Man in Marxist Theory. Lucien SÚve 1974

Psychology of Personality and Psychosocial Sciences

THE boundary between behavioural science and the science of personality is sufficiently mapped out to bring out the limits of the former but not to demarcate the terrain of the latter, nor even to prove that it exists as a specific terrain. Indeed, in so far as the science of personality is radically distinguished from the psychobiological sciences owing to the concept of social relations between acts, one is entitled to wonder whether such a definition does not at the same time reduce it to the status of a psychosocial science: this is clearly the question raised, ever more sharply, throughout the previous pages. Are the Marxist considerations which we took into account earlier merely a more subtle variant of the Comtist reduction of all psychology to physiology on the one hand and sociology on the other? Is the psychology of personality presented here as a new science any different from a Marxist re-writing of a science which has long existed: social psychology? In other words, in the definition we have given of it, is it really possible to add to the boundary between the science of personality and the biological sciences a no less firmly established boundary, on the other side of the terrain thus sketched out, between the science of personality and the social sciences? And if there is no question of falling back into a naturalist view of human individuality, how should this boundary therefore be conceived? The time has come to examine this problem rigorously. Now, as we said in the first chapter, it is also apparently an insoluble problem: for either one separates the personality from the social conditions in which it forms, but in doing so deprives oneself of any way of giving an account of its ftindamental sociality (and after what has gone before one can understand that this is an hypothesis which is absolutely ruled out); or else, conversely, one admits that it is essentially resolved into social facts, but then one fails to account for each individual’s concrete singularity. The individual is singular in the fact that his personality is essentially social and social in the fact that it is essentially singular: this is the difficulty that has to be dealt with.


3.2.1 The paradoxes of social psychology

In order to really grasp this difficulty before trying to deal with it, it is instructive first of all to consider the contradictions symetrjcal Contradictions to those which biological psychology comes up against – in which social psychology is caught up when it tries to account for the human personality on its own terrain. In so far as psychology, in general terms, is taken to mean the science of psychism, the science of behaviour and conduct, it seems that in itself the notion of social psychology is perfectly clear, even if its boundary-relations with psychology and sociology give rise to dispute: its object is the investigation of acts not as neurological realities but as social activities, So, for example, biological psychology would investigate the cerebral processes of the memory and social psychology would investigate its social framework. This latter approach to acts of memory therefore presupposes a specific abstraction and generalisation: one abstracts from the neurological realities which any particular act of memory always consists of in the real individual and, even though identifying variations of this general type, beyond special individual features, one studies memory in its generality as social behaviour common to a vast majority of men. There is nothing contradictory in all this, since nothing in the concept of memory, or more broadly in the concept of a psychic function, goes against either this generalisation, or this abstraction. As a matter of fact, there is a relative unity of psychic functions, at the level of humanity as a whole, which results from the relative biological unity of the human species, and which is reproduced and strengthened, at the level of each society by the relative unity of the most general conditions of humanisation and activity which determines in each society the level of the productive forces and culture, the most general form of social relations, and soon. In this sense, it is legitimate and viable scientifically to investigate a psychic function as if it were a phenomenon of a general social individual, abstraction made of its neurological bases and concrete singularity in each personality. But it is quite different when one tackles problems of the personality itself. For what is most essential in the personality is concrete and singular or it does not exist. What can the idea of an abstract personality really mean when it is a whole in its very essence, and what can general mean when it is individuality in its very essence? That social psychology identifies ‘traits’ common to several, many, or all individuals and that it undertakes to account for them by way of social considerations is certainly conceivable. As we saw earlier, it was in fact Marx who opened a genuinely scientific path for this type of research by showing how a given social formation involves general historical forms of individuality, a much more rigorous notion, in my opinion, than many of the concepts worked out since by social psychology in its failure to recognise the relations of production and their basic explanatory role. But the theory of forms of individuality is not at all the theory of personality: the former are general and abstract, common to many individuals and not exhaustive from the standpoint of the investigation of personalities; the personality, on the contrary, is the total system of an individual‘s activity who is only an individual in so far as he differs from other individuals. This is why when social psychology proposes to study not this or that aspect of psychism but the personality, it confronts the double and contradictory demand to deal with the concrete individual but as a general and abstract object: a contradiion erupts between what the term psychology refers to and what the designation social implies. One cannot see that social psychology as a whole has yet transcended, nor even how it could, this contradiction.

Throughout the broad range of its tendencies and schools social psycholo~, in the broadest sense of the term, is therefore haunted by an unthinkable concept: the general individual, i.e. in spite of the positivity of its investigations, it has not succeeded at root in truly freeing itself from the ideological concept of an abstract man, the speculative character of which was shown by the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach. We are provided with quite a clear example of this state of things by the notion of basic personality, which plays such a large part in American cultural anthropology and more generally in the human sciences at the present time. For example, let us look at the account given of this notion in Ralph Linton’s Cultural Basis of Personality or in Mikel Dufrenne’s La personnalité de base, to consider two classic works in a huge bibliography. What is basic personality according to Linton? It is a ‘fairly well integrated configuration’ of ‘personality elements’ which are ‘common’ to the members of a society, elements which themselves are derived from ‘cultural patterns’, i.e. standards of behaviour inherent in this society.

The existence of this configuration provides the members of the society with common understandings and values and makes possible the unified emotional response of the society’s members to situations in which their common values are involved.
It will also be found that in every society there are additional configurations of responses which are linked with certain socially delimited groups within the society.

