stand them can be ‘on the way to being a philosopher’. Perhaps
this doesn’t matter much, though. Yesey assures us:
VESEY DOES IT!
“Philosophers are not a breed apart. They merely
have a peculiarly well developed taste for arguing
about rather abstruse topics. If you enjoy intellectual games, you will enjoy the philosophy we shall be
Rene Descartes: Father of Modern Philosophy by Godfrey Yesey
Open University Press. 1971. 80p
If you were a humanities student at the Open University, you
would have to do a little philosophy as part of your ‘foundation
course’. One of your subjects would be Descartes. This would
make up two ‘units’ of your course, which means you would spend
two weeks on it. You would be expected to read a Descartes
anthology (Anscombe and Geach), and to follow some radio and
T.Y. programmes. The focus of your work would be a booklet
called Rene Descartes: Father of Modern Philosophy, by G.N.A.
Yesey, Professor of Philosophy at the O.U. People not studying
at the O.U. can buy the booklet, which contains only 48 pages
for a very inflated price of 80p. Admittedly, the pages are
quite large; but they have very wide margins and many of them
are left wholly or partly blank for ‘Notes”. The booklet has a
floppy paper cover bearing a nice picture of the faiher of
modern philosophy, together with a large facsimile of his
signature; and this, together with the use of many illustrations
to break the monotony of the text and blank spaces, gives it
rather the same appearance as a piece of teaching material for
But when one remembers that many O.U. students alreaJy have ;l
full-time job, for example as teachers, onc can see why this
sort of approach has been adopted. So one begins by ~ishing
Vesey good luck. With his clear and rigorous-seeming style,
and his pronounced taste for whatever appear~ simple and easy
to grasp, he might seem well qualified to write such a booklet.
In the event, however, the booklet is a complete failure. I
got my copy of it second-hand, so I have had the advantage of
seeing the reactions which some unknown O.U. student wrote in
his copy. The first thing that struck this anonymous annotator
was the patronising jolliness of his Professor’s style. Yesey
anticipates objections by using phrases like ‘I can imagine you
saying … ‘ (p.13); he pleads, in block capitals, ‘PLEASE MAKE
A PRACTICE OF LOOKING UP WORDS YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND’ (p .10) ;
he provides ostensible aids to pronunciation, saying,for
example, that ‘~lalebranche’ is pronounced as 1~1ARL-ERBRONSH’
28), and repeatedly reminds his students of the importance
of underlining things they don’t understand WITH A WAVY LINE.
(pp 13, 20, 35)
The comments of the anonymous annotator indicate an increasingly
exasperated withdrawl of willing curiosity on his part. ‘Rubbish!’
‘Balls’, he exclaims repeatedly. But would he have learned
anything about philosophy i f he had persevered more willingly?
Yesey is modest and realistic about what can be achieved in
the time at his disposal:
“You cannot reasonably expect to be a Bertrand Russell
overnight. These things take time.” (42)
Nor does he pretend to be able to impart any positive
His overriding desire to impart certain habits of mind has made
Vesey very careless about almost giving ~ccurate information
about what the ‘father of modern philosophy’ actually thought.
For example, there is a parathetical remark that ‘Descartes
uses the terms ‘soul’, ‘mind’, and ‘consciousness’ interchangeably (S), which leaves out the fact that Descartes
actually argued for the identity of the soul and the mind,
and is just false as regards ‘consciousness’.
The central weakness of Yesey’s account is that it is built
around a very· confused notion of something called ‘Dualism’.
‘Dualism’, according to Yesey, is what Descartes took himself
to have proved by the method of doubt and the cogito, and
also what troubled Malebranche and Leibniz, and also what
Strawson argued against (in “Persons”). In accordance,perhaps,
with his principled avoidance of questions with one answer.
Vesey seems to propose at least two answers to the question,
‘what is the dualist concept of a person?’. One is (rather
surprisingly) that dualism is the denial that ‘people are th~ngs
who have at once body and consciousness’ (40) and the other IS
that a person is distinct from his body (7).
And this second
answer is simply a conflation of two quite independent propoSItIons. The first is that the self (the referent of ‘I’) is
identified with the mind; and the second is that the mind is
somehow a different kind of thing from the body. Neither of
these propositions implies the other; and Vesey is just wrong
to think that arguments against the first would, if valid,
dispose of the second too.
