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25 Reviews

opposition to all the other terms’, Saussure, p88},
there is ‘an incessant sliding of the signified under
the signifier’ {Lacan, p154}. However, Saussure
distinguishes the syntagmatic axis of language from
the paradigmatic or associative. Syntagmatic is the
linear dimension of language most apparent in the
sentence, the ‘horizontal’ chain in which meaning
is sequentially differentiated so that ‘I like Ike’

means something different from ‘I like honey’ or
‘I like Benn’; paradigmatic is the ‘vertic aI’ dimension of possible substitutions and associations
dependent on a term in the syntagmatic chain
(instead of ‘like’ there are ‘hate’ / ‘smite’ / ‘fight’

and ‘dislike’ / ‘will like’ / ‘liked’ / ‘have 1iked’ and
‘strike’/’bike’/’tike’ etc etc). Meaning inheres in
the syntagmatic chain (‘it is in the chain of the
signifier that meaning “insists”‘, Lacan, p153) but
only becomes intended there as meaning through
exclusion of the paradigmatic associations. The
coherence of the subject, its ability to intend
meaning, is constituted along the syntagmatic chain
as a ‘single voice’ sustaining meaning and so itself
sustained in this ‘linearity’ (p154 again). The
Freudian ego is developed as a split in the subject,
Cs/Uos: the Lacanian ego is developed as this
split between meaning intended in the syntagmatic
chain and the whole resonating mass of associated
and associating signifiers which are excluded for
meaning to take place in and for the subject. The
whole difficulty of trying to say this is that our
language and culture would commit us to description either of an objective and subjectless process
(it happens this way – abstract nouns and passive
verbs) or how people originate meanings (we do this
– personal pronouns and active verbs). For Lacan
as for Caudwell ‘object and subject. .. come into
being simultaneous’ and the attempt to force this on
our language accounts for some seemingly baroque
c ircumlocutions.

Language Entry. In Beyond the Pleasure Princ iple
Freud describes a child (his grandson) who at 18
months repeats the game of lost and found with a
cotton reel, each time saying ‘fort’ (‘gone’) and ‘da’

(‘there’). Freud interprets the repetition as the
child mastering the absence of his mother by speak-

ing of it. Lacan perSistently comes back to this,
the Fort/Da game, as exemplum of language entry.

It is not that the absence, the meaning ‘mummy
gone’, was always there for the child who suddenly
recognises it (and who was there to recognise it);
it is rather that entering language the infant enters
a presence/absence system in which the lack of the
mother is brought into being as such – ‘the child’s
whole universe is divided whereas previously it was
wholly and without mediation, satiety or void’ (see
Coward and Ellis, p96). On the one hand absence
because signifiers relate only to each other in a
system of differences with no ‘positive’ content
(the ‘0’ of fort and the ‘A’ of da define each other
as opposing phonemes); on the other hand presence
since meaning ‘insists’ in the syntagmatic chain, is
the coherent progression from ‘fort’ (‘gone! ‘) to
‘da’ (‘there! ‘). Language brings into being for the
subject a gap, a ditch on the frontier of its domain,
which it tries to fill with the kind of meaning
language also makes possible.

None of this is so far away from our common or
garden experience of how babies grow. For
example Spock (Baby and Child Care, para 348)
describes how a 3 month old who smiles at everyone
becomes a 5 month old who cries when a stranger
approaches. He adds, not surprisingly, ‘Probably
the main cause of this behavior is that he is now
smart enough to distinguish between friend and
stranger’. As the distinction between friend and
stranger, mummy and not mummy, opens up for
the infant, so it enters language; and vice versa.

For Lacan the consciousness of the subject
depends upon its being (in language) and cannot
exist apart from this. This is, at the least, not
incompatible with historical materialism and
contrary to Ree gives Lacan an inte:cest and
importance well beyond the clinical.

RIVlIWS
BAHRO’S ALTERNATIVE
Rudolph Bahro, The Alternative in Eastern Europe,
New Left Books, 1978, £9.50 hc
Bahro’s book is the most significant normative
work yet to emerge from the experience of post1945 Eastern Europe. It is, in addition, probably
the most important Marxist discussion in decades
of the reJation of the ultimdte goals of socialism to
the interlocking hierarchies of scientific knowledge,
political power, and economic advantage which
dominate what Bahro calls ‘actually existing
socialism ‘. The Alternative is also a book which,
by the very breadth of its enquiry, necessarily
contains a number of contradictions and inadequacies. As it has been fairly widely reviewed, 1 will

try to concentrate on those areas which have not
been the subject of much attention elsewhere.

What does merit reiteration, however, is that
Bahro’s critique of Soviet-style socialism is
written from the inside of the system, with a view
to rendering it more Marxist rather than simply
less authoritarian. Bahro’s education in philosophy,
and experience as a party member, economist,
journalist, and trade -union functionary in East
Germany have given him a much richer perspective
than that often found in dissentipg criticism.

Though he now resides in exile in West Germany,
following his recent release from prison, Bahro’s
writing was done over a period of four years while
he was still an employee of the state, and he is
27

proud to emphasise that he never lost an hour of
work while leading this double life.

Such difficulties help to explain some of the
unevenriess of his analysis. A third of the book
dwells upon the evolution of Soviet society, with
Bahro rather deterministically applying the oftabused ‘Asiatic Mode of Production’ to account for
the history of Stalinism. Much of this analysis has
already seen many years of active service, often in
the hands of more capable historical scholars.

Bahro’s use of it does, however, indicate the
revival of a more open and specifically socialist
debate in this area, since references to such
examples as Lenin’s 1907 warning of a possible
‘Asiatic restoration’ in post-revolutionary Russia
have mainly provided fuel for anti-Marxists like
Karl Wittfogel, especially after the’ Asiatic Mode’

was officially banned in 1931.

Historical intepretation is thus not the most
original and suggestive aspect of The Alternative.

Its principal concern is to conjecture upon the
forms of socialist organisation most likely to
realise Marx’s ideal, ‘the total emancipation of
man’, where the decline of the state as a repressive institution and the abolition of the traditional
division of labour remain for Bahro prerequisites
for the ‘all-rounded development’ of individuals.

These phrases have often remained ideological
platitudes among socialists, when indeed they have
been mentioned at all. Their definitions are
obscure and undeveloped, largely as a result of
the orthodox view that they are essentially the
product of an immature utopian preconception,
later superseded by ‘scientific socialism ‘.

Given the prominence of this interpretation,
Bahro’s extensive development of Marx’s visionary
side is, I think, potentially of great importance to
modern socialism. If Marx and Engels are often
believed to have (in Lenin’s words) ‘substituted
science for dreams’, Bahro construes this as
being in many ways a dichotomy which is both
false and dishonest. He thus goes a long way
towards restoring a vital intellectual component to
an ideology whose image of the future – however
vague – has always been a profound aspect of its
appeal, and ought to be a test of its authentiCity.

The first stage of this process is a criticism of
Marx’s early emphasis upon property relations as
the central characteristic distinguishing capitalism
from socialism. For a number of reasons, Marx
as sumed that the relation of capital to labour
constituted the most extreme form of alienation,
and hence that the abolition of private property
would lead to the ‘complete restoration of man to
himself as a social, i. e. human, being’ (EEMS).

Starting from the general account given in The
German Ideology, Bahro suggests that the concept
of alienation has only a fairly limited practical
utility when seen as the result of commodity fetishism, and that the division of labour engenders a
far greater proportion of human domination than
does private property per se, i. e. in the oppression
of women, the subordination of country to tON n, and
most importantly, the exploitation of manual by
mental labour.

Here the real importance of the ‘Asiatic Mode’

debate to contemporary analysis becomes evident:

where property is nominally owned in common,
social power results from an ability to command
labour-power and the disposition of its products.

In such a system the degree to which wealth is
private is of only secondary importance when com28

pared to the deprivation or adv_antages which accrue
to anyone simply by virtue of their position in the
labour process.

For Bahro this has important consequences, and
is not a shift in textual emphasis, but an attempt
to restructure the central categories of the socialist critique of exploitation. Social inequality is
‘anchored in the division of labour, in the structures of technology and cooperation themselves’

(Bahro’s emphasis), and is predominantly a
political rather than an economic relation. This
view makes any simplistic reduction of human
problems to the inadequate level of technological
development inconceivable. The real achievement
of The Alternative lies in its elaboration of this
political problem in terms of certain psychological
and epistemological aspects of the division of
labour, the discussion of which goes far beyond,
for instance, the work of Sohn-Rethel on the
subject.

Paternalism and specialisation, Bahro argues,
have underdeveloped tre motivation to learn among
the less privileged, while ensuring the monopolisation of the most creative tasks by certain groups.

Consciousness of self, a sense of personal independence and competence for intellectual judgment,
and the extension of these in ‘unive’rsal individuality’

can only be a function for each of ‘ilCtive access to
the totality of the community’ (146). This is in the
first instance contingent upon the free flow of
comprehensible information, but in a bureaucratic
regime secrecy and the general treatment of knowledge as a restricted commodity help ensure that
popular credulity continues, and hence that authority remains unchallenged. Thus political domination
is masked by the apparent personal superiority of
‘the bosses’, but access to the resoupces of knowledge constitutes the true inner foundation of the
maintenance of power.

In this hierarchy, intellectual exclusivity
perpetually reproduces an anxious sense of
inferiority among manual workers, and the bureaucracy always creates in its members ‘a specific
human type of conservative mediocrity’ (224). To
describe this process Bahro introduces his central
c;oncept, subalternity (SubalterniUit), the ‘form of
~xistence and mode of thought of “little people'”
(271). Social decisions are taken by ‘sages’ and
merely carried out by ‘subalterns ” and the status
of the latter as subordinate objects directed by
others results’in the creation of a mass subaltern
complex. Individuality· meets its greatest enemy
in this denial of a right to partake in self-direction.

Here Bahro most clearly spells out the pOlitical
origins of much psychic disorder. Not only is
subalternity the most vital form of alienation.

Any serious sociology of knowledge becomes
thereby a pathology of collective neurosis.

Nor is this all. Bahro also suggests that all
those who feel permanently and systematically
powerless (including many office workers and
skilled specialists) displace their personal feeling
of insufficiency through an enhanced desire for
material goods (‘compensatory consumption I).

Since dwindling resources indicate that this
growth-and-accumulation complex cannot last,
‘the overcoming of subalternity on a mass scale
is the only possible alternative to the limitless
expansion of material needs’ (271, Bahro’s
emphasis).

