Herbert Marcuse. One-Dimensional Man
The redefinition of thought which helps to coordinate mental operations with those in the social reality aims at a therapy. Thought is on the level with reality when it is cured from transgression beyond a conceptual framework which is either purely axiomatic (logic, mathematics) or co-extensive with the established universe of discourse and behaviour. Thus, linguistic analysis claims to cure thought and speech from confusing metaphysical notions – from “ghosts” of a less mature and less scientific Fast which still haunt the mind although they neither designate nor explain. The emphasis is on the therapeutic function of philosophical analysis-correction of abnormal behaviour in thought and speech, removal of obscurities, illusions, and oddities, or at least their exposure. In chapter IV, I discussed the therapeutic empiricism of sociology in exposing and correcting abnormal behaviour in industrial plants, a procedure which implied the exclusion of critical concepts capable of relating such behaviour to the society as a whole. By virtue of this restriction, the theoretical procedure becomes immediately practical. It designs methods of better management, safer planning, greater efficiency, closer calculation. The analysis, via correction and improvement, terminates in affirmation; empiricism proves itself as positive thinking.
The philosophical analysis is of no such immediate application. Compared with the realizations of sociology and psychology, the therapeutic treatment of thought remains academic. Indeed, exact thinking, the liberation from metaphysical specters and meaningless notions may well be considered ends in themselves. Moreover, the treatment of thought in linguistic analysis is its own affair and its own fight. Its ideological character is not to be prejudged by correlating the struggle against conceptual transcendence beyond the established universe of discourse with the struggle against political transcendence beyond the established society. Like any philosophy worthy of the name, linguistic analysis speaks for itself and defines its own attitude to reality. It identifies as its chief concern the debunking of transcendent concepts; it proclaims as its frame of reference the common usage of words, the variety of prevailing behaviour. With these characteristics, it circumscribes its position in the philosophic tradition-namely, at the opposite pole from those modes of thought which elaborated their concepts in tension with, and even in contradiction to, the prevailing universe of discourse and behaviour. In terms of the established universe, such contradicting modes of thought are negative thinking. “The power of the negative” is the principle which governs the development of concepts, and contradiction becomes the distinguishing quality of Reason (Hegel). This quality of thought was not confined to a certain type of rationalism; it was also a decisive element in the empiricist tradition. Empiricism is not necessarily positive; its attitude to the established reality depends on the particular dimension of experience which functions as the source of knowledge and as the basic frame of reference. For example, it seems that sensualism and materialism are per se negative toward a society in which vital instinctual and material needs are unfulfilled. In contrast, the empiricism of linguistic analysis moves within a frame- work which does not allow such contradiction-the self- imposed restriction to the prevalent behavioral universe takes for an intrinsically positive attitude. In spite of the rigidly neutral approach of the philosopher, the pre-bound analysis succumbs to the power of positive thinking.
Before trying to show this intrinsically ideological character of linguistic analysis, I must attempt to justify my apparently arbitrary and derogatory play with the terms “positive” and “positivism” by a brief comment on their origin. Since its first usage, probably in the school of Saint Simon, the term “positivism” has encompassed (1) the validation of cognitive thought by experience of facts; (2) the orientation of cognitive thought to the physical sciences as” a model of certainty and exactness; (3) the belief that progress in knowledge depends on this orientation. Consequently, positivism is a struggle against all metaphysics, transcendentalisms, and idealisms as obscurantist and regressive modes of thought. To the degree to which the given reality is scientifically comprehended and transformed, to the degree to which society becomes industrial and technological, positivism finds in the society the medium for the realization (and validation) of its concepts-harmony between theory and practice, truth and facts. Philosophic thought turns into affirmative thought; the philosophic critique criticizes within the societal framework and stigmatizes non-positive notions as mere speculation, dreams or fantasies.
The universe of discourse and behaviour which begins to speak in Saint-Simon’s positivism is that of technological reality. In it, the object-world is being transformed into an instrumentality. Much of that which is still outside the instrumental world-unconquered, blind nature-now appears within the reaches of scientific and technical progress.
The metaphysical dimension, formerly a genuine field of rational thought, becomes irrational and unscientific. On the ground of its own realizations, Reason repels transcendence. On the later stage in contemporary positivism, it is no longer scientific and technical progress which motivates the repulsion; however, the contraction of thought is no less severe because it is self-imposed-philosophy’s own method. The contemporary effort to reduce the scope and the truth of philosophy is tremendous, and the philosophers themselves proclaim the modesty and inefficacy of philosophy. It leaves the established reality untouched; it abhors transgression.
Austin’s contemptuous treatment of the alternatives to the common usage of words, and his defamation of what we “think up in our armchairs of an afternoon”; Wittgenstein’s assurance that philosophy “leaves everything as it is” – such statements exhibit, to my mind, academic sado-masochism, self-humiliation, and self-denunciation of the intellectual whose labor does not issue in scientific, technical or like achievements. These affirmations of modesty and dependence seem to recapture Hume’s mood of righteous contentment with the limitations of reason which, once recognized and accepted, protect man from useless mental adventures but leave him perfectly capable of orienting himself in the given environment. However, when Hume debunked substances, he fought a powerful ideology, while his successors today provide an intellectual justification for that which society has long since accomplished-namely, the defamation of alternative modes of thought which contradict the established universe of discourse.