This confusion in the concept of dualism can be traced back to
the origins of the concept in the eighteenth century. A similar
confusion, incidentally, is often embodied in the concept of
idealism. But there is another equally gigantic confusion, of
rather more recent origin. This concerns the relation of dualism
to reductionist materialism – which is often thought of as
contrary to it. Ryle’s Concept of Mind is directed against the
view that psychological language is used for talking about the
occurrence ‘inside’ people of things like ‘sensations’ and
‘volitions’ which are only externally related to the objective
world. But it is a pity that Ryle said he was specifically
attacking ‘the dogma of the ghost in the machine’, since
really his polemic applies equally to people like the eighteenth
century French materialists who thought that sensations,
volitions, and so on, occurred in a machine. But still, it
has now become common to call Ryle’s target “dualism”, and so
Vesey quotes a passage written by a modern materialistic
scientist, and without any apOlogy or explanation to his students,
says that this too exemplifies ‘Cartesian Dualism’. All the
more confusing, then that he goes on to remark quite falsely,
that the conceivability of life after death implies dualism.
At the end of his booklet, Vesey remarks, ‘Perhaps you have
already decided you do not want to do any philosophy again’.
‘Not this’, says my anonymous annotator, adding touchingly:
‘Puzzlement’, and ‘Bewilderment’, both underlined. The tragic
irony of the situation is that it seems to be Yesey’s conception
of ‘the philosopher’ as the man who is paid for inculcating
sound and hygienic mental habits which has led him to bewilder
and puzzle his student.
“I have tried, in what I have written, to exhibit
certain habits of mind. My job, as a philosophy
teacher, is to develop these habits of mind in you.”(lO)
Yesey courageously attempts to ‘formulate’ these habits in
eleven ‘Principles of Philosophising’.
Yesey’s ‘Principles’ include the following two:
Yesey’s practice of referring to several independent views as
‘dualism’ might be justified if some characterisation were
given of a point of view from which they all took on the
aspect of a unified theory. It may even be right to call
Descartes a dualist, but if it is we ought to try and identify
such a point of view in his work. But Vesey freely admits that
he is not competent to do this:
“(b) Beware of questions which are formulated in
such a way as to have only one answer … ”
“(f) In order to understand what someone is saying
it is sometimes useful to know what would
follow i f what he said was true (or false)” (10)
“My aim is not to make you an authority on Descartes,
I am not one myself, for a start. This part of the
Foundation Course is really an introduction to
It is hard to see how he got away with this; the more one thinks
about these principles, the clearer it is that they simply don’t
make sense. But Yesey says that if the eleven ‘Principles’
seems obvious to you, then
“Good. In that case you are on the way to being
a philosopher” (10)
But in fact it is hard to see how anyone who claims to under-
But even an intellectual game will not proceed far if it has
The reason for mentioning Descartes in the title, Yesey
continues, is that Descartes’ writings provide ‘some of the
best material for us to philosophise about’. Yeseyassumes,
then, that he can make sense of Descartes by simply reading a
few extracts and applying the ‘Principles of Philosophising’
of the social reality, then it neither has a legitimate and
independent existence nor has it any value beyond its historical
It then becomes impossible to be aware of one’s
position in society, in which case the sociology of knowledge
becomes, like everything, absolutely relative. Since the whole
scientific enterprise becomes relative, science becomes bankrupt.
Thus, claims Gabel, if we study knowledge itself with the
principle of social determinism of science, we gain but a
doubtful victory. For Gabel, doctrinaire Marxism is caught by
this logically incapacitating contradiction: either it sticks
to “historical materialism” and thereby makes impossible aware’~ess of its situation to which it finds itself reduced as
ideology, or it somehow transcends this situational determination
and thereby repudiates its very methodological principle.
to them; but in trying to expound Descartes, he offends against
his own ideas of what philosophy should be, even though these
are extremely unambitious.
The really worrying thing about the booklet is that so much that
is confusing and obscure is presented in the course of a work
which claims to be imparting the habits of clear ~hinking in
which philosophy is supposed mainly to consist, and which
treats its readers as though they were so ignorant and stupid
that they couldn’t be trusted to take a single intellectual
step unassisted. So on the one hand, the students get the
impression that philosophical argument ought to be childishly
simple. And on the other hand, they either have to feel
appallingly stupid because even so it doesn’t make sense to
them; or else they have to convince themselves that their
puzzlement and bewilderment is really a form of philosophical
Gabel then begins the argument of the book. He defines
ideology and false consciousness as non-dialectical perceptions
“False consciousness and ideology are two forms of
non-dialectical (reified) perception of di.alectical
realities, that is, two aspects (or two degrees) of
the repudiation of dialectical method” (Gabel, p.l9).
Michael Parkin, a police ser·
geant from IIkeston, Derby, and
Colin O’Leary, a steelworker
from Port Talbot, and Lady
Traherne of Coedarhydyglyn
heard yesterday that they had
hrlped the Open University to
achieve .. a staggeringly high
success rate” in its first public
They are three of the 14,467
registered students who have
their first year
The dialectical method is thus one that does not reify,
that is, to describe as natural and inevitable phenomena
certain social features that are historically explainable, thus
social in origin and in persistence. The dialectical method
does not confuse nature with society and culture. (Gabel gives
two examples of such confusion of thought. One is racism which
descr1bes characters emergent in social relationships as features
inherent in certain categories of men.
