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38 Reviews


Martin Hollis and Steven Lukes (eds.), Rationality
and Relativism, Basil Blackwell, 1982
.Bryan Wilson’s anthology of essays on ‘Rationality’, first
published in 1970, has become something of a minor classic
in recent analytical philosophy, bringing together the main
contributions to a lively and accessible debate, and providing the starting-point for a host of subsequent discussions
concerned with this important interface between philosophy
and the social sciences. In a period when unease at the
complacencies of linguistic analysis was only beginning to
surface in British philosophy, it provided a demonstration
that philosophical argument could bear directly on social
and political issues. These issues are still very much alive.

Is it relativism which is best suited to heading off what Ian
Hacking has termed the ‘philosophical B-52s’, as not only
followers of Winch or Feyerabend, but the majority of adherents of poSt-structuralist styles of thought appear to
believe? Or does the advocacy of equal respect for all
human beings, howeve”r such a notion may be interpreted
politically, require the recognition of at least some universal principles of rationality?

In Rationality and Relativism, designed as a sequel to
Rationality, and edited by two contributors to the former
volume, this debate is continued in the somewhat altered
circumstances of the early 1980s. One sign of this alteration is that the relativist pole of the argument is exemplified not by a ‘hermeneutic’ position, such as that of Peter
Winch, but by the hard-line sociology of knowledge advocated by Barry Barnes and David Bloor. The suggestion is
no longer that, if beliefs are grasped in terms of the role
which they play in a ‘form of life’,. then they can no longer
be labelled as ‘irrational’, but that ‘the incidence of all
beliefs without exception calls for empirical investigation
and must be accounted for by finding the specific local
causes of this credibility’; accordingly much more time is
devoted in this anthology to the problem of whether there
must be an asymmetry in the explanation of rational and of
irrational beliefs. Unfortunately, Barnes and Bloor never
get round to investigating the ‘local causes’ of their own
commitment to relativism. But, in their proselytising enthusiasm for a doctrine which undermines the point of attempting to persuade anyone of anything, they do provide a
sharp philosophical marker for the remaining contributors
to take their distance from.

Not all the other essays, however, are equally hostile
to relativism. Steven Lukes seems resigned to a permanent

plurality of frameworks in the social sciences, but rejects
any suggestion that different human communities can be
said to live in different natural worlds. Ian Hacking seeks
to defend a qualified form of relativism, according to
which there may be incommensurable ‘styles of reasoning’:

it is not, he argues, truth itself which is relative, but the
very eligibility of sentences to be assessed along the dimension of truth and falsity. Against this suggestion that
there cannot be meta-reasons for styles of reasoning, W.

Newton-Smith argues that any theoretical” mode must at
some point hook up with humble, non-theoretical propositions which will provide a means of assessing its overall
adequacy: style and content are simply not that separable.

A similar concern with cognitive styles is at the centre
of Charles Taylor’s paper, one of the most interesting in
the collection. Taylor contends that the generosity manifested in the ‘symbolic’ or ‘expressive’ interpretation of
apparently absurd or erroneous beliefs is misguided, since it
presupposes that primitive societies, or earlier stages of
our own culture, recognised a domain of purely expressive
thought. In fact, it is a distinctive feature of our kind of
civilisation that we possess a science and technology from
which the expressive dimension has been .. purged, and – correspondingly – a form of activity which allows expression
uninhibited play (presumably Taylor is thinking of autonomous art). For a Renaissance magus, by contrast, the task
of understanding is inseparable from the aim of achieving a
state of harmony with the universe. But this is not to say
that the astrologer or alchemist has no practical goals: he
or she is genuinely attempting, although unsuccessfully, to
predict the future, or to transform base metals into gold.

Thus Taylor suggests that ‘it wouldn’t do to say ••• that
ritual practices in some primitive society were to be understood simply as symbolic, that is, directed at attunement
and not at practical control.’ Pre- and post-Galilean
science may, in one sense, be said to be incommensurable,
since they are activities with different purposes. Yet we
can still say that modern science achieves more adequately
one of the aims of traditional forms of knowledge: technical mastery over nature.

Taylor’s contentions are supported by Robin Horton’s
‘Tradition and Modernity Revisited’, in which Horton reviews and revises the celebrated comparison of African and
Western thought which he presented in the original Rationality volume. Horton, too, argues that ‘the use of theory in
,the explanation, prediction and control of events’ is central
to a ‘common core’ of rationality which is shared by both

tradi tional and modern cultures. However, this common core
is shaped in very different ways in the two types of social
world: traditional societies – although not hostile to all
theoretical revision – tend to inhibit the formation of a
plurality of competing theories and to underplay the discontinuity between past and present beliefs, whereas ‘cognitive modernism’ is characterised by a willingness to innovate radically, by a ‘continuous theoretical monitoring of
the cognitive framework’, and by an orientation towards
progress rather than preservation as the primary value. To
an even greater extent than Taylor, who suggests merely
that the natural science model has ‘wreaked havoc’ when
applied to society, Horton emphasises that cognitive modernism is a ‘Pandora’s Box’ which ‘contains an array of
intellectual diseases which has no parallel in traditionalistic theorising’, and he stresses that both modern and
traditional theorising must be seen as rational responses to
the problem of explanation in the kind of society to which
they belong. Horton’s sensitivity in this respect contrasts
sharply with the tone of Ernest Gellner’s contribution,
which consists in a blunt celebration of the triumphant
‘One World’ of modern science.

Among the other pieces, Dan Sperber attempts a critique of relativism in terms of a distinction between ‘factual’ and ‘representational’ beliefs. A representational belief
is a proposition which we are committed to as being true
under some interpretation, although we are not presently,
and may never be, in possession of that interpretation: an
example – probably subscribed to by the majority of readers
of this magazine – would be: ‘Only in a socialist society
can human beings achieve their full potential.’ Many
anthropologists, Sperber suggests, have failed to observe
this distinction, and have therefore been tempted by relativism as a means of explaining away the apparent incredibility of what are in fact ‘representational’ beliefs, the
majority of culturally-transmitted beliefs being of this kind.

Martin Hollis offers a defence of the view that, in Vico’s
words, ‘There must in human institutions be a mental
language common to all nations, which uniformly grasps the
substance of things feasible in social life.’ Against the
depredations of Barnes and Bloor-type relativism, Hollis
argues for the autonomy of Reason, which he defines as
‘the portmanteau name for the rules of proof, which aid
the mind in securing a priori knowledge, and for the canons
of evidence, used in judging the truth of beliefs against the
facts of an independent world’.

It is here, however, that some of the most difficult
questions – scarcely touched on in this collection – begin to
arise. The anti-relativists are obliged to defend some form
of the universality of reason, to assume the existence of
what Steven Lukes, in his summarising contribution, calls ‘a
bridgehead of common standards and common beliefs’

between different eras and cultures. Yet relativists, at this
point, can return with the tau~t that, -lthough ~nti­
relativists are committed to the eXIstence of such a bridgehead, they appear to have permanent difficulty in specifying what these common standards and beliefs might be. At
this point the anti-relativist can perhaps usefully refer to
the recent work of JUrgen Habermas, a shadowy presence in
several of the discussions in this book, particularly that of
Charles Taylor. Habermas acknowledges that there is not
much hope of identifying specific beliefs, ‘canons of evi-_
dence’ or methodological recommendations as rational ~
se, as Horton seems to assume. But he suggests that there
15 built into the foundations of argumentative discourse an
anticipation of the conditions under which the acceptance
of beliefs would guarantee their rationality, c0r:tditions of
unconstrained consensus. Such an account of rationality,
concerned with the forms of communication in which claims
to truth (and other validity-claims) are resolved, rather
than with the specific content of such claims, would seem
to be the best present hope for a theory which can overcome the potentially conservative – even nihilistic – i’mplications of relativism, while at the same time – because it is
based on the idea of unforced consensus – disarming the
‘philosophical B-52s’.

