
Adolescence. And the antipathy of one class to the
children of another, which lay at the origin of
society’s perception of delinquency has been occluded
in this bio/psychological generalisation.

It seemed to this reporter that this was evidence
of a dialectic between socially defined competence
and incompetence, which had been at issue throughout
the discussion. John’s account of the foundation of
institutions, schools, for confining children resembled to a striking degree Foucault’s account of how
institutions for confining the insane and others
arose with the influx of vagabonds into the cities
in the late Middle Ages. Just as Foucault argues
that these institutions gave rise to the socially
constituted notion of rationality, which the insane
represented by portraying its opposite, so the discussions of the day showed how legal and educational
principles could institutionalise socially constituted
ideas of competence and adulthood and foist upon the
subjects of the educational process the negative
corollaries of incompetence and childishness. Indeed,
these two negative corollaries were classically conflated in the founder of modern political theory,
Hobbes, in his remark (in his preface to The Citizen)
that ‘a wicked man is almost the same thing with a
child grown strong and sturdy, or a man of childish
disposition’. Much the same point could be made
regarding socially constituted ideas of women’s capacities. But between such diametrical opposites there
can be no mediation, and the transition from one to
the other is necessarily, in John’s phrase, a
‘dangerous age’.

The various ways in which our discussion had shown
the notion of competence underwriting oppressive or
patriarchal practices must pose a problem for those
in education, particularly at a time when education
is under attack, and is perhaps suffering the political consequences of patriarchal practices that have
alienated working class support (see CCCS’s Unpopulap
Education: Schooling and Social Democpacy, Hutchinson,
1981). For it is hard to imagine an educational
practice without some notion of competence, as that
which those in the process acquire by virtue of it.

The observation of socially constructed concepts of
competence within oppressive practices does not show
the hollowness of all notions of competence. There
must be many ways in which the dialectic of competence and incompetence is manifest, from John’s ‘problem’ of rough youth, to student resistance to established culture in the classroom, to – in my own
field of counselling for adult students – students’

anxiety about their own incompetence to undertake
studies. If the idea of competence has to be present
in any educational practice, then at the very least
it has to be a de-mystified idea, shorn of its
obscure ramifications in a social or even an ontological hierarchy. And it has to be de-mystified in
the educational practice itself – not by the utterances of counsellors or philosophers. As one participant, I was left wondering how it might be possible
to define competences that would not be mystifications
and reinforcements of an unequal and oppressive
social structure. Merely to define them honestly
would be a start. By that means the competence of
the student (child, teenager or adult) might be
recognised or even confirmed in the competence set
up as their educational goal, and education might

alleviate oppression more, and reinforce it less.

I hope this account of the Manchester day-school
will prompt some interest amongst readers in the
north of England, and I would be glad to hear (at
the editorial address) from anyone interested in
taking part in Radical Philosophy events in the

No~l Parker

Literature Teaching Politics
LTP is an informal group of people from many different
subject areas in higher and further education. The
aims of LTP are best indicated by stressing that
there is no punctuation between the words in the
title: they therefore offer to release a plurality of
meanings and a plurality of relationships between
literature, teaching and politics. Some of the main
concerns of LTP have been the ideological jmplications of literary and related practices, the politics
of teaching, and the construction of new critical
practices through developments in Marxism, feminism
and psychoanalysis.

The main function of LTP is to hold an annual conference. The aim at the conference has been to avoid
formal papers and instead to bring together all those
interested in a series of productive workshops. The
first conference, held at the Polytechnic of Wales in
1980, was attended by about 60 people; the second, at
New Hall, Cambridge in 1981, by about 90. Both were
very successful and brought together people from
English, Modern Languages, Cultural Studies, Sociology, Communications, Philosophy and other areas.

The next conference will be held at Easter 1982 at
the University of Birmingham. The organiser is Tony
Davies, Department of English, and anyone who would
like further details should contact him.

There are also LTP regional groups ~hich have the
aim of maintaining contacts between conferences.