” … Racism naturalises a social situation, makes
inevitable a temporary social situation, and reifies
the racial adversary” (Gabel, p.l8).
VALIDITY AND mEOLOGY
Gabel’s second example is that of the positivistic study of
man by man, whereby the social scientist studies other men as
objects. This is exemplified by the colonial social anthropologists who studied the ‘primitive’ natives and their nonchanging cultures, ignoring the rigidifying effects of the
presence of colonial powers on the natives.)
La Fausse Conscience by Joseph Gabel, Paris, Editions de
Minuit, 1962, chapter 1.
It is time, I think, to rediscover that just as mind is
not a ghost-in-the-machine, philosophy is not a disembodied
subject-matter to be found in isolation. Just as existence is
in the world, philosophy is in the world and should be about
things in this world. Philosophy should not be a specified
set of methods which its practitioners unpack to deal with all
and any problems — problems themselves circumscribed by these
initially accepted methods. Philosophy Should be a reflexion
about human activities, including philosophy. Indeed, should
not philosophy be reflexive for it to be anything? This is
the position taken by Continental philosophers who characterise
their reflexions with reference to their attitudes and purposes,
whereas the Anglo-saxon philosophers characterise their inquiries
in terms of methods. I think that Anglo-saxon philosophy, like
Anglo-saxon social science, emphasises methods and thereby limits
itself to method-applicable problems, and that this is precisely
its intellectual tradition: the tradition of positivism becomes
Related problems arise. What kind of reflexion should
philosophy be? A reflexion different from other disciplines?
This leads us to question the very nature of the professionalised
and specialised contemporary academic disciplines. Here is a
thorny and important problem to work out.
Gabel is careful not to simply reduce false consciousness
to a non-quality and a non-activity, since, as he explains,
“false consciousness, like delirium, implies a specific kind of
rationality — a sub-dialectical rationality … ” (Gabel, p.IV).
Gabel’s problem is the origin of false consciousness and of
ideology. Can we adequately look to class-interests for an
explanation of false consciousness, whereby individuals and
groups of individuals are the creators of systems of thought that
justify their position in society when it is in their interest
to do so (for example when they wield power and wealth) Gabel
claims that such an explanation is not adequate since it resorts
to a simple psychological explanation without reference to the
wider society and thus does not allow a social explanation.
It is, I think, debatable whether the concept of ‘interest’ is
predominantly psychological rather than sociological.
A possible solution to the problem of how to avoid false
consciousness is that of the ‘privileged vantage point’ from
which false consciousness can be transcended. For Marx, the
privileged vantage point was that of the proletariat, while the
bourgeois social position was founded on contradictions so
profound that this social class was likely to disappear. For
Mannheim, the privileged vantage point was that of the intellegentsia. Gabel does not mention another variant of this
solution, that of Sartre who claims that men living in the wake
of greatly creative thinkers, simply amending and expanding
their ideas, are ideological whereas those who carry through a
total and radical revolution are not (see Questions de Methode,
Paris, Gallimard, 1960, p.14). Gabel argues that solutions to
the problem of false consciousness by the use of the ‘privileged
vantage point’ solution are not valid. They erect a non-dialectical polarisation which does not constitute an overcoming of
the problem of false consciousness but, on the contrary, constitutes its establishment in its extreme form.
But I shall restrict myself to showing the importance of
self-reflexion: what are we doing and why? I think it is even
more important to do this in our age of large-scale allocation
of resources to, and widespread institutionalisation of,
inquiries and investigations. I myself find it impossible to
justify my past philosophical inquiries when I think of the
perfidies committed daily by my local County Council.
I am suspicious of any radicalism that finds a solution
to its hitherto narrow-mindedness in a jump into the study of
what Karl Marx, Lukasc, Habermas, etc., have to say. The
step to be taken, I believe, is rather to ask ourselves what
we are doing and why? A renewal, I think, comes not from
applying our methods to other peoples’ problems, but to tryout
their methods on our problems. This is certainly a more risky
undertaking. This is truly critical truly radical. It has the
value of trying to see one’s intellectual endeavours in relation
to current social problems. This Joseph Gabel sets out to do
in his book La Fausse Conscience.
Gabel first poses the basic problem of the possibility of
clarifying one’s own position within society. To evaluate the
extent to which we can do this, it is necessary to have a conception of the relationship between thought and social history.
One can postulate a strict concordance between science and its
social conditions and thereby undermine the notion of valid
truth, as well as the possibility of getting perspective over
one’s ideas. If all science is never anything but a reflexion
Gabel distinguishes false consciousness from ideology.