Bahro’s alternative is thus based upon an
unusually strong argument for the necessity of a

complete social revolution directed in particular
at the traditional division of labour, and g~ounded
in a perspective which is derived from neIther a
resurgent Enlightenment view of human nature (as
simply desirable) nor an estimation of the. c.o~lapse
of capitalism. but from the manifes~ possIbIlIty of
environmental catastrophe. As a prImary means of
c ombatting this Bahro argues for a reinterpretation
of the idea of progress, with an emphasis upon the
socio-economic destructiveness of the hierarchy of
knowledge and power. Universal intellectual training must become both the goal and precondition of
a new theory of needs, in order to allow cultural
experience to preponderate over lower forms of
self-expression. To communicate as equals – a
crucial aspect of the general political problem everyone must be raised to the highest level possible of scientific, technical, and artistic expertise.

From this emerges ‘the real possibility of access
to all essential realms of activity’ (273).

Most socialists would agree that these arrangements would probably offer the greatest amount of
human fulfilment to the largest number of people.

Precedents for Bahro’s vision of a society of
worker-philosopher-engineers have nonetheless
often been caricatured as a ‘levelution’ or universalisation of ignorance, the reduction of all to the
lowest common intellectual denominator. The
virtual inevitability of some form of despotism is
another charge often made against these ideas.

To refute these criticisms is for Bahro one of the
key tasks of modern socialism. There are however
many difficulties in his own approach to these
questions, some of which seem to me quite serious.

He seems to argue, firstly, for an uncomfortably
close connection between the mental activities
involved in natural science and engineering, and
those required by ‘universal labour’, the evaluation
of human needs and corresponding paths of social
development. The shared element in both cases is
the high degree of abstraction required, which
allows Bahro to conclude that ‘the engineer
potentially stands far closer to “philosophy” than
does the cook’ (175). This is either tautological
(since we must presume the engineer to be better
educated than the cook), or is a surreptitious plea
for the guiding hand of the technical intelligentsia,
at least during the transition to a system of shared
labour and equal education.

There is evidence elsewhere in The Alternative
that Bahro’s proposed agency of transformation is
the ‘new middle class’, that the trade unions ‘do
not anticipate any new civilisation’ (148-49). The
question here is whether Bahro is simply smuggling
in an epistemology to support this view, or whether
much more is intended than this. I think that both
are actually the case. Decisions are taken at the
top of the intellectual hierarchy because those who
concentrate their energy eight hours a day on
activities that demand a relatively low level of
mental coordination cannot see the whole or understand its complexity (176). In his analysis of the
current formulation of these decisions, Bahro is
entirely on the side of the engineers against the
managers, who seem usually to be self-serving
party members.

This situation seems to lead Bahro to conflate a
necessary distinction between social and natqral
knowledge. Empirically there is a certain similarity in the calculations required, for instance, in the
assembly of a computer, and those used in dividing
the population into, say, income groups. This

technical element .always exists in decisions’which
are basically concerned with values and social
ends, but only on their administrative side, and
not as part of the choice of values themselves.

Most scientists and engineers are no more (and
often less) qualified to decide upon the social desirability of their products than other groups in
soc iety. A revolution in concepts of need only
becomes a Plrely technical problem when there no
longer exist the means for fulfilling certain desires
at all. As long as choices remain an education
appropriate to making them is also required, and
there is no plausible reason why a technical education in itself offers any ability to perceive the
common good.

Hence ‘universal labour’ seems to include within
it not only an idea of universal knowledge, but also
one of general interest. In Bahro’s view a capacity
for philosophy seems to allow us to know the Good
for all men and this language is not inappropriate
in that ther~ seems to be something verging on
Platonism in Bahro’s formulations. Nor have the
problems inherent in this view changed much since
Plato, except that we are occasionally a little more
cynical about the necessary association of virtue
with knowledge.

What these comments point to, secondly, is that
Bahro’s problem is more political than epistemological. His pOlitical philosophy is the weakest part
of The Alternative, and though this is equally true
for almost the entire Marxist tradition, that is no
reason for perpetuating it. Despite the frequent
references to ‘democracy’, it is unclear as to how
the ‘general will’ is formed, and how general and
particular interests are to be reconciled. While
Bahro’s overall concern seems to be the gradual
unification of political and civil socIety through the
diffusion of responsibility, one of his’specific proposals is the separation of the ‘League of Communists’ from the administrative bureaucracy, hence
widening the distinction between politi~ians and
technicians without elaborating upon the relations
between the two groups.

This segregation is deSigned to help ensure the
subjugation of the state apparatus to society, and to
purify both the party and the government accordingly. Bahro bases this on his view that many present
party members are torn between the inclinations of
‘communist’ and those of ‘apparatchik’. This subjective dilemma would disappear if party membership meant only plblic service and not administrative advancement. A morally superior League
would result, though not ‘Leagues’, since despite
Bahro’s emphasiS upon decentralised responsibility
he rejects the idea of a multiple party system as
anachronistic. In simplistically equating party
pluralism with the presence of ‘antagonistic’

social contradictions he just passes over a whole
range of crucial problems which require much
further discussion.

The gist of my criticisms here is that Bahro,
like Marx and Engels, fails to confront the idea of
a relatively autonomous socialist politics. This
seems somewhat ironic given his separation of
political from administrative functions, and hi~ .

categorical pOliticieation of whole areas of actlvIty
(i. e. the division of labour) which are generally
defined in a more narrowly e~ononlic sense. The
existence and even desirability of factionalism in a
soc ialist society is not given the attention by Bahro
that it merits, with the result that the pursuit and
exercise of power, the fornls of representation or
29

delegation, and the relation of centralised authority
to local bodies, are issues which The Alternative
tends to ignore. And foremost among these is the
nature, function, and controls upon the repressive
arm of the state. Bahro ultimately remains stuck,
I think, in the view in which politics disappears
into the ‘administration of things’. This is one of
the least useful items in the ‘old utopian’ baggage
which Marx and Engels took on board, and it contributes no more to Bahro’s argument than it did to
theirs.

Finally, I would like to comment briefly on
Bahro’s psychology, and his comments on the need
for profound changes in the structure of production
and consumption. It is difficult to be persuaded
that, even if ‘little people’ would gain much selfesteem through the sharing of manual labour, the
localisation of political power, and the gradual
education of the entire population (for it certainly
seems that they would), this would necessarily
lead to a decline in demand for consumer goods of
various kinds. Creative activity may provide its
own rewards, but in practice these often complement, rather than preclude, specifically material
consumption. Bahro’s view here is the cornerstone
of his normative argument. If it is fallacious much
of the rest of his edifice will weaken accordingly.

The problem as I see it here is that Bahro is
trying to operate with two definitions of progress
simultaneously, one of which is virtually defunct,
the other not yet invented. He writes that ‘progress
never consists principally in negating favourable
conditions of development simply because these are
privileges, but rather in generalizing them’ (14H).

In another section he describes general emancipation as ‘the appropriation of the totality of socially

produced productive forces by individuals’ (254).

He speaks of ‘a genuine equalization in the distribution of those consumer goods that determine the
standard of living’ (401), but also of the absolute
necessity for ‘a system of quantitatively simple
reproduction, or at most very slow and well
thou ht out ex anded re roduction, of men, tools
and material goods’ (265, Bahro’s emphasis.

It seems fairly obvious that Bahro rejects as
untenable the traditional anti-consumerist recourse
to an ideology of ascetic self-renunciation. The
real question, as he puts it, is “to create the objective condItions so that everyone ~ prefer ‘to
know and to be, instead of to possess”'(2B1). It is
of course desirable that this subjective choice be
made freely and democratically, if this is possible.

But it is precisely in terms of a revolution in
values of this magnitude that Bahro seems to rely
most upon his awn chosen vanguard, as is perhaps
almost inevitable. It is probably upon the re~olu­
tion of this problem, however, that the success or
failure of the human race will be de(fided, and
Bahro’s work is very definitely an essential step
in the right direction.

None of these criticisms, in fact, detract from
the enormous achievement of The Alternative.

Bahro’s psychology and theory of knowledge are
very subtle, and there are many rich areas of his
enquiry which I have not even touched on here.

Bahro has come closer than anyone else alive to
playing Luther to an increasingly ossified orthodoxy, and has written a book which will be read for
a very long time to come.

Greg Claeys

DERRIDA ‘8 DIFFERANCE
Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference,
translated, with introduction and notes, by
Alan Bass, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979,
£12.50 hc
I Jacques Derrida is a philosopher who produces
extreme reactions. Not only in the English speaking
world where the view of ‘continental philosophy’ is
often refracted through the murky depths of ignorance, but also at the apparent centre of philosophical mystification, in Paris itself. Thus, on the one
hand, we find Michel Foucault dismissing his work
as ‘an historically sufficiently determined little
pedagogy'(1), while on the other the grand old man
of French phenomenology, Emmanuel Levinas,
gives serious consideration to the question, ‘Does
the work of Derrida divide the development of
Western thought by a line of demarcation similar to
the Kantianism which separates dogmatic from
critical philosophy? ‘(2). My suspicion is that the
published reviews of this new translation will reflect
the extremity of these reactions; DerJida the boring
pompous pedant or Derrida the most radical
possible thinker. My aim in this review, in line
with the spirit of the times, is to steer a middle
course. To show the validity of both these reactions
beyond the contingencies of English overreaction to
‘Parisian fashions’. To coin a phrase, my conten30

tion will be that Derrida represents the highest
point of a certain tradition in philosophy, but his
work shows how little is achieved in reaching this
summit. The review will be in two parts; the first
will say something about the book and the best way
of reading it, the second will be a sort of general
introduction to Derrida as philosopher. While the
latter has been tried a number of times before (see,
for example, D. C. Wood;s ‘Introduction to Derrida’

in RP21), it seems to me still the most necessary
task at present. Without some idea of ‘what Derrida
is getting at’ his work becomes extremely opaque
and specific discussions of the individual figures
who form the ostensible subject-matter of Writing
and Difference would be of little help.

This book is the third major work by Derrida to
appear in English. These three, Writing and
Difference, Speech and Phenomena (Northwestern
UP, 1973), and Of Grammatology (Johns Hopkins
UP, 1976) together made up the initial moves in
Derrida’s campaign of philosophical action. All
three were originally published in 1967 and can now
be seen as marking the beginning of the end of
‘structuralism’. Cross-channel delays are such
that the beginnings of ‘post-structuralism’ are only
now having any impact on English intellectuals (for
example the work of Hindess and Hirst) so the
appearance of this translation is fortuituusly well-

timed. The translation itself is, on the whole, very
accurate, although Alan Bass is afflicted by the
(perhaps unavoidable) preciosity of Derrida’s
translators; lecturing us endlessly on the difficulties of capturing the full range of Derrida’s use of
words in another language, on etymology, on the
wide range of ‘hidden’ references, and so on.