The style in which this philosophic behaviorism presents itself would be worthy of analysis. It seems to move between the two poles of pontificating authority and easy-going chumminess. Both trends are perfectly fused in Wittgenstein’s recurrent use of the imperative with the intimate or condescending “du” (“thou”); or in the opening chapter of Gilbert Ryle’s The Concept of Mind, where the presentation of “Descartes’ Myth” as the “official doctrine” about the relation of body and mind is followed by the preliminary demonstration of its “absurdity,” which evokes John Doe, Richard Roe, and what they think about the “Average Tax payer.”
Throughout the work of the linguistic analysts, there is this familiarity with the chap on the street whose talk plays such a leading role in linguistic philosophy. The chumminess of speech is essential inasmuch as it excludes from the beginning the high-brow vocabulary of “metaphysics;” it militates against intelligent non-conformity; it ridicules the egghead. The language of John Doe and Richard Roe is the language which the man on the street actually speaks; it is the language which expresses his behaviour; it is therefore the token of concreteness. However, it is also the token of a false concreteness. The language which provides most of the material for the analysis is a purged language, purged not only of its “unorthodox” vocabulary, but also of the means for expressing any other contents than those furnished to the individuals by their society. The linguistic analyst finds this purged language an accomplished fact, and he takes the impoverished language as he finds it, insulating it from that which is not expressed in it although it enters the established universe of discourse as element and factor of meaning.
Paying respect to the prevailing variety of meanings and usages, to the power and common sense of ordinary speech, while blocking (as extraneous material) analysis of what this speech says about the society that speaks it, linguistic philosophy suppresses once more what is continually suppressed in this universe of discourse and behaviour. The authority of philosophy gives its blessing to the forces which make this universe. Linguistic analysis abstracts from what ordinary language reveals in speaking as it does-the mutilation of man and nature.
Moreover, all too often it is not even the ordinary language which guides the analysis, but rather blown-up atoms of language, silly scraps of speech that sound like baby talk such as “This looks to me now like a man eating poppies,” “He saw a robin,” “I gad a hat.” Wittgenstein devotes much acumen and spare to the analysis of “My broom is in the corner.” I quote, as a representative example, an analysis from J. L. Austin’s “Other Minds”:
“Two rather different ways of being hesitant may be distinguished. (a) Let us take the case where we are tasting a certain taste. We may say I simply don’t know what it is: I’ve never tasted anything remotely like it before ... No, it’s no use: the more I think about it the more confused I get: it’s perfectly distinct and perfectly distinctive, quite unique in my experience! This illustrates the case where I can find nothing in my past experience with which to compare the current case: I’m certain it’s not appreciably like anything I ever tasted before, not sufficiently like anything I know to merit the same description. This case, though distinguish- able enough, shades off into the more common type of case where I’m not quite certain, or only fairly certain, or practically certain, that it’s the taste of, say, laurel. In all such cases, I am endeavoring to recognize the current item by searching in my vast experience for something like it, some likeness in virtue of which it deserves, more or less positively, to be described by the same descriptive word, and I am meeting with varying degrees of success. (b) The other case is different, though it very naturally combines itself with the first. Here, what I try to do is to savor the current experience, to peer at it, to sense it vividly. I’m not sure it is the taste of pineapple: isn’t there perhaps just something about it, a tang, a bite, a lack of bite, a cloying sensation, which isn’t quite light for pineapple? Isn’t there perhaps just a peculiar hint of green, which would rule out mauve and would hardly do for heliotrope? Or perhaps it is faintly odd: I must look more intently, scan it over and over: maybe just possibly there is a suggestion of an unnatural shimmer, so that it doesn’t look quite like ordinary water. There is a lack of sharpness in what we actually sense, which is to be cured not, or not merely, by thinking, but by acuter discernment, by sensory discrimination (though it is of course true that thinking of other, and more pronounced, cases in our vast experience can and does assist our powers of discrimination).”
What can be objectionable in this analysis? In its exactness and clarity, it is probably unsurpassable – it is correct.
But that is all it is, and I argue that not only is it not enough, but it is destructive of philosophic thought, and of critical thought as such. From the philosophic point of view, two questions arise: (1) can the explication of concepts (or words) ever orient itself to, and terminate, in the actual universe of ordinary discourse? (2) are exactness and clarity ends in themselves, or are they committed to other ends?
I answer the first question in the affirmative as far as its first part is concerned. The most banal examples of speech may, precisely because of their banal character, elucidate the empirical world in its reality, and serve to explain our thinking and talking about it – as do Sartre’s analyses of a group of people waiting for a bus, or Karl Kraus’ analysis of daily newspapers, Such analyses elucidate because they transcend the immediate concreteness of the situation and its expression, They transcend it toward the factors which make the situation and the behaviour of the people who speak (or are silent) in that situation. (In the examples just cited, these transcendent factors are traced to the social division of labor.) Thus the analysis does not terminate in the universe of ordinary discourse, it goes beyond it and opens a qualitatively different universe, the terms of which may even contradict the ordinary one.