He sees fal se consciousness as confusion of thought, w;lereas
ideology is the intellectual elaboration of a confused position.
Because the insufficient factors in ideological explanations.
are frequently chosen in accordance with the interest of their
protagonist, ideological constructions are generally justifying
Gabel argues also that the ‘vantage point’ argument does
not solve the problem of safeguarding the ideological character
of science without doing away with the possible validity of such
science. Indeed, though a theory may be ideOlogical, it may also
be true in that it is based on correct observations and interpretations: a reified and non-dialectical social science may
correctly describe an alienated profit-oriented society.
“within the framework of such a false consciousness,
an economist could find valid conclusions about the
laws of capitalist crises” (Gabe1, p.20).
Gabel argues that false consciousness rests on an ignorance
of the principle of historical materialism which makes it impossible for the scientist to be aware of his situation. Historical
materialism does not remove the validity ~f science but provides
the investigator with a method of understanding how ideas relate
to other elements of the society in such a way that it is
possible for him to become aware of this relatedness and thereby
of his limitations and possibilities.
“In other words, it is not the validity of the principle
of historical materialism which creates false consciousness,
but ignorance of this validity, and this ignorance is that
of a non-dialectical structure” (Gabe1, p.47).
As for the problem of whether society constitutes or
selects ideologies, Gabel answers simply that society constitutes
the problems and selects the anSwers (Gabel,p. 34).
Gabel’s analysis of false consciousness also relates
directly to the problem of values. Since false consciousness
and ideology are approaches that erect the objects of study
into independent and natural phenomena not related in an
interacting way with the observer, since they study their
subjects as reified in a non-dialectical way, they do not take
into account the processes that link observer and observed, and
they thereby dissociate observed from observer, and the inquiry
from the personal orientations and values of the observer. Thus
positivistic inquiries are reifying since they remove human
motivations and values, and place their findings in a depersonalised and dissociated natural world (Gabel, pages 27 and 64).
As Laing wrltes:
(1) The bearer of knowledge is not, as in Kant, an
individual ego, but a social group.
(2) The activity which generates knowledge is not, as in
Kant, exclusively mental. It has an irreducibly practical side.
(3) The forms of knowledge, as Kant did not see, vary
historically, de jure and de facto, so that propositions valid
at one time maY-be invalia-earlier or later.
(4) The objective pole of the epistemological relation is
not, as in Kant, an enigmatic Ding-an-sich, wholly inaccessible
to us. It is the material world we live in, though we have only
a very general awareness of it until we encounter it in and
transform it through our praxis.
I have summarised this chapter of Gabel’s book as I feel
that it is an extremely interesting example of how Continental
philosophy can clarify notions of importance to me. Why I find
Gabel’s book important is that it does not present any panacea
for accomplishing meaningful inquiry, either scientific or
philosophical. It gives support to what I believe, which is
that we canot make either philosophy or any other intellectual
discipline ‘radical’ except by becoming critical of ourselves,
and subjecting ourselves to socio-psychological analysis.
What, in my position, allows me and pushes me to do what I do
and believe what I believe? Why do I want to be ‘radical’?
Did I do right to leave the university, or can one really be
critical within the framework of specialisation and professionalisation? Can one’s inquiries be effective within an institution which erects the motto “Be still and know”? This problem
may seem far removed from current academic philosophy, but it
does constitute a current problem for me, and as such I feel
that philosophy, if it does concern ltself with reflexion and
with reasoned argument, should consider it.
The first three theses would have enjoyed the approval of
the young Lukacs, but not, according to Schmidt, the fourth.
For it acknowledges that at one level we grasp the world as
independent of us, whereas Lukacs treated our image of nature
as entirely determined by social practice. l In disposing of
Lukacs, Schmidt clarifies his own position:
Although nature and its laws subsist independently of
all human consciousness and will for the materialist
Marx [this being what Lukacs supposedly missed–GAC]
i t is only possible to formulate and apply statements
about nature with the help of social categories [this
being the part of the truth which Lukacs mistook for the
who1eJ. The concept of a law of nature is unthinkable
without men’s endeavours to master nature. The socially
imprinted character of nature and nature’s autonomous
role constitute a unity within which the Subject by no
means plays the part of ‘creator’ assigned to it by
Lukacs. (p. 70)
Thus Marxian Kantianism separates itself from Marxian
Hegelianism. Being Kantian, it also distinguishes itself from
WHAT 00 YOU KNOW?
