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1 Reviews


only with ‘scientistic’ Harxism.” (4)
The exact opposite is
true. However often these two things co-exist in practice they
are theoretically inconsistent. If Marxism is just a subdivision of natural science there is no place, not only for
the cadre but for any self-conscious activity at all, since the
revolution will surely dawn at the appointed hour, independent
of the cadre, just like an eclipse.

Chris Arthur

The Social and Pol i tical Thought of Karl Harx by Shlomo Avineri;
Cambridge 1968. (Paperback edition 1970, ‘Sp)

The truth is that only if one makes praxis a fundamental
concept and subordinates the scientific analysis of social
formations to this, does the activity of the cadre in bringing
the proletariat to the consciousness of its tasks, make sense.

The completely undialectical character of the scientistic
interpretation is shown by the way it can give the cadre’s
activity no connection with ‘ohjective analysis’ other than
the purely external, instrumental, one. The origin of the
cadre is quite unexplained on this view.

The di~lectical
view sees the cadre as internal to the process (Cf. Thesis 3
On Feuerbach)

In the history of Marxism’s intellectual productions two
trends are discernible. Marx himself left an extraordinary
complex legacy, in the study of which it was only too easy to
fall back on one-sided simplifications. On the one hand we
have had those who, taking Marx’s stress on science to be the
main point, interpreted him from a positivistic standpoint;
and, on the other, those who took seriously his acknowledged
debt to Hegel.

Undoubtedly the dominant trend has been the former,
expounded ad nauseam by all the hone-headed orthOdox of the
second and third Internationals. The best Marxists, however,
have always known better than this. Indeed it was Lenin himself
who realised how far off the track Marxism had gone when he
recorded in his notehooks: “It is impossible completely to
understand Marx’s Capital, and especially its first chapter,
without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole
of Hegel’ s Logic. Consequently half a century later none-of
the Marxists understood Marx!!” (1)

What the ‘scientistic’ view does essentially is to turn
Marxism into just another ‘interpretation of the world’ – which
may then be used, if it cares, for some extrinsic reason, by a
cadre to ‘change’ the world, in spite of the fact that this is
incompatible with the assumptions behind a positivist interpretation. This farrago is the easiest thing in the world for
any bourgeOis critic. to knock down. (5)
In any case the ‘scientistic’ interpretation is incompatihle
with the theses of historical materialism itself, with its
stress on the class-hased nature of all ideology. In spite of
its stress on materialism, at the level of the status of theory,
it is fundamentally idealist. Just as bourgeois sociology
does not deal with its own role, so the ‘scientistic’ interpretation makes claims to absolute objectivity, not understanding
itself as grounded in a specific historical period, class
struggle etc.

At that time, as also when Lukacs produced the neo·Hegelian
Marxism of History and Class~Consciousness , Marx’, early works
and manuscripts, whIch confirm this judgment, were not generally
available. The merit of Dr. Avineri’s work (which shows signs
of becoming the standard commentary on the subject) is that it
takes fully into account for the first time in English such
early manuscripts. as the lA43 Critique of Hegel.

Avineri’s book has been attacked in New Left Review by a
reviewer working from the posi ti vistic, scientistic, standpoint. (2)
Doubtless the over-enthusiasm of some neo-Hegelian
interpretations of Marxism need correction – but not by going
back to the theoretical poverty characteristic of positivism,
albeit in Althusserian dress. Perhaps we may digress on this
theme before discussing Avineri’s work.

This’scientistic’ view with its contemplative attitude
to the world reduces Marxism to the status of any other
interpretation – it ‘just happens’ to be correct whereas others
are wrong. But surely the peculiar nature of jarxisJTl is that
it is a theory which explains itself, and guarantees its truth
relative to bourgeois theory, by expressing in the(‘retical terms
the practice – past and future – of a definite class engaged on
a concrete historical struggle. It grounds its claim to be
truer than bourgeois theory on the fact that the i;;’C’rests it
expresses are not those of a small ruling group hut of the
immense majority of mankind – hence ideological distortion is
minimised. The test of its truth is not the mechanically
observed correspondence of the theory and its object but the
success of the practical transformation which the theoretical
moment both explains and facilitates.

The NLR review starts by describing the difference between
the two views as follows. On the one hand Marxism “was understood as a science of society (historical materialism), whose
object was the socio-economic formation”. On the other, the
neo-Hegelians make the basis of Ivfarxism “the concepts of praxis,
alienation, proletariat as universal class and historical
subject, class-consciousness,. etc.”
We have no particular quarrel with this account but draw
different conclusions. The NLR reviewer charges, without
evidence, that the neo-Hegelian interpretation can “relapse
into spontaneism.” (3)
This is simply the converse of the
charge launched, with much justice, by Lukacs and Marcuse
against the positivist version, of fatalism and quietism. This
latter charge can be substantiated a priori by pointing out
that positivism removes man-as-subject from the arena and
shifts responsibility for establishing socialism from the
party and class to disembodied ‘historical forces’.

percipiently explains this “fatalist aroma” by the subordinate
character of the social strata whose consciousness it is, and
allows it may be valuable psychologically as long as there is
present at the same time a real activity, but denounces it when
made into a reflexive philosophy by intellectuals.

(Turning now to the review proper); Dr. Avineri justifies
the production of his book by the need to divorce the debate
about Marx “from explicit or implied political objectives.” (6)
It is all the more interesting then that the defects of his
work do not flow from lack of scholarship but precisely from
the effect of ~11 implicit political objective – in this case
that of saving Marx from Lenin.

Parts of this work very
definitely have the objective of debunking Leninism by
contesting its claim to be Marxist. This involves a “double
distortion” – either of Lenin or Marx according to convenience.