The book itself comprises eleven essays, written
over a period of seven years and showing something
of the development of Derrida’s thought. He places
tqe last five essays on a different level from the
first six (in a later interview – Positions, Paris,
Minuit, 1972, hereafter ~, p12 -) within what he
calls ‘the grammatical opening’. For those who
intend to tackle the book without further ado – and I
certainly think that reading at least some of it is
worthwhile – I would recommend starting with the
tenth essay ‘Structure, Sign and Play in the
Discourse of the Human Sciences’. This is one of
the best available general introductions to what
Derrida is trying to do. After this it’s probably
best to read essays 1,2,5,7 and 9 (any order).

Essay 4 stands somewhat on its own – a brilliant
exposition plus criticism of Levinas’s work, taking
up nearly a quarter of the book. Essays 3,6,8 and
11 are more ‘literary’ and more obscure. The
biggest apparent obstacle to English readers is the
range of intellectual reference of the book. The
apparent subjects of the essays are as follows:

Rousset, Foucault, Jabes, Levinas, Husserl,
Artaud, Freud, Bataille and Levi-Strauss – few of
whom are widely studied in English philosophy
departments! We may be tempted to consign
Derrida to the ‘comparative literature’ department~
the philosopher disappearing beneath the literary
critic and cultural super-star. (Indeed most of the
Anglo-Saxon interest in Derrida to dat, including
that which led to the translation of this book, has
come from the ‘literary’ side.) But the real
difficulty in reading Derrida is that of understanding what he is aiming for, what the ‘g eneral
philosophical position’ behind his treatment of
particular authors consists in. I will now try and
give some indications as to the philosophical
approach to his work.

There are two broad ways of looking at the work
of a particular philosopher. It can either be ‘placed
within a tradition’ or we can consider it ‘ahistorically’ as an attempt to solve certain ‘universal problems of philosophy’. It is possible to approach
Derrida in both these ways. His most immediate
predecessor, from whom he draws many of his
themes, is Heidegger. Derrida’ s ‘radic alisation’

of Husserlian phenomenology is even more explicit
than Heidegger’s – it is the subject of Speech and
Phenomena; of his recently translated first book,
an Introduction to Husserl’s Origin of Geometry;
and of an early piece, “‘Genesis and Structure”
and phenomenology’, essay number five in this
book (3). An even more important influence sometimes evoked by Derrida in criticisms of
Heidegger – is Nietzsche. To these we must add
the influences of Freud, of Blanchot, of Bataille
and a host of philosophical and literary figures.

Alternatively we could place his work in relation
to certain philosophical problems – in general those
of the philosophy of language; of the nature of the
sign, the relationship between speech and writing,
the nature of a text and its interpretation, the
relationship between literary and philosophical discourse. Such problems have apparently only a
11

tangential relation to the problems of the philosophy
of language as conceived of by contemporary analytical’philospphy. As the latter regards only the
‘problem-oriented’ approach to philosophical works
as being of philosophical (as opposed to, say,
cultural) interest, the work of philosophers such as
Derrida is dismissed as belonging to some other
subject.

It might be thought that the obvious move for
someone wishing to recommend Derrida’s work to
analytical philosophers is to propose a ‘translation’

of it into the idiom of analytical philosophy; showing
what sort of answers he is giving to standard philosophical problems. This is being tried increasingly
with Husserl’ s work, why not with Derrida’ s radicalisation of it?( 4) This question brings us to the
heart of Derrida’s philosophising: his rejection of
any such division between problems and tradition.

It’s not just that problems only have meaning within
the philosophical tradition but, more importantly,
for Derrida, the problem is the tradition. He takes
‘tradition’ in a very strong and wide sense, it is the
‘fundamental permanence of the logico-philosophical
heritage’ (Writing and Difference, hereafter WD,
p39) and encompasses the whole of ‘Western
thought’ (this idea comes from Heidegger and
Nietzsche) , from Plato to Hegel, or perhaps, from
Thales to Merleau-Ponty. (‘Metaphysics’ is often
used as the name for the tradition in this sense. )
It is this attempt to question the entire philosophical tradition which makes Derrida appear the most
radical possible thinker. For he takes the basic
philosophical imperative ‘examine your presuppositions’ and implements it as fully as possible, refusing to accept anything given ‘on authority’. His
famous method of ‘deconstruction’, on one level,
is part of this generalised suspicion; ‘it is simply
a question of (and this is a necessity of criticism in
the classical sense of the word) being alert to the
implications, to the historical sedimentation of the
language that we use'(5). He discovers that the
tradition has privileged certain questions and
repressed others and therefore, on the ground of
the basic philosophical imperative, it must be ‘gone
beyond’. This is thus a kind of ‘internal critique’ of
the tradition. And yet, and this is the crucial move
in Derrida’s philosophy, he realises that such a
transgression of the tradition cannot be simple;
There is no transgression, if one understands by
this pure and simple installation in a beyond of
metaphysics … even in transgressions we carry
on with a code to which metaphysics is irreducibly linked. (P, p21)
This is because of the recuperative structure of
metaphysics which leads Derrida to speak in the
present work of,
The unsurpassable, unique and imperial grandeur
of the order of reason, that which makes it not
just another actual order or structure. .. is that
one cannot speak out against it except by being
for it, that one cannot protest against it only
from within it; and within its domain it only
leaves us recourse to strategems and strategies.

(p36)
The tradition only gives us two possibilities:

speaking for or against reason, and both moves
already have places in its conceptual space.

Derrida tries to open up a third possibility – using
the notion of strategy or ruse~ he aims to move in
such a way as to escape capture by the ‘oppositions
of metaphysics'(6).

Derrida nanles the system which gives unity to
31

tradition of Western philosophy the ‘metaphysICS of pr~sence’. This id~a derives from Heidegger.

The pOInt IS that metaphysIcS has always determined
Being as presence (WD, p279). It has always valued
and sought after the immediate purity of the here
and now. Its aim has always been to ‘make present’

what is hidden, what is absent, so that all can be
grasped in an instantaneous vision. ‘A particularly
revelatory symptom’ (P, p15) of this is the treatment of the relationship between speech and writing
in the tradition. Speech has been seen as the purest
form of language because the ‘ideas’ behind it are
‘present’ in the mind of the speaker as he speaks.

This privilege of speech, of the voice leads
Derrida to dub metaphysics ‘phono-Io~o-centrism’.

Writing has been seen as subordinate to speech it
has been violently condemned as ‘parasitic’ on ‘

~peech. This condemnation, according to Derrida,
IS due to the fact that writing can function in the
absence of its author, it is clearly in no need of
‘ideas’ in the author’s mind to guarantee it. It is
dangerous because there seems to be nothing
‘present’ to control it. Derrida argues that the
written and the spoken sign have, in fact, the same
structure: one of ‘difference’. A sign is constituted
by its position in the system of language, its identity depends on its difference from other similar
signs within the system. The sign is not an
‘immediate, present, identity’ which receives its
mean~ng from the idea behind it, rather it gets its
meanIng from the system of language, it is always
marked by absence. Of course metaphysics tries to
‘make present’ the essence of the sign – by trying
to display the whole of the system of language which
c~nstitutes it. But, Derrida argues, this attempt
will always fail, ‘not because the infiniteness of a
field cannot be covered by a finite glance or a finite
discourse, but because the nature of the field – that
is, language and a finite language – excludes totalisation’ (WD, p289). This is because language has
no centre to ‘arrest and ground’ the ‘infinite play
of substitutions’ which can take place within it.

Contrary to the metaphysics of presence there is
no ‘presence’ (idea, intention, meaning) which
limits the ‘freeplay’ of language.

Derrida’s operation on the speech/writing
opposition is a central instance of what he calls
‘deconstruction’ – which is not only the operation
of uncovering tIE presuppositions of metaphysics
but also that referred to above of, as it were
‘jamming’ them. The opposition is not simpl;
‘neutralised’ or rejected (which would be the traditional move) but is first of all ‘reversed’ (because
in all classical oppositions one term is subordinate
to the other). We operate here ‘from the inside’

accepting the classical terms ‘speech and writing’

but arguing that they’ve been put the wrong way
round. This phase is interminable because ‘the
hierarchy of the dual opposition always rec’onstitutef:

itself’ (P, p57). The second phase is that of the
emergence of a new ‘concept’ which cannot be
grasped in the old opposition; thus Derrida says
that the best way to think of speech and writing is in
te~ms Of. the ‘trace’ – which is not a trace of anythIng WhICh was present, it is like a copy of a nonexistent original. Derrida has a whole range of
such ‘non-concepts’ (non-concepts because they
cannot be grasped in the oppositions of metaphysics
and so cannot be called ‘concepts’ in the traditional
sense): gramme, supplement, spacing (both active
and passive) hymen, pharmakon, dissemination and
~he

32

perhaps most well-known, differance. The last
plays on the sense of the French verb ‘differer’ and
is taken to mean both ‘differing’ and ‘deferring’ again both active and passive. The important point
to grasp here is that these words have, for Derrida,
a purely strategic significance – they are meant to
confuse, tangle up, jam, the categories of metaphysics, and thus, as it were, ‘show’ their limitations (these limitations cannot be ‘said’ because
all saying involves the concepts tainted by metaphysics). At one point Derrida lists some of these
‘non-concept’ words, adding ‘there will be more of
them’ (P, p24) – there have to be more bec ause as
the old ones are ‘fixed’ by commentators the
strategy of disruption which employs them becomes
useless and new ones have to be tried.

So far I’ve characterised Derrida’s work as a
kind of radical ‘internal critique’ of traditional
philosophy. Another way of putting Derrida’s
general views is to say that, for him, philosophy
is a kind of writing. On the traditional view philosophicallanguage is transparent, governed only by
the laws of reason. But Derrida continually points
out and illustrates the extent to which philosophical
statements are constituted by constraints internal to
philosophical discourse. The constraints of metaphysics can be seen as those of a particular genre
of ,writing. A genre defined as Rorty says ‘by
neither subject matter nor method nor institutional
affiliation, but only by an enumeration of the
mighty dead'(7). But, just like all writing, it can
never be pinned down to one univocal meaning something which is implicitly recognized in the
traditional condemnations of writing and metaphysics’ denial of its own status as ‘written’ (in
this ‘literary sense’). The claim that philosophy is
a form of writing should not be taken as another
philosophical thesis but more as an ‘affirmation’

the joyous affirmation of the free play of the
world and of the innocence of becoming, the
affirmation of a world of signs without fault,
without truth and without origin, which is
offered to an active interpretation.

