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5 Reviews

The new journal Economy and Society declared
its stand under the banner of serious scholarship.

Its editorial statement noted that ‘The search for
new orientations (in social science) has led to a
revived interest in ~Iarxism, Structural i sm, and
Phenomenology in its various forms, to attempts to
create a ‘critical’ theory. Thesd’new interests,
however, have tended to he unsupported hy serious
scholarship and have consequently too often degenerated into blind dogmatism, confused eclecticism
or mere polemic’. (Aspiring radical philosophers,
take note!) To this list of targets are added .

empiricism, piecemeal approaches and ‘current
ideological modes of defining reality’. So far,
so good. Positively Economy and Society is
‘committed to a theoretical approach which is
wholistic and which concentrates on systems of
production and the division of labour, and on the
related systems of domination and control, as the
primary or core sectors of society. Such an
orientation attempts to define and analyse developments in other social structures and social groups
in their relationships to these core sectors of
production and domination’. This is inueed a carefully framed statement and would be difficult to
better as a pragmatic manifesto for a Marxist
sociology journal, i.e o defining its concerns as
Marxist but in a way that maintains points of
contact with the work of some academic sociologists
at ~east. Of course the cvnjunction of Marxi sm and
Sociology has a thorny history raising issues which
I shall come back to.

Henry Bernstein
(Economy and Society, Vol.I, 1972, Routledge and Kegan
Paul, annual subscription £4 50)

The impact of Radical Philosophy has registered
in the efforts of many students and teachers to break
out of the deadening narrowness of vision and purpose
prevailing in philosophy departments. For information
about this I rely on my friends in philosophy, and if
only half of what they say is true the scene sounds
grim indeed.

In sociology things are different, and the waters
far muddier. The hallmark of sociology is eclecticism
– it encompasses several major traditions and has
given rise to new divergent trends in recent years.

In Britain there is the further complication that
classical sociologies are cultural imports (despite
the heritage of political economy and attempts to
bring back Herbert Spencer). Sociology students find
~Iarx, or bits of Marx, on a number of courses from
‘sociological theory’ to ‘industrial societies’ and
political sociology. These like ‘alienation’,
‘ideology’ and ‘class’ provide a staunch weekly essay
fare. The staple literature consumed ranges in its
treatment of Marx from ignorance (most Ameri can
sociologists), to shoddy distortions (Dahrendorf), to
more or less subtle revisions (Ossowski, Bottomore
and others). Even sociologists of the last category,
generally those more knowledgeable about and sympathetic to Marx, draw on his work in relation to issues
thrown up in the course of professional debate o This
takes the form of stressing, for example, power and
conflict relations, and even economic ‘factors’,
against the harmonies of functionalism and the bourgeois apologetics for which it has provided a
theoretical prop – support your local social structure,

I think that the editors of Economy and Society
are right to keep their options open in this way, and
their policy is vindicated in the range and quality
of articles contained in the first four issues.

contrast with a typical number of the British
Journal of Sociology, IS Instructive).

Because of
the range individual readers will be more interested
in some pieces than others. In terms of my interest s,
exemplifying the journal’s intentions about the
contribution it should represent are two excellent
pieces of original analysis by the French anthropologist Claude Meillassoux on the socio-economi c
structure of primitive societies (in no.l), and hy
Harold Wolpe on apartheid in relation to the difficulties of South African capitalism in reproducing
cheap labour power (no.4).

Therefore unlike the situation in (British)
philosophy radicalism in sociology is well estab,lished.

It has some honourable roots as there are circumstances
in which to name oppression takes courage and commitment as C. Wright Mills showed in the USA of the 1950s
Some years on, however, the looseness of the designatio
‘radical’ is evident. Radical sDciology now had its
own abstracted empiricists, to use Mills’ term, who do
not go far beyond using their computers to contest
official statistics on the distribution of wealth, the
extent of poverty etc. On the other hand, and
especially in the heady air of the American movement of
the ’60s, radical sociologists clustered around political slogans exhorting ‘consciousness’ (a frequent
signpost to phenomenology and social psychologies of
liberation), community power, and so on.

Another group of articles illustrates that side
of editorial policy which faces sociology – in a way
they are less distinctive from the viewpoint of
Economy and Society’s aims and might have appeared
in one of the better sociology journals like
Comparative Studies in Society and History. These
are on economic and political activism in Islam by
Sami Zubaida in no.3, and on pre-industrial political
movements in Ireland, the Gold Coast and Bolivia hy
Peter Gihbon (no.2), Terry Johnson (no.2), and
Andrew Pearse (nos.3 and 4).


Despite their vitality, attack and style
(exemplified in Martin Nicolaus’ harangue of the 1969
convention of the American Sociological Association
[1]), they have not succeeded in injecting a more
coherent intellectual core into radical sociology.