Anyone who would like to be put in touch with a local
group should contact Andrew Belsey, Department of
Philosophy, University College, Cardiff.

Andrew Belsey

Canadian Philosophical
Radical Philosophy Group
The Radical Philosophy Group in the Canadian Philosophical Association owes part of its inspiration, as
the name implies, to Radical Philosophy and its
groups. That means it is largely confined to Englishspeaking Canadians even though, of the ‘two solitudes’

governed from Ottawa, the Quebec nation is certainly
far and away the one that is more influenced today by
all currents of left thought – in philosophy

This May the Radical Philosophy Group’s sessions
were again listed on the official programme of the
Canadian Philosophical Association Annual Congress in
Halifax, Nova Scotia. Marxists, anarchists, feminists, phenomenologists, analysts – NOT all mutually
exclusive, of course – once again hobnobbed, few in
number, in the tolerated space so allotted. Canadian
‘niceness’ largely again prevailed. As usual, few
students were present because only paper-readers and
commentators could expect the necessary thousand-mile
travel financing either from their institutions or
from the governmentally funded coffers of the
Canadian Philosophical Association.


The good news is that some real dialogue does take
place in this forum between and among different philosophical schools and political persuasions, and even
different national philosophical styles. It is not
entirely ‘a dialogue of the deaf’ .

(Next year’s meetings will be in Ottawa. Interested readers can contact Kai Nielsen at the Department of Philosophy, University of Calgary, Calgary,
Alberta, Canada T2N lN4.)
Danny Goldstick

Books Received
A. Apple, Megasynthesis, Megasynthesis Ltd, Edmonton,
USA, no price
R. Aronson, J.-P. Sartre: Philosophy in the World,
NLB, £10 hc, £4 pb
R. Atkin, MUlti-dimensional Man, Penguin, £2.95 pb
T. Bottomore (ed.), Modern Interpretations of Marx,
Blackwell, £12 hc, £4.95 pb
F. Brentano, Sensory and Noetio Consoiousness, RKP,
£8.50 hc
Critical Social Policy, Vo1.l, No.l, 1981, £2.50
S. Holtzmann and C. Leich (eds.), Wittgenstein: To
Fdllow a Rule, RKP, £12.50 hc
I. Illich, Shadow Work, Marion Boyars, £2.95 pb
F. Jameson, The Politioal Unconscious, Cornell UP,
$19.50 hc.

H. Kainz, The Philosophy of Man, University of Alabama
Press, £11.40 hc, £5.40 pb
D. Layder, Structure, Interaotion and Social Theory,
RKP, £9.50 hc
G. Macdonald and P. Pettit, Semantics and Social
Science, RKP, £8.95 hc
N. Meyer, H. Petersen and V. Sorensen, Revolt From
the Centre, Marion Boyars, £7.95 hc, £3.95 pb
H. Meynell, Freud, Marx and Morals, Macmillan, £18 hc
A. O’Hear, Eduoation Society and Human Nature, RKP,
£7.95 hc, £3.95 pb
Praxis International, Vol.l, No.l, 1981
A. Rosenberg, Sooiobiology and the Preemption of
Social Scienoe, Blackwell, £9.90 hc
H. Ruthrof, The Reader’s Construction of Narrative,
RKP, £9.75 hc
J. Sellars, The Gathering of Reason, Ohio State UP,
£8.40 hc
R. Scruton, From Descartes to Wittgenstein, RKP,
£9.50 hc
D. Simmons, Ideals and Dogma: a Critique of Pure
Marxism, Third Avenue Press, £3.95 hc
R. Taylor, Beyond Art, Harvester, £18.95 hc
T. Adorno, In Search of Wagner, NLB, £7.50 hc
R. Debray, The Intellectuals of Modern France, NLB,
£11 hc, £4.50 pb
V. Geoghegan, Reason and Eros: The Sooial Theory of
Herbert Marcuse, Pluto, £2.95 pb
L. Goldmann, Method in the Sociology of Literature,
Blackwell, £8.50 hc £3.95 pb
M. Haight, A Study of Self-Deception, Harvester, no
M. Heidegger, Nietzsche, Vol.I, RKP, £11.50 hc
D. Ingleby (ed.), Critical Psychiatry: The Politics
of Mental Health, Penguin, £2.95 pb
P. Lomas, The Case for a Personal Psychotherapy, OUP,
£9.50 hc
C. McCabe (ed.), The Talking Cure, RKP, £20 hc
W. Nelson, On Justifying Democracy, RKP £9.75 hc
H. Roberts (ed.), Doing Feminist Research, RKP £4.95 pb
H. Skolimowski, Eoo-Philosophy, Marion Boyars, £6.95
hc, £2.95 pb
R. Waterhouse, A Heidegger Critique, Harvester,
£18.95 hc