(WD, p292)
There are no answers to philosophical problems,
only a series of endlessly displaced questions, open
to endless interpretation and reinterpretation. And
even to say this is to say too much – our own statements are also endlessly displaceable. And so on …

Where does all this get us? When quizzed on the
wider implications of his work Derrida is extremely
cautious but says ‘what seemed to me necessary in
the historical situation which is our own, is a general determination of the conditions of emergence
of the limits of philosophy, of metaphysics’ (P, p69~
He has always thought that as part of a radical
politics it is necessary to have a radical philosophy,
to go beyond philosophy, but also that ‘the passage
beyond philosophy does not consist in turning the
page of philosophy (which usually amounts to
philosophising badly), but in continuing to read
philosophers in a certain way’ (WD, p288).

Derrida is at his best when reading other philosophers – showing up what is presupposed in their texts,
exposing the equivocity of the terms that they take
to be univocal. He says that although nobody can
escape the necessity of the tradition of metaphysics and ‘if no one is therefore responsible for
giving in to it, however little, this does not mean
that all ways of giving in to it are of an equal
pertinence’ (WD, p282). But, in his own terms, it
is not clear how ‘unequal degrees of partic ipation

in the tradition’ are to be judged. For there is no
position from which we can judge, or rather there
are an infinity of such positions, depending on the
strategy we adopt. Thus although David Wood is
right to point out that the philosopher aiming to ‘go
beyond metaphysics’ is in an analogous position to
the revolutionary trying to ‘go beyond’ capitalist
soc iety, Derrida’ s direct contribution to revolutionary politics is somewhat questionable because
there are no standards to judge degrees of
recuperation.

One way of putting Derrida’s dilemma is to say
that he considers writing in the form of ‘pure
language’. This is analogous to the ‘pure thought’

of Hegel’s Science of Logic and is the ‘medium’ in
which all metaphysical oppositions are made.

‘Reality’ is not something simple which we can say
that language is ‘about’, it too is a metaphysical
concept constituted in pure language (pure text).

When Derrida makes his famous remark that
‘there is no outside of the text’ he is not stating
some kind of linguistic idealism but rather saying
that any apparent ‘outside’ of the text is something
which can be read and interpreted and which is
therefore just another text and which, like all texts,
has. no simple ‘obvious’ reading. But whereasJor
Hegel ‘pure thought’ has a necessary structure
(which is unfolded in the Logic), Derrida’s ‘pure
language’ has no fixed structure at all. It has no
‘dialectic of development’, it can never be finally
totalised or ordered. Thus Derrida can say nothing
definite at all, everything given with one hand must
be taken away with the other. Everything can be
said thus nothing can be said.

This is not meant to be a ‘refutation’ of Derrida.

Rather, I am trying to show what lies behind the
second extreme reaction to his work which I men-

tioned at the beginning. Precisely because he
carries the ‘self-examination’ of philosophy to its
highest point Derrida is left with nothing but a game
of endless evasion. The ceaseless refusal to accept
anything as given propels him ever faster up a kind
of transcendental spiral which gives no resting
place. This spiral is what seems to his critics to
be a mere academic game because of its complete
lack of determinacy.

In reaction to Derrida’s Hegel his successors in
Paris have followed the historical precedents and
played Marx; from transcendental heaven down to
the pluralistic richness of things on earth. This
latter form of French thought – what might be
called post-post-structuralism – is now dominant
in Paris; Foucault, Deleuze and Lyotard being its
leading exponents. It is already finding its English
adherents, being much closer to the English spirit
than struc·turalist rationalism or its Derridean
radicalisation. But it is not possible to understand
the philosophical interest of these ‘new pluralists’

without an understanding of Derrida.

1 Histoire de la folie, Paris, Gallimard, 2nd edn., 1972, p602. This
appendix to the book is due to appear in English in the next Oxford
Literary Review.

L ‘Are, 54, p33.

On the central place of this essay see Alan Bass’s introduction, pp. ix
For a preliminary account of Derrida and Husserl see D. C. Wood,
‘Introduction to Derrida’, RP21, pp19-20.

4 Newton Garver’s ‘Preface’ to the English translation of Speech and
Phenomena is an interesting attempt to do this. This is discussed by
h. horty, ‘Derrida on Language, Being and Abnormal Philosophy’,
,Journal of Philosophy, LXXIV, no. 11, Noy ‘977.

5 R.lViacksey and E. Donato, eds. The Lan~:uages of Criticism and the
Sciences of Man, .Johns Hopkins Press, 1970, p271. Derrida is speaking
in a discllssion of the tenth essay of WD.

6 Well discusst’d in Vincent Desc~mbes, The Same and the Other: Fort’ Fh’e
Years of French Philosophy 0933-1978), Cambridge UP, forthcoming,
chapter 5, section 1. This book is at present available in French, le meme
et L ‘autre, lViinuit, ‘979. TIlt’ sections on Derrida are very useful.

7 H.horty. op.cit.. p680.

.

MARX’S METHOD
Derek Sayer, Marx’s Method: Ideology, Science
and Critique in ‘Capital’, Harvester Press, 1979,
£10.95 hc
Derek Sayer’s book is aptly titled. It is an
account of Marx’s method, particularly in his
mature economic writings. I am in considerable
agreement with much of this account; what I
propose to do in this review is to summarise what
I take to be its essence, and to indicate some
possible limitations of it. It should, however, be
said straight away that this is a book which everyone,
interested in Marx – whether their interest is
political or academic – should read. Lucid, wellorganised and laboriously researched, it develops
its theme – that Marx was a realist – consistently
and clearly. In addition it contains one of the most
comprehensive listings of English sources of
Marx’s and Engels’ works currently available.

According to Sayer, Marx’s materialism commit~
him to a series of correspondences between categories of thought, forms of experience and their
objects (things etc)(174 n10). Because of these
correspondences, Marx cannot explain ideology
(false consciousness) as an error within the
phenomenal realm (or the subject), but must

explain it in terms of an objective mechanism of
mystification, analogous to the production of a
mirage, dependent upon the existence 01 an ‘object’

which is not in correspondence, i. e. upon an
internal dislocation (so to speak) within the stratification of things. Thus an (objective) essence /
appearance distinction at once grounds Marx’s
concept of ideology and defines the project of his
science.

In Marx’s well-known 1857 General Introduction
he distinguishes two moments of analysis: the
movement from the concrete to the abstract, and
the reverse movement from the abstract to the
concrete. The former consists in the a posteriori
derivation of theory and corresponds to what Marx
called (in his 1873 afterword to Capital) the
‘method of inquiry’; the latter consists in the reconstruction (in thought) of the concrete, the
phenomena explained by theory, and corresponds,.

according to Sayer, to Marx’s ‘method of presentation’. Most Marxist philosophers, Sayer argues,
have pre-occupied themselves with Marx’s method
of presentation. In this way they have not only aped
bourgeois philosophy’s obsession with the ‘context
of justification’ at the expense of the ‘context of
discovery’, but incidentally contravened the
33

principles of materialist explanation. In contrast,
Sayer’s intention is to display the mode of production of the knowledge presented in Capital itself.

But before addressing this question directly,
Sayer sets himself a puzzle. Why did Marx change
his analytical point of departure between 1857 and
the publication of Capital in 1867 from the ‘general
abstract determinants which obtain in all forms of
society’ to the concrete entity, the commodity, ‘the
simplest form in which the labour product is represented in contemporary society’? Sayer attributes
this change to the discovery of a non-Ricardian
theory of surplus-value, the realisation of how
little could (or should) be said a priori about those
determinants and the working through of the implications of a rigorous distinction between transhistorical and historical categories. Transhistorical categories designate features common to all
material production, whereas historical categories
designate features specific to particular (transient)
modes of production. Now patently the concept of
what distinguishes the members of a class cannot be
deduced from the concept of what they have in .

common (87), so the historical categories must be
derived in some other way. And it is only after
such a derivation, that the peculiar status of the
commodity in the architectonic of Marx’s
completed work can be explained.

What, then, is Marx’s method of inquiry?

According to Sayer, it takes the form of a ‘critique’,
which is essentially Kantian in form, but transcendental realist, not idealist, in content. Given that the
object of Marx’s science is the production and reproduction of man’s material life, the role of the
transhistorical categories is to identify Marx’s
explananda-productive phenomena, as conceptualised in the experienc e of the productive agents
concerned. The next step is the empiricallycontrolled retroduction of an adequate explanation
as to why the productive phenomena take the
experiential forms they do. It should be noted that
theory-construction cannot proceed either by induction – because of the potential deceptiveness – or by
deduction – because of the historicity – of these
forms; and that it is subject to the constraints of
exhaustiveness, independence and consistency, so
that (ideally) the explanation will be complete, noncircular and consistent. The explanation itself will
consist, according to Sayer, in statements about
(a) the mechanisms accounting for these forms and
(b) the conditions necessary for the functioning of
the mechanisms. These conditions are then taken as
the ‘material groundwork’ of the forms themselves;
so that the forms (productive phenomena as
experienced) can now be reconceptualised in terms
of their precise historical conditions of existence.

But to specify the historical conditions of existence
of the phenomenal forms is ipso facto to specify the
historical limits of the categories with which these
forms are in correspondence. And so we have a
‘critique’ of those categories and their associated
‘schemata’ and ‘principles’ (explanations), in which
an ‘analytic’ of categories underpins a ‘dialectic’ of
their illegitimate employment (in fetishised
discourse etc).

The totality of the relations and conditions
necessary for the phenomenal forms having been
established a posteriori, Marx is now in a position
to consider the manner of their presentation. And
here the hidden exegetical structure of Capital
reveals itself as that of a hierarchy of conditions
of possibility, in which Marx begins from the most
34

fundamental of all the necessary conditions of
commodity production, the commodity itself, to,
at least ideally, the eventual recovery of all the
forms of specifically capitalist production, and
social life (102).

Some problems: Sayer seems uncertain whether
the relation between essence and form is internal
and a-causal (4,81) or causal (137, 140), but of
course it must be causal and internal. Sayer’s
criterion of exhaustiveness, and his invocation of
postdictability as an independent test of theory
(139-41), are both suspect: they presuppose what I
have characterised as ‘closed systems’. There are
no grounds for assuming the possibility, let alone
desirability, of a theory which mimics the world.

Hence there are no grounds for supposing that ‘the
empirical residuum’ (or contingency) will ever disappear. Nor are there grounds for supposing that it
will be possible to establish, even for the historical
domain, (in a world characterised by ‘combined and
uneven development’), a deductively-unified explanatory structure. Sayer is exclusively concerned
here with theoretical, not historical or practical
explanations (though he tells me he is currently
planning a sequel on the ‘historical sociology’ of
Marx). There is no notion, in this book, of the
conjuncture, or the concrete analysis of concrete
conditions. The concepts of events, episodes,
processes disappear entirely in favour of the
category of phenomenal forms. Now I think this
misleads Sayer into overlooking the possibility that
the second moment of the 1857 Introduction may
correspond not to Marx’s presentation in Capital,
but to the kind of reconstruction undertaken in the
18th Brumaire or The Civil War in France. Moreover ,both capitalism and Marxism must be conceptualised in principle as developing (and in relation to each other). One does not get this from
Derek’s book. Perhaps this is connected with the
absence of any non-Kantian concept of dialectic.