~ainly it takes the form of reducing Lenin to a ‘Jacobin’ conspirator and turning Marx into a gradualist by misusing the
notion of “aufhebung”. Since no evidence whatsoever is given
for the distortions of Lenin which creep in mainly in asides
we shall not concern ourselves with them but concentrate on
saving Marx from Avineri. The political objective of this will
be to block the escape route by which many concede Marx’s
genius while avoiding his revolutionary conclusions.

It is thus quite baffl ing to find the statement that “the
work of the Marxist cadre in mobilising the masses and wielding
political power to effect social transformation, is compatible


V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.38, p.180 (F.L.P.H.,
Moscow, 1961).



David Fernbach, “Avineri’s View of Marx”, New Left
Review 56.


ibid. p. 63.



ibid. p.64.


See H.B. Acton, The Illusion of the Epoch,conclusion.

Also see Sartre, “Materialism and Revolution” in Novak
(ed.), Existentialism and Marxism.


S. Avineri, The Social


Thought of Karl Marx,

– realisation by Marx that a different question was needed. The
problem of the State then becomes a secondary one within the
transformed problematic.

The unreality attending the later
chapters of Avineri’ s work flows from his failure to relocate
the problem in this way. Instead he picks out bits and pieces
from the mature Marx in an attempt to show how to answer the
early formulations of Marx’s problematic. The central tenet
is that “universal suffrage” constitutes the aufhebung of the
State. Here (pages 202-220) the most extraordinary nonsense
is produced. He gets into a terrible tangle trying to reconcile
this alleged universality with Marx’s clear position from 1844
that the transition to socialism is the work of the proletariat
imposing its will against that of the old ruling class. He
also has trouble differentiating it from the parliamentarism
Marx attacks. For example he is reduced to arguing (on p.21O)
that parliamentarism for Harx was the limited suffrage of
property qualifications. He forgets here On the Jewish Ouestion
with its trenchant critque of American states in which “the
non-owner comes to legis late for the owner of property.”

It needs to be said at the outset that what we have here
is by no means a hack job but a sincere scholarly production
with many passages that are well worth study. It is perhaps
all the more significant that when Dr. Avineri’ s scholarship
does break down it is on a matter of no less political
consequence than that of the place of proletarian dictatorship
in Marx’ s thought. We may clear this up first.

In discussing the clo<;ing paragraphs of the second chapter
of the Communist Manifesto Avineri says that not only does Marx
not use the term dictatorship of the proletariat in this context
but that "he does not use the term more than V"o or three times
in his life, and then always in what is basically a private
communication." (7)
The said communications are Critique
of the Gotha Programme and the letter to Weydemeyer of 5th March
1852. What Dr. Avineri does not say is that in the latter
epistle Marx describes the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ as
one of his three unique discoveries. It would indeed be extraordinary if he had kept this discovery a personal secret!

To begin with although it is true that the Manifesto does
not include the phrase there is a pretty good paraphrase of its
content in such expressions as “raise the proletariat to the
position of ruling class”, “its political supremacy”, “the
producers organised as the ruling class”, “despotic inroads on
the rights of property”. As Lenin says (in State and Revolution)
these formulae are still abstract, but that the content is class
dictatorship is clear enough.

Certainly Bakunin in his Statism and Anarchism (1873) read
it this way in his polemic against the theory of “revolutionarv
dictatorship”. He quotes the Hanifes”Co and says that the
~-!arxists admit this means dictatorship but console themselves
that it wi 11 be temporary. (8)

The authority claimed for this is not given. However if
we do want to discover the position of universal suffrage
in a revolutionary situation “according to Harx” let us consult
The Class Struggles in France: “Universal suffrage had fulfilled
its mission. The majority of the people has passed through the
school of development, which is all that universal suffrage
can serve for in a revolutionary period. It had to be set aside
by a revolution or by the reaction.”

However if Avineri wants chapter and verse for a public
statement it is to be found in The Class Struggles in France
published in 1850 and to be found in the standard 1962 edition
of the Selected Works. Here ;°e find the slogan; “OverthTow of

Dictatorship of the working class!” (9) Even
more clearly: “This socialism is the declaration of the
perman~mce of the revolution, the class dict~oI~hiE of the
proletariat as the necessary transition point to the abolition
of class distinctions generally ….. ” (10)

On the question of the transition to socialism Avineri
sei zes on the programme outl ined in the Manifesto (in spite of
the fact that the authors in the 1872 Preface said that some
parts of the Manifesto were defective and especially “no
special stress” is to be laid on these measures.) He points out
that it does not include nationalisation of industry as such.

From this fact he draws the extraordinary conclusion that the
aim is to “slowly ease private industry out … – not through
one-sided political means, but by gradually creating the economic
conditions which will make the further existence of private
industry unviable.” (14)
This is a nonsense because even if
slow, these measures are quite definitely E2liti~~ (abolition
of inheritance, tax reforms etc.) and are quite certainly onesided in relation to the social situation since this political
attack on a class socially still in power will raise contradictions to an extreme – further developments cannot possibly
be “peaceful and orderly” as Avineri claims. (15)
On the
contrary a violent reaction would ensue which would make
necessary the “further inroads” Marxs mentions (though it must
be admitted that the paragraph in the Manifesto introducing
the programme is vague and ambiguous on the question of the
perspective opened up by such changes.)