For example, sexes, age-groups, positions in a kinship system, etc., which constitute so many statuses of the personality. ‘These status- linked response configurations may be termed Status Personalities’. These status personalities ‘are superimposed upon its basic personality type and are thoroughly integrated with the latter’. ‘Every society has its own basic personality type and its own series of status personalities” which define corresponding roles, i.e. ‘the attitudes, values and behaviour’ which society ascribes to individuals occupying given statuses.

Now, where is the concrete individual in relation to all this? The author is not particularly interested in this. His main concern is the personality taken in its social generality Nevertheless, at the end of of the book Linton recognises that ‘it is still necessary to explain why the members of any society show considerable individual variation in personality’. He immediately asserts that this problem ‘presents little difficulty’. What, therefore, is the solution to it? It is first of all that ‘no two individuals, even identical twins, are exactly alike. The members of any society, no matter how closely imbred it may be, differ in their genetically determined potentialities for growth and development’. In other words, the origin of individuals’ singularity is to be sought in the first place in biological heredity. Linton writes:

It is significant that cultural processes, anJ indeed culture as a whole, seem to have little effect upon the processes tolved in the development and operation of the personality. The perso ~ processes derive from the qualities which are inherent in the human organism. They represent the individual’s psychological potentialities ~ action. Culture, through the experience which the individual deririves from his contact with it, determines a part of the materials with qhich the personality processes operate.

And it is the ‘innate qualities of the individual which particularly influence the way in which he reacts to the culture which he experiences. Now, without even discussing here this notion of innate psychic qualities, which in essentials clealy appears to depend on the persistent belief in psychological heredity, a belief which is, however, completely without cogent foundation, such as an ‘explanation’ of the singularity of personalities by means of biology does not at all answer the question asked. Without needing to dress them up in hypothetical innate psychic qualities, it is quite certain that biological facts play their part in processes of psychological individualization in the development of the personality. But this still does not explain and has no chance of ever explaining, how and why the personalities of concrete individuals differ as historico-social formations. It is obviously not biological considerations, however well-founded they may be, that can account, for example, for the differentiation introduced by social relations between abstract and concrete personality. Like the geographical argument to account for the diversity of social formations, Linton ‘s biological argument, even if it contains a true idea, therefore completely misses the real question: while geography can undoubtedly go some way to throwing light on the differences between two capitalist societies, it is unable in principle to account for the difference between a capitalist society, a feudal society and a socialist society. One can see here how much in Linton – and to us this seems to be true more broadly of Amercan cultural anthropology, and in fact, though this goes against the common view of it, cultural anthropology tout court – the emphasis on the social foundation of the personality does not preclude a complementary biologism which has not been sufficiently called in question. ‘Social systems may have changed and developed’, he writes, ‘but the innate qualities of human beings have remained perceptibly the same.

Though we would expect to be poles apart, are we here so far from Sheldon? The underlying reason for the proximity of these positions at the heart of biologism is not difficult to see: in both cases it is that the problem is posed in terms of the heredity-environment distinction, i.e. a complete failure to recognise Marx’s basic discoveries in this matter. Consequently, even though nearly everything seems to be attributed to the ‘environment’, the classic and ultimately futile debate on the respective ‘parts’ of each of the two ‘factors’ in the development of the personality is sure to develop within biologism, since, by conceiving society simply as environment, therefore simply as an external determination of a psychically pre-existing individual, one has conceded the main point to biologism in advance.

Indeed it must be admitted that Linton himself is aware to some extent of the inadequacy of his biological argument. He immediately adds another.

Moreover the working out of these potentialities is affected by all sorts of environmental factors ... the process of personality formation seems to be mainly one of the integration of experience. This experience, in turn, derives from the interaction of the individual with his environment. It follows that even indentical environments, if such things are conceivable, will provide different individuals with different experiences and result in their developing different personalities.

And further on,

Individual differences and environmental differences can enter into an almost infinite series of permutations and combinations, and the experience which different individuals may derive from these is equally varied. This fact is quite sufficient to account for the differences in personality content which are to be found among the members of any society.

Possibly even more than the former, this second argument reveals the at least implicit reference to the idea of abstract man, to anthropological naturalism, which underlies the whole theory of basic personality. What, as a matter of fact, is the explanation put forward here for the singularity of individuals? Chance. And certainly, just like biological facts, chance does objectively play a part in the processes of individuation. It is true that the series of events that constitute a biography which is unique in certain respects, the unique sum of concrete relations with determinate aspects of the social world, necessarily differs from One individual to another. But it must be clearly understood what one is letting oneself in for if one proposes to explain the fundamental singularity of a personality in this way. To account for it simply by contingency is therefore to conceive it as an inessential singularity, as a variation embroidered around the basic personality and status personalities, understood for their part as the common essence of concrete individualities.

This is What Linton says very clearly, for example, with his comparison With a suit of ready-made clothes.


Cultural patterns come to the individual like suits of ready-made clothes. They represent an approximation of his requirements, but they do not really fit him until they have been taken in in one place and let out in another. lust as with the suit, the patterns within a real culture set ultimate limits to the modifications which may be made, but these limits are usually wide enough to take care of all but the markedly abnormal.

But this being so, individuals’ concrete singularity being conceived as inessential, the essetlee of the personality is necessarily identified with an abstract generality, in that false, traditional and pre-dialectical notion of essence which Marx criticised so fundamentally. That the objective basis of the peresonality is in society is what the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach has already said: this basis is the ensemble of social relations. But this ensemble does not at all have the psychological form, the form of a general individual. In Linton, on the contrary, in the absence of a genuinely dialectical conception of essence and existence, individual and general, abstract and concrete, the basis of the personality can be seen to be ideologically distorted into basic personality, of which the status in reality, with very good reason, is never rigorously defined for us. Is basic personality simply a configuration of traits, a collection of cultural patterns? By what right then does one call it personality? Is it really a personality? In such a case how could it exist outside concrete individuals itt the social world? For Linton, and more generally for cultural anthropology, in actual fact, concrete individuals are understood as more or less fortuitous variants of a social man in general, a realised abstraction, which it is not enough to conceive as culturally relative and historically variable to make its profoundly speculative character disappear. Beyond the empiricism of method we have here merely a historicised form of philosophical humanism.