George C. Robertson, first editor of Mind,resigned
in 1891, saying that the journal had failed through
attracting too much interest from “the lay student” and
not enough from those “whose regular business is with
The fundamental materialist tenet could be summed up as
follows: the laws of nature exist independently of and
outside the consciousness and will of men. Dialectical
materialism also holds to this tenet, but with the
following supplement: men can only become certain of
the operation of the laws of nature through the forms
provided by their labour processes. (p.98)
MARXISM: A PHILOSOPHY
Review of THE CONCEPT OF NATURE IN
NLB, 1971 price £3.25.
Schmidt proposes a conception of man and nature which may
be called “Marxian Kantianism”.
(He calls it “dialectical
materialism”, but these days the phrase means nothing more
precise than “the methodology of Marx, whatever it turns out to
be”). It is Kantian because i t holds that we do not know the
world immediately but only as it is given to and shaped by our
activity upon it. It shares Kant’s rejection of the possibility
of direct congruency between thought and reality, which is
cherished by idealists (Berkeley, Hegel) and realists (Locke,
Feuerbach) alike. Our knowledge is a function not only of the
world but also of our operations, not just because we must
operate to obtain knowledge, but because the way we operate
enters constitutively into the knowledge we have.
Schmidt’s Kantianism is Marxian in at least four
“No one can begin to think, feel or act now
except from the starting-point of his or her
own alienation” (The Politics of Experience,
Penguin, 1967, p.11).
secondary theme is the author’s treatment of Engels’ views of
nature and science, which is the best I know. I have thought
it more important to warn of the book’s errors than to list its
virtues. I need not fear that this largely negative review will
prevent Schmidt from obtaining in Great Britain the wide readership he deserves.
In my opinion there are no traces of this doctrine in
Marx’s later writings, even if he privately held it at the time.
Schmidt’s attempts to supply evidence of its presence are
egregious failures. After offering the above characterisation
of dialectical materialism, he solicits support from Marx’s
letter to Kugelmann of July 11, 1868:
It is absolutely impossible to transcend the laws of
nature. What can change in historically different
circumstances ~on1Y the form in which these laws
by Alfred Schmidt,
This passage is supposed to treat of an epistemological
relationship between social activity and the laws of the
physical world. It is supposed to argue that the laws, which
do not change, manifest themselves variously to human cognition
as the social optic undergoes historical variation. But no one
who studies the Kugelmann letter without bias can accept this
reading of it. It does not concern knowledge at all. The “laws
of nature” it discusses are those which ordain that the needs
The central preoccupation of Schmidt’s very interesting
book is a certain conception of the relation between man and
nature, which the author attributes to the mature Karl Marx.
In this review I shall expound the conception, without
criticizing or endorsing it. I shall, however, impugn the
exegetical devices by means of which Schmidt ascribes it to
Marx. I shall show that he distorts the meaning of crucial
texts. Whether or not Marx had the conception he locates in
his work, Schmidt’s thesis that he did is inadequately
There are a number of subsidiary discussions in the book,
not all of which will be noticed here. The most important
Or so Schmidt says. He approvingly quotes a question
Siegfried Marck directed at Lukacs, namely “whether the
existence of nature is to be conceived as in toto the
product of society” (p.2l3, note 36). But the question
betrays a naive response to Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein.
-of society must, one way or another, be met by the labour of
society. Under capitalism this transpires indirectly, through
the mechanism of the market and capital accumulation; in other
societies the link between labour and needs-satisfaction is
more direct. What varies is not how the law is conceived, but
how it imposes itself upon men, whether they are aware of it or
not,in different economic system-s-.—- —- — —– — —-
so did Ricardo’s, a consequence which is a reductio ad absurdum
of Schmidt’s contention.
Schmidt appropriates a homely remark about the constraints
within which society functions and turns it into a contribution
to the theory of knowledge.
His handling of the Kugelmann letter illustrates Schmidt’s
usual procedure. On dozens of occasions he exhibits passages
whose manifest burden is economic or historical and surrounds
them with commentary intended to make them look like modulations
on a philosophical theme. He proclaims his exegetical outlook
in a footnote (p.2l4,note 43). We are told that Capital,
though officially and outwardly a study of political economy,
is (at least in major part) secretly and essentially a work of
epistemology and philosophical anthropology; and that this becomes
clear once we “disentangle” Marx’s statements “from their economic
I shall demonstrate that the results Schmidt obtains by
his peculiar method of interpretation are, as in the case of the
Kugelmann letter, quite unacceptable. But there is reason to
wonder about his procedure before inspecting its fruits. For it
entails that Marx did not know, or else concealed, what he was
doing. It is difficult to imagine a motive for concealment
Schmidt remarks (p.2l4) that Marx was reluctant to admit the
extent of Hegel’s influence on Capital, and one can think of
motives for that. But why should he have pretended that what
he was doing, however it was influenced, was political economy
not philosophy? Consider then the alternative, that Marx did
not know what he was doing. There is only one way of taking
this in which it is not flatly incredible: that we can profitably regard many of Marx’s claims as transpositions into economic
discourse of thoughts which are philosophical in character.