Moving now to the book as a whole, the early chapters are
the best with good material on Feuerbach’ s transformational
method, the proletariat as universal class, alienation, and
consciousness. The distortions of the later chapters and the
flaw in the book as a whole are due to difficulties arising
frqm the complexities of the dialectical concept of Aufheb~
which pertains to the nature of dialectical transitions. In
understanding this untranslatable term one has to do justice
both to the notion of abolition – break – leap and also to that
of preservation and continuity. Avineri is one of those who
give too much weight to the latter side and almost achieves
the incredible feat, for a dialectician, of turning into a
gradualist (q.vo the discussion of the Hanifesto below.)
Avineri takes his cue from ~larx’ s early writings in which
the demand for the aufhebung of the State is put forward, and
such terms as ‘true democracy’ and ‘universal suffrage’ are
mentioned in this connection. In his early chapters Avineri
:ugues correctly that by talking of ‘true democracy’ Marx by
no means aligns himself with the usual variety of radical
democrat; because this new society was to be based on “man’s
communist essence” with the abolition of private property and
the state. (11)
However the later chapters leave the reader
genuinely puzzled as to what Avineri does mean by the aufhebung
of the State. The treatment still seems far too Hegelian in
that sometimes he does seem to believe that the State could
have a real rather than illusory , universal i ty in content. (12)
Furthermore although Avineri correctly denies the existence of
a sharp opposition hetwe.en a ‘young’ ~larx and a ‘mature one’,
it should nevertheless he clear to any student that Marx’s
career represented a development in which the terms of his
problematic changed. Thus although Marx did concentrate his
attention at first on the difficulties of—realising the
Hegeli an postulate about the universal i ty of the State it bv no
means follows that the later work produced an answer to that
same question.

The turn towards political economy markedt”he


ibid. p.204.


G.P. Maximoff (ed.), The Political Philosophy of Bakunin,
Part 3 Ch.4.


Karl Marx, Selected Works, p.162 (F.L.P.H. , Moscow 1962)


Ibid. p.223. Dr. Avineri has told me that he does not
regarJ this as a “pragmatic” occurrence of the term. See
also Marx “Political Indifferentism” quoted in Lenin,
The State and Revolution, p.96.


Avineri, op.cit.,




The petit-bourgeois utopianism inherent in his position
comes out nowhere more clearly than in the pathetic remonstrance: “The abolition of universal suffrage in a revolutionary
situation, according to Marx, means reversion to a partial,
illusory universalism with one segment of society declaring
itself the voice of all society. For Marx such a pars pro toto,
bourgeois or, for that matter, Leninist, would never be able to
carry out the universal postulates inherent in the state, and
abolish the state.” (13)

Another conclusion Avineri draws from this list of measures
involves a quite crucial misinterpretation of Marx’s theory of
the state. He says: “By applying this policy the proletarian
state will be the first state in history to use political power
for universal ~nd not partial ends. This programme thus realises
the Hegelian postulate about the universality of the state.

Dialectically, the state that would really carry out its
uni versal potential must end with communism and consequently
with its own abolition, since ‘public power will lose its
political character’.

The ultimate realisation of the
Hegelian idea of the state as universal power implies according
to Marx, that, once the state is truly universal, it ceases to
exist as a differentiated organism.” (16)
First of all this interpretation misses out that the measures
are admitted by Marx to be “despotic” i. e. within the existing
dialectical contradiction they are partial measures of the
proletariat against the bourgeoisie. Even though the eventual
result is the abolition of class distinctions it remains true
that the state power is never properly universal and thus does
not realise any Hegelian postulate to that effect.

The peculiar dialectical transcendence involved in the
proletariat’s rule is that while wielding state power in their
own interests they lay down conditions which lead to the
creation of a classless society, i.e. the transition is not one
in which the proletariat “becomes the absolute side of society,



ibid., p.206.


ibid., p.206. See also Marx to Sorge, June 20th, 1881,
(Selected Correspondence, p.342)







for it is victorious only by abolishing itself and its opposite.

Then both the proletariat and the opposite which conditions it,
private property, disappear.” (17).

Marx himself has already replied to Avineri’ s interp}etation
in advance in t.e very paragraph of the Manifesto following the
list of measures so it could hardly be missed.

“When, in the course of social evolution, class distinctions
have disappeared, and when all the work of production has been
concentrated into the hands of the associated producers, public
aut~o~ity will lose its political character.

Strictly speaking,
polltlcal power is the organised use of force bv one class in
order to keep another class in subjection. Whe~ the proletariat,
in the course of its fight against the bourgeoisie, necessarily
consolidates itself into a class, by means of a revolution
makes itself the ruling class, and as such forcihly sweeps away
the old system of production – it therewith sweeps away the
system upon which class conflicts depend, makes an end of classes,
and thus abolishes its own rule as a class.”
It is made absolutely clear in this passage that the
transitional regime is one in which one class uses force to
subjugate another. This must put p<.,; d to any interpretation
which conceives of it as realising ~he Hegelian postulate about
the universality of the State. A State which was truly universal
in form and conte!lt would nat need force to hold d01ffl one section
of its citizens. That this must be so no doubt accounts for the
lame attempts Avineri makes to argue that force by the revolution
is undesirable and indeed unnecessary, (e.g. p.2l8)
passage also makes clear that public authority does not lose its
political character until communism has been achieved – until
then we have rule by~class over another while it "forcihly
sweeps away the old system of production." This is quite incompatible with Avineri's claim that the state carrying out its
universal potential must end with communism.

Avineri’s crucial mistake is to stay within the Hegelian
problematic defined in terms of the “state as universal power”.

Briefly, Hegel held that the family represented a one~sided
universality in which the individual did not distinguish himself
as such; civil society (i.e. the generalisation of private
~roperty) represented a one-sided particularity; the synthesis
In the modern state was supposed to reconcile individual
aspir,ations within a universal order regulated by rational laws
and morality. Avineri misinterprets Marx’ s early critique of
Hegel in so far as he seems to think that all Marx added was
the understanding that “once the state is truly universal it
ceases to exist as a differentiated organism.” He takes this
to be a practical programme – hence all the material he produces
on suffrage, force and other problems of transition interpreted
from this standpoint.