To take another illustration: sentences such as “my broom is in the corner” might also occur in Hegel’s Logic, but there they would be revealed as inappropriate or even false examples, They would only be rejects, to be surpassed by a discourse which, in its concepts, style, and syntax, is of a different order – a discourse for which it is by no means “clear that every sentence in our language ‘is in order as it is,’” Rather the exact opposite is the case-namely, that every sentence is as little in order as the world is which this language communicates.
The almost masochistic reduction of speech to the humble and common is made into a program: “if the words language, experience, world, have a use, it must be as humble a one as that of the words table, lamp, door.” We must “stick to the subjects of our every-day thinking, and not go astray and imagine that we have to describe extreme subtleties ...” – as if this were the only alternative, and as if the extreme subtleties” were not the suitable term for Wittgenstein’s language games rather than for Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Thinking (or at least its expression) is not only pressed into the straitjacket of common usage, but also enjoined not to ask and seek solutions beyond those that are already there. “The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known.”
The self-styled poverty of philosophy, committed with all its concepts to the given state of affairs, distrusts the possibilities of a new experience. Subjection to the rule of the established facts is total-only linguistic facts, to be sure, but the society speaks in its language, and we are told to obey. The prohibitions are severe and authoritarian: “Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language.” “And we may not advance any kind of theory. There must not be anything hypothetical in our considerations. We must do away with all explanation, and description alone must take its place.” One might ask what remains of philosophy? What remains of thinking, intelligence, without anything hypothetical, without any explanation? However, what is at stake is not the definition or the dignity of philosophy. It is rather the chance of preserving and protecting the fight, the need to think and speak in terms other than those of common usage-terms which are meaningful, rational, and valid precisely because they are other terms. What is involved is the spread of a new ideology which undertakes to describe what is happening (and meant) by eliminating the concepts capable of understanding what is happening (and meant).
To begin with, an irreducible difference exists between the universe of everyday thinking and language on the one side, and that of philosophic thinking and language on the other. In normal circumstances, ordinary language is indeed behavioral – a practical instrument. When somebody actually says “My broom is in the corner,” he probably intends that somebody else who bad actually asked about the broom is going to take it or leave it there, is going to be satisfied, or angry. In any case, the sentence has fulfilled its function by causing a behavioral reaction: “the effect devours the cause; the end absorbs the means.”
In contrast, if, in a philosophic text or discourse, the word “substance,” “idea,” “man,” “alienation” becomes the subject of a proposition, no such transformation of meaning into a behavioral reaction takes place or is intended to take place. The word remains, as it were, unfulfilled-except in thought, where it may give rise to other thoughts. And through a long series of mediations within a historical continuum, the proposition may help to form and guide a practice. But the proposition remains unfulfilled even then -only the hubris of absolute idealism asserts the thesis of a final identity between thought and its object. The words with which philosophy is concerned can therefore never have a use “as humble ... as that of the words table, lamp, door.
Thus, exactness and clarity in philosophy cannot be attained within the universe of ordinary discourse. The philosophic concepts aim at a dimension of fact and meaning which elucidates the atomized phrases or words of ordinary discourse “from without” by showing this “without” as essential to the understanding of ordinary discourse. Or, if the universe of ordinary discourse itself becomes the object of philosophic analysis, the language of philosophy becomes a “meta-language.” Even where it moves in the humble terms of ordinary discourse, it remains antagonistic. It dissolves the established experiential context of meaning into that of its reality; it abstracts from the immediate concreteness in order to attain true concreteness.
Viewed from this position, the examples of linguistic analysis quoted above become questionable as valid objects of philosophic analysis. Can the most exact and clarifying description of tasting something that may or may not taste like pineapple ever contribute to philosophic cognition? Can it ever serve as a critique in which controversial human conditions are at stake-other than conditions of medical or psychological taste-testing, surely not the intent of Austin’s analysis. The object of analysis, withdrawn from the larger and denser context in which the speaker speaks and lives, is removed from the universal medium in which concepts are formed and become words. What is this universal, larger context in which people speak and act and which gives their speech its meaning – this context which does not appeal in the positivist analysis, which is a priori shut off by the examples as well as by the analysis itself?
This larger context of experience, this real empirical world, today is still that of the gas chambers and concentration camps, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of American Cadillacs and German Mercedes, of the Pentagon and the Kremlin, of the nuclear cities and the Chinese communes, of Cuba, of brainwashing and massacres. But the real empirical world is also that in which all these things are taken for granted or forgotten or repressed or unknown, in which people are free. It is a world in which the broom in the corner or the taste of something like pineapple are quite important, in which the daily toll and the daily comforts are perhaps the only items that make up all experience. And this second, restricted empirical universe is part of the first; the powers that rule the first also shape the restricted experience.