Reprinted in Trevor


(ed.), Counter Course,


A curious and striking feature ahout the first
volume of Economy and Society is the juxtaposition
of the kind of work I have mentioned with a number of
articles by Althusserians, A by now familiar preoccupation and tone runs through three of the four
review articles, a discussion of the place of the
Grundrisse by Ben Brewster (no.3), and attacks on
the sociology of Alfred Schutz and radical deviancy
theory by Barry lIindness and Paul Hirst respectively
(both editors of the journal and both articles in
the first issue). Hirst’s article is particularly
interesting – not only is he a careful and very clear

So the Althusserians’ Marxism would seem either
to deny all to sociology, or to allow it all. The
latter possibility is reinforced when it comes to any
empirical analysis. If sociology has no scientific
theoretical object we may need it all the more to
give us descriptions of ‘real’ objects – as demonstrated in Hirst’s statement about ‘all societies … ‘,
and in the juxtaposition in Economy and Society of
Althusserian interventions with some good more or
less straightforward sociological analyses of concrete

writer – but his was the only piece in the first four
issues which drew a return fire.

The typical procedure of Althusserians is to
specify the object of knowledge of a theory and to
decide whether it is scientific or noto Hirst’s
position (also clear in his review of Giddens and
Gouldner in No.2)[2] is that t1arxism and Sociology are
not comparable as their theoretical objects are
different. ‘The objects of Marxist theory are
specified by its own concepts: the mode of production,
the class struggle, the state, ideology, etc. Any
attempt to apply Marxism to this pre-given field of
so~iology (i.e. crime and deviance) is therefore a
more or less “revisionist” activity in respect of
ivlarxism’ (p.29). Hirst in fact avoids citing any
radical deviancy theorist and devotes his attention
to an erudite summary of the treatment of law, crime
and morality in the successive stages of Marx’s

I have suggested that what the Althusserians
do amounts to warning us off (potential distortions
of Marx) but not turning us on. All the articles by
them in Economy and Society are concerne~ with
exposition and criticism. (There is a v~ry useful
non-AI theJssian exposition by Geoffrey Pilling of the
law of value in Ricardo and Marx in no.3). The
preoccupation with theory seems to me to be very
often a highly formal one. Thus Hindness, for
example, uses Husserl as a stick to peat Schutz who
is seen as distorting the former’s transcendental
phenomenology. However idealist Husserl is, the
implication is that he has a purely philosophical
respe~tability which Schutz lacks.

Hindness says
that Schutz is not phenomenological (the criteria
being derived from Husserl) but takes as his starting
point Weber’s preoccupation with the subjective
meaning of individuals’ actions. I would argue that
such a concern has a legitimate place in a Marxist
sociology although it would not constitute its point
of departure. In fact, more generally we still lack
a Marxist critique, rather than straightforward
denial, of the major sociological thinkers.

This provoked a reply from Ian Taylor and Paul
Walton who felt that they were included in the nameless ones under attack and also felt stung by being
told in effect that they had not ‘read’ Marx properly
and occupied a different ‘terrain’ from the one they
thought they did – or perhaps, more precisely, were
attempting the scientifically impossible stance of
straddling more than one ‘terrain’ by trying to
construct a ~larxist sociology of crime and deviance.

They defended their project by the importance of
‘establishing theoretically the potentiality of a
classless, human and non-criminal society’ (p.233)
[3]. lIirst had the last word, reiterating his
epistemological position against’ a specific form of
an empiricism which considers that a theoretical
proh,ematic can be applied to externally “given” real
objects’ (p.3SI). He subsequently went on to say
that ‘All societies outlaw certain categories of acts
and punish them. The operation of law and custom •••
is a necessary condition of existence of any social
formation’. (p.353)
Now, any first year student who has dipped into
an elementary sociology textbook will recognize a
statement of the ‘all societies … ‘ type (and
hopefully will recognize its intrinsic conservatism).

That lIirst should make such a statement is both
curiolls and symptomatic, I think. The major concern
of Althusser and his followers has been to establish
the specificity of Marxism, above all at a philosophical level. The vay they go about this has had
some paradoxical effects which are reflected in
Ili rst’ s comments. The task of specifying what the
scientific ~larx is about has produced a kind of highpriest syndrome in Althusserians. Through their
particular brand of exegesis they know what it is all
about, and what it is not about. Apparently then
Taylor and Walton can pursue the sociology of deviance
as long as they realize that they are involved with a
‘practico-social ideology’ and refrain from attempting
to use ~Iarx. By the saJTle token, as sociology and
Marxism do not confront each other on the same terrain,
safeguarding the purity of the latter allows the
possibility, in principle, of giving the former carte
blanche to do its OIm thing. The objection to this
would be that the cri ter i a used to designate ~larxism
(or parts of it) as scientific can he employed to
decide Ivhether there is, or can be, a scientific
sociology. (In his revielv article, IIirst expresses
doubt as to h’hether academic sociology can produce
scientific knowledge, but leaves the question open).

Here \IC arrive at the end of the debate for those of
us who cannot sec nor accept that Althusser has
pro~lced a definition of scientificity that we can
use in this way.

A Giddens, Capitalism and Modern Social Theory,
CaJnbridge, 1971; A 11 Gouldner, The Coming Crisis of
Western Sociology, I1einemann, 1971

‘When I hear the I”ord “human” I reach for my gun’

L. Althusser?


A more concrete point relates to the educational
practise of sociology, or perhaps political education
in sociology. By drawing the boundaries of fvlarxism
so rigidly and then retiring within them, practically
one is leaving an open field to academic sociology
to monopolice analysis of crime and deviance, the
fami ly, ‘race relations’, ‘underdevelopment’ .etc.