The surface is economics, the deep structure philosophy.
(iv) On pp. 120-1 heavy references to Kant and Hegel
decorate Marx’s commonplace politico-economic remarks that “man
can work only as nature does, that is by changing the form of
matter”, and that in different production processes “the proportions between labour and the material of nature are very
diverse”. Schmidt is original and arresting, but also irresponsible, when he maintains a connection between the latter statement, which is undeniable by anyone, and “Kant’s thesis of the
…. non-identity of Subject and Object”, which, he claims Marx is
implicitly telling us, “enter into changing configurations”.
(v) Sometimes Schmidt tries to secure authority for his
transformative procedure by juxtaposing superficially similar
formulations from early and late texts, where the early one is
uncontroversially philosophical, and the late, by virtue of the
juxtaposition, is made to seem so. For example, these passages,
from the Paris Manuscript and the Grundrisse respectively, are
introduced in sequence (p. 30), as though they articulated a
continuing philosophical position:
. .. nature, taken abstractly, for itself, rigidly
separated from man, is nothing for man.
The material of nature alone, in so far as no human
labour is embodied in it, in so far as it is mere
material and exists independently of human labour,
has no value, since value is only embodied labour …
The second excerpt cannot be read as an echo of the Manuscripts’
philosophical claim or even as a replica of it in the discourse
of economics. For the “material of nature” does have use-value
for man, and is hence not “nothing for man”-:-The value-to which
the Grundrisse here refers is the value of the market, exchangevalue. Unwrought nature is economically worthless, but it is of
great importance to man, who, for instance, must breathe some
of it to survive. What we breathe has no value in the present
sense but it is not “rigidly separated” from us.
(vi) Though Schmidt presents the Marx of Capital as a
philosopher, he does not see him as primarily a theorist of
alienation (see p.9). Nevertheless, since alienation is unquestionably a philosophical theme, Schmidt strives to find it
in the mature texts. He quotes (p.67) a passage from Capital in
which Marx indicates how in the social labour process what at
one point emerges as a product enters elsewhere as a tool or
raw material. “Products are therefore not only results, but also
e’ssential conditions of the labour-process”.
this simple fact, which obtains in any economy including the most
primitive,2 under the Manuscripts concept of “objectification as
loss of the object”. But that is a description of alienation,
which is not imposed by the universal conditions of the labour
process. 3—The worker does not ‘lose’ the product, in the sense
of the Manuscripts,just because it may pass into another labour
process. The transportation industry does not promote the selfestrangement of mankind. 4
But if an economic thesis is advanced because it is a
transform of a philosophical one, then, barring a mysterious
pre-established harmony between philosophical and ecocomic
truth, the economic thesis is likely to be false and is certain
to lack appropriate justification. Perhaps Marx’s economics is
poor as economics. But then Schmidt should say so. What he does
say implies what he shrinks from saying, that Marx was either a
fraud, in pretending to be an economist when he was not, or a
bad economist, because his economics was motivated by extraeconomic concerns.
I do not think there is nothing of philosophy in Capital,
and I accept that sometimes one may find suggestive parallels
between economic and philosophical positions. But I emphatically
reject Schmidt’s contention that large areas of Marx’s economics
are amenable to a systematic philosophical rewrite.
I shall now substantiate my charges, by exposing the
alchemical transformations Schmidt carries out on Marx’s
assertions, in his attempt to return him to the thought-context
of German philosophy, which the author of Capital escaped. I
shall give some examples of his faulty exegesis.
(vii) Schmidt turns Marx into a philosopher even when he
is deliberately mocking philosophy. He wants to establish that
for Marx nature is, in the last resort, a “negative principle”,
resistant to human desire and design. So he reminds us (p.139)
that, according to The German Ideology,S “the Spirit has the
(i) On the first page of his Introduction Schmidt
flagrantly reverses the sense of a rather obvious truth which
Marx drew from the tradition of British political economy. He
correctly reports that “Harx considered nature to be ‘the
primary source of all instruments and objects of labour”’. He
then infers that Marx “saw nature from the beginning in relation
to human activity” (p.ls). The inference inverts Marx’s meaning.
Marx was not, in a quasi-Kantian way, inserting nature within
the framework of human activity. He was inserting human activity,
realistically and traditionally, within the framework of nature.
He meant merely that man-made tools and man-made materials cannot
but be temporally subsequent to nature-bestowed tools and materials. The point is not unimportant, but no one could disagree
with it, regardless of his philosophical orientation. Schmidt
constructs an elaborate epistemology on the foundation of this
and similar misconstruals of what Marx said.