To be sure, establishing this relation is not the job of ordinary thought in ordinary speech. If it is a matter of finding the broom or tasting the pineapple, the abstraction is justified and the meaning can be ascertained and described without any transgression into the political universe. But in philosophy, the question is not that of finding the broom or tasting the pineapple-and even less so today should an empirical philosophy base itself on abstract experience. Nor is this abstractness corrected if linguistic analysis is applied to political terms and phrases. A whole branch of analytic philosophy is engaged in this undertaking, but the method already shuts off the concepts of a political, i.e., critical analysis. The operational or behavioral translation assimilates such terms as “freedom,” “government,” “England,” with “broom” and “pineapple,” and the reality of the former with that of the latter.
Ordinary language in its “humble use” may indeed be of vital concern to critical philosophic thought, but in the medium of this thought words lose their plain humility and reveal that “hidden” something which is of no interest to Wittgenstein. Consider the analysis of the “here” and “now” in Hegel’s Phenomenology, or (sit venia verbo!) Lenin’s suggestion on how to analyze adequately “this glass of water” on the table. Such an analysis uncovers the history in every-day speech as a hidden dimension of meaning – the rule of society over its language. And this discovery shatters the natural and reified form in which the given universe of discourse first appeals. The words reveal themselves as genuine terms not only in a grammatical and formal-logical but also material sense; namely, as the limits which define the meaning and its development-the terms which society imposes on discourse, and on behaviour. This historical dimension of meaning can no longer be elucidated by examples such as my broom is in the corner” or “there is cheese on the table.” To be sure, such statements can reveal many ambiguities, puzzles, oddities, but they are an in the same re language games and academic boredom.
Orienting itself on the reified universe of everyday discourse, and exposing and clarifying this discourse in terms of this reified universe, the analysis abstracts from the negative, from that which is alien and antagonistic and cannot be understood in terms of the established usage. By classifying and distinguishing meanings, and keeping them apart, it purges thought and speech of contradictions, illusions, and transgressions. But the transgressions are not those of “pure reason.” They are not metaphysical transgressions beyond the limits of possible knowledge, they rather open a realm of knowledge beyond common sense and formal logic.
In barring access to this realm, positivist philosophy sets up a self-sufficient world of its own, closed and well protected against the ingression of disturbing external factors. In this respect, it makes little difference whether the validating context is that of mathematics, of logical propositions, or of custom and usage. In one way or another, all possibly meaningful predicates are prejudged. The prejudging judgment might be as broad as the spoken English language, or the dictionary, or some other code or convention. Once accepted, it constitutes an empirical a priori which cannot be transcended.
But this radical acceptance of the empirical violates the, “empirical, for in it speaks the mutilated, “abstract” individual who experiences (and expresses) only that which is given to him (given in a literal sense), who has only the facts and not the factors, whose behaviour is one-dimensional and manipulated. By virtue of the factual repression, the experienced world is the result of a restricted experience, and the positivist cleaning of the mind brings the mind in line with the restricted experience.
In this expurgated form, the empirical world becomes the object of positive thinking. With all its exploring, exposing, and clarifying of ambiguities and obscurities, neo-positivism is not concerned with the great and general ambiguity and obscurity which is the established universe of experience. And it must remain unconcerned because the method adopted by this philosophy discredits or “translates” the concepts which could guide the understanding of the established reality in its repressive and irrational structure-the concepts of negative thinking. The transformation of critical into positive thinking takes place mainly in the therapeutic treatment of universal concepts; their translation into operational and behavioral terms parallels closely the sociological translation discussed above.
The therapeutic character of the philosophic analysis is strongly emphasized-to cure from illusions, deceptions, obscurities, unsolvable riddles, unanswerable questions, from ghosts and specters. Who is the patient? Apparently a certain sort of intellectual, whose mind and language do not conform to the terms of ordinary discourse. There is indeed a goodly portion of psychoanalysis in this philosophy-analysis without Freud’s fundamental insight that the patient’s trouble is rooted in a general sickness which cannot be cured by analytic therapy. Or, in a sense, according to Freud, the patient’s disease is a protest reaction against the sick world in which he lives. But the physician must disregard the “moral” problem. He has to restore the patient’s health, to make him capable of functioning normally in his world.
The philosopher is not a physician; his job is not to cure individuals but to comprehend the world in which they live – to understand it in terms of what it has done to man, and that it can do to man. For philosophy is (historically, and its history is still valid) the contrary of what Wittgenstein made it out to be when he proclaimed it as the renunciation of all theory, as the undertaking that “leaves everything as it is.” And philosophy knows of no more useless “discovery” than that which gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself in question.”
And there is no more unphilosophical motto than Bishop Butler’s pronouncement which adorns G. E. Moore’s “Principia Ethica: “Everything is what it is, and not another thing” – unless the “is” is understood as referring to the qualitative difference between that which things really are and that which they are made to be.