Peter Dews

Gilles Deleuze: Nietzsche and Philosophy, Athlone
Press, £16 he; Richard Sehaeht, Nietzsche,
Routledge and Kegan Paul, £18.50 he.

In his autobiography, Alexander Herzen complained that
Hegel’s philosophy ‘led straight to the recognition of the
existing authorities, to a man’s sitting with folded hands,
and that was just what the Berlin Buddhists wanted’.

Deleuze makes a similar, albeit more philosophical, point
when he writes, ‘the dialectic is a fundamentally Christian
way of thinking, powerless to create new ways of thinking
and feeling.’ Whereas Marxism has claimed to have sublated
Hegel by appropriating the radical form (the dialectic as
method) and dispensing with the conservative content,
Deleuze makes no such distinction – both the form and content of Hegel’s philosophy are rejected as ‘reactive’. The
originality of Deleuze’s argument lies in thinking the critique of Hegel from the perspective of Nietzsche.

First published in France in 1962, Nietzsche and Philo~ represents a seminal reading of Nietzsche’s writings
which has exercised a tremendous influence on much recent
French thought. In an effort to break away from the Hegelian tradition, Deleuze places Nietzsche in a strategic role
as the first real critic of Hegel and dialectical thought.

Establishing a new empiricism and a new pragmatism – the
interpretation of forces, the evaluation of power
Nietzsche is seen as proposing ‘a new image of thought’

which serves as an alternative radical philosophy and challenges the hegemony of the dialectic.

Deleuze’s argument revolves around the task of demonstrating the essential difference between Nietzsche’s
thought and Hegel’s thought. The former’s is affirmative
and active, predicated on ‘difference’, the latter’s is negative and reactive, predicated on identity. Deleuze illustrates his point with the example of the mas.ter/slave relationship and how it is construed by the two thinkers: where
Hegel posits the relation in terms of recognition by the
‘other’ through negation and contradiction, in Nietzsche th~_
relation is posited in terms of affirmative difference (the
‘pathos of distance’). The affirmative subject does not
‘oppose’ nor is ‘contradicted’ by the ‘other’ – it differentiates itself and affirms its difference: ‘Affirmation is the
enjoyment and play of its own difference, just as negation
is the suffering and labour of the opposition that belongs
to it’ (p. 189). Hegel’s negative, dialectical thought is rejected because ‘it is exhausted by compromise. It never
makes us overcome the reactive forces which are expressed
in man, self-consciousness, reason, morality and religion. It
even has the opposite effect – it turns these forces into
something a little more “our own'” (p. 89). It is philosophy
thought from’the perspective of the slave.

The book is divided into five main sections. The first,
entitled The Tragic, introduces the general tenor of
Nietzschean thought by characterising it as a tragic conception of the world which is opposed to dialectical and
Christian conceptions. The second section, Active and
Reactive, stresses the importance of the body in
Nietzsche’s thought, the distinction qf forces in terms of
activity and reactivity, and places an interpretation of the
eternal return at the centre of the Nietzsche contra Hegel
argument: ‘Why should affirmation be better than negation?’ (p. 86). The third section, entitled Critique, is perhaps the crucial section of the book. It sets out to specify
Nietzsche’s relation to Western metaphysics, with the relation between Nietzsche and Kant being decisive.

For Nietzsche, Kant’s Copernican Revolution in philosophy signifies the impossibility, the end, of metaphysics.

But Kant’s critique did not go far enough: ‘One of the
principal motifs of Nietzsche’s work is that Kant had not
carried out a true critique because he was unable to pose
the problem of critique in terms of values.’ The aim of the
principle of Nietzsche’s philosophy – the will to power and
the revaluation of all values – is to initiate not a .tribunal


of reason but ‘a genesis of reason •••. What is the will which
hides and expresses itself in reason?’ (p. 91). Deleuze contends that with the Genealogy of Morals Nietzsche wanted
to rewrite the Critique of Pure Reason, and this genealogical project is of great importance for the history of
philosophy, for ‘it runs counter not only to Kantianism but
to the whole Kantian inheritance’ (p. 88). Kant’s failure to
radicalise the traditional notion of critique meant that it
was possible for Fichte and Hegel to interpret Critical
Philosophy as marking the beginning, not the end, of metaphysics. ‘What became of critique after Kant via the
famous “critical critique” from Hegel to Feuerbach?’

Deleuze asks. ‘It became,’ he replies, ‘an art by which
mind, self-consciousness, the critic himself, adapted themselves to things and ideas, an art by which man reappropriated determinations to which he claimed to have
been deprived of, in short, the dialectic’ (p. 88). Of the
Young Hegelian critique of Hegel, Deleuze writes, drawing
on Heidegger’s reading of Nietzsche, ‘By turning theology
into anthropology, by putting man in God’s place, do we
abolish the essential, that is to say, the place?’ (ibid.).

Nietzsche, argues Deleuze, proposes a new image-of
thought that places thought in the element of sense and
value, for ‘thinking is never the natural exercise of a faculty. Thought never thinks alone and by itself’ (p. 108). The
will to truth (Western metaphysics, morality, and religion)
is inseparable from a will to power, and Nietzsche sees it
the task of the true philosopher to call into question the
value of truth •
. / Section 4, From Ressentiment to Bad Conscience, is an
interpretation of the Genealogy of Morals in terms of a
‘degenerated history’, the triumph of the reactive forces in
religion, morali;ty, philosophy, and politics. The fifth and
final section, The Overman: Against the Dialectic, develops
further the contention made in section 1 that ‘anti-Hegelianism runs through Nietzsche’s work as its cutting edge’

(p. 8). Nietzsche, Deleuze argues, is opposed to every form
of thought that bases itself on the power of the negative,
to thought, ‘which moves in the element of the negative,
which makes use of negation as a motor, a power, and a
quality’ (p. 179). It is Nietzsche who changes the relation
between the negative movement and the affirmative movement: ‘the negative ceases to be a primary quality and an
autonomous power.’ Nega tion does play a role in his
thought but it is construed in non-dialectical terms, not as
the opposite of affirmation but as essential component of
it. Through the transvaluation of values and the eternal
return, which Deleuze interprets in Kantian categorical
imperative terms, the negative becomes a power of affirming. Thus Nietzsche’s great discovery is the ‘negativity of
the positive’ as opposed to the ‘positivity of the negative’

(p. 180).

Throughout, Deleuze’s argument is subtle and intricate,
and justice cannot be done here to its complexity. The
issues it raises and the challenge it presents are too large
and important to be adequately dealt with in a book review. Nevertheless several critical remarks are worth }Tlaking concerning the validity and tenability of the argument.

One of the most striking aspects of the book is
Deleuze’s flat refusal to take into account textual and biographical evidence to support his argument (p. 187), for
such evidence suggests that Nietzsche had a very superficial reading of Hegel largely derived from second-hand
sources – Burckhardt, Schopenhauer, Friedrich Lange, and
Young Hegelians like Bauer and Strauss. The evidence does
not support Deleuze’s claim that ‘anti-Hegelianism’ provides
the ‘cutting edge’ for Nietzsche’s thought. It shows such a
claim to be absurd. Deleuze’s argument frequently assumes
the guise of ‘an unintelligent rage against Hegel’ (Beyond
Good and Evil, Section 206). To describe Hegel’s thought as
no more than a conflation of philosophy and theology is to
adopt a very crude reading of Hegel’s critique of Christianity. Could it not be that Hegel’s critique is as radical as
Nietzsche’s, if not more, for, by carrying out an immanent
critique, Hegel undermined Christianity from within?