Dear Colleagues and Readers,
As the principal author of the editorial ‘Cold War
Thinking’ in Radical Philosophy 25, I am writing to
say that I agree with a great deal of Mike Shortland’s
letter in RP 27 criticising it. That may seem a
strange thing to do. But I think that Mike’s letter
is in agreement with the editorial that I and others
composed in important ways, even though he wrote it
out of disagreement. But I also think that the
mixture of agreement and disagreement between Mike
and us is illustrative of the difficulties of editorial decisions, particularly on editorials, which are
debated continually in the Collective, and upon which
we could do with our readers’ comments. Astute
readers may indeed have already sensed those difficuI ties in the switch to the title ‘Comment’ in RP 27,
and the complete absence (temporary, I hope) of an
editorial in RP 28.

What does our editorial say? That it would be
silly – grandiose – for RP to publish condemnations
of the moves .in the political manoeuvres of the big
powers that aren’t listening. It then passes smartly
on to the presentation of the occupation of Afghanistan to the Western people. It was written just after
Soviet troops had moved in. Afghanistan is far away
and little known to us. It was not clear what of the
Russian or Western versions of events was true, how
many troops there were, what they were doing. It was
impossible to say whether the occupation was right or
wrong. But one thing was clear: the Western press,
guided by their integration within the class relations and ideological structures of our societies and
by Western governments with their customary skill in
press relations, and not much better informed about
Afghanistan than the rest of us, were s~re as Hell
not giving it to us straight. The press, the media,
the Western ruling classes, the attitudes and institutional structures of Western academia, these things
are, unlike events in Afghanistan at the time, quite
well known to us; and we can make shrewd judgements
on all that regardless of whether Afghanistan is or
is not ‘right’.

What does Mike’s letter say? Amongst other things
he says that imperialist states pre-suppose a simple
opposition of them and us, that in the Afghan situation those who are being presented to us as nationalist heroes are actually religious reactionaries, that
the situation is complex and that the left must begin
its own analysis. There is nothing in that which the
authors of the editorial (me anyway) would disagree
with – particularly the first point, specifically
referred to in the editorial as a source of intellectual impoverishment. With what Mike calls the ‘cry
in outright condemnation of the Russian presence’

echoing around us, I sought an issue upon which RP
could put an informed view at that time. With the
passing of time, Mike has managed to draw out other
issues (such as the status of national sovereignty
and self-determination) which he was able to make
informed comment about in RP.

For Mike, the Afghanistan situation has raised a
different set of issues appropriate to RP. But
Mike’s letter is in agreement with our editorial in
the profound congruence of his approach and ours.

He looks at the scattered information available,
expounds some general issues of ideas important to
the left, and comes to a judgement on the ideas but
not on the concrete situation that raises them. In
doing this he recognises two important parameters of
what we can sensibly write in RP: our limited resources for hard information; and our ability to
identify, analyse with some degree of independence,
and even make judgements upon the working of ideas
in concrete political situations.