The neo-positivist critique still directs its main effort against metaphysical nations, and it is motivated by a notion of exactness which is either that of formal logic or empirical description. Whether exactness is sought in the analytic purity of logic and mathematics, or in conformity with ordinary language-on both poles of contemporary philosophy is the same rejection or devaluation of those elements of thought and speech which transcend the accepted system of validation. This hostility is most sweeping where it takes the form of toleration – that is, where a certain truth value is granted to the transcendent concepts in a separate dimension of meaning and significance (poetic truth, metaphysical truth).
For precisely the setting aside of a special reservation in which thought and language are permitted to be legitimately inexact, vague, and even contradictory is the most effective way of protecting the normal universe of discourse from being seriously disturbed by unfitting ideas. Whatever truth may be contained in literature is a “poetic” truth, whatever truth may be contained in critical idealism is a “metaphysical” truth-its validity, if any, commits neither ordinary discourse and behaviour, nor the philosophy adjusted to them. This new form of the doctrine of the “double truth” sanctions a false consciousness by denying the relevance of the transcendent language to the universe of ordinary language, by proclaiming total non-interference.
Whereas the truth value of the former consists precisely in its relevance to and interference with the latter.
Under the repressive conditions in which men think and live, thought-any mode of thinking which is not confined to pragmatic orientation within the status quo – can recognize the facts and respond to the facts only by “going behind” them. Experience takes place before a curtain which conceals and, if the world is the appearance of something behind the curtain of immediate experience, then, in Hegel’s terms, it is we ourselves who are behind the curtain. We ourselves not as the subjects of common sense, as in linguistic analysis, nor as the “purified” subjects of scientific measurement, but as the subjects and objects of the historical struggle of man with nature and with society. Facts are what they are as occurrences in this struggle. Their factuality is historical, even where it is still that of brute, unconquered nature.
This intellectual dissolution and even subversion of the given facts is the historical task of philosophy and the philosophic dimension. Scientific method, too, goes beyond the facts and even against the facts of immediate experience. Scientific method develops in the tension between appearance and reality. The mediation between the subject and object of thought, however, is essentially different. In science, the medium is the observing, measuring, calculating, experimenting subject divested of all other qualities; the abstract subject projects and defines the abstract object.
In contrast, the objects of philosophic thought are related to a consciousness for which the concrete qualities enter into the concepts and into their interrelation. The philosophic concepts retain and explicate the pre-scientific mediations (the work of everyday practice, of economic organization. of political action) which have made the object-world that which it actually is – a world in which all facts are events, occurrences in a historical continuum.
The separation of science from philosophy is itself a historical event. Aristotelian physics was a part of philosophy and, as such, preparatory to the “first science” – ontology. The Aristotelian concept of matter is distinguished from the Galilean and post-Galilean not only in terms of different stages in the development of scientific method (and in the discovery of different “layers” of reality), but also, and perhaps primarily, in terms of different historical projects, of a different historical enterprise which established a different nature as well as society. Aristotelian physics becomes objectively wrong with the new experience and apprehension of nature, with the historical establishment of a new subject and object-world, and the falsification of Aristotelian physics then extends backward into the past and surpassed experience and apprehension.
But whether or not they are integrated into science, philosophic concepts remain antagonistic to the realm of ordinary discourse, for they continue to include contents which are not fulfilled in the spoken word, the overt behaviour, the perceptible conditions or dispositions, or the prevailing propensities. The philosophic universe thus continues to contain “ghosts,” “fictions,” and “illusions” which may be more rational than their denial insomuch as they are concepts that recognize the limits and the deceptions of the prevailing rationality. They express the experience which Wittgenstein rejects – namely, that “contrary to our preconceived ideas, it is possible to think ‘such-and-such’ - whatever that may mean.”
The neglect or the clearing up of this specific philosophic dimension has led contemporary positivism to move in a synthetically impoverished world of academic concreteness, and to create more illusory problems than it has destroyed. Rarely has a philosophy exhibited a more tortuous esprit de sérieux than that displayed in such analyses as the interpretation of Three Blind Mice in a study of “Metaphysical and Ideographic Language,” with its discussion of an “artificially constructed Triple principle-Blindness-Mousery asymmetric sequence constructed according to the pure principles of ideography.”
Perhaps this example is unfair. However it is fair to say that the most abstruse metaphysics has not exhibited such artificial and jargonic worries as those which have arisen in connection with the problems of reduction, translation, description, denotation, proper names, etc. Examples are skillfully held in balance between seriousness and the joke: the differences between Scott and the author of Waverly; the baldness of the present king of France; Joe Doe meeting or not meeting the “average taxpayer” Richard Roe on the street; my seeing here and now a patch of red and saying “this is red;” or the revelation of the fact that people often describe feelings as thrills, twinges, Fangs, throbs, wrenches, itches, prickings, chills, glows, loads, qualms, hankerings, curdlings, sinkings, tensions, gnawings and shocks.
This sort of empiricism substitutes for the hated world of metaphysical ghosts, myths, legends, and illusions a world of conceptual or sensual scraps, of words and utterances which are then organized into a philosophy. And all this is not only legitimate, it is even correct, for it reveals the extent to which non-operational ideas, aspirations, memories and images have become expendable, irrational, confusing, or meaningless.