In fact Marx’s critique was much more negative and resulted
in a switch to a new problematic in which the crucial questions
were not posed in terms of the state at all. Marx’s true
position was that the state could not be made truly universal
~ust because it necessarily existed as an organism differentiated
from, and standing over against, civil society.

In order to prove this it is in order to ask what conditions
would have to be realised in order to overcome the illusory
nature of the uniVersality possessed hy the state and conclude
that their realisation would involve its disappearance altogether
but it is a big mistake to read this immanent critique as a
practical programme and conclude that communism is to be
realised through the aufhebung of the state.

The switch by Harx to a new perspective occurs as early as
the 1843 Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of

Here Marx retains the Hegelian category of ‘universality’

but introduces the question of class in order to give the term
a new context. Instead of trying to produce a political form
which would incarnate an abstract ‘universality’ ‘larx points to
the concrete material (as opposed to pol i tical-spiritual)
existence of the classes with their particular possessions and
interests, and identifies the proletariat as the class to whom
no particular wrong but “wrong in general” is done. Being at
the sharp end of all the contradictions in society it is the
element of total negativity in the situation. It has no particular wrong to redress but can only liberate itself bv a universal
restructuring of society which will remove all clas~ limitations
and inequalities. It is not the “aufhebung” of the state through
its becoming concretely universal that Marx demands, rather he
turns to the question of how t.o accomplish the “aufhebung” of
the proletariat, and concludes that out of the practical •
necessities of its peculiar position as a class “in, but not of,
civil society” it wi 11 accompl ish its own transcendence hy
abolishing itself as a class through a total restructuring of
the condi tions determining it as such.

(However it is equally
clear that the first phase of this dialectical development is
one in which it is in irreconcilable struggle with the existing
ruling class.)
The problem of the state comes out in the wash. If the
classes go then the institutions of class rule go too – whether

Marx & Engels, The Holy Family, Ch.4.

it be the old bureaucratic police machine or the organlsation
of the armed majority for “forcibly” sweeping away the old
system. To reduce the argument to a formula – Avineri thinks
the state disilppears when it becomes universal: Marx argues it
di sappl ars when soci ety !jasbecome universal 1. e. c lass less,
hut while it exists it is always “the organised use of force by
one class in order to keep another class in subjection”.

• The argument is not merely a semantic one because it leads
to dif~ring attitudes to transitional problems such as suffrage,
force etc.,
It is however, very confusing hesides all the talk about
“making the state a truly universal organ”, to find that
Avineri keeps up a running campaign against “politics” starting from Marx’s critique of the French Revolution, in his
early work, as “merely political”. His point here seems to be
that it is no use declaring universal hrotherhood from above
(i.e. politically) ~ one must wait until conditions are ripe
through the internal development of the economy etc.

would he O.K. except that Avineri often seems to fall into the
trap of hoping for a ‘merely social’ revolution without any
horrid pol i tical action, espetiall y the use of f(lrce. (“One
can summarise Marx’s position hy saying that for Marx physical
power will either fail or prove to he superfluous. Bv itself
physical power achieves nothing.” (18) )

One cannot do better here than quote Marx at tbe end of
The Poverty of Philosophy:

“Do not saI,J that social movement excludes political
movement. There is never a nolitical movement which
is not at the same time social. It is onltJ in an
order of things in which there are no more-classes
and class antagonisms that social evolutions will
ce( to be political revolutions.

Till then, on
I_he eve c-f every general reshuf:.e l j ng of soc i ety, the
],;st “,’ord of sr.cial E:cience will always be: ‘Le cot:!bat,
ou la mort; la lutte sanquinaire out le neant.

ainsi que la auestion est invinciblement posee’

Georges Sand.” (19)

Another place where Avineri charges Leninists ‘.-i th helief
in the omnipotence of politics is on the vexed question of the
uniqueness of proletarian revolution in relation to socioecono~ic c?nditions.

He draws on Lange’s ‘ersion of it. (20)
The sltuatlon of the proletariat seems to be unique because it
has no existi~g socio-economic base to predicate a struggle for
power on (unllke the bourgeoisie who possessed wealth and
culture). Thus they have to construct socialist economic
relations after taking power, whereas the bourgeoisie was ahle
t? d~velop capitalist relations of production a good way
Wlth1a the old system. The bourgeois revolution really conslste in one oppressing class displacing another in the
political-legal sphere and consecrating as dominant a svstem of
productive relations which was already displacing the oid.

Avineri does not believe the socialist revolution in fact
differs from previous ones in this respect and calls in Harx’s
remarks about the. e~ergence of joint-stock companies and co-ops
to p~ove that polltlcal power “does not create the neh’ structures
reallsed” .

.Once again Avineri’s gradualist streak has got the better
of hlm – a careful reading of the texts shows that a difference
still remains because although the joint-stock companies show
that the situation is ripe for socialist olmership proper the’

are themselves still firmly within the category of the private
property system and cannot grow over into the new one given
a favourable political climate – they have to be revolutionised
– while Marx saw the co-ops as exemplars rather than a base for
growing over into the new sys tem.

Marx expresses this dialectically by saying that the stock
company “is the abolition (Aufhebung) of the capitalist mode of
production wi:.iun the capitalist mode of production itself, and
hence a self-dissolving contradition … ” (21)
It is clear that here we have a contradiction within the
system of production and this does nothing to alleviate the
situation of the proletariat in the face of people who no
longer perform any essential function whatsoever but are
‘~a~asite~ in the shape of promotors, speculators and simply
nomlnal dlrectors; a whole system of swindling and cheating bv
means of corporation promotion, stock insurance and stock

speculation.” (22) The solution to this absur/contradiction
still requires the major transition to socialism via expropriation, the condition of which is proletarian state power.