Deleuze pays little serious attention to Hegel’s speculative
philosophy and the different possible ways it can be con-


strued. To say that Hegel hypostatises the role of the negative into an autonomous one is to make the negative
movement and the affirmative movement in his thought distinct, which they are not. For HegeJ every negation is a
determinate negation. It is neither formal nor abstract.

Deleuze’s antipathy to Hegel’s dialectics can be partly explained on the basis of his ahistorical conception of philosophy. For him philosophy ‘is always untimely ••• there is no
eternal or historical philosophy’ (p. 107). And yet philosophy is a critique of the present, ‘at its most positive as
critique, as an enterprise of demystification’. Philosophy’s
own mystification, however, begins ‘from the moment it
renounces its role as demystifier and takes the established
powers into consideration’. Deleuze, by equating taking
established power into consideration with justification and
endorsement of established power, has made it impossible
for himself to see dialectical thinking as a radical critique
of power. Consequently, Hegel can appear to him as no
more than the official philosopher of the Prussian state.

I would not dispute the fact that Nietzsche possessed a
deep distrust of dialectics, but to portray Hegel as the
target of all Nietzsche’s criticisms is to omit the historically pertinent critique of Socrates. To say that Nietzsche is
against the dialectic per se is to transform his historically
specific critique into an unhistorical one. And, as a general
point, I would argue that Deleuze’s account of Nietzsche’s
writings is devoid of any ‘historical sense’, especially his
reading of the Genealogy.

Once history has failed to deliver the goods, Deleuze
has no further use for it. The goal of culture is ‘the sovereign individual who defines himself by power over himself
••• the free and powerful man’ (p. 137), but history is evil
(Deleuze turns Nietzsche’s historical understanding of nihilism into an ahistorical one when he calls nihilism ‘the a
priori concept of universal history’ – p. 166 – and diverts
the course of culture in favour of the ‘reactive forces’).

‘We have neglected history’, Deleuze says banally (p. 138).

Religion, morality, philosophy, etc., are all treated in
Deleuze’s account as abstractions which are a priori reactive. Culture is described as ‘formative cfctivity’ (p. 136),
but since it only applies to ‘man’s prehistoric activity’,
history itself is presented in degenerative terms. In’ the
Phenomenology Hegel treats religion, morality, philosophy,
etc. as formative activities.

This is precisely what
Nietzsche is doing in the Genealogy.

The approach of the book is one of concerted polemic
and bold assertions rather than trenchant analysis and
argument. Deleuze presents the case for Nietzsche contra
Hegel in the form of simple oppositions – genealogy versus
dialectic, Nietzsche’s ‘yes’ opposed to the dialectician’s
‘no’, the play of difference opposed to the labour of the
negative, ‘lightness and dance to dialectical responsibilities’ (p. 8). Despite Deleuze’s insistence that opposition in
Nietzsche is not a dialectical opposition but a differential
affirmation (p. 17), he ends up presenting the critique of
Hegel in oppositional terms whichever way you look at it.

The main criticism that can be levelled against the poststructuralist appropriation of Nietzsche’s work is that it
dehistoricises that work, and, by eschewing dialectics, is
compelled to present the critique of Hegel in terms of a
spurious choice.

Deleuze then presents a tendentious reading of
Nietzsche – Nietzsche as anti-metaphysician, pragmatist and
pluralist. But this ‘neo-Kantian’ reading precludes Deleuze
from being able to present the full complexity and ambiguity of Nietzsche’s central discovery – nihilism (its ‘undecidable’. nature). Whereas Deleuze construes nihilism as
an a priori reactive force, indeed as the a priori concept
of history, Nietzsche, in the preface to the notebooks that
form The Will to Power, construes the problem of nihilism
in dialectical terms. In answer to the question as to why
nihilism has become necessary he writes, ‘because nihilism
represents the ultimate logical conclusion of our great
values and ideals, because we must exper ience nihilism
before we can find out what value these values had. We
require, sometime, new values’. This is something fundamentally different from Deleuze’s conception of the crea-

tion of new values ex nihilo. Thus when Deleuze says that
Stirner is the dialectician who reveals nihilism as the truth
of the dialectic Cp. I? 1), we might riposte that Nietzsche is
the dialectician who reveals dialectic as the truth of nihilism.

However, it should be said that when Deleuze is not
engaging in pyrotechnic displays (which is most of the time)
but philosophising with a hammer in the Nietzschean manner, he makes some devastating criticisms of Hegel’s philosophy and its pretensions. Despite the many reservations I
have, Deleuze has written a remar.kable book. It is perhaps
the most original, exciting, and challenging interpretation
of Nietzsche to date.

In contrast to Deleuze’s wonderfully intoxicating reading of Nietzsche, Schacht presents a very sober and scholarly account of Nietzsche’s ideas. The aim of the book, a
volume in the ‘Arguments of the Philosophers’ series, is to
give the untutored reader a thorough introduction to
Nietzsche as well as attempting to make his ideas accessible and interesting to Anglo-Saxon philosophers.

It is a fairly straightforward explication of Nietzsche’s
ideas and thus poses far fewer problems than Deleuze’s
book. In its orthodox Kantian organisation, the book treats
Nietzsche’s views on knowledge and truth, values and
morality, art and aesthetics, and locates in his writings a
philosophical cosmology and anthropology. Here Schacht is
to be commended for his intelligent and sympathetic treatment. The major weakness of the book however is that it
treats Nietzsche’s ideas in a philosophical and historical
vacuum. While the book may serve as a propaedeutic for
analytical philosophers, to whom it primarily addresses itself, it does little for the rest of us. And the only advantage it has over Walter Kaufmann’s classic of 1950, which
for my money remains unsurpassed as an introduction to
Nietzsche, is the length and analytical rigour .and power of
the ex plica tion.

Keith Pearson

Roland Gibson, Logic as
Experience of Art,
Educational Books, 1982,

History of Science and
140 pp, Heinemann
£12 pb

Heinemann have an agreeable track record in publishing
slightly off-beat works, and this book is to be welcomed on
those grounds. According to the blurb, the author ‘has
attempted to synthesise Marxism and formal logic by concentrating on Marx’s fundamental propositions coupled with
restoring the norm to merely positivistic logic through
recognition of logic as behavioural’. Nor is this all. In a
phrase calculated to touch every Radical Philosopher’s
heart, the blurb observes that ‘academic philosophy has
degenerated into arid technicalities in a context of anachronistic social relationships fettering evident possibilities
for progress’. Stirring stuff. But I fear the blurb-writer did
not read the book: Marx is only referred to en passant on
page 3; and if this book is a possibility for progress, some
of us have a bit of catching-up to do.

… What Roland Gibson is doing (I think) is showing how
various aspects of mathematics and other things can be put
into pigeon-holes of matrices which can be hierarchically
arranged and the dualities observed. (If you find my description unclear, you should read the book.) Now this enterprise is actually quite fun. If you want to bone up on
metric space, or to discover the connection between
Schoenberg’s twelve-tone system and general relativity
theory, then this is the book for you.