In cleaning up this mess, analytic philosophy conceptualizes the behaviour in the present technological organization of reality, but it also accepts the verdicts of this organization; the debunking of an old ideology becomes part of a new ideology. Not only the illusions are debunked but also the truth in those illusions. The new ideology finds its expression in such statements as “philosophy only states what everyone admits,” or that our common stock of words embodies “all the distinctions men have found worth drawing.”
What is this “common stock"? Does it include Plato’s “idea,” Aristotle’s essence,” Hegel’s Geist, Marx’s Verdinglichung in whatever adequate translation? Does it include the key words of poetic language? Of surrealist prose? And if so, does it contain them in their negative connotation; that is, as invalidating the universe of common usage? If not, then a whole body of distinctions which men have found worth drawing is rejected, removed into the realm of fiction or mythology; a mutilated, false consciousness is set up as the true consciousness that decides on the meaning and expression of that which is. The rest is denounced-and endorsed-as fiction or mythology.
It is not clear, however, which side is engaged in mythology. To be sure, mythology is primitive and immature! thought. The process of civilization invalidates myth (this is almost a definition of progress), but it may also return rational thought to mythological status. In the latter case, theories which identify and project historical possibilities may become irrational, or rather appear irrational because they contradict the rationality of the established universe of discourse and behaviour.
Thus, in the process of civilization, the myth of the Golden Age and the Millennium is subjected to progressive rationalization. The (historically) impossible elements are separated from the possible ones-dream and fiction from science, technology, and business. In the nineteenth century, the theories of socialism translated the primary myth into sociological terms-or rather discovered in the given historical possibilities the rational core of the myth. Then, however, the reverse movement occurred. Today, the rational and realistic notions of yesterday again appeal to be mythological when confronted with the actual conditions. The reality of the laboring classes in advanced industrial society makes the Marxian “proletariat” a mythological concept; the reality of present-day socialism makes the Marxian idea a dream. The reversal is caused by the contradiction between theory and facts – a contradiction which, by itself, does not yet falsify the former. The unscientific, speculative character of critical theory derives from the specific character of its concepts, which designate and define the irrational, in the rational, the mystification in the reality. Their mythological quality reflects the mystifying quality of the given facts – the deceptive harmonization of the societal contradictions.
The technical achievement of advanced industrial society, and the effective manipulation of mental and material productivity have brought about a shift in the locus of mystification. It is meaningful to say that the ideology comes to be embodied in the process of production itself, it may also be meaningful to suggest that, in this society, the rational rather than the irrational becomes the most effective vehicle of mystification. The view that the growth of repression in contemporary society manifested itself, in the ideological sphere, first in the ascent of irrational pseudo-philosophies (Lebensphilosophie; the notions of Community against Society; Blood and Soil, etc.) was refuted by Fascism and National Socialism. These regimes denied these and their own irrational “philosophies” by the all-out technical rationalization of the apparatus. It was the total mobilization of the material and mental machinery which did the job and installed its mystifying power over the society. It served to make the individuals incapable of seeing “behind” the machinery those who used it, those who profited from it, and those who paid for it.
Today, the mystifying elements are mastered and employed in productive publicity, propaganda, and politics. Magic, witchcraft, and ecstatic surrender are practiced in the daily routine of the home, the shop, and the office, and the rational accomplishments conceal the irrationality of the whole. For example, the scientific approach to the vexing problem of mutual annihilation-the mathematics and calculations of kill and over-kill, the measurement of spreading or not-quite-so-spreading fallout, the experiments of endurance in abnormal situations – is mystifying to the extent to which it promotes (and even demands) behaviour which accepts the insanity. It thus counteracts a truly rational behavior – namely, the refusal to go along, and the effort to do away with the conditions which produce the insanity.
Against this new mystification, which turns rationality into its opposite, the distinction must be upheld. The rational is not irrational, and the difference between an exact recognition and analysis of the facts, and a vague and emotional speculation is as essential as ever before. The trouble is that the statistics, measurements, and field studies of empirical sociology and political science are not rational enough. They become mystifying to the extent to which they are isolated from the truly concrete context which makes the facts and determines their function. This context is larger and other than that of the plants and shops investigated, of the towns and cities studied, of the areas and groups whose public opinion is polled or whose chance of survival is calculated. And it is also more real in the sense that it creates and determines the facts investigated, polled, and calculated. This real context in which the particular subjects obtain their real significance is definable only within a theory of society. For the factors in the facts are not immediate data of observation, measurement, and interrogation. They become data only in an analysis which is capable of identifying the structure that holds together the parts and processes of society and that determines their interrelation.
To say that this meta-context is the Society (with a capital “S”) is to hypostatize the whole over and above the parts. But this hypostatization takes place in reality, is the reality, and the analysis can overcome it only by recognizing it and by comprehending its scope and its causes. Society is indeed the whole which exercises its independent power over the individuals, and this Society is no unidentifiable “ghost.” It has its empirical hard core in the system of institutions, which are the established and frozen relationships among men. Abstraction from it falsifies the measurements, interrogations, and calculations-but falsifies them in a dimension which does not appear in the measurements, interrogations, and calculations, and which therefore does not conflict with them and does not disturb them. They retain their exactness, and are mystifying in their very exactness.