Marx’s method was certainly realist; definitely
materialist; but does it not contain a realistmaterialist-dialectic (however precisely this is to
be explicated) as well? Sayer does not think that
history is already implicit in the commodity. But
if this is indeed so, the work of empiricallycontrolled retroductive theory-construction cannot
be completed before any exposition can comlIl:ence
(143). Rather both theory and its forms of presentation (and practical elaboration in class struggle,
and forms of action more gener.ally) must be continually developed, modified, refined and occasionally
revolutionised, transformed. Derek intends his
book to provoke a return to Marx (xi). I would be
more pleased if I thought Marx’s Method might
contribute to the development of Marx’s unfinished
work. And it is because I am sure that it will do so
that I welcome it.

Roy Bhaskar

To
(lA7)IC.I4L

PH ILDS tlfH”

CHOMSKY’S POLITICS
Geoffrey Sampson, Liberty and Language, Oxford
University Press, 1979, £5.75
Shortly after last year’s General Election, Keith
Joseph issued his senior civil servants with a
reading list, including such golden oldies as Adam
Smith’s The Weaith of Nations, and Joseph
Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.

He would do well to add this recent book by Geoffrey
Sampson. For in it he will find an ingeneious and
lucidly argued rationale for his laissez-faire
pOlitics – explicitly endorsed by Sampson as a
‘principled liberalism’ (p39). According to this
doctrine (which, for the rest of the review, will be
what’s meant by ‘liberalism ‘),
. .. the production and distribution of goods
should as far as possible be controlled
exclusively by· the impersonal mechanism of
free competition between individuals in an open
market. It should be open to any individual to
produce goods by any method he wishes using
whatever resources he owns or can buy or hire,
and to sell the goods he produces, or his labour,
for whatever price he can get. The proper task
of government is to maintain the free market in
being and to protect individuals in their enjoyment of the rewards they derive from participation in the market, and it should take on as few
other tasks as possible. (p40)
And in this kind of free market, minimal state
society, there is no room for any ideals of justice,
especially socialist ones, to interfere in the resulting distribution of goods:

Nor should government use taxation to redistribute wealth or interfere with patterns of industry.

For the liberal it is desirable that those individuals whose enterprise or labour commands
relatively high prices should be rewarded
proportionately (irrespective of the individual’s
moral worth, or the like); human beliefs as to
what is just or appropriate should play no part
in determining the distribution of goods.

.(p41)
What is new in Sampson’s book is not, of course,
this political position, but the theoretical arguments
he uses to support it. The central concept here is
creativity. According to Sampson, the nature of
human creativity (which all members of the species
possess, and which is exemplified most clearly in
language) is such that only liberalism can generate
and sustain the kind of progress and development
that humans are both capable of and desire. Any
other political system, in which decisions about
production and distribution are taken for individuals
by some kind of central agency (Sampson calls such
systems ‘authoritarian’) is bound in the long run to
fail. Authoritarian systems stifle the only source
of genuine innovation, namely individual creativity.

They attempt to make predictions about developments which are inherently unpredictable, just
because of this creativity; and they have no effective way of evaluating the benefits and costs of those
innovations that do (unpredictably) occur.

For Sampson – recognizing that in practice there
is a spectrum between liberal and authoritarian

extremes – the USA is the most liberal of presentday societies, and it’s this which explains its
economic success:

The reason why America is so much richer than
most other nations is that she enjoys a nearmonopoly of liberal government and, consequently a near-monopoly of economic innovation.

(p97)
Further, America has ‘rather consistently’

attempted to e.nd this near-monopoly by ‘encouraging the growth of liberalism abroad’ (p97), a policy
which, though sometimes involving imperialism,
Sampson tends to endorse. Indeed, he argues that,
subject to certain qualifications,
… the liberal has no objection to imperialism,
which may indeed in certain circumstances be a
highly desirable world order. It would certainly
be an excellent thing for the Vietnamese and for
everyone else concerned if the USA were administering North and South Vietn’am in place of the
authoritarian government now in control there.

(p165)
To talk both about linguistic creativity and about
the USA’s role in Vietnam is implicitly to talk about
Noam Chomsky. And it’s no accident that the former
two items are linked in Liberty and Language, for
Sa~pson’s book is explicitly constructed as a
critique of Chomsky’s politics – or, more accurately, of what he takes to be Chomsky’s attempts (in
works such as American Power and the New
Mandarins, Problems of Freedom arid Knowledge,
and For Reasons of Slate) to support his leftist
politics by arguments based on the conception of
human nature suggested by his theoretical position
in linguistics. Now the concept of creativity is a
central element in that position; but Sampson
argues that Chomsky misunderstands the true
character of linguistic /human creativity, and
correspondingly adopts an erroneous political
standpoint. Thus:

A consideration of the semantic side of language,
in particular – of the ways in which utterances
convey meaning – leads to a view of human
nature which is sharply at variance with
Chomsky’s, and which suggests that political
ideals very different from Chomsky’s are the
appropriate ones. Chomsky claims that syntax
refutes liberalism, but the claim fails; Cho111sky
ignores semantics, and semantics strongl~
supports liberalism.

(p8, my italic s)
This last sentence neatly encapsulates the central
theoretical argument in Liberty and Language,
which I will now outline.

11

According to Chomsky, the most striking feature of
human linguistic competence is its creativity, the
ability of the native speaker to produce and understand sentences that he or she has never heard or
uttered before. He regards this fact, among others,
as strong evidence against any empiricist account
of language and its acquisition, and in favour of
there being innate (though highly abstract) rules of
syntax, shared by all members of the species, and
35

underlying the more ‘superficial’ grammatical
rules which vary between different languages.

(To a non-linguist, e. g. me, Sampson’s accounts of
these and related issues are extremely clear and
informative.) A purely empiricist account would
seem to require that present competence be explained in terms of past experienc e; but
The new utterances that are produced and
interpreted in the daily use of language are
‘similar’ to those that constitute the past
experience of speaker and hearer only in that
they are determined, in their form and interpretation, by the same system of abstract
underlying rules.

(J. AlIen and P. van Buren (eds.), Chomsky:

Selected Readings, aup, 1971, p154; quoted by
Sampson, p102)
Now Sampson accepts Chomsky’s view of syntactic creativity, but argues that it provides by itself
a grossly impoverished understanding of human
creativity. He regards as central examples of this,
phenomena such as the development of new scientific
theories (containing concepts that had not previously
‘existed’), the creation of new kinds of social
institution, the invention of qualitatively different
economic products, and the emergence of new
schools or styles of artistic activity. All these go
quite beyond Chomsky’s conception of creativity,
which involves ‘only’ the production of new instance~
within an already specifiable set of rules.

Sampson says:

To be creative is to produce something which
falls outside the class implied by any set of
principles that might have been proposed to
account for previous examples.

(p105, my italics)
The form of creativity that Sampson concentrates
upon is semantic innovation, i. e. (roughly) changes
in the meanings of terms, or the introduction of new
terms expressing previously non-existent concepts.

Thus:

Locomotive, insurance, playgroup, Oedipus
Gomplex, gravity – these are not convenient short
expressions for concepts which Chaucerian
English could express only by cumbersome
paraphrases, they are expressions for concepts
which in Chaucer’s day did not yet exist; and,
according to the liberal, the potential existence
of these particular concepts was in no sense
implied by the stock of concepts which did exist
in the fourteenth century.

(p120)
Sampson claims not merely that such innovations
constantly occur (and he rightly emphasizes the
importance of metaphor in these changes) but also
that it is impossible to think of them as in any way
predictable. This unpredictability is not due to the
practical difficulties of gathering adequate information – as might be the case, say, in weather forecasting (my example, not his) – but is a matter of
principle. For to predict the occurrence of a new
concept would be to possess it already; and this is
self-contradictory (pp45 -46: here Sampson endorses
Karl Popper’s argument against the predictability
of the growth of scientific knowledge, in the Preface
to The Poverty of Historicism). Further this unpredictability means there are highly significant
areas of human activity that are radically inaccessible to scientific study. Thus ‘scientism’ – ‘the
prejudice which holds that the scientific method
applies to all possible subjects of human thought’

36

(p1) – is refuted, and with it, any possibility of
success for a planned, authoritarian society in
which the crucial decisions are taken ‘scientifically’.

An important part of Sampson’ s argument about
semantic creativity is his claim that it is impossible to specify a set of rules determining the
‘sensicality’ of possible sentences: viz. (roughly)
whether the sentence is not only grammatical but
meaningful. A sentence may shift from nonsensicality to sensicality due to semantic innovations: for instance, he says that ‘Horseless
carriages travel rapidly was nonsensical in 1700
but is a mere truism today’, since at that time
‘the idea of self -propelling machines had not yet
occurred to anyone'(pl19). And he suggests that:

To invent a novel scientific theory, mechanical
device, social institution, or the like, is inter
alia to rendlJr sensical some word-sequences
which were previously grammatical but
nonsensical ‘(pl19).

In this way, Sampson links his theoretical argument for semantic innovation with his general
claim about human creativity: each creative human
achievement will be reflected in a semantic change
that will also shift the application of the sensicalnonsensical division.

III

There are other pieces of theoretical equipment in
Sampson’s defence of liberalism, and some of them
will be introduced in what follows, where I will
pursue three lines of criticism. First, directly
addressing the political position he defends, I will
argue there are major gaps in his grounds for
opposing principles of justice ‘interfering’ in the
distribution of social goods. Second, ‘I will suggest
that some of the things Sampson says about creativity – and which I am inclined to accept – actually
give grounds for doubting the virtues of liberalism,
and are at least consistent with some forms of
socialism. Third, I will claim that, in a sense of
‘scientism’ quite closely related to that employed
by Sampson, his own standpoint involves a form of
scientism – more specifically, a mistaken version
of evolutionism that he shares with Popper.

IV

One might expect that someone relying on the fact
of human creativity to support liberalism would
argue along the following lines: for humans to be
able to realize this capacity to the greatest extent,
it’s necessary that they should be as free as
possible from potential sources of interference and
control over what they want to do; and since governmental coercion in the. control of the economy
is a major potential area of such interference, it
should be restricted to the minimum necessary.