But stay alert, gentle reader. Things are not always
what they seem. ‘The reader is reminded that “history of
science” here does not mean the usual anecdotal embedding
in some absolutely independent temporal “stream”; but a
generating function of moments in the general sense of ref-

erences of statistical norms’ (p. 42). I think matters would
become clearer if this book were set to music. Is there
some progressive composer out there who will take up the

John Fauvel

Isidor Walliman, Estrangement: Marx’s
Conception of Human Nature and the Division of
Labour (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press,
Elliott A. Krause, Division of Labour: A Political
Perspective (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood
Press, 1981)
While much of the language of, and debate over, the concept of ‘alienation’ has seemingly passed out of fashion,
discussions of the relationship of the division of labour to
radical and socialist political and economic goals are widespread and thriving, ann can in many ways be understood as
the more practical and productive outcome of earlier indecisions concerning the problem of ‘alienation’. Both of
these books, to varying extents, accept the logic of this
succession and attempt to build upon its claims by placing
the division of labour at the very centre of socialist inquiry (where it belongs) and stressing its predominance over
both ‘alienation’ and the question of property ownership

Walliman’s chief argument is that previous interpreters of Marx have concentrated too much (usually in an
effort to certify the existence of a humanistic Marx) upon
the presence or absence of terms like Entfremdung in the
texts, “‘nd upon attempts to measure or quantify ‘alienation’ in existing societies. Marx’s conception, for Walliman,
was rather grounded upon a notion of human nature in
which intellect, emotion, will and consciousness were seen
to be specifically human attributes separating humankind
from the animal world. This characteristic human essence,
however (though it undergoes some alteration through history) is violated whenever an involuntary division of labour
hinders its ~ealisation, e.g. through its ability to render the
products of its labour subject to its own control. Human
beings are hence ‘estranged’ not when scarcity exists, nor
because of the objectification of their personalities in the
products of their making, but rather when an alien will
interferes with the process and product of labour.

Walliman’s conception of this theory does improve upon
many aspects of earlier accounts by OIlman, Meszaros and
others, while not superseding them. To see an ‘involuntary
division of labour’ as central to Marx’s theory of estrangement aids in clarifying the relationship between the
Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and the
German Ideology, as well as the relation of these to later
writings. Practically speaking, ‘nationalisation’ or ‘socialization’ of the means of production no longer becomes a solution to a condition brought to its highest stage of development under capitalism; what is important is the subjection of work and its conditions and results to individual
and social control (though these are clearly different too)
by ensuring a voluntary distribution of tasks even while
certain forms of routine, as well as highly specialist work,
may remain. Walliman is not concerned with the degree to
which the later Marx may have suggested that various
forms of the industrial division of labour might be inevitable (as is, for example, Ali Rattansi in his study of Marx).

Her treatment of the early works in the context of the
division of labour is however quite useful, although weak in
its lack of definition (following Marx’s omission) as to what
a ‘voluntary’ division of labour really means in practical
terms. It is not sufficient, in this sense, to remain within
the tautologous formulation that ‘involuntary’ equals
‘estrangement-producing’ (p. 172, n.3). Despite the brief


introduction of a few quotes concerning Marx’s views of
the results of automation on the division of labour, this
book is not concerned with developing any of the practical
implications of Marx’s theory of estrangement, only with
establishing the centrality of the conception of the division
of labour to it.

Krause’s book also takes Marx as a point of departure,.

but mainly attempts to outline a ‘political model’ (seeking
specific changes) for understanding recent transformations
in the division of labour. After three brief chapters on
Marx, Weber and Durkheim, Krause outlines a fourteenpoint ‘model’ consisting of categories by which alterations
in the division of labour can be understood, and then
applies this (relatively loosely) to three case studies: sexism and the question of ‘women’s work’, deprofessionalisation and the erosion of the autonomy of separate professions, and health work (particularly nursing), where a continuous process of proletarianisation is evident, at least in
the American context. No attempt is made to establish any
clear or rigorous criteria for what the division of labour on
the whale ought to look like, beyond a simple plea for its
‘humanisation’, nor are many of the sharper questions of
power and authority or ‘political’ vs. ‘technical’ decisionmaking illustrated as clearly as they are, for example, in
the collection of essays on the division of labour edited by
Andre Gorz. This book, rather, is quite useful as a genera;
but critical introduction to the sociology of the division of
labour (in its North American forms) and of the professions
in particular, rather than a theoretical tome about the
relationship of the division of labour to the ultimate ends
of society (for which Bahro and Sohn-Rethel are better
consulted). Krause’s ‘model’ is confessedly loose, flexible,
and tentative, but at least in its attempt to draw the
entire subject together from a practical point of view, it
offers insights of use to all concerned with such matters.

Michael J. Sandel, Liberation and the Limits oj
Justice, Cambridge University Press, 1982,
£5.95 pb
fhis book contains a penetrating critique of the presupposition of the liberalism of Rawls which is rightly seen as
drawing on a Kantian tradition. Sandel’s main target is the
‘transcendental’, isolated self of this kind of liberalism, so
detached both from its own goals and from communal relationship as to render radically problematic the very idea of
a just society of real people, its supposed ideal. Sandel
argues for a more ‘situated’ notion of the self, one of
which ‘communal’ involvements are partly constitutive.

Though Sandel is right to see that the status of justice
as a value is bound up with separateness and conflict
among social “units, it is surely a bizarrely parochial view
to treat this concept as essentially tied to an individualistic liberalism defined (with Dworkin) in terms of neutrality
about basic personal values. (The idea is that since none of
our ends (goods) can claim moral priority we must seek fair
play (rights) among our differing ends; that is ‘justice’.)
Plato, Aristotle and the Thomist tradition (see Joseph
Pieper’s work for example), not to mention socialist
thought, have left us with a much deeper concept both of
justice and of freedom than Sandel allows for. (I would
here recommend Gerald Doppelt’s ‘Critique from the Left’

of Rawls in NOUS, Vol. 15, September 1981.) Thus his
book’s actual preoccupations are narrower than its title
proclaims. This narrowness is given exaggerated symbolic
expression in the convulution of Sandel’s prose.

Tony Skillen

Gregory Claeys

K. Marx and F. Engels, Letters on ‘Capital’ (trans.

Andrew Drummond), New Park Publications,
London, 1983, £6.95 pb
Sollace Mitchell and Michael Rosen (eds.), The
Need jor Interpretation: Contemporary
Conceptions oj the Philosopher’s Task (London:

The Athlone Press; and New Jersey: Humanities
Press; 1983)
Much is promised for this book at the outset, and it looks
to be right up Radical Philosophy’s street. According to
the blurb, it ‘expresses the growing reaction within the
ranks of analytically-trained philosophers against the professed aims of current Anglo-Amer ican philosophy’. Unfortunately, it does nothing of the sort. It is an undistinguished
collection of papers by a group of Oxford philosophy teachers and graduate students, who formed a discussion group
because they were dissatisfied with analytical philosophy.

Their dissidence, however, is a pathetically timid and tentative affair. Only a few pages after the bold initial promises the editors are in open retreat. They seem unable to
specify either what it is they dissent from, or how they
dissent from it. In so far as the papers share a common
theme, it is that the model of the natural sciences cannot
be used to understand the world of human thought and
action. Hardly a novel theme, handled here in entirely familiar ways. The highlight of the collection is an excellent
piece by Charles Taylor, rejecting the computer analogy
for the human mind. None of the other papers reach this
standard. Mitchell contributes an earnest and usefully
clear, though leisurely, critique of Derrida. There is a discussion of Critical Theory by Rosen which is not without
interest. The remaining pieces are vapid and dreamy. A
movement of dissent within analytical philosophy would be
a most welcome development, but it is not apparent here.

Sean Sayers.