In its exposure of the mystifying character of transcendent terms, vague nations, metaphysical universals, and the like, linguistic analysis mystifies the terms of ordinary language by leaving them in the repressive context of the established universe of discourse. It is within this repressive universe that the behavioral explication of meaning takes place-the explication which is to exorcize the old linguistic “ghosts” of the Cartesian and other obsolete myths. Linguistic analysis maintains that if Joe Doe and Richard Roe speak of what they have in mind, they simply refer to the specific perceptions, nations, or dispositions which they happen to have; the mind is a verbalized ghost. Similarly, the will is not a real faculty of the soul, but simply a specific mode of specific dispositions, propensities, and aspirations. Similarly with “consciousness,” “self,” “freedom” – they are all explicable in terms designating particular ways or modes of conduct and behaviour. I shall subsequently return to this treatment of universal concepts.
Analytic philosophy often spreads the atmosphere of denunciation and investigation by committee. The intellectual is called on the carpet. What do you mean when you say...? Don’t you conceal something? You talk a language which is suspect. You don’t talk like the rest of us, like the man in the street, but rather like a foreigner who does not belong here. We have to cut you down to sire, expose your tricks, purge you. We shall teach you to say what you have in mind, to “come clear,” to “put your cards on the table.” Of course, we do not impose on you and your freedom of thought and speech; you may think as you like. But once you speak, you have to communicate your thoughts to us-in our language or in yours. Certainly, you may speak your own language, but it must be translatable, and it will be translated. You may speak poetry-that is all right. We love poetry. But we want to understand your poetry, and we can do so only if we can interpret your symbols, metaphors, and images in terms of ordinary language.
The poet might answer that indeed he wants his poetry to be understandable and understood (that is why he writes it), but if what he says could be said in terms of ordinary language he would probably have done so in the first place. He might say: Understanding of my poetry presupposes the collapse and invalidation of precisely that universe of discourse and behaviour into which you want to translate it. My language can be learned like any other language (in point of fact, it is also your own language), then it will appear that my symbols, metaphors, etc. are not symbols, metaphors, etc. but mean exactly what they say. Your tolerance is deceptive. In reserving for me a special niche of meaning and significance, you grant me exemption from sanity and reason, but in my view, the madhouse is somewhere else.
The poet may also feel that the solid sobriety of linguistic philosophy speaks a rather prejudiced and emotional language – that of the angry old or young men. Their vocabulary abounds with the “improper,” “queer,” “absurd,” puzzling,” “odd,” “gabbling,” and “gibbering.” Improper and puzzling oddities have to be removed if sensible understanding is to prevail. Communication ought not to be over the head of the people; contents that go beyond common and scientific sense should not disturb the academic and the ordinary universe of discourse.
But critical analysis must dissociate itself from that which it strives to comprehend; the philosophic terms must be other than the ordinary ones in order to elucidate the full meaning of the latter. For the established universe of discourse bears throughout the marks of the specific modes of domination, organization, and manipulation to which the members of a society are subjected. People depend for their living on bosses and politicians and jobs and neighbors who make them speak and mean as they do; they are compelled, by societal necessity, to identify the “thing” (including their own person, mind, feeling) with its functions. How do we know? Because we watch television, listen to the radio, read the newspapers and magazines, talk to people.
Under these circumstances, the spoken phrase is an expression of the individual who speaks it, and of those who make him speak as he does, and of whatever tension or contradiction may interrelate them. In speaking their own language, people also speak the language of their masters, benefactors, advertisers. Thus they do not only express themselves, their own knowledge, feelings, and aspirations, but also something other than themselves. Describing “by themselves” the political situation, either in their home town or in the international scene, they (and “they” includes us, the intellectuals who know it and criticize it) describe what “their” media of mass communication tell them – and this merges with what they really think and see and feel.
Describing to each other our loves and hatreds, sentiments and resentments, we must use the terms of our advertisements, movies, politicians and best sellers. We must use the same terms for describing our automobiles, foods and furniture, colleagues and competitors-and we understand each other perfectly. This must necessarily be so, for language is nothing private and personal, or rather the private and personal is mediated by the available linguistic material, which is societal material. But this situation disqualifies ordinary language from fulfilling the validating function which it performs in analytic philosophy. “What people mean when they say ...” is related to what they don’t say. Or, what they mean cannot be taken at face value – not because they lie, but because the universe of thought and practice in which they live is a universe of manipulated contradictions.
Circumstances like these may be irrelevant for the analysis of such statements as “I itch,” or “he eats poppies,” or “this now looks red to me,” but they may become vitally relevant where people really say something (“she just loved him,” “he has no heart,” “this is not fair,” “what can I do about it?”), and they are vital for the linguistic analysis of ethics, politics, etc. Short of it, linguistic analysis can achieve no other empirical exactness than that exacted from the people by the given state of affairs, and no other clarity than; that which is permitted them in this state of affairs – that is, it remains within the limits of mystified and deceptive discourse.