But, although there are occasional hints of an
argument like this (e.g. on p60, where he says that
‘(f)reedom from coercion is desirable in its own
right … f), Sampson’s main emphasis is very
different. It is expressed in the following passage,
where he replies to the possible charge of
advocating a harshly inhumane and selfish
doctrine which arbitrarily refuses to use governmental power to abolish the evils that afflict the
poor. On the contrary, I am a liberal precisely
because I wish to see poverty abolished …. I
advocate lilierahsm and oppose authoritarianism,
because liberalism leads to progress and author-

itarianism obstructs progress, and it is progress
that abolishes poverty, in the sense of raising
the standard of life of the poorer members of a
society. The abolition of poverty in this absolute
sense entails the retention of relative poverty there must always be richer and poorer, if the
poorer of tomorrow are to live like the richer
of yesterday.

(p71, my italic s)
The claim here is that liberalism maximizes
economic progress, and, in doing so, improves
the absolute position of the worst-off; and that this
is why it should be chosen as the best political
system. Indeed, Sampson later emphasizes how
important this argument is, for him, by saying
that if it could in fact be shown that an egalitarian
distribution leads to a faster growth of total
production, this ‘might well be accepted by a
liberal as a refutation of his political ideal ‘(p196).

But even if it were true that liberalism both maximizes total output and raises the standard of living
of the worst-off, why should this count so strongly
in its favour? At least two considerations go
against this. First, if Sampson is primarily concerned about improving the position of the worstoff, he must show not merely that liberalism
improves their position, but that it does so to a
greater extent than any other system. Now such
alternative systems need not be ‘strict egalitarian’

ones. Instead, they might involve attempts to
‘balance’ the ideals of equality and of maximizing
growth of total output: that is, neither ideal is
exclusively fOllowed, but each is given some weight,
in a ‘trade-off’ relation with the other. (See, for
instance, Arthur Okun’s Efficiency and Equality:

The Big Trade-off.) In such systems, it is quite
conceivable that, whilst total output would be somewhat lower than in liberalism, the position of the
worst-off would be ~.

Second, Sampson’s argument depends upon paying
attention only to the absolute, and not the relative
position of the worst-off, as if the sources of
human dissatisfaction did not legitimately include a
sense of the inferiority of one’s position in relation
to others. Although he offers a number of argument~
against strict egalitarianism, none of these go any
way to provide a justification for this general
assumption, which is clearly in need of one. Mter
all, most proponents of (various forms of) social
justice have regarded relative positions as intrinsically significant; and to defend liberalism as ‘in
the best interests of the poor’, without looking
beyond their absolute standard of living, seems
quite inadequate.

Sampson, as I’ve said, does present arguments
directly against egalitarianism. There is room
here to comment on only one of these: that egalitarianism is ‘an impossible ideal to realize, since it is
only the existence of a free market (with its consequent inequalities) that provides an objective basis
for determining the extent to which people are
equal or unequal: that is, the price-system. This
is ingenious, but unconvincing. Intuitively, it seems
that in a society with a fairly homogeneous set of
values about preferred forms of activity, one could
get a rough but adequate sense of the extent of inequalities without a market-determined pricesystem. For instance, the differences between
housing conditions experienced in the UK at present
by typical members of the two groups, unskilled
workers and professional/ managerial staff, is
detectable without knowledge of house prices.

Further – and this issue he ignores throughout Sampson does not examine the viability of various
forms of market socialism, in which there is no
private ownership of the means of production, but a
(modified) market system determines prices. (See,
for instance, David Miller’s ‘Socialism and the
Market’, Political Theory, 1977).

V
By now considering why it is that Sampson believes
that liberalism is in fact the system best able to
‘deliver the goods’ of economic progress I can
move on to my sec and criticism – that creativity,
far from supporting liberalism, may count against
it.

Creativity makes progress possible, according to
Sampson. And since the new ideas generated by this
capacity cannot be predicted, no ‘scientifically
planned’ society will be able to make use of it. But
this potential can only be effectively realized if
certain conditions are met. One of these is that
People – the person who actually thinks up the
new idea, and others who are in a position to
try it out – must stand to gain if the idea is
successful; which means that they must stand
to lose, if it is not. In the economic sphere,
progress can come about only from risk-taking
free enterprise.

(p47)

So there must be incentives, which consist in
receiving a large share of goods. Sampson notes
that within the Marxist tradition, there has been
considerable resistance to the claim that such a
need for rewards reflects some ‘law of human
nature’; instead, it is often argued, this kind of
psychological attitude is itself determined by the
mode of economic production, and will thus change
with changes in that mode. Sampson says that, on
this alternative view
… when full socialism is attained, it may be
that labour will not need to be motivated by
incentives, and men will work selflessly on
behalf of society in general. ..

(p86)
Unfortunately, his reply to this is too closely
tied with an ad hominem argument against Chomsky
for it to be entirely clear how he would deal directly
with the traditional Marxist objection itself. But it
seems that Sampson regards this particular psychological attitude as pr,etty much a given feature of
human nature, commenting that ‘We have no
empirical evidence to suggest that degree of altruism is one of the more malleable of human characteristics …. ‘ (p87). Now I’m not at all sure I agree
with this. But in any case, I think it’s a mistake to
see the issue as primarily concerned with degrees
of altruism, and to characterise the socialist as
necessarily believing in the possibility of working
‘selflessly on behalf of society in general’.

For a start, it may be that only certain kinds of
work require special incentives for people to be
willing to perform them. Part of the socialist ideal
has always been to change the character of the
forms of labour dominant in capitalism, to make
them more directly and intrinsically enjoyable.

This clearly does not involve workers becoming
more altruistic; rather, their legitimate selfconcern can now be (partly) met in work. Further,
it seems reasonable to suggest that the activities
of creating new ideas and trying them out are
central examples of the kind of work which does
not necessarily require external incentives. Yet
37

this is just the area of activity which, according to
Sampson, does require such incentives – at least in
a market soc iety. He makes it sound as if someone
who denied this must believe that humans can be
more altruistic than they are; but this would only
be so ~ we thought of these activities as, in themselves, ‘unrewarding’ to those who engaged in
them. This seems implausible.

I want now to pursue this question of the relations
between liberalism, creativity and human nature a
bit further. Sampson rightly insists that we should
understand creativity in a broad sense, to include
innovations in all areas of human activity – art
.

sClence,
economic production, social institutions,
and so on. He is well aware that the particular set
of institutions he is concerned to advocate – those of
liberalism – are the outcome of a specific period of
historical development; indeed, he wants to celebrate these as, in a way, the species’ greatest act of
creativity. And along with these historically specific
institutions come specific patterns of social behaviour: thus, for instance, Sampson endorses Adam
Smith’s view ‘that the propensity of humans to
“truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another”
is probably not innate’ (p94).

It seems to me that this whole emphasis upon the
historically changing character of human activities
militates strongly against believing that there is
some single, historically specific set of institutions
– those of liberalism – that are uniquely ‘in tune’

with a set of unchangeable and innate psychological
attitudes, patterns of motivation, etc. That is, I
think that if we accept Sampson’s account of human
creativity, we should be highly sceptical of the
claims of liberalism to represent a uniquely
successful attempt by humans to find a form of
society that maximally realizes ‘human nature’.

And if there is such a ‘thing’ as human nature, its
characteristics must surely be far more general
than the highly spec ific and distinctive attitudes and
motivations involved in a liberal market economy.

Further, I would argue against Sampson that
liberalism tends to hinder and prevent the exercise
of many possible products of human creativity. For
instance, the discovery and practice of new forms
of social relationships involving co-operative,
collective work (whilst maintaining the values of
individuality and self-concern) are pretty difficult
to achieve in such a society. So too are certain
forms of community – related to, but not identical
with, those typical of many pre-capitalist societies.

Sampson, indeed, replies explicitly to the charge
that liberalism historically destroyed’ … the bonds
of affection, respect, compassion, and the like
which link individuals occupying neighbouring positions in a social structure … ‘ by saying that ‘The
operation of a free market does not destroy the
bonds of affection between related individuals nothing could, they are surely amongst the fixed
elements of human nature … ‘(p94). But this seems
unsatisfactory. For even if it is true that the
development of ~ ‘bonds of affection’ is part of
human nature, what specific form these may take
is not; and what form is taken is influenced by
various institutional structures. For instance, the
character of family relationships is clearly
influenced by that of economic institutions; so that,
at any given time, it is likely that possible developments of a creative kind in the former will be
limited and hindered by the nature of the latter.

And I can see no reason why the institutions of
liberalism should be exceptions to this.

38

VI
In his attempt to show why liberalism is the best
system for achieving growth and progress, Sampson
argues that a society needs not only to encourage
innovation, but also to devise a mechanism by which
beneficial innovations may be selected from nonbeneficial ones. In his view, the competitive market
is the ideal such mechanism. And at one point, he
says this:

Only a liberal society, as I have defined it, is
not authoritarian, in that economic conflicts in
such a society are ultimately decided not by any
human authority but by the neutral arbitration of
Nature.

(p83, my italic s)
Elsewhere, Sampson supports a strongly Popperian
account of the growth of scientific knowledge,
according to which this consists in a process of
‘trial and error’. Hypotheses are put forward,
tested, and rejected if found wanting; then new
hypotheses are proposed. This account is used by
Sampson to characterize all forms of innovatory
progress.

Now, as Sampson notes, Popper himself has
stressed the analogies between his account of
scientific growth, and the Darwinian theory of
evolution. It is presumably this evolutionary analogy that lies behind the italicized phrase in the
gas sage just quoted, which, prima facie, makes a
highly implausible claim: for surely what it is that
determines which economic products ‘survive’ and
which ‘fail’ is not Nature, but human decisions
taken within the context of historically varying
forms of social structures, embodying specific
motivations, preferences, and values – one could
scarcely conceive anything less ‘natural’ than these.

My suggestion is that this curious passage indicates
a pervasive evolutionism in Sampson’s position, an
evolutionism which is mistakenly ‘scientistic’.

Amongst the several errors in Popper’s own
evolutionary analogy for the growth of knowledge,
the most important for my purposes is this. In
Darwinian evolution, ‘selection’ is purely a matter
of differential rates of reproduction resulting from
the differing degrees of adaptedness or organisms
to their environment. By contrast, the ‘selection’

of scientific theories involves the conscious
application to them of particular standards of
acceptability adopted by the members of a scientific
community. The appropriateness of these standards
is itself partly determined by the acceptance of a
particular aim, or aims, for scientific enquiry: in
Popper’s case, this aim is ‘the truth’, understood
in a realist fashion, whereas other aims have been
proposed and pursued, such as practical utility,
or aesthetic beauty.