This is not just a question of what reaches sociology
students but of a far broader market for ideological
consumption. Nor is it enough merely to point out
the ideological nature of academic sociology’s
pronouncements on these issues.

Economy and Society has certainly raised the tone
both in the quality of many of its individual contributions, and in providing a forum for the juxtaposition
of the different kinds of scholarly work I have
indicated. Although it may prove difficult to maintain the high standard set, Economy and Society needs
to publish more analyses, and more concrete’analyses,
of advanced capitalist societies (barely represented
in the first four issues). The editors should
encourage more controversy and debate, should try to
establish links with like-minded people (radical
philosophers and psychologists, socialist economists),
and should bear in mind that in being scholarly one
must avoid becoming scholastic.

The pupils, whether or not they expected a philosophy that should give them ideals to live for and
principles to live by, did not get it; and were told
that no philosopher (except of course a bogus philosopher) would even try to give it. The inference
which any pupil could draw for himself was that for
guidance in the problems of life, since one must not
seek it from thinkers or from thinking, from ideals
or from principles, one must look to people who were
not thinkers (but fools), to processes that were not
thinking (but passion), to aims that were not ideals
(but caprices), and to rules thar were not principles
(but rules of expediency). If these philosophers had
wanted to train up a generation of Englishmen and
Englishwomen expressly as the potential dupes of every
adventurer in morals or politics, commerce or religion
… no better way of doing it could have been discovered


particularly successful. The concept is obtained,
not, as is usual, by deriving properties from things,
but from our way of acting on things. A group
structure is a self-regulating system, and the
self-regulation corresponds to the application of
the basic principles of rationalism: the principle
of non-contradiction, which is incarnate in the
reversibility of the transformations; the principle
of identity, which is guaranteed by the permanence
of the identity element; and the principle that the
end result is independent of the route taken. It
is because the group concept combines transformation
(a group is a system of transformations) and
conservation that it has become a basic construct ivist tool Piaget examines the work of the Rourkaki
group to apply structuralist principles to the whole
of mathematics ann then goes on to consider logical

S.W. Gaukroger
structuralism by Jean Piaget, Routledge

& Kegan

Paul, 1971, SOp

Piaget’s short book is one of the most easily
accessible introductions that we have in English to
a school of thought that has already been responsible for profound changes in several disciplines.

I intend to give only the very briefest account of
the book and to make one or two preliminary criticisms, since my purpose in reviewing it is to bring
it to the attention of anyone who has not yet read
it (particularly students), rather than to offer a
full critical exposition – which would indeed be a
task, given the extensive area it covers.

From the structuralist perspect ive, the
logician’s formal systems are wanting in at least
two respects. In the first place, they are fabricated
ad hoc. The structuralist project is to discover
‘natural structures’, some structuralists having
tried to refer to an ultimate rootedness in human
nature, others to a non-human absolute to which we
must accommodate ourselves. In the second place, a
logical system, though a closed whole with respect
to the theories it demonstrates, is nevertheless only
a relative whole; it remains ‘open’ with respect to
those formulae which, though recognised as true when
someone goes ‘up’ to the meta-theory, are nevertheless indemonstrable as long a3 one stays ‘in’ the
system; and since the primitive conceptions and
axioms have all sorts of implicit elements, the
system is ‘open’ at the ‘bottom’ as well. ‘Logical
structuralism’ has chiefly been concerned with this
latter problem, its announced objective being the
recovery of what lies ‘beneath’ the operations
codified by axions. Fully-fledged structures not
just analogous to the major intuitive structures
employed by mathematicians but identical witn some
of these turn out to furnish the underpinnings of
logic, so that logic becomes part of the theory of
structure which is today called general algebra.

Structuralism takes its start from the observation that the phenomena of the external world which
we perceive have the characteristics which we
attribute to them because of the way our senses
operate and the way the human brain is designed to
order and interpret the stimuli which are fed into
it. An important feature of this ordering process
is that we cut up the continua of space and time
into segments so that we are predisposed to think of
the environment as consisting of vast numbers of
separate things belonging to named classes, and to
think of the passage of time as consisting of
separate events. By examining how we apprehend the
world we can discover crucual facts about the
mechanism of thinking. Defining structuralism is
well nigh impossible, but distinctive features of
the various structuralist approaches can be isolated,
two of the most important being: (i) that the
structures of any system are self -sufficient, and to
grasp them we do not have to make reference to all
sorts of extraneous elements; (ii) despite their
diversity, structures in general have certain
common and perhaps necessary properties. A structure
is a unified, self-regulating system of transformations: the point of introducing this notion is,
very generally speaking, to oppose the (atomistic)
account of systems purely in terms of their
elements. Systems are dynamic, self-contained
entities, the structures of which are governed by
laws of transformation. The structures never yield
results external to the laws nor do they employ
elements that are external to themselves.

Reflection upon logical structures is a
particularly effective deterrent against ‘formalism’.