It is extraordinary that a century after Marx’s death his

and Engels’s correspondence is still so patchily available in
English. It is true, of course, that their Collected Works
are at last being produced in English, and that the first
two volumes of letters have appeared. But these are two of
a projected twelve, and take us only up to 1855. The great
bulk of the letters still remains to be translated; and New
Park Publications (alias the WRP) are to be congratulated
on bringing out this wonderfully rich and valuable collection, originally made in E. Germany. Most of the letters it
contains have not previously been available in English. All
of them are newly, and excellently, translated by Andrew

The letters cover a much wider range than the book’s
title suggests. They deal not only with the planning, writing, publication and reception of Capital, but with the
whole spectrum of’ economics: that subject, as always with
Marx and Engels, being conceived and treated in the broadest possible terms, to encompass also history and prehistory, politics, sociology and philosophy. What is so vividly evident in these letters is the remarkable intellectual
vitality and openness of both Marx and Engels, their amazing responsiveness to developments in society and in
thought. One is struck at how absurd and false is the
charge of dogmatism so often levelled against these mighty
thinkers. On the contrary, they are always alive to the
world around them, developing and testing their ideas
against the facts, and questioning and modifying their
views in the light of them.

Through Marx’s letters one can follow the evolution of
his plans for his work on Political Economy, announced as
imminent in a letter to Leske of 1846, through his plans of
71857-9 (in which the Contribution to the Critique of Polit=ical Economy was to form merely the first part), to the
publication of Volume I of Capital in its various editions

1nd his work on the later volumes. Then, after Marx’s
death, we have Engels’s graphic accounts of the struggle,
which occupied the last ten years of his life, to get Volumes 11 and III into publishable shape and to arrange for
work on Theories of Surplus Value to be continued after his
death by Bernstein and Kautsky.

There are many gems here. To choose a few, almost at
random: there is Marx confiding to Engels that his article
on India describing as ‘revolutionary’ the impact of the
British is quite consciously intended to ‘shock’; there is
Engels’s blow by blow account of the depression of 1857,
and his patient explanations to Marx of the ways in which
business accounting deals with the depreciation of machinery; and there are Marx’s attempts to drum up some attention for Capital – even to the lengths of sketching out a
review attacking it, which he hoped would provoke a

In short, this is a welcome and important addition to
the Marxist literature in English. The volume is supplied
with a brief preface by Geoff Pilling; it is well annotated
and indexed, and attractively produced. It is worth just
noting that it is part of an enterprising series of new Marx
translations published by New Park, which has so far
included a useful collection of Marx’s writings on Value,
his diatribe against Herr Vagt, and the first translation of
his Mathematical Manuscripts. These are all useful additions to the Marxist literature in English and it is to be
hoped that they will soon be joined by others.

Se an Sayers

Gary Bent Madison, The Phenomenology of
Merleau-Ponty, Ohio University Press, £16.20 hc,
£9.00 pb
In this work, Gary Brent Madison outlines the development
of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology from The Structure of
Behaviour (1941) to The Visible and the Invisible (which
was unfinished at the time of Merleau-Ponty’s death in
1961). In particular, Madison wishes to pick out an implicit
and progressive transition from phenomenology to ontology,
which gives Merleau-Ponty’s work an underlying unity. I
shall now try to outline the salient points ot this progression, as it is pre$,ented by Madison. First, in The Structure
of Behaviour Merleau-Ponty sets out to investigate the
relation between consciousness and nature, and is concerned with criticising both physiological interpretations,
and those of gestalt psychology – which were much in
vogue at the time. As a result, Merleau-Ponty is led to the
view that the world is meaningful only on the presuposition
that the human subject’s cognitive apparatus makes some
active contribution towards such meaning. It is to the clarification of this relationship between consciousness and th~
.world, that Merleau-Ponty turns his attention in the Phenomenology of Perception (1945). The most fundamental new
concept employed in this work is ‘being-in-the-world’ – a
notion used previously by both Heidegger and Sartre, but
which, in the Phenomenology of Perception, is given a radically new inflection. The reason for this is the primacy
which Merleau-Ponty affords embodiment. Madison expresses this view nicely as follows: ‘We must recognise the
existence of a body-subject; we must view the body as our
living bond with the world and as the umbilical cord which
attaches us to it’ (p.21). On these terms, the relationship
between embodied subject and world is dialectical. As
Merleau-Ponty puts it: ‘The world is inseparable from the
subject, but from a subject which is nothing but a project
of the world; and the subject is inseparable from the world,
but from a world it projects itself’ (quoted by Madison p.


Now Madison sees this approach as leaving MerleauPonty with (in effect) two important problems. First, whilst

the relation between embodied subject and world is a
rational one, the fact that there is such a relation at all is
construed by Merleau-Ponty as merely contingent. Second,
the nature of the relation between embodied subject and
world is left highly ambiguous. On what, ontologically
speaking, is it grounded? What are its origins? It is
Merleau-Ponty’s answers to these questions which mark his
shift from a purely phenomenological method to an interest
in ontology. The course of this change can be traced in
most of his writings after 1945, but is most marked in his
final essay, ‘Eye and Mind’ (1961), and The Visible and the
Invisible – where Merleau-Ponty was beginning a drastic
revision of his overall position. The most fundamental
notion in this late work is that of ‘Flesh’, i.e. the ontological kinship/bonding of the embodied subject and the
world. For Merleau-Ponty, the paradigm of this bonding is
found in the phenomenon of visibility. Again Madison provides a very useful summary:

‘If I can see it is because I have a body, that is
because I have a body, that is, because I exist in
the world among things, because I am precisely a
certain carnal here around which things arrange
themselves in depth. The seeing subject cannot
be foreign to what he sees. I would never be able
to see, were I not myself visible.’ (p. 173)
Hence, subject and world are not simply in a state of dialectical reciproci ty, but are so because they are fundamentally made of the same stuff. The seer is a seen. This
is why Merleau-Ponty attaches so much importance to
painting. The painter appropriates the world in a way
which manifests the primordial intertwining of vision and
visibilia – by giving voice to that mute pre-reflective realm
of ‘wild being’ where subject and world first entwine. Consciousness, as it were, doubles back and catches itself in
the act of becoming. Now it is this doubling back and expressing the point of origin which Merleau-Ponty takes to
be the ultimate teleology not only of painting, but also of
philosophy, and, indeed, of the human condition as such.

Being (in the widest sense) achieves a state of selfaffirmation through individual embodied subjects questioning the ontology of their own origin. As Madison puts it,
‘ ••• the Origin is the world’s own internal possibility, a
world whose essence is to be in development’ (p. 105).

Let me now review Madison’S presentation of MerleauPonty’s arguments. The first thing to say is that (at the
time of writing at least) Madison’S book is the best introduction to Merleau-Ponty’s thought. It is somewhat more
lucid, for example, than Samuel Mallin’s, Merleau-Ponty’s
Philosophy (Yale 1980) and keeps the underlying unity of
development more clearly in view. This, however, does
raise some problems as well. Madison’s emphasis on exposition leads to rather a lot of repetition (especially in the
later stages of the book) and leaves almost no room for
discussion of some of Merleau-Ponty’s more contentious
ideas. The problems (mentioned earlier) which he does take
Merleau-Ponty to be facing at the end of The Phenomenology of Perception, he seems to regard as solved by the
later work. Now the basis of Merleau-Ponty’s later position
is, as we have seen, teleological. The real purpose of
philosophy, and, indeed, of human being as such, lies not in
achieving solutions to problems, but, rather, in the very act
of questioning ontological origins. (This brings MerleauPonty’s views quite close to Heidegger’s later work, as
Madison brings out quite well.) However, we really must
ask what sort of teleology is involved here, and what its
implications are. In relation to the first point, I would say
that, even if one can accept that Being is disclosed to itself through human consciousness, and philosophy in particular, there is (to say the least) no intrinsic reason why
Lhis should be privileged as the purpose of human being or
philosophy, over and above those purposes which arise from
our needs and aspirations as social beings. Second, it is interesting that Merleau-Ponty’s more ontologically orientated
approach coincides with his abandonment of radical politics
in favour of a ‘liberal’ stance. Now whilst, in the second of
the two useful appendices to his book, Madison does consider Merleau-Ponty’s political development, he does not

link it in any coherent way to those ontological preoccupations which became central to his philosophy as a whole.