For Sampson to talk of economic conflicts being
settled ‘by the neutral arbitration of Nature’ is to
ignore the fact that in selecting innovations in
human societies, there is a major question to be
decided: what standards, in relation to which aims,
should be adopted? This question seems not to get
answered, but to be frequently avoided, as in the
following passage:

‘Progress’ means not simply innovation but
beneficial innovation; in a liberal society,
however, it is not necessary to stress this
distinction, since the only innovations that
survive will be beneficial ones.

(p99, my italic s)
The question is: ‘beneficial’ in terms of which
human aims and values? And here we return to

some of the issues raised earlier, in section IV,
concerning Sampson’s discussion of egalitarianism
and the growth of total output. Why should we
dec ide to value exclusively the latter, and give no
weight to the former? Why should ‘freedom’ (itself
understood in a particular fashion) matter more
than equality? And so on.

These, of course, are traditional questions of
political philosophy. Although theories of a scientific character are relevant and important in answering them, I believe they cannot be answered solely
by scientifically establishable claims. To think
otherwise is to accept a form of scientism – ‘the
prejudice which holds that the scientific method
applies to all possible subjects of human thought’

(pt); and there seem to me strong elements of this
in Sampson’s defence of liberalism. For instance,
in discussing why it is that, despite its demonstrable virtues, liberalism is at present often
rejected in favour of socialism, he says this:

The liberal holds that anybody’s beliefs may be
mistaken, that nobody is infallible. It is perfectly
possible for everyone to be mistaken on some
particular issue, and in fact such situations are
quite normal. There was a time, I believe, when
everyone thought the earth stood still and the sun
‘moved round it; no doubt there arp. many beliefs
held by everyone today which are false and which,
with luck, we shall eventually discover to be
false. Political theory is not a specially privileged domain of enquiry in which the truth is
somehow more obvious than in other areas.

(pt99)
Here – as elsewhere – Sampson appears to assimilate
the epistemological status of science and pOlitics,
with an undifferentiated conception of ‘truth’ and
‘error’ which, in practice, tends to transform
political questions into scientifically decidable ones.

Historically, there have been many different
versions of this attempted transformation. One of
them, loosely describable as ‘social Darwinism’,
involves the view that we could discover what are
the best and most progressive types of social
arrangement by seeing which actually survive in
competition with others. The evolutionary slogan
of ‘the survival of the fittest’ is thus used as a way
of determining what is the ‘fittest’: since it has
survived, it must be the most fit (cf. the passage
from p99, quoted above). This view seems quite
wrong. For (amongst other reasons), whereas in
the biological theory of evolution, the concept of
‘fitness’ is a matter of adaptedness to a given
environment, in pOlitical theory we are concerned
with deciding what kind of ‘environment’ to construct,
and thus with what kinds of social institutions,
relationships, etc, will be ‘fit’ and henee ‘survive’.

We cannot talk of a struggle for suvival between
competing social entities, arbitrated by some
ideologically neutral ‘Nature’, since what actually
replaces ‘Nature’, in the sphere of human historical
development, is itself open to deliberate intervention and control guided by particular political values
That Sampson practises this evolutionist version
of scientism is also indicated by his concern,
towards the end of Liberty and Language, to answer
the following objection to his arguments for
liberalism:

. .. surely liberalism can itself be regarded as
a novel social and economic arrangement in
competition with various versions of authoritarianism and I have admitted that it is losing
ground at present to its rivals: is it not convicted

by its own standards?

(p202)
In other words: if liberalism is so good, and “good’

means surviving in competition with others, why
isn’t it”surviving? Sampson’ describes this as ‘a
very subtle objection’, and tries to deal with it.

I cannot go into his answer; but what matters is
that, as far as I can see, he doesn’t reject the
basic assumption behind the objection, that, at
least in the long run, what is ‘good’ will tend to
survive – since survival is the criterion of goodness.

VII

I

Despite the length of this review, there are many
major elements in this book that I have not even
mentioned. The most important of these – and for
many readers, perhaps, the most interesting part
of the book – is Sampson’s attempt to ground his
defence of liberalism in the acceptance of an
empiricist (or at least, Popperianly empiricist)
theory of knowledge, and to oppose what he claims
to be the rationalist basis of non-liberal political
systems, especially the form of socialism defended
by Chomsky. Other elements include: an attack (to
me, quite convincing) on Chomsky’s claim that
empiricism is naturally associated with racism,
together with a counter-claim that racism is more
plausibly associated with Chomsky’s nativist
rationalism; a critical discussion of Chomsky’s
position on Vietnam, and a defence of Britain’s
‘Second’ Empire of the late eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries.

In all these areas, Sampson believes both that
there are political implications stemming from
apparently very abstract and ‘non-political’ issues
in linguistics and philosophy, and that it’s important for academic specialists in the latter disciplines
to think and write about these ‘wider human implications’ of their work. In these respects, he is in
complete agreement with Chomsky, and for me,
this is one of the book’s several virtues. It is also
written with clarity and vigour; its accounts of
various theoretical issues in linguistics are lucid
and informative; and it forces one to think hard
about the complex relationships between political
positions and the character of human knowledge.

Russell Keat

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39

RADICAL DIALOGUES

Howard P. Kainz, The Unbinding of Prometheus:

Towards a Philosophy of Revolution, New York,
Libra, 1976, $6.95 hc
Ethica Dialectica: A Study of Ethical Oppositions,
Martinus Nijhoff, 1979, no price
Despite their difference in subject matter both
these books reflect Kainz’s dissatisfaction with the
prevalent literary method of presenting philosophical and political arguments. Building on Marshall
McLuhan’s claim that the ‘medium is the message’,
Kainz advo cates the use of the dialogue as an introduction and an antidote to the emphasis of philosophical differences. He regards conventional
literary form as confirming the existence of these
differences while, given the desire for firm conclusions associated with it, it fails to do justice to
them. Unfortunately, Kainz only briefly refers to
the conventional method; presumably because he
considers it sufficiently well-known and unified.

The Unbinding of Prometheus contains in addition
to several dialogues a ‘textual exegesis’ of two
plays by Aeschylus and a phenomenological analYSis
supposedly based on Hegel’s method. The latter is
the only non-dialogistic piece, and is also the least
clear. This lack of clarity might explain the exclusive reliance on the dialogue form in the later of the
two books.

The purpose of The Unbinding of Prometheus,
aside from its advocacy of a specific literary form,
is said to be to lay the basis for a viable theory of
revolution or the basis for ‘developing a congruent
perspective recognizing the viability of theories of
revolution which are already extant’. It is not clear
whether Kainz intends to do both or regards them
as alternatives. Whichever it is, Kainz develops
his project with reference to various positions,
whose nature is evident in the chapter headings,
‘Socrates Cross-Examines Homo-Radicalis’ and
‘The Individual and the Establishment – A Phenomenological Analysis’, and with reference to
certain major figures, namely, Jefferson, Marx.

Freud, Nietszche and Hegel. This wide-ranging
scope, in connexion with Kainz’s methodology,
seems however to frustrate his aim of providing a
theory about revolutions. This is implicitly confessed in Chapter 4 where it appears that the aim is
to emphasize certain themes in philosophies dealing
with revolution – which are in fact presented as
dilemmas – and to allow the reader to form his own
view on the basis of these dilemmas.

This failure to fulfil his avowed purpose is a consequence of Kainz’s suspicion of ‘ordinary prose’

which, he claims, tends to supply supposedly
definitive statements rather than offering various
developments from an initial clash of opinions.

This methodological preference could however aid
clarification. Two things militate against the clarification of theories of revolution in this book.

Firstly, there are some dubious interpretations of
specific theories. In the dialogue with Marx, for
instance, Kainz’s Marx refers to ‘laws of matter’,

40

which is a notion Marx did not subscribe to.

Secondly, there is a lack of articulation and
development of concepts adequate to the subject
matter.

The deficiency of conceptual clarity is also evident in Ethica Dialectica, though this book is a
considerable improvement on the earlier one, both
in the quality of the dialogue and in the content of
the argument. The reliance on one dialogue seems
to aid the presentation. The protagonists are
Cranston, who is portrayed as an idealistic
ethicist with strong sympathies for Kant, and
Turner, who is portrayed as a utilitarian and an
advocate of an empirico-analytic approach. The
positions of these two change as each tries to
meet the objections of the other and tries to find
some common ground with the other when their
differences threaten to bring them to an impasse.

Again, the area covered is extensive. Starting
with a preliminary, and not very enlightening, discussion of the meaning of good and evil, the book
moves on to consider such issues as ‘is’ and
‘ought’, ethics and politics, atheism and ethics,
and, ethics and aesthetics. There is of course
nothing inherently objectionable in this wide coverage, but Kainz fails to establish any conCEptual
c oherenc e in the order of the presentation of the
various stages. The desire to contiIiue ‘the dialogue
helps to conceal, but does not compensate for, this
inadequacy. This problem is compounded by the
frequent reference to a multitude of past and present theories. As with the earlier book this leads to
some dubious and misleading summaries. Thus, in
the notes, which, along with a seven-page glossary,
are supposed to supply background material for
beginners, Kainz describes the term ‘ideal self’ as
‘a blanket term that might be loosely applied to
such wide-ranging notions as Kant’s “transcendental
ego”, Kirkegaard’s “ideal self”, Freud’s “super-ego”
and the behavioural psychologists’ “level of
aspiration”‘ .

The book eschews adopting any definitive conclusion and leaves the reader with a series of contradictory viewpoints, and what seems like a general
injunction to tolerate divergent attitudes to the
formation of ethical attitudes, provided that they
are clearly argued. Nevertheless, while The
Unbinding of Prometheus contains more confusion
than clarification the reverse is true of Ethica
Dialectica. Kainz seems more well-versed in
questions of ethics than of revolutions, and some
of the chapters in Ethica Dialectica contain information and arguments which those involved in teaching about ethics might find useful. These chapters
are: Ch.4, ‘Subjective and Objective Morality’;
Ch. 6, ‘Legality and Morality’; Ch. 8, ‘Ethics and
Aesthetics’ .

Kainz is to be praised for attempting to revive a
little-used method of presentation, and his work
may be of interest to those with similar concerns.

Pete Stirk

HABERMAS’ CRITICAL COMMUNICATIONS
Thomas McCarthy, The Critical Theory of Jtirgen
Habermas, Hutchinson, 1978, £12.50 hc
Jtirgen Habermas, Communication and the Evolution
of Society, translated T. McCarthy, Heinemann,
1979, £4.95 pb

genetic moral development. He claims that ‘the
development of these normative structures is the
pacemaker [Schrittmacher] of social evolution’,
though he also maintains that ‘this change of normative structures remains dependent on the evolutionary
challenges of unsolved, economically conditioned
systems problems … ‘ (quoted in CTJH, pp248 and
253). I am not sure that these two claims are
consistent; but a comparison with Weber’s attitude
towards historical Im terialism, and especially to
the rise of capitalis’m, might well be fruitful.