G~del’s work was important in undermining the
formalism of Whitehead and Russell, according to
which mathematics was reducible to logic and logic
could be exhaustively formalised. He established
definitively that the formalist programme cannot
be executed, by showing us, in this case, (i) that
no consistent formal system sufficiently ‘rich’ to
contain elementary arithmetic can, by its own
principles of reasoning, demonstrate its own
consistency, and (ii) that any logical system that
might appear capable of serving as foundation for
mathematics is ‘essentially incomplete’. From
G~del’s conclusions there follow certain important
insights as to the limits of formalisation in
general; in particular, it has been possible to
show that there are, in addition to the formalised
levels of knowledge. distinct ‘semi-formal’ or
‘semi-intuitive’ levels which wait their turn, so
to say, for formalisation. In short, the limits
of formalisation are vicarious. At each level,
formalisation ~f a given content is limited by
the nature of this content.

In mathematics, the concept of a ‘group’ – a
system consisting of a set of elements (e.g.

positive and negative integers), together with an
operation or rule of combination (e.g. addit’ion)
and having certain properties [1] – has been
These prop~rties being (1) performed upon the
elements of the set, the combinatory operation
yields only elements of the set; (2) the set
contains a neuter or identity element such that,
when it is combined with any other element of
the set, the latter is unaffected by the
combinatory operation; (3) the combinatory
operation has an inverse in the system such
that, in combination with the former, the latter
yields the neuter or identity element; (4) the
combinatory element is associative. (cf.p.18)
When discussing, ‘weaker structures’, Piaget
gives as an example (p2S) the semi-group defined
as the structure resulting from the deletion of
conditions 2 and 4. He implies, although the
sentence is ambiguous, that the natural numbers
greater than nought constitute such a semi-group.

However, surely 2 and 3, and not 2 and 4, would
constitute such a semi-group? Nothing hangs on


Piaget provides us with similarly stimulating
accounts of structuralist developments in the
biological and physical sciences, in psychology,
and in the social sciences. In the case of the
biological and physical sciences, the study of
‘biological wholes’ and self-regulating systems,
though these are ‘material’ and of physicochemical content, enables us to understand the
connection between ‘structures’ and ‘the subject’,
because it is the latter whi ch is the organism IS
sources. In psychology, the problems of the
intellectual growth of the child, for example,
in terms of the way in which he meets conflicts

transformations. Levi-Strauss implies that the
only way to make sense of history is to apply his
own method of myth-analysis to it.

at the various modes of representation at his
disposal (speech, images, action-schemes), can
most adequately be dealt with either by some
‘copy’ of reality, or by ‘structures’ as coordinations of all instruments of representation.

Or, to take an example from the social sciences,
the history of intelligence is not taken simply
as an ‘inventory of elements’ (as this review is
tending to become) but rather as a bundle of
transformations, not to be confused with the
transformations of culture or those of symbolic
activity, but antedating and giving rise to both
of these.

Piaget defends Sartre’s constructivism, despite
Levi-Strauss’s objections to it, but denies that
constructivism is peculiarly philosophical and
alien to science. He points out that Sartre’s
depiction of science is almost entirely derived
from positivism [5], making the extremely important
point that not only is positivism, a movement in
philosophy, not the same as science (of which it
gives a systematically distorted picture) but even
in their prefaces.

In the chapter on linguistic structuralism
the discussion revolves around the work of Chomsky,
but there is mention of Sassure and Jakobson. [2]
An important general feature of linguistic
structuralism is the departure from the diachronic
study of isolated linguistic phenomena which
prevailed in the nineteenth century, and a turn to
the investigation of synchronously functioning,
unified language systems. It is instructive here
that Piaget makes no mention of the various criticisms that have been made of the concentration on
synchrony [3], but his objections to Chomsky’s
theory that man has a unique language-specific
metnal structure are illuminating. Chomsky can
give no adequate account of how we come by such
a structure- how could it be contained in the genes?

‘If ‘” the genes responsible for language must
transmit not only the capacity for learning a
language, that is, the ability to acquire it
“from outside”, but a fixed innate scheme that
forms language from within, the problem becomes
so complex as to seem beyond solution’. (Structuralism, p89) In fact, a possible solution to this
could be sought in terms of Waddington’s ‘genetic
assimilation’ theory, which is discussed earlier,
and it is a particularly attractive feature of
Piaget’s book that so much is brought to light by
considering the relationship between apparently
autonomous disciplines.

Piaget is also highly critical of what he
considers to be Levi~Strauss’ s underestimation of
dialectical reason (which the latter regards as
‘something additional in analytic reason’). For
Piaget, in the domains of both abstract and concrete
structures, the dialectical attitude is essential to
the full working out of structures; dialectic is
both complementary to and inseparable from analytic,
even formalising, reason. It substitutes ‘spirals’

for the linear models with which we start.