This is unfortunate because, considered in itself, MerleauPonty’s ontology appears, prima facie, at best to favour
the status quo and, at worst, to construe our humanity in
terms of a goal (i.e. the questioning of Being) which is
realisable whether we are in fetters or on a throne. The
concrete interests of our species being, in other words, are
made secondary to the demands of an inevitably elitist

Paul Crowther

Sabina Lovibond, Realism and Imagination in
Ethics, Basil Blackwell, Library of Philosophy and
Logic, £15 hc
J.1y attention was first drawn to this book at a conference,
where I was told that it embodies the way ethics wi11 be
done in the nineteen eighties and nineties. Having now
studied the book, I hope these remarks wi11 prove to be
prophetic. Before showing why I hope this wi11 be so, let
me first outline what I take to be the central structure of
Ms Lovibond’s argument.

Her starting point is that body of moral theory known
as ‘non-cognitivism’, which seeks to assert a rigid metaphysical distinction between those statements which assert
facts, and those which take the form of evaluations. As Ms
Lovibond rightly points out, the effect of such a distinction
is to ground judgements on irrationalist premises.

Specifica11y, morality is construed in terms of those attitudes or dispositions which we entertain towards facts, but
which are not logically constrained by such facts. On these
terms, morality becomes, at best, the partisan deployment
of a mere inclination to pursue justice and liberty.

Ms Lovibond’s solution to this problem is to generate a
theory of moral realism out of Wittgenstein’s philosophy of
language. This philosophy
••• tells us that there is just one standard of
assertability, which applies to all assertoric uses
of language – namely truth…. We are not debarred, on this view, from saying (as we have
presumably always said) that the propositions of
science possess truth status; but we are shown
that there is nothing in the notion of truth, correctly understood, which would prevent us in
principle from assigning the same status to the
propositions of ethics. (p.42)
The reason why ethics is on a metaphysical par, truth-wise,
with science is because ~ modes of discourse are grounded
ultimately on the authority of consensus within the speech
community. In order to learn, say, the use of moral and
scientific concepts, we are subjected to patterns of material and intellectual coercion which enable us to learn the
appropria~e ‘grammar’ of moral and scientific conduct. That
is to say, we are initiated into the practice of foHowing
the appropriate rules. It is the authority of this rulegoverned practice which exercises a kind of ‘pu11 towards
objectivity’ and rationality in all modes of discourse.

Interestingly, Ms Lovibond sees an anticipation of the
application of this view to the moral sphere, in terms of
‘iegel’s notion of Sittlichkeit, i.e. ‘concrete ethics’. As she
puts it:

The idea of an obligation to sustain the institutions which embody a shared way of life seems to
characterise to perfection the way in which,
according to Wittgenstein, we are governed by
the rules of our language. The fact of participation in language-games imposes on the individual a system of sittlich obligations: injunctions to ‘do the same’ as regards
the manner of responding, verbaHy, to the


changing configuration of things in the world. (p.


Now this being said, it is clear that we allow much less
authority to ~ following established rules in the moral,
as opposed, say, to the scientific sphere. Ms Lovibond suggests that this is because moral judgements are, by nature,
more subjective than scientific ones. This does not mean,
however, that moral judgements are simply subjective – as
proponents of the fact/~alue distinction would hold.

Rather, ‘Our moral realism denies that distinction at the
level at which the non-cognitive theorist of ethics asserts
it’ (p. 68), i.e. the distinction between judgements of fact
and value is not metaphysical, but rather one of degree. On
these terms, then, we would be more justified in talking of
the ‘fact/value continuum’.

Some readers, of course, wi11 be struck by the import”,nce which Ms Lovibond attaches to the authority of
established social practice. Does this not smack of inherent
conservatism? The author is, however, acutely aware of
this possibility, and suggests that the moral realism she is
proposing is intrinsica11y conservative only in the sense of
the moral language-game requiring some continuity of its
rules and institutions. Now to participate in such institutions is to identify ourselves with them, but if we recognise (as the theory of moral realism requires we must) that
such institutions are only the historical products of social
practice, then we see that, morally speaking, things could
be otherwise. Again, to use Ms Lovibo.nd’s words, ‘Armed
with our newly acquired historicist insight, we can never
again participate otherwise than reflectively in any
language-game’ (p. 122). This is why the author goes on to
attach so much importance to the notion of imagination,
and our ability to conceive moral. possibilities other than
those which are actual. Our initiation into moral practices
through the customary institutions furnishes us with the
means for subjecting those institutions to ‘critical scrutiny’, or juxtaposing them against the ‘speculative construction of alternatives’. It is only through this process of
critical reflection that institutions will emerge into a system that the individual can identify with, and achieve
self-objection through; thereby finding a meaning in life as
a whole.

I have, then, presented at length what I take to be the
central structure of argument in Realism and Imagination in
Ethics. In covering so much ground, the text necessarily
proceeds at a high level of generality, and it is in this generality that its faults – such as they are – are to be found.

For example, the ’empiricist’ non-cognitive view which Ms
Lovibond opposes throughout is actually a construct of
three mutually incompatible views, and is thus something of
a straw-man. Her case might have been more convincing in
this respect if she had concentrated her critique on one of
the most recent and plausible non-cognitive approaches,
namely that of John Mackie. A more detailed consideration
of Mackie’s views, indeed, might also have led her to focus
more clearly on what gives moral discourse (if such it has)
its 10gica11y distinctive character. If anything, the overa11
tendency of Ms Lovibond’s argument is to outline the
transcendental conditions which make any discourse possible; but to leave us with little sense of the actual content of concrete moral judgements. These (and various
other difficulties which Ms Lovibond’s theory faces) are,
however, primarily sins of omission which do not disrupt
the overall structure of argument. On the positive side, Ms
Lovibond’s book is important in terms of both methodology
and content. She combines, for example, logical rigour and
speCUlative insight, in a way that avoids both the overtechnical (and, at times, superficial) knock-down arguments
characteristic of the analytic tradition, and the tediously
approaches. It is, indeed, the more speculative use of
wide-ranging sources and examples which gives the book
such a distinctive and de-familiarising impact. A more
central achievement still, however, is that Ms Lovibond
shows the direction which any really searching radical critique of moral individualism must take. Too often, the radical theorist merely confronts the established position, with

an alternative dogma. Ms Lovibond, in contrast, seeks to
subvert that position, not just on transcendental grounds,
but on transcendental grounds which themselves embody the
necessity for radical and collectivist moral reflection. Of
course, the ideologically pure in heart will make much of
the lack of concrete analysis noted above, and in particular
the absence of any well-defined notions of class hegemony
and conflict. However, the move from ‘moral realism’ to an
ethics of historical materialism is, I suspect, very easy. It
is therefore up to the radically minded to build upon Ms
Lovibond’s impressive foundation. Indeed, it is to be hoped
that she herself will seek to consolidate her position with
more concrete analyses.

to a psychologistic reading of alienation. (Presumably, a
detailed treatment of exploitation would destroy textual
‘balance’, or perhaps it’s simply that, for many, exploitation is ‘economics’ whilst alienation is ‘sociology’.)
Traditional and Radical Perspectives could faU between
two stools. It’s by no means an adequate reference work on
sociological research, but then what textbook is? On the
other hand, its sizeable methodology section may still involve too much skating on the surface of a huge subject. It
is, however, the sort of book that should whet the appetites of budding Marxist sociologists on ‘A’ Level or degree