For man-made tools are used in the most primitive economies.
If it were, it would be impossible to abolish alienation.
Schmidt writes: “The concept of ‘alienation’ is still found
quite frequently in Capital and in Theories of Surplus Value,
and indeed Marx’s general abandonment of such terms does
not mean that he did not continue to follow theoretically
the material conditions designated by them”. (p.228, note 7).
Here Schmidt conflates questions which must be kept distinct.
Labour is alienated (entfremdete)when by performing it the
agent dehumanises himself. Labour is alien (fremde)–so
Marx used the term–when it is not self-employed. In his
early writings Marx argued that alien labour is of necessity
alienated labour. It does not follow that when he subsequently discussed alien or hired labour, he was also occupied
with the complex phenomenon of alienation.
The questions which must be separated are these:
(1) Did Marx ahandon the term ‘alienation’?
(2) Did Marx abandon the concept of alienation?
(3) Did ~Iarx abandon study of the condition he
once designated as alienation?
Schmidt concedes that the answer to (1) is, broadly
speaking, yes. He correctly suggests that the answer to
(3) is no, but this does not show, as he wrongly infers,
that the answer to (2), which is the crucial question, is
yes. In other words: Marx once considered alien labour
alienated. He stopped calling is that. He may still have
thought it was that. But not just because he continued to
The passage is on p.4l of The German Ideology, not as note
(ii) The quotation considered in exhibit (i) is from
The Critique of Political Economy.
appear in other mature texts. The Grundrisse also emphasizes
that production presupposes non-labour-produced conditions, and
for Schmidt (p.2ll, note 3) the pages in question (384, 388ff)
prove “Marx’s strict theoretical realism with regard to the
Object”. But the relevant passages give no support whatever
to the notion that something epistemological is their issue.
(iii) I referred to traditional political economy. Schmidt
often (e.g. on p.66) cites utterances from Capital without
realising that they faithfully reproduce material in Ricardo
(for p.66, see The Princip~s of Political Economy and Taxation,
p.76), who, very significantly, is not mentioned in the book.
If, as Schmidt contends, those utterances express a philosophy
of man and nature which inherits classical German thought, then
‘curse on itself of being “burdened” with matter”‘. This is cited
as evidence for Marx’s philosophic pessimism, his belief in the
ultimate inclemency of nature. But let us examine the whole
sentence from which Schmidt drew the words quoted above:
which consists solely in the ordering of ‘everyday
experience’, ‘which only grasps the misleading
appearance of things’ (Wages, Price and Profit),
Marx stressed the role of conceptual work, in the
manner of Hegelian philosophy.
On the other side,
he did not hesitate to use the empirical discoveries
of natural history against spiritualistic metaphysics
of all shades, including the Hegelian variety.
(p.206, my emphases, GAe).
From the start the “spirit” is afflicted with the
curse of being “burdened” with matter, which here
makes its appearance in the form of agitated layers
of air, sounds, in short, of language.
In a mood of playful disdain, Harx uses the philosophic verbiage
of the German ideologists he is attacking to make an interesting
point about the indispensability of material processes to communication.
To neglect the irony in the phrasing, and to treat the
statement as a general philosophical one, is to display either
gross misunderstanding or radical intellectual dishonesty.
I acknowledged that there is philosophy in the later work
of Marx. My complaint has been that his economics is not philOsophy, not even philosophy expressed in economic terms.
philosophical topic which does occur, sporadically, in his
mature writings, is the question of the nature of science in
general and of social science in particular. Schmidt takes up
this theme, and I want to criticize the account he gives of it.
Marx said, many times, that if there were no difference
between reality and appearance, there would he no need for
Nature does not present its essence to the senses,
so physical science is necessary. A society like capitalism
creates appearances which conceal its underlying anatomy, so a
science of capitalism is required. As far as nature is concerned, the discrepancy between appearance and realIty is
Irremoveable. It is an unavoidable consequence of our finitude
as sensory beings. But the discrepancy in society is relative
and remediable, for it depends on illusions generated by
reification and fetishism, whose permanence is not guaranteed.
There is the promise that with socialism human relations will
become transparent and immediately intelligible, so that social
science will no longer be needed.
~Iarx’ s notion that scienti fic theorising presupposes a
gulf between reality and appearance is an atecedent of the
Frankfurt School’s (Adorno, Horkheimer, 7 ~Iarcuse) idea that a
valid theory of society must be a critical theory, hut I think
cri t ical theory mi srenders I-Iarx’ s concept of social science
Schmidt states its central tenet as follows:
••• the movement of thought in Marx is by no means
limited to a mere mirroring of the factual.
uncritical reproduction of existing relationships
in consciousness has precisely an ideological
character for Marx. (p. 56).