We next move to the ‘structuralism ‘of Al thusser
and Godelier – Piaget considers them in his book
notwithstanding the fact that the former has sharply
criticised what he calls ‘structuralist ideology’,
and the fact that the latter would doubtless also
subscribe to this view. Piaget describes Althusser’s
project as an attempt ‘to subject Marx’s work,
despite the essential role he assigns to historical
development in its sociological interpretations, to
structural analysis.’ (Structuralism, pI2S). The
debate as to whether Althusser is a structuralist
or not has been a long one. The emptiness of the
debate borders on banality: quite simply, in some
respects he could be considered a structuralist, in
others he couldn’t. Structuralism constitutes
something of a ‘family-concept’, and there are
central and peripheral cases: Althusser is one of
the peripheral cases (Foucault being another). The
general type of objection that can be levelled
against, say, Levi-Strauss, whom we may take as a
central case, cannot necessarily be levelled against
Althusser – indeed, it is quite possible that any
objections to Levi-Strauss’s work could be wholly
inapplicable to Althusser’s (other than coincidentally), and vice-versa. Nevertheless, while there
should be no doubt that Althusser’s work should be
treated on its own merits, and not on the merits of
structuralism, a reading of Althusser is helped
enormously by a reading of Lacan, Foucault, and
Bachelard etc.

The first thing examined in the chapter
‘Structuralism and Philosophy’ is the criticism
made by Levi-Strauss, in The Savage Mind, of Sartre’s
Critique de la Raison Dialectique. Levi-Strauss
is critical of theories, such as Sartre’s, which
assign a privileged status to history; he does not
want to abolish history but considers that the
changes brought about by history do not affect the
human mind itself. [4] Levi-Strauss claims that
Sartre attaches too much importance to the distinction between history – as a record of actual events
which occurred in a recorded historical sequence and myth, which simply reports that certain events
occurred, without special emphasis on chronological
sequence. History records structural transofmrations
diachronically over the centuries; ethnography
records structural transformations synchronically
across the world. The intelligibility of the
diachronic transformations is no greater and no
less than the intelligibility of the synchronic

Having said this i t must be pointed out that
Piaget’s description of what Althusser is doing is
at best misleading. Contrary to what one might
think from reading Piaget’s statement at the
beginning of the last paragraph, the notion of
history plays a very important role indeed in
Althusser’s work. Taking Piaget’s example of
‘overdetermination’ [6], it is the historical
circumstances which determine whether an ‘overdetermined contradiction’ be determined in the
direction of a historical inhibition (e.g.

2 Considering Levi-Strauss’s indebtedness to
Jakobson, it is surprising that more isn’t made
of the latter’s contribution. Indeed, it is
even stranger that this indebtedness isn’t
mentioned by Piaget, since some commentators
have argued that Levi-Strauss’s work is undermined by the fact that he relies on a Jakobson
style linguistic model that is no longer viable
(having been superseded by Chomsky’s).


cf. particularly Merleau-Ponty’s criticism in
‘Phenomenology and Language’ (in Signs) where
he questions Sassure’s rejection of diachronic


cf. The Savage Mind, p262: ‘History leads to
everything, but on condition that it is left
behind’ .



It is worth noting that this criticism is
applicable to all those humanists, including
Lukacs, who assert that the philosophy of Marxism
is specific to the human world and that it defines
a methodology for the science of history.


It is extremely difficult to explain the meaning
of this concept – which is originally derived
from Freud – without giving lengthy examples.

The translator of For Marx defines it thus:

‘The overdetermination of a contradiction is the
reflection in it of its conditions of existence
within a complex whole, i.e., of the other
contradictions in the complex whole … ‘

Now if, not being a Piaget yourself, you have
no objection to reading commentaries before reading
difficult texts, as most of those discussed by
Piaget are, then his book is a very helpful,
generally reliable, and (taking the complexity of
the subject-matter into account) clear introduction.

He deals with much more than contemporary French
philosophy of course – Structuralism is a very
fertile school of thought which is international and
interdiscplinary in its constitution. lfuwever,
there are direct philosophical implications in
almost all the forms structuralism takes.

Wilhelmine Germany) or in the direction of a
revolutionary rupture (e.g. Russia in 1917) [7].

Furthermore, we can see from this why Althusser’s
work is a particularly distant ‘relative’ of the
central cases of structuralism. Piaget explicitly
states that a distinctive feature of structuralism
is that the ‘structures are self-sufficient and
that, to grasp them, we do not have to make reference to all sorts of extraneous elements’ (p4.S)
and again that ‘the structure is preserved or
enriched by the interplay of its transformation
laws, which never yield results external to the
system nor employ elements that are external it
it’ (pS). It wouldn’t be too difficult to argue
that history is just such an ‘external’ or
‘extraneous element’.

This brings me to the final point. Piaget’s
whole approach to the wide range of disciplines he
deal s with undermines the pre-occupat hm of some
British philosophers with sharply delimiting their
subject-matter and methodology. A remark of Piaget’s
is apposite here: ‘Let us start by considering …

two disciplines whose boundaries are becoming
increasingly fluid (as can be said of all demarcations
that depend more upon a desire for professional
autonomy than upon the nature of things)’.

(structuralism, p99) At a time when the distinctions
between philosophy and sociology, and philosophy and
history of ideas are the current concern of some
professional philosophers, maybe at least some of
us can realise the profound stupidity of this
approach, which is not unrelated to the hiatus in
philosophical thinking in this country at this time.