How much more deeply did Marx see a century earlier, at a time when there was still nothing which resembled a psychological science! He saw full well the problem of the contingency of relations between concrete individuality and the social conditions out of which it appears. But, being a first-rate dialectician he immediately understood – from The German Ideology onwards – that this contingency could absolutely not be the barren relation of a social generality to an individual singularity each always retaining their essential identity, but that this contingency, i.e. this mode of relations between the bases of a given social formation and the diversity of individuals who are produced in it, was necessarily concrete, diverse and historically variable; that in relations between the individual and the social every social formation determines its own mode of contingency. He showed that in capitalism this contingency is carried to the extreme and assumes very evident, although mystifying forms, so that if it may appear to a Linton as an obvious and abstractly universal given, this is precisely the sign of thought ruled without knowing it by the conditions of capitalism. In The German Ideology, we read

The difference between the individual as a person and what is accidental to him, is not a conceptual difference but a historical fact. This distinction has a different significance at different times – e.g. the estate as something accidental to the individual in the eighteenth century, the family more or less too. It is not a distinction that we have to make for each age, but one which each age makes itself from among the different elementc which it finds in existence, and indeed not according to any theory, but compelled by material coffisions in life.
(But) this accidental character is only engendered and developed by competition and the struggle of individuals among themselves.
In competition personality itself is a matter of chance, while chance is personality.

This feature of capitalist society, in which individuation is fundamentally subordinated to chance, i.e. in actual fact, to the blind necessities of social development, is itself transitory:

In the present epoch, the domination of material conditions over individuals, and the suppression of individuality by chance, has assumed its sharpest and most universal form, thereby setting existing individuals a very definite task. It has set them the task of replacing the domination of circumstances and of chance over individuals by the domination of individuals over chance and circumstances.

The Grundrisse returns to these problems over and over again. And with the utmost profundity Marx points out in particular that the very fact of stating the problem of differences between individuals as a problem of variation on a common scale presupposes the previous reduction of human activity to its abstract form, i.e. the capitalist market and competition. ‘Comparison’, he writes,. ‘Instead of real community and generality.

Here is food for thought for a psychology which considers the differential measurement of aptitudes as a matter of course. But despite their merits, Linton and cultural anthropology are a very long way from suspecting this essential feature of the problem. Only seeing some, often very secondary, aspects of the personality, of its form, and because, from a very general point of view, a mother-in-law is always a mother- in-law and a junior doctor a junior doctor, he asserts that it can be observed that ‘much the same range of variation and much the same personality types seem to be present in all societies’. It is as if one asserted that, society always being essentially identical, real societies are merely singular variants distributed according to a more or less invariable arrangement. Moreover, behind the importance which it attaches to the cultural, this is precisely what the adherents of a profoundly naturalistic anthropology uphold, at the opposite pole to Marxism. Levi-Strauss, for example, says:

No human society is fundamentally good: but neither is any of them fundamentally bad; all offer their members certain advantages, though we must bear in mind a residue of iniquity, apparently more or less constant in its importance, which may correspond to a specific inertia which offers resistance, on the level of social life, to all attempts at orgamsation.

Irrespective of the historical and political objections that one can address to such a conception, it is easy to see that it rests on a static, pre-dialectical conception of man, or of the structures of which he is the effect. This turns its back on all that is most important in what we have learnt on the subject since the nineteeth century.

Thus when Linton writes that the problem of the singularity of each personality ‘presents little difficulty’ one can say that this reveals in him a deep under-estimation of its complexity. For although both contain something correct, neither the explanation by biological facts nor the explanation by contingency answer the question asked: in effect and in principle they separate singularity and sociality. If a singularity of the individual really exists which is irreducible to general social facts, the most essential singularity, the one which constitutes the mode of the problem, is that of the historico-social personality as such. What must be explained is that, in Marx’s formulation, man assumes an individuality in the historical process and not in spite of it or only marginally related to it. There is a contradiction here which one cannot avoid because it is the whole problem: this is that the individual is an individual in so far as he is a general social being and a social being in so far as he is a singluar individual. The explanation by biology or contingency (in the sense Linton gives this idea for example) does not resolve this contradiction but runs away from it. However, a third explanation is offered us from cultural anthropology and on the terrain of basic personality, for example, by Mikel Dufrenne: an explanation by reference to the freedom of the subject. In his book on La personnalité de base, in which he tackles the problem in the light of Linton’s and even more of Kardiner’s works, Dufrenne takes up again on his own account the ‘theory of human nature’ in cultural anthropology as the one which, in his opinion, may ‘inspire a psychological sociology and help to understand culture’.” Nevertheless, at the same time he recognises the difficulties which this position involves when it is a question of theoretically situating the singular individual. Citing Kardiner, who admits that ‘the relation between basic personality, individual characteristics and value systems is still very difficult to he wonders: ‘is the idea of a psychological base common to all individuals in each society viable? And he does not fail to recognise the strange paradox that one ends up with when one reflects on the very concept of the human individual:

The individual is unique; and paradoxically one can say it of every individual, i.e. the individual in general; and this surely warns us that one cannot say that the individual is unique because he is real and because, as real, he is the result of a singluar and singularising conjunction of circumstances; it is a part of him to be unique, it is a trait in his nature: he has a personality.