I am now getting to the heart of why I bothered to
write this letter. It is not to defend myself from
attack by ingeniously claiming that I am not under
attack. Rather I am writing to explain what appear
to me to be the limits and the dangers of RP’s
political commitment. It was impossible when our
editorial was written to say whether Soviet moves in
Afghanistan were right. Mike, when he wrote his
letter, was able to muster more material bearing on
that question, but he does not say whether the
Russians were ‘right’ either. Time and information
alone will never equip us in RP to resolve such a
question with any authority. In the editorial
collective we are a group largely made up of philosophy teachers (all but nine of the collective, under
one third that is, are full-time philosophy teachers,
and of those only four – including Mike and I as it
happens – are not full-time teachers of other subjects
in higher education). We want to bring the knowledge
and skills we have learned in studying philosophy and
other related disciplines into the struggles of the
left. Our skills and our resources do not equip us
to say anything much worth saying on a whole range of
matters; but they do equip us to say much in RP that
is important (and, of course, leave us free to have
plenty of more or less well-grounded opinions and
strategies outside of our involvement in RP).

But our inability to pronounce on so many matters
is not necessarily to be regretted. To say whether
the Russians are ‘right’, for example, would be a
paradigm case of the vacuous ‘fundamentally liberal
pronouncement’ that in Mike’s words ‘functions better
at pointing out what may be desirable than at offering a programme to achieve it’. I suppose that it is
because Mike realises that, that he has not finished
by judging the Russians’ action. To force you into
making universal pronouncements on simple dichotomies
– Are you in favour of violence or not? You think we
should all be like Soviet Russia, I suppose!* – is a
common debating ploy on the right (though not only
there). But there is really no good reason why we
should think that making judgements like that is particularly important, though one might have a hankering
to get nearer to Kantian universal absolutes. The
generality of such universal principles is in a way
appealing, but that usually shows how in making them
we have falsely abstracted ourselves from our real
situation. It is our real situation that enables us,
however, to take up as we do philosophical issues
involved in the politics of the left, and left political issues in terms of philosophy.

Yet there are drawbacks about writing on politics

and philosophy in this way, which could I think be
summed up as the risk of being taken to be doing more
than that. What we write can be misunderstood. Mike
thought that we were adding an (albeit Lilliputian)
condemnation of Russian to the chorus: I thought we
were discussing the dangers to left intellectual life
in the present conjuncture. The approach itself can
be easily attacked as either timid, or shilly-shallying, or arrogant. As to whether it is timid, it seems
to me that it shows no less boldness than circumstances require. In other circumstances, who knows?

As to whether it is shilly-shallying, I would say that
in the complex of political and social life it is as
important to recognise the limits of what we can say
with assurance as it is to override those limits when
necessary. (I am not, of course, trying to suggest
that only philosophers are capable of recognising
that, only that they have to recognise their limits.)
As to whether it is arrogant, to view it as such is I
suspect a reflex of platonic origin, according to
which he who can grasp the ‘essential’ nature of
things ought to boss everyone else around on the
strength of that. Even though a more usual English
paradigm is Locke’s image of the underlabourer to
science, there is a sense in which we have not forgotten that Plato thought philosophers should rule.

In my view, however, the activity of the magazine
perfectly well can, and should be, viewed like that
of what Foucault calls ‘specific intellectuals’ (RP
17), that is of people put in specific locations in
the social complex of institutionalised knowledge,
yet able to struggle from that position for change in
the whole. That view is not as arrogant, and may give
us a worrying uncertainty about the knock-on effects
of our efforts. But it is realistic.

Now what I have said about the drawbacks of discussing philosophy as we do sometimes inhibits the
collective about publishing articles too. Does
Burnheim’s ‘Statistical Democracy’ treat Marxism too
naively to be worthwh~.le? What will be the effect of
repeatedly publishing translations or commentaries on
Continental philosophers? These are questions the
collective has debated in the context of particular
articles, and they show the difficulty we have in
defining the limits of our role. But we are more
inhibited still when it comes to editorials expressing
opinions found in the collective. Whereas we may
agree on what is worth discussing, we are much less
likely to agree on what is to be said; and whereas we
may agree on what is to be said, we may well disagree
over the possible implications of our statements for
the politics of the left. And that is why we sometimes do and sometimes do not have editorials or
comment columns. What do you think we should do?