Piaget’s book ends with a rather savage attack
on Foucault – occasioned by Foucault’s rather
savage attack on Structuralism in The Order of

Piaget accuses the latter of not offering
(i) a constructive critique of the human sciences
(Foucault regards man as ‘a kind of rupture in the
order of things’ and the human science~ as ‘a mere
wrinkle in our knowledge’), (ii) an intelligible
account of his notion of episteme (according to
Foucault, since the nineteenth century, but not
before then, the episteme has been the human
sciences), (iii) an argument that would justify
his r~strictive conception of structuralism (which,
according to Foucault, ‘sets itself the task of
purifying the old empirical reason by constructing
formal languages’). The first two criticisms are
at least dealt with, albeit rather obscurely, in
Foucault’s Archeology of Knowledge, a work published
after the appearance of Piaget’s book, where
Foucault goes to great pains to question and
criticise the method he has used in previous work
– rejecting, in the process, a lot of what he had
written earlier. Not much of an introduction is
given to Foucault’s work, and this is sorely needed,
but this criticism is no~ true of Piaget’s book as
a whole.

Piaget’s book is not a cure for, but it is
certainly one of the first parts of the treatment of,
our current intellectual paralysis.

Why read Piaget’s book?

I don’t think it is very outrageous to say that
there has been no major philosophical work produced
in this country since 19S9 (the date of publication
of Strawson’s Individuals and Hampshire’s
and Action. ~lore than anything else this sing le
fact reflects the state of intellectual paralysis in
contemporary British philosophy. There are at least
two ways one could go about trying to root out this
malaise. Firstly, one could try to examine the
methods and subject-matter of contemporary British
philosophy from within this philosophy; but if there
is something fundamentally wrong, and I suspect that
there is, then working within the currently acoepted
procedures is not going to get you very far. A
second approach might be to look elsewhere, at what
other people are doing (successfully), and to compare
what you find with the state of affairs here. In
France alone the output of philosophical’material
has been prolific in the last fifteen years, and
this includes works which have been received on the
continent as a whole, in the USA, and, to a lesser
extent, here, with the highest critical acclaims:

Foucault’s Histoire de la Folie (1961), Les Mots
et les Choses (1966), L’Archeologie du Savoir (1969);
Sartre’s Critique de la Raison Dialectique (1960),
Question de la Methode (1960); Althusser’s Pour
Marx (1966), and (with others) Lire de Capital
(1968) as well as numerous works by Levi-Strauss,
Canguilhem, Ricoeur, Lecourt etc.


Irrespective of whether one sympathises with
Althusser’s general position, it must be
admitted that the notion of ‘overdetermination’

is a particularly powerful reply to the half-wits
who sti 11 maintain that Harxism is only ‘inverted
Hegelianism’ .



“For my next 7 terms I was working for Greats
in ancient and modern philosophy, and in Greek
and Roman history. I do not recall being at
all worried by the non-integration of our Roman
history with o~r modern philosophy; or even of
our Greek history with our Greek philosophy,
which happened to belong to different curricular
‘periods’. But I did think that the Academy
mattered more than the Peloponnesian War …

“In my fifth year I worked for the new school
of Modern Greats. Though my time was short and
heavily pre-empted by unacademic avocations, I
managed, without over-industry, not only to
accumulate an adequate stock of Economics and
Politics, but also to teach myself a smattering
of scholastic philosophy. I did this partly
from inquisitiveness and partly as a strategic
move against my examiners-ta-be, who would get
from the other candidates nothing but postCartesian pabulum … ”
(Gilbert Ryle)

At this point in the lecture Hampshire’s tabooformalism grounds itself in two points of polarity
characteristic of bourgeois thought – ‘the Individual’

and ‘Society’.


The individual’s moral beliefs, says Hampshire, are
constituted by his ‘more considered practical
choices’, and these in turn will be a function of
‘the way of life aspired to’ by the individual agent
or ‘ ••• some order of priority of interests and
activities in the kind of life he praises and
admires and that he aspires to have, and in the
kind of person that he wants to become’ (John Wayne?)
Name your personally favoured way of life – you’ve
got morality!

lony Skillen
( Hampshire: ‘Morality and Pessimism”, Leslie
Stephen Lecture, Cambridge University Press, 1972.

30p; also in New York Review of Books, January 25,
Stuart Hampshire’s fight for the gentlemanly
virtues has been a long one. The stiff upper lip had
to be insisted on against primitive tendencies to
uninhibited expression and gratification (Thought and
Action). Reason had to be defended against its
outside agitator Passion (The Freedom of the Individual).

Now it seems there is a new enemy to decency Uti litarianism.

Brutilitarianism. Utilitarianism, Hampshire
grants, was once an ‘honourable, even glorious school’,
with great social achievements (presumably Modern
Britain, the British Raj etc) to its credit. But now,
(in Modern USA from which Hampshire has now returned,
we may surmise) ‘making rational calculation of
consequences the sole foundation of public policies
has so far favoured and is still favouring a new
callousness in policy, a dullness of sensibility and
sometimes moral despair, at least in respect of public
affairs.’ In other words Utilitarianism is behind the
accepted atrocities and casual brutalities that abound
‘in our time’. (Hampshire never once descends to a
concrete case such as the Indo-China War.)