One can see that for Dufrenne the Linton explanation of individual singularity through contingency is not a sufficient explanation. But, in that case, what is the true explanation?


The individual is ... inexhaustible not merely through awkwardness of concepts but through what is deep-seated and free in him, because in the last resort he himself decides his own being in an unforseeable way.
Man partakes of nature and, consequently, of the universal and the general, and thereby a definition is after all possible, but this nature favours freedom. To be sure, by giving a place freedom, the theory of human nature acknowledges the singularity of the individual which is not merely the result of certain variables intervening in a concert of laws but the very action of the individual which inscribes in the universe his existential choice.

Dufrenne comes back to this again in Pour l’homme, in which structuralist antihumanism is opposed in the name of an ethical humanism: ‘What also compels me to greet the idea of a human nature with caution is man’s singularity’; for ‘the highest resemblence existing between men is that each of them are unique’.’ Whereupon he asserts with Sartre that, ‘man must clearly be defined by freedom’. If Nature invents man it is as a being who must invent his own nature, which is always singular. The idea of man is not a concept, it is the affirmation in which a will is expressed and which every will contains within itself’.’ This is a conception of freedom and will which, despite efforts to link it up with dialectical materialism and praxis,takes us away from any real historical genesis to a ‘transcendental as unengenderable.

What appears unacceptable to us in this third attempt to explain individual singularity is not merely the speculative, metaphysical – in the dialectical sense of the word – character of the freedom refered to; it is the very fact of refering to ‘freedom’ as a philosophical deus ex machina to rescue a science which has failed to account for the fundamentally unique character of each personality on its own terrain. No Marxist would deny that the notion of human freedom is meaningful. But it is not a philosophical view on freedom in general which can provide science with the solution to the problem of psychic individuality; on the contrary, it is psychological science which must establish the legitimacy of attributing a concretely defined freedom to the individual: this is the only non-speculative scientifically acceptable approach. Conversely, to project the solution to the unresolved scientific problem into the sphere of a philosophy of freedom amounts to admitting that one has not managed to fmd it on the terrain of the science itself; to invoke a scientifically unclarified freedom is not the solution to the problem but the very admission of failure to solve it.

Here again, we must say, it would be profitable to think about Marx’s analyses, more closely than is usually done in psychology, beginning with those in The German Ideology in which, criticising Stirner, one of the founders of existential humanism, Marx shows the ground of ‘the definition of freedom as self-determination which occurs among all, and particularly German ideologists, (and which) makes its appearance as peculiarity’. This ground, we recalled above, is the ideological transmutation of men’s ‘historical act of self-liberation’ into ‘the abstract category of “freedom” , ever-already given to the individual merely owing to the fact that he is ‘human’, i.e. from the practical point of view, the acceptance of the present social limits of the progress of liberation or the misrecognition of the real conditions of its development beyond these limits, an acceptance or misrecognition which is tenacious among intellectuals in bourgeois society.

Thus, no more than the explanation through biological facts or contingency, the explanation through freedom does not solve the problem of the human individual’s essential singularity. And this radically calls into question the concept of basic personality, i.e. fundamentally, the general individual. To accept the notion of basic personality is to agree to conceive society simply as milieu, as environment, the bearer of general cultural patterns to which the individual is opposed from the outside – the individual being defined as such beforehand and therefore naturalised. Therefore, however cultural one might insistantly wish it to be, anthropology is actually naturalistic, i.e. imprisoned by a speculative theory of human nature, a philosophical humanism. And it naturalises everything which it deals with – biological facts, contingency, freedom – which it does not understand as concrete products of history. The relations between individual and society being understood as essentially external relations between two abstractions, in the failure to recognise the fundamental concept of social relations, one is condemned to think social conditions in the form of an abstract generality, basic personality, and individual singularity as inherent in ‘human nature’, in the whoe gamut of meanings of the word ‘nature’. The social essence of the concrete personality, the concrete essence of the social personality, escapes. This being so, no scientific theory of personality is possible: seen in this way, social psychology obstructs any view onto a real psychology of personality, the terrain and boundary of which in respect of the social sciences, therefore, remain undiscoverable.

One can see that what is involved here is by no means the specific narrowness of American cultural anthropology. It is very true, as Dufrenne notes, for example, that American sociology ‘distrusts what has a Marxist flavour’, and this adds serious difficulties to the enterprise of cultural anthropology as Linton or Kardiner pursue it. But from our present point of view the main point is much deeper. If the absence of distrust, indeed the professed sympathy with regard to ‘what has a Marxist flavour’ simply means that one seeks externally to incorporate materials taken out of Marx in advance into an anthropological research the very principle of which is pre-Marxist, which has not advanced to the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach and the radical materialist critique of the speculative conception of the human essence, then this could obviously change nothing fundamentally. From this point of view it is highly instructive to compare with American cultural anthropology attempts which are quite different as far as their attitude with regard to Marxism is concerned, which have in common with Marxism the wish to account for the human personality in historical and social terms, but without having sufficiently reflected on the ideological pitfalls which it is necessary to expose in order to succeed in this. It is only through Marx that this can be done. For example, let us take I. Meyerson’s important book Les fonctions psychologiques et les oeuvres,’from which the contemporary current of ‘historical psychology’ was born, in which positive reference to Marx is frequent. Meyerson emphasises right away that studying man through his work and analysing behaviour through its manifestation in history successfully alter the traditional psychological perspective. ‘It is not a matter of abstract man but of man in a particular country in a particular period involved in a social and material context and viewed via other men likewise in a particular country and period.