Avineri, op.cit., p.2l8.


The Poverty of Philosophy, p.197.


Avineri, op.cit., p.18l.


Karl Marx, Capital Vol. .!.,!!, p.427-9 and ibid. p.178.



M… “,x conlparc stock companies to co-ops as follol,s: “‘D,e
companies, as much as .the co-operative
be considered as transitional forms from the
cS·’.italis1: ,node of production to the associated one, with the
onlv distinction that the antagonism is resolved negatively
in t;1e one and positively in the other.” (23) So the co-ops
apl)ear as more of a breakthrough because here the contradiction
is resolved “posi ti vely” and the parasites are got rid of.

Indeed in Marx’s day there were many who saw in the spread of
co-operative production the mode of transition to socialism.

Marx however was always more cautious and saw them mainly as
proof that capitalists were not necessary rather than basing
on them a main perspective of socialist strategy. Even in the
up-beat Inaugural Address he accurately diagnosed their fate:

” … Co-operative labour if kept within the narrow circle of the
efforts of private workmen, will never be able to arrest the
growth in geometrical progression of monopoly, to free the
masses, nor even perceptibly to lighten the burden of their
miseries … To save the industrious masses, co-operative
labours ought to be developed to national dimensions, and
consequently, to be fostered by national means.”

If this line of reasoning is valid it would seem to be valid
against the whole idea of moral philosophy as meta-ethical
analysis of moral discourse. One can of course retain a form
of words, but if moral philosophy continues to be the “analysis
of moral concepts” this is now also the “analysis” of human
situations. It seems to follow that there results a revival of
ethics in something like the traditional sense.

c’!rita~’,~. stock
f.lctorH~’: :::hol.ld

If the idea of analysis does arise in the outlined way from
one posivistically-influenced concept of philosophy, perhaps
also whoever remains influenced by positivistic and empiricist
trends will be thereby hampered in his efforts to revive ethics.

In other words, mere rejection of one particular form of
postivistically-influenced philosophy, such as “Oxford
philosophy” arguably is, may not be enough. I think that GJ
Warnock’s latest book illustrates this point.

Warnock would I think at least partly agree with the abovesketched critique of meta-ethics. For instance he argues clearly
and persuasively that moral philosophy should return from the
dead-end of formal analysis of moral discourse to a treatment of
its content: “what the talk is about – specifically, the sorts
of grounds that are stated or implied for the things that are
said, the sorts of considerations that are taken to be relevant,
and why” (pp. 137-8). Thi.3 w:mld seem to involve something
like a “justification” of morality. There are of course some
contemporary philosophers who’d immediately say that any such
attempt is both philosophically and morally mistaken. For them,
to be moral and to reflect on why one is moral would seem to be
mutually exclusive possibilities.

But perhaps, in spite of
their objections, a man who wants to rise out of the merely
conventional moral life in order through philosophical reflection
to grasp the sense of morality itself which in conventionality
he’d been forgetting, may be all the more moral for that.

Anyway, it’s not the raising of the question by Warnock that I
want to challenge, but only the answer he gives to it. To arrive
at this answer, Warnock examines not just human situations, but
“the human situations” as such. Through a treatment of human
nature, the intelligibility of morality is to be revealed. But
it’s the empiricist conditioning of his concept of human nature,
which seems to me to vitiate his whole project.

Of course no such fostering took place and lack of
capital extinguished all efforts, except the retail side. In
retrospect it can be seen that co-operative factories could
only exist in the early days of capitalism before the huge
growth of monopoly capital.

Monopoly capital has only
recently spread into retail organisation and it is obvious
that no new co-op retail organisation could start now – while
the existing organisation is not exactly the most noticable
force for socialism. Even as exemplars co-operatives suffer
from the fact that under a capi tal i st regime, wi thout the
support of planned social production, they can do little to
“1 ighten the burden.”
It is clear then that although co-operatives anticipate
a new social regime Harx saw the actual process of transition
as based upon the revolution wi thin the capital ist sector.

~vineri is perfectly correct to draw attention to these
pas~ages which stress the element of continuity involved in
the taking over of a material base, the negations of capitalism
within capitalism, etc., but it is still true that significant
differences remain between the proletariats’ situation and that
of previous classes and these do put a high premium upon its
pOlitical understanding and wiIT – that this be ‘Leninism’

notwi thstanding.

At any rate Warnock isn’t very polite about human beings.

They have “natural propensities” to “malificence, non-benificence,
unfairness, and deception” emanating from their “limited sympathies” (p.SS). As for morality, it gets its justification from
the part played by moral principles and moral virtues in delivering us from the disasters which would result from the free
expression of these “natural propensities”.

Dr. Avineri finally discloses his hand in the Epilogue in
which he blames Harx for “endowing the present generation with
eschatological significance” and overlooking the possibility
of “the combination of his philosophical and historical theory
“ith the Jacobin tradition of merely subjectivist revolutionary
action; Leninism embodied such a combination”. (24)
these points are made too briefly and vapourously to be worth
serious analysis so I have preferred to pick up some of the
:nore deta:il~d points abJv-. III sum we have a bock which 2.t
first sight looks promising – at its strongest the best
exegesis of :nany ~Iarxian themes in English – but finally
tu’rns out to have irritatingly perverse aspects.




Avined, op.cit., p.2SS.