This is highly misleading. For theory can do no better than to
reproduce reality, ~ facts, exIStTiig reTatTonshIjJ5.Tcfeologyis flawed not because it reproduces reality without criticizing
it, but because it reproduces not reality buts its illusory
The Frankfurt position is that a valuational dimension
is necessary to social thought, if it is to be progressive, and
practically relevant. But social thought is practical, I would
contend, just because it correctly reproduces the reality beneath
the mystification. If it is objectively sound, it requires the
supplement of no critical valuations to achieve practical significance. When r·larx showed 9 that the lahour contract, which
appears reciprocal and just, is in reality rigged, he did not
have to add that rigged relationships are bad for the message
to be clear. When he frequently complained about “vulgar”
economists, it was not hecause they merely analysed without
criticizing, but because they accepted the surface and failed
to analyse the depths, since analysis would of itself have had
Because he does not recognise the intrinsically
revolutionary bearing of objective scientific work, Schmidt
underestimates the importance scientific discoveries had for
As opposed to an empiricism void of concepts,
42 (sic) states, on p.42. This (tiny) flaw is the only one
I found in the exceller.t editorial work that went into this
English edition, I,hose admil’able translation is hy Ben
See, e.g., Marx-Engels Selected Works,Volume I, p.424;
Capitar-Uloscow edition), Volume 1, pp. 74, 307, 316;
Volume ll, p.212; Volume Ill; pp. 205, 760, 797, 846-7.
I have examined this problen in “Karl 11arx and the
Withering Away of Social Science”, Philosophy and Public
Affairs (Princeton, N.J.), No.2, (forthcoming).
Adorno and Horkheimer supervised the dissertation in which
Schmidt’s book began its life.
Capital, Volume I, Part VI.
The justification, not the origin. The origin does lie
in his Hegelian training, beyond hhich Schmidt cannot see.
This reveals misunderstanding, and plays havoc with the text
Schmidt is quoting. For the very examples used in Wages, Price
and Profit to illustrate how everyday experience is misleading
(that–contrary to appearances–the earth moves round the sun,
water consists of two highly inflammable gases, and profits are
derived by selling commodities at their values) are discoveries
of empirical science. Such discoveries were not something Marx
used ‘on the other side’, despite his critique of everyday
experience. They were the justification lO of that critique.
Schmidt associates ‘everyday experience’ and ’empirical discoveries’. For Marx the latter expose the insufficiency of the former.
have said that for Marx the study of society must resemble
natural science to the extent that a gap between essence and appearance which is inevitable in nature, afflicts society because
of reification and mystification. Schmidt gives due emphasis to
the role of reification in generating the need for social science
in the 1965 appendix to his book, which is available in this
English edition. His original text is less satisfactory. On
p.49 he writes that ~larx held there was “no methodological
distinction between the natural sciences and historical science”
because he “admitted no absolute division between nature and
society”. But this conventionally positivist (in both 19th and
20th century senses) assimilationism was not Marx’s position.
For him history must be a science only as long as an essence/
appearance rift pervades society,not because human history is an
extension (though it certainly is) of the history of nature.
Now it is true that the social process unfolds with the
necessity of a natural process lO because society is still subordinated to nature. Reified social relations indirectly derive lO
from the hegemony over man of the physical world. But Schmidt
(p.43) runs cause and effect together. He identifies the naturelike constitution of society with its subjection to physical
nature, whereas the second is distinct from and explanatory of
the first. That they are distinct is clear from the fact that the
study of society does not resemble the study of nature in proportion to the sway of nature over man. Under capitalism man is
less in nature’s thrall than under feudalism, but advanced
social science is more urgently required to understand capitalism,
since it sponsors more elaborate mystification. The need for
science varies with the degree of reification, and reification
depends on but does not vary with the degree of technological
immaturity. By compressing the explanation Schmidt falsifies it.
My objections to The Concept of Nature in Marx have been
severe, and the reader may wonder why I nevertheless think the
book deserves wide attention. Part of the reason is that there
are good things in it, notably the discussion of Engels, which
I mentioned, and also the fine interpretation of the Theses on
Feuerbach. Schmidt’s touch is more assured when he deals with
extended stretches of the Marx-Engels corpus which are ex professo
philosophical. His work is lamentable when he intrudes philosophy
into economics, and shaky when he reads the I.rong philosophy in
11arx’s philosophical asides.
Finally, it should be ~aid that Sclmidt is not boring, and
that his writing is refreshing~y free of the dictatorial intellectualism which is so repellent 1n recent French Marxology. He is
an exciting scholar. It is a pity he is not more careful and
Along some such route as the following: the hegemony gives
rise to scarcity, which makes class division necessary,
and reification, mystification and fetishism function so
as to preserve class division.