In one sense this is a very clear statement: historical and comparative psychology replaces the idea of eternal man by historically relative, socially determined man. But it is a statement which, more covertly, is contradictory when it comes to studying the personality: ‘It is not a matter of abstract man but of man in a particular country and in a particular period....’ Now even if he is conceived in a historicised and socialised way, man in a particular country and period is still precisely abstract man in so far as he is considered apart from the concrete social relations within which each singular individual is produced. Of course, as was made clear earlier, it is not the employment of an abstract concept of man which is open to question but the confusion of the abstract concept of man with the concept of abstract man; and it is the illusion that one has gone beyond the level of ‘abstract man’ because one now conceives him in his historical varaiblity – which as a matter of fact is undoubtedly an advance – but without seeing that this still in no wise gets to the bottom of things as far as the theory of the individual is concerned as long as one retains the idea of a general individual of a particular country and period within the historical perspective. Historicising the abstract individual of speculative anthropology is still not truly surpassing it scientifically. In other words, one remains within the ‘1844 psychology’ – and in this sense one can refer favourably to Marx – but one has still not taken into account the essential lessons of Marxism in the matter of personality.

Let us repeat, what is misleading here is that in so far as one proposes to study only psychic functions, which the title of Meyerson’s book gives us to believe, this viewpoint of the general social individual is wholly acceptable. Relatively common social forms of memory, perception or emotion undoubtedly exist within a given society, for these functions have relatively common social (and biological) bases for the members of this society. In fact one can also approach the personali~ itself from this point of view in so far as more or less general social forms of individuality also exist in a particular society. But, on this level, and especially if one wishes to take Marxism into account, one would have to study the class form and content of the personality, the importance of which is obvious but which unfortunately Meyerson’s book does not go into. Everything which Capital shows us about the forms of individuality of the capitalist or proletarian, concrete labour and abstract labour, etc., remains wholy unrecognised in Meyerson as well as in American cultural anthropology. But this is not the most important point. The most important point is that even the best conceived study of historico-social forms of individuality absolutely does not give us knowledge of the individual of a particular country and period, i.e. of a general personality which actually exists nowhere. That is the epistemological trap into which it is vital that the psychological sciences do not fall. What is true of psychic functions, which possess a relatively general essence, is just not true of the personality, the singularity of which is essential; in the latter case abstraction in relation to concrete individuals does not give rise to a scientific concept but to a speculative entity. Even though it is within the limits of ‘a particular country and period’, this entity, general man, is as mystifying as the concept of industrial society can be on the terrain of social science for example. It is quite true that advanced industrial productive forces are relatively similar in all countries, and this creates a number of resemblences between them, a certain common problematic. But to imagine on this basis that some socialist country and some capitalist country are or tend to be single examples of a general type of ‘industrial society’ is to make a colossal theoretical mistake. In this connection, when Meyerson takes the person as the main example in the chapter entitled ‘L’histoire des fonctions’, he characteristically falls into the trap. The most visible proof that this is very much the case of an epistemological impasse is that in all the exposition which is devoted to him the individual person practically never appears in person, for very good reason, but in the form of the idea of the individual person. One can understand the whole meaning of this substitution: to deal with the proper name or dress, with the religious or juridical ideas, in connection with the individual person, is actually to come back from real personalities to the social form of individuality, the institutions which govern them and the ideologies which reflect them: this a scientifically valid task on condition of being clearly aware of its nature and limits. Unfortunately, by a constant sliding backwards and forwards (which we shall come back to) and which overlays the extraordinarily ambiguous notion of historical psychology, Meyerson argues as if, far from being a most highly complex ideological view, the concept of the individual person coincided by defintion with a real object, the personality, general and existing concretely at the same time; on this basis he establishes his authority to speak continually of man: we have not really escaped from speculative anthropology.

The counter-proof of all the foregoing is easy to produce. For, if it is true that all these insufficiently critical approaches to the human personality rest on the speculative, although historicised, function of a general individual – basic personality, individual person of a particular period and country etc. – this means that they remain derivatives of the illusion according to which the human essence originally had the psychological form, the form of the isolated individual, i.e. the illusion which the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach dealt with accordingly. But this being so, one can certainly expect that all these conceptions will simultaneously psychologise society: if one confuses the personality with its social bases or reciprocally confuses the social bases with a personality, one more or less represents society as a sort of aggregate individual. As a general rule this is exactly what one finds. This is how, in the work analysed earlier as a representative example, Linton successively submits as basic definitions that ‘the social system as a whole is a ... configuration of culture patterns” and that in its turn culture is ‘the configuration of learned behaviour and results of behaviour’ ;lcultural patterns, the foundation of personality, are ‘stereotyped forms of behaviour’. Society is therefore regarded here as a sum of behaviour, as a reality homologous to the psychism of individuals. These being so, the psychic individual, far from appearing as a social result, a juxtastructure of objective social relations, is represented on the contrary as the element constituting society, its real basis.

‘Society’, Marx writes, ‘does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand’. As early as the first pages of his book, Linton, on the contrary, asserts, ‘every society is, in the last analysis, a group of individuals’,and this presupposes that the social relations on which the structure of personalities rests are confused with the psychic acts which correspond to them, that the conception of society is turned upside down, that the essential relation of theoretical dependence of the psychology of personality on the science of social relations is inverted into a falsely synthetic and reciprocal relation in which, fmally, ‘the individual is the logical starting-point for any investigation of the larger configuration. It is not social conditions which determine individuals’ life-processes and needs: ‘the role of both physical and psychological in human behaviour is strictly that of first causes’. Society is therefore merely the individual’s environment on the environment on the role of which great stress has been laid but the importance of which can no longer appear more than secondary.