But what’s supposed to be the cognitive value of such

He speaks, not of human potentia1s for selfishness,
etc., (which to me at least seems more plausible) but definitely
of “natural propensities”. “Natural” to whom? This “state of
nature” way of putting things suggests some quasi-historical
hypothesis, but in reality, we don’t have to look up any trees
for Warnock’s “natural man”, but rather in the streets and
colleges of Oxford. In this book there’s described but perhaps
not so much understood the character of the modern bourgeois,
toward which men tend in our society. The truth of this account,
lies in the description.

But understanding is lacking, for
once described, these very characteristics are elevated to the
level of the “human condition”, which means that it’s then safe
to have a bad conscience about them.

Capital, p.431.

Thus Warnock’s grounding of morality on human nature is
curiously lop-sided. For in it morality is set off against
“human nature” and there’s no question of relating it to the
latter’s immanent development. Warnock therefore, in the last
chapter of his book brings to light yet another “natural”
characteristic, viz. “non-indifference” and bases morality on
that. He’s ready to accept the consequence that morality is in
the end not based on rationality. Thus the need for morality,
its point, is based on our factual viciousness; our ability to
be moral, on our factual “non-indifference”.


Bruce young

A review of THE.OBJECT


by G.J.Warnock

(Methuen Paperback 1971,


Under the influence of a positivism which (in all its
forms) locates the positive outside philosophy, moral philosophers have often helieved that in the mere analysis of moral
discourse lay their only legitimate occupation. For otherwise,
it was said, moral philosophy would itself moralize and hence
cease to be philosophy.

The reasons which have of late led many Anglo-Saxon
philosophers to reject various proposed meta-ethical analyses,
hring into question the very concept of what moral philosophy’s
about which underlies them. Thus to an analysis of “X 1S good”
as “I like X, like it too” it’s been objected that it makes
things look as if just anything could sensibly be called “good”
and for any “reason” (or for none) – whereas it’s clear that
there are limits to the possibilities for sensible moral or
evaluative judgement here. The given analysis seemed plausible
or-Iy when one took the utterance in isolation. In doing so,
one forgot that we “use” language, language does not “use” us.

But if accordingly an adequate account would concern what kinds
of Thir.g might sensibly be said in what kinds of situation, then
th2 li;,e between philosophy and positive moralizing gets blurred.


But if morality is truly to be grasped as ar1s1ng
intelligibly out of the human situation, one requires I think a
different and more adequate concept of human nature. When the
latter is grasped, not in a frozen factuality, but in a
teleological development wherein the natural is humanized and
the human naturalized, it becomes possible to grasp also
morality as a phase in the realization of a properly human
nature. Such a concept was already prefigured by Hegel, whom
Warnock seems to regard as a “relativist” (v.pp.4-6). Actually
it’s precisely Hegel who most determinedly tries to conquer the
relative, not indeed by ignoring it but rather by so to speak
devouring it. It’s his concept of man as “Spirit”, i.e. a
restless activity which overcomes its own partiality in order
to constitute and concretely universalize itself, which permits
him through the dialectic of the life-and-death struggle and
the master-slave relationship, to portray an overcoming from
within of unreason by reason, and thus also an intelligible
genesis of morality as freedom made nature.

Such a teleological
development doubtless doesn’t proceed without conflict, but
conflict isn’t an endless battle against some daemonic original
“nature” which would be doomed to failure were it not possible
in philosophical reflection to invent an adventitious hypothesis
to explain the possibi li ty of success.



facts only give reasons for action to people who have certain
interests or desires. And, given her narrow, uti I i tarian
definition of morality, this led her to think that people
choose whether or not to bother with moral considerations, on
the basis of interests or desires which do not themselves
express a morality. And it is I suspect her emphasis on the
importance of such interests or desires which makes her call
herself a ‘subjectivist’.


JanathaD Bee
Philippa Foot has been continuing her fight for naturalism
in ethics in a series of classes in Oxford this winter term.

Her subject was ‘the “ought” of morality’, and her aim was to
refute Kantianism. Kantian moral theory, she said, attributes
to moral obligations a ‘special binding force’ in virtue of
which they automatically or unconditionally give men reasons
for action. Her thesis was that the idea that moral obligation
has this ‘special binding force’ is illusory in the same way
that the idea of private, incommunicable mental objects is
illusory. Kant thought morality rested on a ‘categorical
imperative’. But the only sensible definition of categorical
imperatives, according to Mrs. Foot, equates them with
obligations which a person has regardless of his interests or
desires (e.g. not to cause suffering); hypothetical imperatives,
on the other hand, say what a person ought to do on the purely
continaent assumption that he has certain ends (e.g. to catch
the 8.15 if you don’t want to be late). But this definition of
categorical imperatives makes them useless to the Kantian: it
is so wide that i t applies to obligations arising from things
like ettiquette or club rules, as well as to moral obligations.

Her subjectivism is well illustrated by one of her
She said there could be a society which always put
considerations of morality above considerations of ettiquette.

I suppose an example of this would be thinking it best not to
warn someone
of imminent but avoidable death if you could
not think of the correct form of address. But this example
is not as simple as it seems; for surely if a society attached
such importance to using the correct form of address, that
would mean that for them this was not really a matter of
ettiquette. We would not have understood the society in
question unless we could say what strikes its members as so
important about forms of address; but to do this would be to
describe their morality.


Philippa Foot concluded that ‘the “ought” of morality’

doesn’t have a ‘special binding force’ any more than ‘the
“ought” of ettiquette’ does.

One thing she meant by this
was that just as a society or an individual can do without
ettiquette, so they could do without morality. If we join the
army of morality, we do so ‘not as conscripts but as volunteers’.