A further merit of CTJH is that it presents many
of Habermas’s writings that have not been translated. The most important of these is his 1967
Zur Logic de Sozialwissenschaften. Particularly
interesting here is the account of Habermas’s
criticisms of the leading contemporary exponent of
hermeneutic theory, H. G. Gadamer, especially his
Truth and Method, and of the exchanges between
them following Habermas’s initial attack. In this,
he argued that Gadamer’s insistence that all understanding is necessarily rooted in the ‘prejudices’

of the interpreter’s own language, rules out the
possibility of a certain kind of rational ideologycritique. Gadamer replies that his views do not
rule out a critical relationship to traditions, but
that he does deny the possibility of what he takes
Habermas to be advocating, namely a critique from
a uniquely privileged ‘rational’ standpoint. (This
exchange is illuminating for the more general issue
of the Frankfurt School’s claim to provide a critique
that is both rational yet historical.)
So: anyone who wants to be (fairly) up to date
with Habermas’s writings, read CES; and if you
want the whole works, excellently presented, read
McCarthy’s ‘big book’, CTJH (warning: it’s over
150,000 words – though individual sections can
often be read separately.

These two books make a very useful contribution
to the. English reader’s understanding of Habermas’

work. Communication and the Evolution of Society
(QES) contains translations of various papers by
Habermas that were published in German in 1976,
and which represent important recent developments
in his position. The translator – who also provides
an introduction that summarizes clearly Habermas’

earlier views on the nature of a criticial social
theory, and shows how the newly translated essays
both build upon, and depart from, these – is
Thomas McCarthy, author of The Critical Theory
of Jtirgen Habermas (CTJH), which is in almost
every respect precisely the book that needed to be
written about Habermas. It consists mainly in a
detailed, lucid, and sympathetic exposition of
Habermas’s writings: from the early papers of the
late 1950s and early 1960s (such as ‘Between
Philosophy and Science: Marxism as Critique’, in
Theory and Practice), through the ‘middle period’

of the mid-1960s (especially Knowledge and Human
Interests, which led on to his first formulations of
a theory of communication, e. g. ‘Towards a
Theory of Communicative Competence’, Inquiry,
1970), and on to his recent work on the crisispotentials of l;lte capitalism (e. g. Legitimation
Crisis, and the last essay in CES) and an attempted
‘reconstruction of historical materialism’ (e. g.

most of the essays in CES). In addition, McCarthy
provides a number of thoughtful and incisive
critical discussions of some of the key difficulties
in Habermas’s views, such as the distinction
between labour and communicative interaction
(pp23-30), the claim that ‘nature’ is in some sense
Russell Keat
‘constituted’ by the human species’ technical
interest in control (pp110-25), and his consensus
theory of truth (pp303-10: I discuss McCarthy’s
treatment of this in a fuller review of CT JH to be
published in Philosophical Books, October 1980).

A great merit of CTJH is the way it enables us to
see the development of Habermas’s views, and the
reasons for some of his changes of position. An
important exalll>le of such a change is the apparent
departure from the doctrine of knowledge-constitutive interests that is involved in his rec ently
Independent Cinema
developed concept of the ‘ratiohal reconstructive
sciences’, which include, for instance, logic,
Chomskyan linguistics, and Piagetian developmental Feminism and Cinema
theories. The last of these play an important part
in his ‘reconstruction of historical materialism (see Television
CTJH, Ch.3, section 6). Habermas argues that just – – – – – – Irish Film History
as changes in the forces of production express
and Culture
changes in a species-universal technical learning
process with its own logic of development, so also
do changes in the relations of production express
Copyright
the development of a practical learning process,
involving a logical progression of forms of normative structures and thought; and Habermas ‘borrows’ Letters
here from L. Kohlberg’s Piagetian studies in onto-

Winter 1979/80 Volume 20 Numbers 3/4 £2.50
Published by the Society for Education in Film and
Television 29 Old Compton Str~~t. London Wl V 5PL.

Editorial
Brecht on Radio
r: Radio as a Means of Communication, a talk on the function of radio
G E 0 F r RE Y 1.; 0 \” ELL – S ~1 I T H: ‘Radio On’

ROD S TON E M A N: Film-related practice and the
Avant-Garde
11 ALe 0 L 11 LEG RI C E: Towards Temporal Economy
I’ A ~I ell 0 K: Star Signs
L L S l. E Y S 1 ERN: Feminism and Cinema-Exchanges
PAl! L K ERR: Edinburgh Television Festival 1979
.I 0 H N W Y V E R: The Debate on TV4
K L ” 1 /10 Roe K ET r: Irish Cinema-notes on some
nationalist fictions
RI C 11 A R D K EAR N E Y: ]oyce on Language, Women and
Politics
P A U L 11 I R S T, ELl Z A BET H KIN G D 0 M: On
Edelman’s ‘Ownership of the Image’

‘ IN C ENT PO R T ER: Film Copyright and Edelman’s
Iheory of Law
Letters from the Film Work Group, P Adams Sitney.

,Janel Bcrgstrom and Constance Penley
S T l! A R rHO 0 D:

BE R T 0 L T BR E C 11

41

MARX’S METHOD
David Papineau, For Science in the Social Sciences,
Macmillan, 1978, £10 hc
Despite the editor’s claim that this book draws
upon recent work in the ‘philosophy of science’

and notwithstanding a handful of perfunctory references to such work, Papineau’s For Science in the
Social Sciences is severely dated in its aim,
approach and design. Had it appeared some ten
years ago and had the author seen fit to include an
introduction or conclusion drawing together its
disconnected chapters along with some substantial
bibliographical notes patching up the more obvious
omissions, some justification might reasonably
have been offered for its publication. As it stands,
however, this work is profoundly unsatisfactory
and can in no way be recommended.

intending as it does to introduce a new perspective on ‘traditional problems’ within the social
sciences, the book is explicit in assuming no
‘specialised training’ in philosophy or the social
sciences on the part of the reader; the style
adopted throughout is, we are told, to be ‘clear’

and ‘simple’. As is all too often the case in
didactic commentaries, a simple exposition
quickly turns into an affected simplicity which
serves to justify frequent broad and unsubstantiated
generalisations and which, paradoxically, demand
a wealth of ‘specialised training’ if they are to be
grasped and their relation to the main argument
assessed. In the work under review this simplicity
is on the order of distortion rather than detraction
of the main argument. To cite only a few illustrations of this point; we find ‘marxism’ equated with
economism (p120), modern physics seemingly
denying universal determinism (p124) and
‘Classical empiricism’ encompassing the work of
Hume, Berkeley”and Locke (p19).

Partly because the arguments are often cut off
before they are concluded and the topics discussed
are seen as largely self-sufficient, and partly
because of the contortionist literary style sometimes adopted, a certain dexterity (not to say
perseverence) is required to discover this thesis.

Certainly the aim of the work is clear: to assess
the relationship that could and ought to hold
between the social and natural sciences. This task
is necessary because of the ‘misunderstandings’

surrounding both these terms and the stranglehold
‘positivism’ and the ‘behaviourist principle’

continue to exercise over the ways in which that
relationship is conceived. It thus comes as something of a shock to learn that the author has no
intention of defining the term ‘social sciences’ or
even ‘of using the category ‘positivism’. We are
therefore directed to pay particular attention to the
early chapters since they set out a ‘cogent vision
of scientific practice’ as well as laying the basis
for a broader, simply ‘scientific’ (as opposed to
‘social scientific ‘) perspective on ‘traditional
soc ial scientific problems’, i. e. ‘facts and values’,
‘actions, rules and meanings’, ‘free will and
determinism’ etc, which are discussed in the later
chapters.

Science, we are informed, is concerned with
‘universal generalisations’, that is, with statements specifying that ‘all things of some kind have
some property’ (p20). However, because of the
42

‘problem of induction’, such statements are unprovable. This said Papineau might have invoked
the theories of Popper, Hume, Schlick or indeed
followed any particular branch of the ‘philosophy of
science’. Instead we find him trying to follow them
all and ending up somewhat perplexed. He holds
the following positions: that the ‘problem of
induction’ is unsolvable, that substituting testability for provability allows scientific generalisation,
that ‘falsifiability’ distinguishes non-science from
science – none of which, however, solves the
‘problem of explaining why such proper science is
such a good thing’ (p21). The section on empiricism
ends with a doubt that ‘there is any good alternative
to simply accepting as a first principle that the
past is somehow an informative (if fallible) guide to
the future’ (p21, my emphasis). In a similar way
Papineau only brings confusion to his discussion of
the status of observations and theories. The
‘double-language model’ of science developed by
Nagel and Carnap which posits a separate realm of
observational and theoretical terms is rejected
(p34) yet the author aligns himself with instrumentalism (p27), which presupposes just such a model
(p28). Having accepted the strong arguments for
instrumentalism against realism (pp26-27), we then
discover that Papineau has switched to supporting a
realist view of science (p46). We are presumably
intended to fluctuate somewhere in between these
‘opposing’ positions. For convenience’s sake, we
are tOld, ‘we can talk loosely of a term being more
or less observation in general, according as it is
more or less often used observationally (sic)’

(p31, my emphasis). By this stage the .notion of
‘universal generalisation’ has been dropped in
favour of ‘theory’. Drawing freely from Kuhn’s
notion of ‘paradigm’ and Lakatos’ ‘research programme’ (which are ‘not dissimilar’ (p36)) and
basing himself on his ‘realism’ (or is it ‘instrumentalism’?), it is perhaps not surprising to find
‘theory’ referring to at least two separate notions.

On page 33 we read that ‘from now on “theory” will
refer to any set of interconnected generalisations’,
and ten pages later that ‘theory’ refers to ‘something like a continuing programme of research.

This is . .. the most natural sense of “theory” and
one that I shall be using henceforth’ (pp42 -43).

Apart from these confusing, contradictory and,
frankly, incomprehensible positions, the book is
littered with blunt misinterpretations. In Chapter 2,
for instance, Feyerabend is falsely attributed with
the belief in a context of justification distinct from
a context of discovery (p43) (a view explicitly
denied in Against Method Chapter 14) and in the
belief in a notion of ‘total incommensurability’

(p38) (again denied in his ‘Consolations for the
specialist’, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge}
The ‘Philosophy of the Social Sciences’ currently
finds itself in an unenviable predicament: it still
fights for academic respectability, it remains
unsure of its objectives and the theoretical apparatus it should develop to attain them, and borrows
unashamedly from the disc iplines that surround it.

Papineau’s intention was presumably to help solve
some of these problems. However, in the light of
the assessment above, For Science in the Social
Sciences is very much part of this predicament
rather than a step towards its solution.

Christine Loveland

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