Of course, the analysis of productive labour fmds no place in such a perspective. Linton plainly writes that his concept of personality ‘excludes from consideration the effects of this behaviour upon the individual’s environment, even that part of it which consists of other. This means that in as much as attention is paid to it, wage-labour, for example, is merely considered as an ‘organised aggregate of psychological processes and states”4’ in which cultural patterns – e.g. ways of using some type of tool – come to light but in which the decisive phenomenon of exploitation of man by man has entirely evaporated. Indeed, this is why, even though the book contains many interesting analyses in secondary areas, the essential content of personal life gives rise only to considerations the poverty and futility of which are frequently shocking: nothing or next to nothing about the vital relations of social labour – although social classes are briefly alluded to in passing – whereas attention is paid to bedtime, number of meals, attitude to one’s father in law, suspicion with regard to young doctors, intolerance of plucking animals alive, patterns for making baskets or table-manners.’ When he comes down from basic personality to status personalities, Linton unhesitatingly designates age and sex as elementary categories, as essential infrastructures; ‘next in importance’ comes ‘position in the family system but the relations of production, which in real life do not merely play a determinant role in themselves but, by impressing a clearly defined social meaning on age, sex and familial relations, go as far as subordinating them, are not even mentioned. The result, and no doubt the unconscious aim, of this general psychologisation of society is to mask the causes and even the fact of the flagrant contradictions which characterise personalities within capitalist society. ‘The individual’s incentive for assuming these patterns lies in the satisfaction which they afford to his personal needs, especially his need for favorable response from others’.’It is as if the Worker, for example, suffered all the consequences for his personality of being a worker because of ‘the satisfaction which they afford his needs’, even the need for ‘favourable In actual fact the theoretical role of this ‘need for favourable response’ in Linton is ‘to explain’ within a general ideological representation how individuals can be forced to submit to ‘cultural patterns’, although we are told that they are primary and free in relation to these patterns; i.e. to make good the failure to recognise the fundamental fact brought to light by Marx that individuals ‘find their conditions of existence predestined, and hence have their position in life and their personal development assigned to them by their class, because subsumed under it’. As far as the essential is concerned, one finds the same disastrous psychologisation of society in all cultural anthropology. ‘Kardiner ‘s method’, writes Dufrenne, ‘amounts to regarding culture not in itself but as it is for someone, that abstract someone which is the basic personality.

Thus social institutions are defined by Kardiner as ‘what people do, think, believe or feel’ and he adds, ‘the locus of institutions is within the personality’. For his part, understandably, ‘every revolution must first of all concern the psychological’. We are in the depths of idealist mystification. But while Dufrenne holds it against Kardiner for thinking ‘the social in terms of psychology’,it is on his own account, it appears, that in outlining an idea about the contribution of phenomenology to the human sciences, he writes:

Society is not a personality but it is like the work of a personality, which is not the personality of some individual but a personality on its own scale:
here one can see the beginning of the idea of basic personality, i.e. a personality which is produced by and produces society at one and the same time

Society thus appears as another psychic power, and this all the more easily as one does not sufficiently search out its material bases behind the forms of social consciousness and behaviour; ‘if the human being differs from the individual it is like the general from the singular, not like the group from the individual; nothing more exists in the human being than in the individual: only less’.This is to take the opposite view to that of the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach and to work oneself into a position which is unable to account even for social classes. Indeed Dufrenne himself notes the limitations and difficulties of such an attitude plainly enough: ‘after all, Kardiner ‘s analyses only establish a really convincing relation between two institutions, education and religion’.

Taking up Kardiner ‘s idea, according to which ‘there is too much insecurity in the social system’, as appears from the study of Plainville in the United States, he writes: ‘there is one question that Kardiner does not settle: to what extent the birth of the modern world is a cause or effect of the dramas of basic personality. Is insecurity, for example, the cause or consequence of economic individualism? Similar observations which the author does not pursue far enough, make precisely the crucial question reappear: if, to account for the personality by way of society, one starts by conceiving society itself psychologically, is it not clear that one is trapped in a theoretical circle from which, in the last resort, there emerges that very psychologistic illusion which one had wanted to dispel?

Here again, it is not a matter of the particular features of cultural anthropology. Starting from other concerns and refering to different theoretical views, Meyerson ‘s historical psychology comes up against the same difficulties in so far as it also involves a psychologisation of society. At the very start of his book Meyerson changes from the methodological principle, in itself uncontestable, according to which it is desirable to ‘analyse behaviour through historical facts”and acts through works, to the quite different, highly disputable and obviously idealist thesis according to which it is the human mind which expresses itself in works and the inner man who is the ultimate source of external behaviour. ‘Psychology knows that man has created these works by mental effort and in fact solely by mental effort, for the hands have been guided, the tool constructed and material shaped by the mind’. Ruled out right away therefore is precisely the most fundamental and fruitful point of view, historical materialism, i.e. the opposite point of view: how ‘the human mind’, as speculative philosophy calls it, is formed by way of and within material activities and relations. Moreover the whole book rests on the idea that ‘the mind successively determines itself in its creations’,the mental is projected onto the active’,the human being projects himself into work’:which is to fall back even beyond the 1844 Manuscripts. On such a basis sociological idealism inevitably flourishes, inspired, for example, by a very old study by Seignobos on psychological method in sociology: ‘Economic acts involve motives, ends, work plans, knowledge, technical practices; the basic notion of commercial life, value, and the basic notion of credit, confidence, are phenomena of representation.