Howard Feather

Paul Crowther

H.J. Sherman and J. Wood, Sociology:

Traditional and Radical Perspectives, adapted for
the UK by Peter Hamilton, Harper & Row, 1982
Sociology textbooks often give the impression that they
have been written by a committee: there is no consistency
!n approach and one is not warned when switches in perspective are about to take place. Other textbooks strive
towards the ‘balanced’ approach, by giving different theoretical perspectives on each substantive issue – Marxist,
Weberian, Functionalist etc. The problem with this is that
by (unconscious) sleight of hand, ‘balance’ becomes objectivity: contrived impartiality between perspectives makes do
for truth. The author inevitably favours a particular sociological paradigm, but attempts to neutralise this theoretical
preference via ‘balance’ or ‘fairness’ in the treatment of
rival approaches. For instance, one writer notes: ‘Politically I am a libertarian socialist…. I have kept in mind however that a textbook .. should present all relevant information and opinion with absolute fairness. I hope that if I
have not stated my own opinions and values, they would
not otherwise have been too obvious.’ (M. O’Donnell, A
New Introduction to Sociology, Harr ap, 1981, p. ix). In the
present writer’s opinion this is unsatisfactory, both because
it produces an elision of ‘balance’ and ‘objectivity’, and
because the sociologist’s actual partiality conflicts with
the ‘balanced’ textual style and undermines the case he/she

The virtue of Sherman and Wood’s presentation is that
they do not use the ‘balance’ stratagem; rather they seek
to be objective through a Marxist or ‘radical’ sociology.

Al though the book is not the last word as a source of
information on sociological research, it aims to succeed in
a more ambitious way; it addresses itself in large part to
methodological points. The range of issues discussed includes: the base-superstructure relationship, necessary and
unnecessary contradictions within a social formation,
whether relations or farces of production have causal primacy, the relation between science, objectivity and class
interests, the distinction between Marx’s research methodology and his mode of exposi tion, dialectics as a means of
transcending the dichotomies of ‘bourgeois’ social science.

In the field of political practice, the writers pinpoint thecrucial distinct.ion between liberal humanism, with its idealist conception of harmonisation of social interests without
negation/overcoming, and a Marxist humanism where progress is attained through recognition and overc;oming of
necessarily conflicting social interests.

The sections on substantive topics (apart from the
usual) cover formation of gender identity, genesis of family
structures, racism, age ism and the development of the
‘socialist’ (sic!) societies. The section on ‘Poverty and
Social Class’ is illuminated by an examination of the rilech-_
anism of capitalist exploitation where the fundamental distinction between necessary and surplus labour time is
drawn out. This topic is neglected by more conventional,
‘balanced’ texts where Marx on labour tends to be reduced

H. Skolimowski, Eco-Philosophy: Designing New
Tacticsjor Living, Marion Boyars, 1981, £2.95 pb
Eco-Philosophy has the demerit of combining in one volume
a sub-Marcusian critique of twentieth-century tendencies
to instrumentalise/technicise science and a sub-Coleridgean
comment on nature-mysticism. It also recalls, without
further illumination, the Romantic reaction to the fragmenting effects of (capitalist) industrialisation. Anyone
hoping to find a concrete approach to these problems
through, for instance, an attempt to elucidate the way
science and technology are mediated by modes of production, is due for a disappointment.

Eco-Philosophy boils down to nature mysticism governed by an evolutionary finalism and presented in a platitudinous style: ‘we tune in to the music of evolution, of
which we are a part’, or ‘the cunning of life is infinite’.

All this book demonstrates is that the writer has been
unable to move beyond the organicist intellectual repertoire used by the Romantics in criticising aspects of
emergent industrial capitalism. They at leas-t used it well.

Howard Feather

,A revised version of the Associated Examining Board’s
draft ‘A’ Level Philosophy syllabus (commented on by Steve
Brigley in RP35) has been approved by the Schools Examination Council, and the first examination will be in 1985.

Changes in the content of the syllabus include the
excision of Popper (Conjections and Refutations) and Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations) from prescribed texts
for the Twentieth Century Philosophy module. They are
substituted by (no reasons given for any of the changes)
the ‘philosophical has-beens’ – Russell’s Problems of Philo~ and Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic.

Sartre is also introduced into this part of the course (prescribed text: Existentialism and Humanism), so removing
Popper and Wittgenstein can’t have been based on a criterion of difficult reading!

The reading for Marx (Nineteenth Century Philosophy)
now includes the Theses on Feuerbach, and the linking of
Marx with a ‘laws of history’ debate (model questions) goes
out. This is replaced by the examination of the idealistmaterialist debate in Marx and his view(s) of philosophy.

Addi tions to the sy llabus include the issue of whether
there are any fundamental distinctions between the
natural and social sciences and the significance of socio41

cultural determinants for ‘Our Perception of the External

The aims of the sy llabus have been changed since the
first version from including an appreciation of ‘historical
development’ and ‘present day relevance’ of philosophical
ideas to involving an understanding of ‘their historical
presentation and their contribution to present day philosophical debate’.

Although it’s possible to read too much into any set of
‘aims and objectives’, this perceptible shift in orientation
serves only to bear out the fears expressed by Steve
Brigley about the style of philosophising the examiners will
be promoting.

Howard Feather

. In response to Steve Brigley’s critique in RP35, we have
received the following comments from a member of the
AEB Philosophy Working Group, Maurice Roche.

In defence of ‘A’ level Philosophy
Socrates is said to have believed that courage is a form of
knowledge and practical wisdom. My response to the pessimistic mood of Stephen Brigley’s critique of ‘A’ level
Philosophy (in Radical Philosophy 35) is, ‘have courage’, or
at least ‘cheer up’. ‘A’ level Philosophy will be running
courses in Further Education Colleges, sixth form colleges
and schools up and down the country for examinations in
1985 and 1986. It will take organised philosophy teaching
for the first time in a substantial way out of the grasp of
the Universities and it will make it available to people of
a wide range of ages and abilities who would never otherwise have had the chance to study it. This is an important
educational development which is currently being taken
forward by two ‘A’ level boards, the AEB and the J MB. It
has great potential for use in programmes of study which
can be built on and around existing ‘A’ level courses in the
humanities and social sciences – programmes which can
have their own integrity and rationale and which need not
necessarily be presented as merely higher education entry

This sort of development deserves more from allegedly
radical philosophers than Stephen Brigley’s pessimism, and
Radical Philosophy’s relative indifference. It needs constructive criticism, support and development over the next
few years from all quarters who believe in the value of
philosophy and in making it widely available within the
non-university education system.

The reception of ‘A’ level philosophy so far from the
Right has been outrage – we need more from the Left than
gloomy indifference. But at least the Left has intellectual
standards – thus, Brigley’s piece aims to inform and to
comment reasonably. The Right – in the form of Roger
Scruton (see his article ‘Why teach philosophy to children
who can’t add up?’, Daily Mail, 3 February 1984) – substitutes outrage and propaganda for rational discussion.

Unlike Brigley, who seems to view ‘A’ level philosophy as
something of an Oxbridge/academic (litist plot, the ‘philosophic’ Right, predictably, views it all as a Red plot. Thus
Scruton writes:

By taking over the Labour Party, the bigoted Left
ensured the Party’s defeat in the General Election.

But in other areas ••• and most of all in education there are spectacular gains to be made and at little
cost. One clever ploy ••• is to introduce subjects
which cannot be understood except by those who
have a vocation for them. ••• One such subject, I
believe, is philosophy, currently being proposed by
the Associated Academic (sic) Board as an ‘A’ level.