Formalists, such
as Kant, have often been criticised for not seeing
that items on any list of supposedly ‘categorical’,
‘absolute’ or ‘necessary’ ‘prohibitions’ could conflict
with each other (to avoid betraying a friend, for
example, you may have to lie to the cops). Hampshire,
in attacking Utilitarian would-be cannibals, makes much
of their callous contempt for the ‘absolutely forbidden’.

When he comes to develop his position positively,
however, we find there are degrees of necessity,
absoluteness etc (contingent necessity? relative
absoluteness?). Actions ‘normally forbidden’ have to
be performed, ‘unconditional necessities’ have to be
‘overridden’o A formalism of a higher order! One
which transcends the limitations of concern with
consistency! Must logic be (ritually) sacrificed to
preserve the appearance of absolutist piety while its
substance is abandoned (to none other than the ruleutilitarians) ?

The Mongrel-Gategorical Imperative.

Hampshire’s ‘Utilitarianism’ appears to amount to
a principle of ‘the greatest happiness of the smallest
number’. His claims hardly apply even to Benthamite
philistinism, let alone to any view which aspires to
a deeper understanding of the conditions of human
happiness and misery. Certainly there is no evidence
that the US rulers are concerned with anything much
besides the power and profit of the ruling class (see,
for example, the Pentagon Papers). In any case, with
the abstracted concern for ‘the age’ characteristic of
the isolated philosophe, Hampshire makes no attempt to
examine the real foundations of public policy. Nor
does he bother to distinguish the kind of ‘rational
calculation of consequences’ that would be made by a
self-seeking thug (like Nixon) from the kind that
would be made by people with some concern for and
understanding of humanity.

The moral universe of Stuart Hampshire is one of
‘prohibitions’ and ‘barriers’, of ‘force and authority’

of ‘family duties and obligations and the administration of justice according to the laws and customs of
the given society’. Should these break down, we stand
before ‘fearful’ ‘human nature’ and a ‘relapse into a
state of nature’. Yet, as we have seen, Hampshire,
like Hobbes, tries to ground his authoritarianism in
the aspirations of individuals. In short, we have the
well known Anglican-Tory syndrome, complete with
frequent appeals to what ‘we’ think, feel (disgust et c)
and expect (decencyetc). All this is reasserted,
pulpit-dowager fashion against modern barbarity,
whether it issues from the makers of public policy or
their irreverent opponents.

As always in
Hampshire’s writings there is a pervasive sense of
primordial, barbaric menace, held back by the floodgates of gentlemanly decency. Formerly this decency
was seen under the aspect of ‘rationality’. Now,
perhaps in harmony with the ordered routines over
which he now presides in Wadham College after being
caught up in the turbulence of angry US campuses,
Hampshire’s vision has grown more explicitly conservative. Invoking Burke, he seeks his moral
fourldations in a ‘number of moral prohibitions’, in
‘generally respected barriers against impermissible
conduct’ (welling up from ‘human nature’) – a quite
capitalist model of Man is at the root of Hampshire’s
‘pessimism’ •

Civilisation and its Discontents.

Hampshire gives some examples: barriers against
killing, against betrayal of friends. But then it
emerges that it is not specific rules that he is
concerned with; as long as some prohibitions are
accepted: ‘one does not expect (who’s ‘one’?) that
everyone should recognize the same moral necessities;
but rather than everyone should recognize some
moral necessities ••• ‘

‘Prohi bi ti ons in general’ (?) are” artifi ces that
give human lives some distinctive, peculiar, even
arbitrary human shape and pattern’. Thus Hampshire
bemoans ‘the draining of moral significance from
ceremonies, rituals, manners, and observances’

(High Table? the Coronation? Parliamentary Debate?).

Hampshire does not ask what the moral significance
of these drained rituals was. Nor does he have
anything to tell us about the difference between a
symbolism which puts a pompous cloak over oppression
and a symbolism which expresses real human mutuality.

For Hampshire’s conventional formalism, as long as
there are some accepted patterns and taboos
‘morality itself’ rather than ‘any particular set
of prohibitions is safe’. Name your laws – you’ve
got morality!


What Hampshire says is of course related to
reality: public policy in the imperialist metropolises
is becoming more starkly brutal especially as international setbacks force chickens home to roost.

Moreover, with this overt collapse of official decency
(eog. Watergate) the drift toward cynicism among those
who are coming to ‘see through’ official morality and
its rituals but who are unable to see beyond it,
accelerates. An examination and critique of this
situation is.needed, but it would not be in the
idealist terms Hampshire works with. Nor is there
any hope in Hampshire’s return-to-the-repressed
remedies. The alternative to capitalist barbarism is
socialism, not bourgeois moralism.

ical debate. None of this comes over in Althusser’s
treatment; his Rousseau is clearly something of a
museum piece. We are instead given a series of four
‘discrepancies’ (d~calages) in Rousseau’ s theory of
the social contract, progressing from internal discrepancies in the theory to a hiatus in the relation
between theory and the world; as a result of
theoretical inadequacy in the former, we find
ideological practice in the latter. Althusser makes
a mysterious comment about how we could just as well
go the other way, starting from the point at which
Rousseau’s philosophy is articulated onto the judicial
ideology of his society:


John Jervis
POLITICS AND HISTORY: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Hegel
and Marx by L. Althusser, New Left Books, 1972

By this procedure it could be demonstrated that
the classical difference of an~ opposition
between the external and internal criticism of
a philosophical theory are mythical.