Here we are poles apart from Marxism and at the same time from the most essential truths: one is astonished that a century after Capital it is still possible to refer to an author for whom exchange-value is merely a representation. Concurrent with this sociological idealism, another frequent reference in Meyerson is the work of Cassirer whose indirect influence, at least, has been great on currents of structuralist thought. All this finds expression in the fact that in his work, as in cultural anthropology, the concept of act, which Meyerson had seemed very opportunely to have utilise, in fact remains the concept of an act which is not socially productive and which therefore tends to be reduced to the empty contents of vulgar psychology: ‘our acts, in fact, all our gestures, all our attitudes ...“, he writes. And immediately giving an example of what he has in mind, he cites ‘gestures of greeting’. he world of labour and of social relations is not therefore even touched on by this pseudo-concept of act. In the same way, in order to analyse the concept of person, Meyerson considers it important to go into ‘social, moral, religious and linguistic facts’,but only evokes economic conditions in a few words among the ‘conditions which come into play secondarily.

Nothing shows better how, when it starts without sufficiently deep preliminary criticism of the apparently quite straightforward but actually speculative idea of man, the person, the individual in general, when it starts from this generality, albeit historically specified, historical psychology like every such appraoch to the individual by way of society, ends up by not being really satisfactory from the standpoint of either psychological or social science.

This does not mean at all that in our opinion a social, cultural, historical, comparative etc. psychology is intrinsically impossible. Broadly speaking, let us repreat, the standpoint defended here does not exclude any other existing standpoint provided that it proves empirically fruitful and theoretically clarifiable. The concepts of general social bases of personality and historical forms of individuality clearly meet these criteria: there is material here for one or more psychosocial sciences. But what it is essential not to lose sight of is that, disregarding by definition the individual psychological support of these psychosocial realities, one employs abstractions from the point of view of the concrete personality although these abstractions are concrete realities from the point of view of society. The danger is therefore, via an epistemological play on words which the equivocal use of the concept of social psychology sanctions, to seek a general psychological support for these social realities, failing to understand that in themselves they precisely do not have a psychological form, i.e. to give way to the fiction of a general individual, a collective psychism, a socialised human nature. Marx has already perfectly demonstrated the mechanism of the illusion in The German Ideology:

The conceptions and ideas of people, separated from actual things, are bound, of course, to have as their basis not actual individuals, but the individual of the philosophical conception, the individual separated from his actuality and existing only in thought, ‘Man’ as such, the notion of man.

Modern development of the human sciences sufficiently shows that this does not concern only philosopher’s speculation. It is here that epistemology decides everything and that reflection on Marx’s and Engel's epistemology in particular is really irreplaceable. For the illusion concerned here is above all the result of a use of abstraction based on the failure to appreciate the materialist dialectic. One things, for example, of what Engels said about the category of matter.

Matter as such is a pure creation of thought and an abstraction. We leave out of account the qualitative differences of things in lumping them together as corporeally existing things under the concept matter. Hence matter as such, as distinct from definite existing pieces of matter, is not anything sensuously existing. When natural science directs its efforts to seeking out uniform matter as such, to reducing qualitative differences to merely quantitative differences in combining identical smallest particles, it is doing the same thing as demanding to see fruit as such instead of cherries, pears, apples, or the mammal as such instead of cats, dogs, sheep, etc., gas as such, metal, stone, chemical compound as such, motion as such.

In the same way, social psychology has attempted to conceive a man as such as the support of its facts, i.e. to produce an abstraction. This first mistake, which obstructs any view concerning a theory of the concrete personality, since the individual then merely appears as an inessential variant of the type, is naturally linked to a second: general man cannot but correspond to a society also understood as general, for the abstraction is catching. Society therefore appears above all as a set of forms of behaviour and consciousness directly homologous to the general individual, i.e. one considers no more than some of its superstructures and ideologies. Just as it short-circuits the analysis of the concrete personality, the real support of all psychism, social psychology tends to short-circuit the analysis of infrastructures, the real basis of the ensemble of social relations and social forms of behaviour and consciousness. This being so, the relation between individual and society presents itself in the simplest fashion, for the very good reason that it has been totally mystified: man in general develops within a social psychism which he alters in his turn. This pseudo-dialectic of ‘reciprocal perspectives’, the reciprocal immanence of the individual and the society, which is exactly what Marx constantly denounces, continues to the present time to be what vitiates even the most valuable works, from cultural anthropology to Gurvitch ‘s sociology and from historical psychology to Lewin ‘s dynamic structuralism.

This is why a social or historical psychology with really materialist intentions must take the greatest precautions in delimiting the scope of validity and in psychologically interpreting its results. An interesting example in this respect is that of J . P. Vernant ‘s investigations into labour and technical thought in Greece. Although explicitly derived from the historical and comparative psychology founded by Meyerson, J.P. Vernant’s works differ from Meyerson’s particularly in their materialist basis and methodology, even if one comes across formulations here and there which are reminiscent of the idealistic tendencies of psychological functions – in particular the frequent conjuring up of the inner man regarded as the real psychic man, even though the real psychic man exists just as much in the outer circuit of his acts as in the ‘inner status of the subject’.’ J.P. Vernant shows what a ‘psychological ‘one would commit if one applied modern ideas of labour in general and division of labour as they developed with capitalism to the ancient Greek city, and it is remarkable to find how much the concrete facts of Greek history corroborate Marx’s analyses on this subject in Capital. In ancient Greece ‘labour, in its craft-form, does not yet appear as exchange of social activity, as a basic social function’,’ technical activity and labour ‘are not yet separated out (dégagé) as a psychological function’. Generally, man is not conscious of transforming nature but rather of conforming to it’, These are important conclusions which go some way to showing the futility of the traditional conception of a human psychic nature according to which the division into functions and the respective position of these functions are necessarily always the same. However, the significance of this contribution to a theory of historical changes of psychic functions and of forms of individuality must be accurately appraised. What J.P. Vernant established first of all is that in Greece there was no idea and more broadly consciousness of labour in general, which only emerged historically with the generalisation of that which Marx analysed under the name of abstract labour. What he also shows at the same time is that if the idea and consciousness of labour in general and its basic role were not formed, this was because real social labour in the countryside and the towns had still not acquired the universality which characterises it when commodity production and then capitalism predominate. But does this mean that in ancient Greece the production of material wealth and the corresponding relations of production did not objectively have a determinant importance in the last instance from the point of view of the development of personalities and from the point of view of historical development? Not at all. It is absolutely necessary not to confuse the anachronism which lies in applying the concept of labour as it develops with capitalism to a society which is unaware of it, and the legitimate retrospective view of historical materialism which, even if it could only be founded at a determinate stage of historical development, is nevertheless the key to previous historical stages themselves, just as ‘human anatomy contains a key to the anatomy of the ape’. As Marx writes in one of the texts in which he went into the fundamental historical diversity of modes of development of individuals according to social formations most deeply, ‘human life has since time immemorial rested on production, and, in one way or another, on social production, whose relations we call, precisely economic relations.