This, along with such educational developments as Peace
Studies, Women’s Studies and Black Studies, are all damned
as being deviations from the (pseudo) Classical curriculum
of Greek, Latin, the Bible et aI, and as being tainted by
the brush of ‘relevance’. Apparently the ‘mind of a child’

needs forms of study which are ‘rigid’. I understand Scruton
is currently working hard on the phallus, which may
explain the interest in the topic of rigidity, but which
turns his antipathy to the idea of the personal relevance of
studies into a bit of a puzzle.

What Scruton takes as a criticism of ‘A’ level philosophy, i.e. the presence of ‘relevance’ in its aims and objectives, Brigley regards differently.

He bemoans the
absence of this idea from how he thinks the course will be

Whereas Scruton’s comments are deliberately misleading, it appears to me that Brigley’s are merely rather confusing and unintentionally misleading. Curiously for his
critical perspective, he seems to regard the central issue
of the aims and objectives of the AEB syllabus, not only as
acceptable but as ‘uncontroversial – if a trifle vague and incomplete’. The bulk of his comments then could only be
relatively less important, and they seem to be concerned
with gloomy speculations about
(a) how the syllabus might have arisen (i.e., via a dilution of University philosophy courses out of deference to
the latter;
(b) who it might be intended for (i.e. Oxbridge educa ted teachers and public schoolboys);
(c) how it might be taught badly (i.e. with no reference
to the student’s experience and views.

None of these points have very much substance in them
in my view.

(a) The syllabus of both the AEB and JMB courses have
been developed over the last two or three years by working
groups in which Further Education College teachers are
strongly represented (along with University teachers and
school teachers) and in which they have been and remain
important initiators. Besides this, Further -Education teachers, sixth form college teachers and others have been consulted by questionnaire and correspondence during· the
AEB’s syllabus development. Brigley’s claim that ‘A’ level
philosophy is ‘inherently unsuitable to meet the educational
needs of a large section of students at 16+’ is unjustifiable
if it implies that the syllabus and examination have been
developed either in ignorance of, or with indifference to,
16+ students’ varying needs and ranges of ability. We could
argue about what specifically educational (as opposed to
vocational, psychological and social) needs really are.

Whatever one thinks of the GCE system in general, there
must surely be an important place in our conception of
such needs for the disciplined study of systems and bodies
of knowledge which challenge the student and go beyond
his or her own immediate situation. An education which
never did this w’ould be as undeserving of the name ‘education’ as would an education which only ever did this. A
place must also be given to addressing the student and his,
or her, situation and concerns. Part of this, in my view, is
a question of teaching strategy, and I’ll comment further
on this in a moment, although I must note in passing that
Brigley’s conception of the student seems remarkably passive and reactive rather than active.

‘A’ level philosophy does attempt to address itself to
both of these aspects of educational need – i.e. (i) the
challenge of unfamiliar ideas, and (iD the idea of immediate relevance. The two halves of the AEB syllabus concerned respectively with the ideas of some major philosophers and themes and issues (such as, for instance, causing death and saving lives, animal experiments, civil disobedience, etc.) are attempts to do just this. It is not for
Brigley or anyone else to specify what people will find of
personal relevance to them in later life. But it is reasonable to suggest that offering people the opportunity to
study carefully and critically some of the major categories
of human experience – morality, science, faith, reason and some major thinkers on these categories, ought to be

part of everybody’s education and could well have a lasting
personal significance and relevance for them. Incidentally,
related. to this, I note that Brigley’s concern for ‘large
sections of students’ doesn’t appear to extend beyond 16+
(i.e. presumably 16-19). ‘A’ level philosophy – as much as
anything else on offer within our youth-oriented educational system – should be conceived as equally available to, and
relevant for, the educational needs of mature students of
any age.

Some reference to University-level studies is surely
appropriate for ‘A’ level courses in general and is surely
unavoidable for new courses in philosophy. But this need
not be seen as ‘defere~ce’, as Brigley claims, nor as intellectual d~pendence on University philosophers. ‘A’ level
philosophy will increasingly develop its own distinctive
character as it establishes itself in the schools and colleges. While many Universities have welcomed the AEB
course, predictably some haven’t done so for reasons which
are understandable, if not commendable. They know that
ultimately they will have to change at least their introductory courses to accommodate a new, philosophically
‘literate’ kind of student. It is inadequate to picture likely
future intellectual relationships between University and ‘A’

level philosophy according to some static formula of litism
and of deference by the latter to the former. Effects will
be created and produced at both ends of the relationship.

(b) ‘A’ level philosophyiSnot aimed at and in tended
for Oxbridge educated teachers and public school boys. In
connection with this Brigley asks: ‘is it too great an exaggeration to characterise the educational image of philosophy as ideologically antithetical to the comprehensive
ideal?’ Well, if this is the image (and not the reality) of
philosophy, and if the comprehensive ideal involves at least
equality of opportunity, then surely we should all strive to
change the ‘image’ of philosophy by participating in
attempts at making it readily available and accessible outside of lite. institutions. Images are not reality and they
can be changed.

(c) Any course of study can be badly taught – without
reference to students’ views and opinions and with no
attempt to motivate them and catch their interest. There is
a certain amount that ‘A’ level Boards can do to assist
teachers – principally by keeping channels of communication open, giving guidance on reading, seeking feedback
from them, organising teachers’ conferences and so on.

Also assessment procedures can exercise some constraints
over approaches to the teaching and learning of subjects.

But, as Br igley appears to acknowledge, ‘A’ level assessment procedures are nowadays fairly varied and open to
change and improvement. If, with experience over time,
teachers find the current Mode 1 examination format in
philosophy to be unnecessarily constraining, there is no
reason at all why, for instance, they couldn’t lobby the
Boards either to make a Mode 3 college-based format
available, or to consider changes in both the syllabus and
the examination format for Mode 1. But, having said all
this, ultimately the responsibility for competent, imaginative, stimulating and responsive teaching lies with the
teacher. Courses on paper, however good and encouraging
they are, cannot of themselves generate good teaching
from a poor teacher; while even bad courses usually offer
some opportunities for a good teacher to build on. This is
surely nowhere more true than in philosophy – a teacher
who can’t think well and deeply can’t expect to get others
to think. Brigley regards the aims and objectives of the
AEB course – which include gaining and demonstrating
understanding of texts and ideas of major figures in the
Western tradition of philosophy – as ‘uncontroversial’. So
his comments about the need to contextualise the texts in
the philosopher’s life etc., boil down to advice about how
best to implement these aims and objectives. The advice is
well taken, but it seems to me to be in any case l,Incontroversially acceptable as a part (surely not the whole) of
what any good teacher would be doing with these texts and
ideas. His advice about teaching and learning by ‘subjecting
arguments to scepticism’ is less well taken – how could any

philosophy course be worthy of the name if it didn’t
involve this?

In conclusion, let me return to the problem of the
overall mood of Brigley’s criticism – that of pessimism. In
the current social and educational climate surely the last
thing we need is the further propagation of demoralization. :rhe current establishment of ‘A’ level philosophy in
British schools and colleges, and its improvement in future
years by philosophy teachers, is surely a welcome development. It is one small but significant step in the necessary
work of defending educational values and opportunities and
of extending them in one of the most anti-educational climates in recent British history. Even if Socratic courage is
beyond us we could at least try to rekindle something of
his spirit of philosophic optimism.

Readers who want to get further information might
contact Robin Thornbury (Sherbrooke Teachers’ Centre,
Rosaline Road, London SW6 7QN).

Maur ice Roche


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