Letters, for publication or not, on this issue (or
others) should be sent to me at the editorial address.

No~n Parker
Secretary to the Editorial Collective
*PS – Believe it or not, since writing this letter I
actually heard that line of argument adopted by an
eminent professor of philosophy at a gathering of
professional philosophers. To their credit, most of
the others present disapproved of it as a line of

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Dear Radical Philosophy,
In Radical Philosophy 26, Bhaskar claims to have
refuted Hume’s celebrated claim that an ‘ought’

cannot be derived from an ‘is’. I would suggest that
the claim is unconvincing and that moral evaluation
underlies his supposed factual derivation of an
‘ought’ .

According to Bhaskar:

… if we have a consistent set of theories T
which (i) shows some belief P to be false, and
(ii) explains why that, or perhaps some such
false (illusory, inadequate, misleading) belief
is believed; then the inference to (iii) a negative evaluation of the object S (e.g. system
of social relations) accounting for the falsity
of the belief (i.e. mismatch in reality between
the belief P and what it is about 0) and (iv) a
positive evaluation of action rationally directed
at removing (disconnecting or transforming) that
object, i.e. the source(s) of consciousness,
appear mandatory CP (ceteris paribus) … and
we certainly seem to have derived value conclusions (CP) from purely factual premises.

If one knew or considered a particular belief to be
false and also knew or considered some social circumstances to produce the belief then, prima facie: it
might seem reasonable to adopt a particular attitude
towards the circumstances and engage in action designed to effect their removal, but it would not be
‘mandatory’ in the sense that failure to do so would
be illogical. To say that the belief is false and to
say that its cause is such and such and yet to deny
that either ought to be removed would not be contra-

for full details:


dictory in the logical sense of involving the simultaneous assertion and denial of the same proposition.

Of course, such a denial would be contradictory if
one were to accept a premise such as ‘One ought to
try to eliminate false beliefs’. But this premise is
not, in Bhaskar’s terminology, a purely factual one.

Bhaskar’s argument might be more convincing than
it ought to be becuase of the particular example he
uses. Consider another. Suppose that a group of
capitalists pour money into an emergent third-world
socialist society in the belief that they are financing a counter-revolution. Suppose that some social
scientists discover both the falsity and the cause of
this belief. Let us say that the capitalists are
being duped by the government of the society involved.

No moral or political prescription is entailed by
these imagined social-scientific facts. Their acceptance does not logically commit one to any particular
course of action. It would be absurd to say that it
is ‘mandatory’ for the social scientists involved to
try to dispel the false belief or to make a ‘negative
evaluation’ of the activity of the third-world
country. One might conclude, say, that the falsity
of their belief in a projected counter-revolution
ought to be concealed from the capitalists and that
the social scientists involved ought not to publish
their discovered facts. However, such moral prescription cannot be derived from such facts but from other
non-empirical assertions.

Yours faithfully,
Hugh V. McLachlan
Glasgow College of Technology

Shortland, Division of Hist. & Phil. of SCience, Department of

+ + + + + + + + … l’i1ilosophy, Cnivcrsity of Leeds, Lt,;Cl;.S LS2 9JT + + + + + + + + + +




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Over-enthusiastic editing corrected not only any
errors in Andrew Belsey’s typescript for his
article in the last issue of RP, but also an error
in Roger Scruton’s book which Andrew had quoted
deliberately. Page 5, column 2 should have read:

‘There is the reference to soi-distant conservatives (16) – presumably something to do with the
alienation that the True Conservative is concerned
about later in the book.’ The correction of
‘soi-distant’ to ‘soi-disant’ killed Andrew’s pun
on the suggestion of distance from self. Our
apologies to Andrew.

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