Thus there is a risk of making such analyses in historical psychology say what they do not and cannot say: that the development of the person in Greece is to be explained by superstructural and ideological, juridical and religious considerations rather than by the relations of production, on the pretext that ‘labour’ was not then separated out as a basic standardised function. One cannot judge an historical period from the consciousness it has of itself, and equally one cannot judge the personality of a period from the forms of consciousness in which the category of the personality is reflected. Otherwise, albeit with materialist intentions, one would be doing social psychology on the downhill slope which leads to idealism. After all, J.P. Vernant often emphasises the duality of levels. Dealing with Plato’s disdain for labour, he notes, for example, that ‘there is normally a dislocation between psychological reality and its literary or philosophical expression. In Plato’s case it is likely to be increased through the play of social and political considerations.

Nevertheless, when he writes, ‘in this social and mental system man “acts” when he uses things, not when he makes them’,’an ambiguity appears: that this might be perfectly true of ‘man’ as he appears ideologically in the ‘mental system’ of ancient Greece does not mean that this is the objective truth of the ‘social system’ or of the concrete men of this period, even if their unconsciousness of the objective truth in this matter itself has its origin in the real immaturity of the forces and relations of production. Here as elsewhere, this singular, abstract ‘man’ can be seen to be the worst enemy of the human sciences.

The foregoing remarks therefore bring out the particular difficulty in understanding the problem of the boundary between psychosocial sciences and psychology of personality. Two inseparable paradoxes sum up this difficulty: that of individuality and that of humanity. The paradox of individuality can be formulated like this: each individual is singular and consequently individual singularity is a general fact, a social fact. But this social fact consists of the fundamental diversity of individuals. By the same token, each individual only being an individual in so far as he is singular, singularity is essential to individuality; and yet individuality being a social and general fact, the I singularity of the individual appears as inessential. This being so, how can one conceive a general theory of individuality, a social theory of psychological personality? How can one conceive the individual as the product of social relations, therefore the singularity of the individual as the result of the generality of social relations? Basically this paradox is nothing else than the crucial epistemological paradox of the science of the individual. If it is quite true that science proceeds by concepts and that the concept is general, how can one avoid Aristotle’s axiom that there is only science of the general? And is the theory of personality therefore not the squaring of the circle?

The paradox of humanity can be formulated like this: it seems that every individual, as Montaigne says, ‘bears the form of the human condition within himself’, every individual is a singular example of humanity in general; and yet since Marx we know that this humanity in general, humanity understood all-inclusively, the fact of being human, the human essence, is not in itself the form of individuality, the psychological form. It is the historically variable and concrete sum of the productive forces, social relations, cultural attainments, etc. In its essence humanity does not have the human form. And yet it is in this essence which does not have the human form that each individual comes to assume his form of individuality, his human form. How can the psychological form of human individuality correspond to the non- psychological form of social relations and vice-versa? How can one conceive a science of personality, therefore a knowledge which reaches the essence of its object when this essence is not in this object? Basically, this paradox is no different from the crucial epistemological paradox of the concrete essence. If the essence is general, how can it not be a simple abstraction extraneous to the object’s existence? And if it expresses the concrete existence of the object, how can it attain scientific generality?

The paradox of the science of the individual and the paradox of the concrete essence are merely two sides of one and the same difficulty – that of accurate understanding and practice of what Marx, as early as 1843, identified as the only path of a real science, the ‘specific logic of the specific object’, i.e. the materialist dialectic. As we have seen, for want of having gone into the materialist dialectic sufficiently deeply and, therefore, for want of having truly overcome the paradoxes of individuality and humanity, attempted approaches to the problems of personality based on social facts are doomed to fall into abstract geneneralisation of the individual and psychologisation of society. This two fold failure corresponds to the varieties of speculative humanism, not excluding that which hides at the core of so much apparently non philosophical empirical research. Conversely, an awareness of these failures, but in the absence or inadequacy of a real solution to these two paradoxes and to the epistemological problems which underly them, finds expression in positive antihumamsm which, not managing to conceive a rigorous status for the concept of man, decides to eliminate it which leaves the difficulty as it stands. As the previous chapter showed, Marxism in actual fact contains all the necessary theoretical elements which ought to make it possible to get over this difficulty. The task which now presents itself to us is precisely to use these theoretical elements in order to solve the anthropological and epistemological paradoxes which are an obstacle to us, to suggest a rational tracing of the boundary between the science of personality and the social sciences which are its basis but to which, however, it cannot he reduced.