Half of this book consists of an essay on
Montesquieu, originally published in 1959, and most
of the rest consists of an essay on Rousseau, dating
from 1967. There is a final short chapter entitled
‘Marx’s Relation to Hegel’, dating from 1968: this is
really a summary of Althusser’s own work.

But merely to show that one can proceed in either
direction, from A to B or from B to A, hardly establishes the non-existence of the distinction between
A and B. And what we are actyaV..Y given here is a
dose of rather crude empiricism: Rousseau is reproached
for concealing the real existence of groups by a play
on words (groups are perceived as individuals in
relation to the general will); but what is relevant
at this point is not the empirical existence of groups
but the nature and possibility of mediations between
mirror opposites (individual/general).

Montesquieu is presented here as the founder of
the science of politics. He is awarded this accolade
on two principal grounds: (1) The old conception of
law as commandment gives way, in his work, to the
conception of law as a set of immanent relations of
which men may be unaware; (2) He is the first -to
develop the idea of totality as inner unity:

In this idea of the totality of the nature and
the principle of a government, Montesquieu is
in fact proposing a new theoretical category
… the State is a real totality and all the
particulars of its legislation, of its
institutions and its customs are merely the
effect and expression of its inner unity.

The ‘discrepancies’ that Althusser points to are
interesting enough, certainly; but he is in such a
hurry to label Rousseau ‘ideological’ that he misses
the opportunity to mount a rewarding discussion of
the problem of origins (which is at the root of discrepancy 1: how the community can be a party to the
contract that constitutes it), the relation between
exchange and equality (discrepancy 2), and the
relation between particular and general (discrepancy
3). All these problems are crucial in understanding
both French social thought after Rousseau, and the
Marxist tradition.

This ‘inner unity’ is the relation between the
‘nature’ of a government (who holds power, and how
it is exercised) and the ‘principle’ (the attitudes
and dispositions of members of the society):

The republic will only ‘go’, to coin a phrase,
on virtue, just as some motors will only go
on petrol.

Without virtue the republic will
fall, as will monarchy without honour, despotism without fear.

Part of the difficulty may be that neither of
Althusser’s definitions of philosophy – the early
one (philosophy as theory of theoretical practice)
and the current one (philosophy as political intervention in the field of theory) – can adequately
account for the distinctive nature of philosophical
problems. Unfortunately the concluding essay in the
book does not help here, since it contains no
discussion of the topic. (The interested reader
would do better to consult Althusser’s reply to John
Lewis, part 11, in Marxism Today, November 197~:

although this hardly solves anything~. However, the
concluding essay is useful in two respects: it gives
a concise account of how Althusser sees Hegel’s
philosophy, and it says a little about the role of
the (Freudian) unconscious in Marxist theory.

And in the last instance, it is the principle that
is determinant; the nature is really purely formal.

Although the law of this totality and its unity is
supreme, this does not imply that the unity need be
adequate: if the state is ‘impure’ then the unity
will be contradictory, e.g. Rome after the first
period is a republic losing its principle, and such
a state will necessarily perish.

In developing this analysis, Althusser is led to
make interesting criticisms of the common view that
Montesquieu was a proponent of the liberal myth of
the judicial separation of powers, rigorously separating judiciary, executive and legislature, and suggesting instead that Montesquieu saw the problem as the
political one of relating two ‘pouvoirs’ – executive
and legislature– and three ‘puissances’ – king,
nobles and bourgeoisie – so that the nobles are shored
up as a bulwark between king and people, maintaining
the system of government that Montesquieu saw as
ideal in contemporary society: a limited monarchy.

Althusser’s account seems plausible enough.

Interesting philosophical issues are raised but not
pursued; but since Montesquieu is not read as a
philosopher anyway, this hardly seems to matter.

With Rousseau, however, the case is different, and
Althusser’s narrowly political focus introduces
distortions – distortions which may, after all,
affect political practice itself. Derrida and L~vi­
Strauss have recently thrown an interesting light
on the relation between politics and philosophy in
Rousseau, and some hitherto neglected works, such as
the Essai sur l’origine des langues, have been reexamined for their relevance to contemporary theoret-

One wishes that Althusser or one of his acolytes
would reply to the serious criticisms that have been
made of his theory, instead of wasting time on hacks
like John Lewis. As it is, those who have doubts
about Althusser will not have them lessened by this


‘-;’Perhaps we are not sufficiently proud of that
of which we have a right to be proud – the gradual
evolution of a form of government that a rational
man can accept. But acceptance is not enough; we
have to learn to participate more actively in it
with zest and humility. We may then stake off
myths about our past and illusions about future
and come to realize that the most worth-while ‘

features of political life are immanent in the
institutions which we in fact have. Our problem
is to convince ourselves of this as well as to
convince our children.”
eR.S. Peters: Ethics & Education)~

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