Our resistance to admitting this originates, she said, in the
enormous social pressure which sanctions moral norms. Referring
to Wittgenstein, Mrs. Foot suggested that modern moral philosophy
goes wrong when it tries to ‘build up morality on the basis of
individuals’: social norms are part of the meaning of ‘the moral
“ought”’. Her point might be put, I think, by saying that even
if you can ascribe some beliefs to isolated i,ndividuals in a
pre-social state of nature, you cannot ascribe moral ones. Her
overall conclusion was that it is only social conditioning which
makes us think that moral obligations have a special binding

Mrs. Foot’s attack on Kant’s doctrine of the categorical
imperative seems to me just; but I think her positive accoun~ of
morality is still too Kantian.

She should not have retained
the Kantian assumption that there is such a thing as a ‘moral
point of view’ or an “‘ought” of morality’. Having dislodged
moral obligation from its high pedestal in the philosophical
museum, she picked it up again and put it in a frame on the wall.

Mrs. Foot’s assumption that there is such a thing as a
‘morai point of view’ is more utilitarian than Kantian.

However she follows the utilitarians in defining morality by
its content: it is, for her, an institution whose object is to
promote social welfare by enco~raging pro-social behaviour.

So she might agree with Bentham (from whom, I think, she takes
the phrase ‘binding force’) who distinguished four types of
sanctions which rules of conduct may have: physical, political,
religious, and ‘moral or popular’ (Fragment on Government III 2),
or with John Stuart Mill, who divided the ‘Art of Life’ into
prudence, morality, and aesthetics (System of Logic VI xii 6).

It is because she was using some such utilitarian definition of
morality that Mrs. Foot was able to claim that morality is
something which a society or an individual might do without.

On Mrs. Foot’s definition of morality, however, it is
an open question whether this society has a morality at all.

And I think the reason for rejecting this definition is now
clear. The interests and desires of a society which Mrs.Foot
would regard as valuing ettiquette and not morality could not
be expressed without using what everybody would call moral
vocabulary – for example by saying that it is wrong ever to
risk using an incorrect form of address. Mrs. Foot’s narrow
definition of morality created the illusion that people can
choose, for example whether to warn somebody of imminent
danger, without thereby expressing some moral beliefs.

My argument against Mrs. Foot’s definition of morali ty is
based on something which she herself is arguing for – the
importance of seeing morality from a social point of view.

In fact it is based on a technique of hers, which is to consider
the problem of translating the moral vocabulary of different

Therefore I am grateful to her for what she has
said. But it seems to me that the full implementation of her
programme will involve scrapping her definition of morality.

“What the philosophers say
ing as a sign you see in a
Done Here. If you brought
be fooled; for the sign is

about Reality is often as disappointshop window, which reads: Pressing
your clothes to be pressed, you would
only for sale.”

“You ask me which of the philosopher’s traits are really
idiosyncracies? For example, their lack of historical sense,
their hatred of the very idea of becoming, their Egypticism.

They think that they show their respect for a subject when
they de-historicize it, sub species aeterni — when they turn
it into a mummy. All that philosophers have handled for
thousands of years have been concept-mummies; nothing real
has escaped their grasp alive.”

But I think it would be better, and more in accordance
with the naturalism she wants to defend, to define morality
less narrowly, so that it includes all ‘rules of conduct’ or
the entire ‘Art of Life’. Morality, on the definition I
advocate, would be the whole set of ‘internalised’ abstract
principles which govern how a person treats others. On this
definition, a person’s treatment of others would express his
morality just as his way of using words expresses his grammar.

And with morality defined like this, it would of course make
no sense to say that an individual or a society had no

What is the advantage of the wider definition of morality
which I am advocating?

Mrs’. Foot regards herself as a naturalist; ?nd naturalists,
suppose, are people who oppose scepticism about morality and
at the same time maintain that it does no~ rest on anything
supernatural or transcendental. Thus naturalism seems to be
one form of objectivism. But in her recent classes, Mrs. Foot
declared that when it came to “super-oughts” i.e. “oughts”
other than ‘the “ought” of morality’, or ‘of ettiquette’ or of
any other particular institution, she was ‘a subjectivist, in
the good old fashioned sense’.

The cause of this confusing situation is that when Mrs.

Foot rejected the Kantian theory that moral obligations are
based on a categorical imperative, she concluded that moral


“This kind of degenerate learning did chiefly reign amongst the
schoolmen: who having sharp and strong wits, and abundance of
leisure, and small variety of reading, but their wits being
shut up in the cells of a few authors (chiefly Aristotle their
dictator) as their persons were shut up in the cells of monasteries and colleges, and knowing little history, either of
nature or time, did out of no great quantity of matter and
infinite agitation of wit spin out unto us those laborious
webs of learning which are extant in their books. For the wit
and mind of man, if it work upon matter, which is the contemplation of the creatures of God, worketh according to the stuff
and is limited thereby; but if it work upon itself, as the
spider worketh his web, then it is endless, and brings forth
indeed cobwebs of learning, admirable for the fineness of
thread and work, but of no substance or profit.”


Weekend at Universi t..L..£.f2 ent ,

,?2::.?Z__ .:!..~e

first, insofar as its ‘problems’ arc emplr ~~l’: _ l,rohlems
(knowledge of the external world, causality, other minJ~,
personal identity, etc.), and secondly, insofar as it retain
the same ideological orientation as classical empiricism.

Epistemology is by its very nature prescriptive; it is for
some claims to knowledge and against others. This aspect of
contemporary epistemology has become mystified, but it remains
covertly prescriptive; in practice it is for the natural
sciences, against psychoanalysis and Marxism on the grounds
that they are ‘unverifiable’ or ‘unfalsifiable’. But whereas
the classical empiricists were in close touch with the sciences
and were in reaction against academicism and scholasticism,
contemporary philosophy has become the “New Scholasticism”.

It has cut itself off from concrete bodies of knowledge and
thereby condemned itself to sterility, declaring itself
concerned solely with ‘language’ or ‘concepts’; this is the
rationale of academicism.


Plans for the formation of the Radical Philosophy Group
originated at a small and informal discussion weekend which
,.:.5 held in June last year.

We are here reprinting a report
011 that meeting which wa<; circulated afterwards..

Tt Sh01tld be
emphasised that this summary presents the discussion~ in a very
~’Jb:;eviated form; thus the views whieh were expressed and the
conclusions which ‘1ere formed are ;1ere abstracted from much of
their supporting arguments _ Nevertheless \e thL,k that the
report may Le of interest as i&dicating the kinds of issue that
h”ere dis~vssed.

rriday evening’s dj scussion cenrred on a paper lJy Ton)
Sidllen in which he examine:l the non–theoretica1 determinants
of molern English (and especially Oxford) philosophy.. His th(~sis
~as that its poverty was not a function of a false theory
(Er.:pirici srn, for exa:nple). Rather, there was no powerful or
~igurous theoretical tradit~on at all in England.

;;hilosophical activity was dominated by its institutional and
social Setting. He referred to an artide by (“A
School for P;’lilosophers” Ratio V 3), and argued that Hare
emdttingly re’veals the way in which the wor;’; of the
“pr.)fe5sic nal philosopher” and his whale idea of philosophr is
.,flared hy J1is activity a3 a prepr.rer of future bUTeaucrats for
the Examination School~. Although these factors obviously
.)pc-rac6 in oT.her subjects, they a-Zfect philosophy to a special
der:,ree, since it has l’ecome almost entirely an acade~dc,teaching
disc:iplinc for specialists. Thus he o:ought to explain not only
‘J1e conformist CO!1ten t of English phi losopily but al so its pieceiileal parcelled-up character, its formalistic stress on “moves”
and “tech:1iques” of linguistic analysis, and its isolation from
reality and living thought – forcing it to feed on itself.



Richard argued that it was misleading to attack
contemporary philosophy for being ‘linguistic’.

The distinction between ‘questions about language’ and ‘questions
about the world’ is itself a false dichotomy, and therefore
one cannot effectively characterise contemporary philosophy by
saying that it is concerned with language. Moreover,philosophical arguments may legitimately appeal to ‘what we say’; and in
particular cases the philosophical nature of a question may
often be brought out by saying that it is ‘conceptual’ or
‘second-order’. Wllat is really characteristic of contemporary
philosophy, and leads to charges of ‘quibbling about words’, is
its piecemeal nature. This is itself intrinsically connected
with the empiricist view of knowledge and experience. Richard
thus agreed with Sean that the important thing to concentrate
on is the empiricist basis of contemporary philosophy, and he
suggested that possihle lines of approach might be:

to challenge the dichotomy of ‘Epistemology’ and ‘Ethics’

as the two separate bases of university philosophy courses;
the division between the two perpetuates and is -perpetuated by
the fact/value dichotomy and the empiricist view of
to attack the prevaUing conception of the history of
philosophy; the Kant revival should be seen as a way into Hegel
and Marx – but these, as also the philosopheis in the phenomeno10gical tradition, should not just be studied as alternative
interests but should be used to combat the assumptions of
empiricist philosophy;

Tun), quoted an arL-cle ::y Mark Pattison in Mind, 18i6,
showing how, from the very beginning of the modern academic
p,,,rioJ, philosophy at Oxford was constricted by t:1C demand
that teachers spend !liOSt 0’£ their time teaching for examinations.

In the discussion Tony’s suggestion that any opposition
movement i,l philosophy would have “to combat these distortlr,g
influe:1ces was generally accepted. But there “as disagreement
about the importance of insti tutiona:l force~, especially
examinations. It emerged that it ,,’as important to distinguish
the historical importance of examinations in shaping academic
pU losophy’ s development in England from their present importance
in maintaining the status que in philosophy.

to develop positively the anti-empiricist elements in
Wittgenstein’s later philosophy.


There was some disagreement as to how far Wittgenstein
could be used in this way. What was seen to be important was
his recognition of the intrinsic connections between understanding and a) agency, b) social relations; on both points,
there are affinities with Hegel and Marx. But there was
disagreement as to whether Wittgenstein had really said anything
very positive or useful about the nature of these connections.

Contemporary British Philosophy as Theory
Saturday’s discussion was mainly an attempt to situate
conte;nporary Bri t j sh philosophy theor,~tically. The discussion
was ir.itiated by a paper on epistemology which Sean Sayers read,
and by some further comments from Richard Norman. The main
points to emerge were:-


Another point of disagreement which emerged in
discussion was the nature of the relation between philosophy
and particular sciences or bodies of knOWledge. There was a
general acceptance of Sean’s point that the scholasticism of
contemporary philosophy consists in its cutting itself off
from concrete areas of knowledge, and an agreement on the need
to reject the dualistic view that “science investigates reality,
philosophy investigates language/concepts”. But some of us
were inclined to accept the first-order/second-order distinction,
and to say that philosophy does not attempt to answer the same
questions as are confronted within the specific disciplines;
others argued that it was not d matter of first order as against
second order, but one of degree of generality and depth of


Sean argued that contemporary epistemology is still
basically empiricist. He examined the relationship between it
and classical empiricism, using the latter term to mean not just
the idea that knowledge 1s based on experience, but also a
particular interpretation of ‘experience’ wi thir. a particular
tradition. He traced the progressive impoverishment of the
concept of experience, from Bacon to the colour-patches of
sense-datum theorists. Linguistic epistemology is a new phase
of empiricism. Though less explicitly so, it remains empiricist,


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