Where it seems to go beyond this discourse, as in its, logical purifications, only the skeleton remains of the same universe – a ghost much more ghostly than those which the analysis combats. If philosophy is more than an occupation, it shows the grounds which made discourse a mutilated and deceptive universe. To leave this task to a colleague in the Sociology or Psychology Department is to make the established division of academic labor into a methodological principle. Nor can the task be brushed aside with the modest insistence that linguistic analysis has only the humble purpose of clarifying “muddled” thinking and speaking. If such clarification goes beyond a mere enumeration and classification of possible meanings in possible contexts, leaving the choice wide open to anyone according to circumstances, then it is anything but a humble task. Such clarification would involve analyzing ordinary language in really controversial areas, recognizing muddled thinking where it seems to be the least muddled, uncovering the falsehood in so much normal and clear usage. Then linguistic analysis would attain the level on which the specific societal processes which shape and limit the universe of discourse become visible and understandable.
Here the problem of “metalanguage” arises; the terms which analyze the meaning of certain terms must be other than, or distinguishable from the latter. They must be more and other than mere synonyms which still belong to the same (immediate) universe of discourse. But if this metalanguage is really to break through the totalitarian scope of the established universe of discourse, in which the different dimensions of language are integrated and assimilated, it must be capable of denoting the societal processes which have determined and “closed – the established universe of discourse. Consequently, it cannot be a technical metalanguage, constructed mainly with a view of semantic or logical clarity. The desideratum is rather to make the established language itself speak what it conceals or excludes, for what is to be revealed and denounced is operative within the universe of ordinary discourse and action, and the prevailing language contains the metalanguage.
This desideratum has been fulfilled in the work of Karl Kraus. He has demonstrated how an “internal” examination of speech and writing, of punctuation, even of typographical errors can reveal a whole moral or political system. This examination still moves within the ordinary universe of discourse; it needs no artificial, “higher-level” language in order to extrapolate and clarify the examined language. The word, the syntactic form, are lead in the context in which they appear – for example, in a newspaper which, in a specific city or country, espouses specific opinions through the pen of specific persons. The lexicographic and syntactical context: thus opens into another dimension-which is not extraneous, not constitutive of the word’s meaning and function – that of the Vienna press during and after the First World War; the attitude of its editors toward the slaughter, the monarchy, the republic, etc. In the light of this dimension, the usage of the word, the structure of the sentence assume a meaning and function which do not appeal in “unmediated” reading. The crimes against language, which appeal in the style of the newspaper, pertain to its political style. Syntax, grammar, and vocabulary become moral and political acts. Or, the context may be an aesthetic and philosophic one: literary criticism, an address before a learned society, or the like. Here, the linguistic analysis of a poem or an essay confronts the given (immediate) material (the language of the respective poem or essay) with that which the writer found in the literary tradition, and which he transformed.
For such an analysis, the meaning of a term or form demands its development in a multi-dimensional universe, where any expressed meaning partakes of several interrelated, overlapping, and antagonistic “systems.” For example, it belongs:
To illustrate: a certain speech, newspaper article, or even private communication is made by a certain individual who is the (authorized or unauthorized) spokesman of a particular group (occupational, residential, political, intellectual) in a specific society. This group has its own values, objectives, codes of thought and behaviour which enter-affirmed or opposed-with various degrees of awareness and explicitness, into the individual communication. The latter thus “individualizes” a supra-individual system of meaning, which constitutes a dimension of discourse different from, yet merged with, that of the individual communication. And this supra-individual system is in turn part of a comprehensive, omnipresent realm of meaning which has been developed, and ordinarily “closed,” by the social system within which and from which the communication takes place.
The range and extent of the social system of meaning varies considerably in different historical periods and in accordance with the attained level of culture, but its boundaries are clearly enough defined if the communication refers to more than the non-controversial implements and relations of daily life. Today, the social systems of meaning unite different nation states and linguistic areas, and these large systems of meaning tend to coincide with the orbit of the more or less advanced capitalist societies on the one hand, and that of the advancing communist societies on the other. While the determining function of the social system of meaning asserts itself most rigidly in the controversial, political Universe of discourse, it also operates, in a much more covert, unconscious, emotional manner, in the ordinary universe of discourse. A genuinely philosophic analysis of meaning has to take all these dimensions of meaning into account because the linguistic expressions partake of all of them. Consequently, linguistic analysis in philosophy has an extra-linguistic commitment. If it decides on a distinction between legitimate and non-legitimate usage, between authentic and illusory meaning, sense and non-sense, it invokes a political, aesthetic, or moral judgment.
It may be objected that such an “external” analysis (in quotation marks because it is actually not external but rather the internal development of meaning) is particularly out of place where the intent is to capture the meaning of terms by analyzing their function and usage in ordinary discourse. But my contention is that this is precisely what linguistic analysis in contemporary philosophy does not do. And it does not do so inasmuch as it transfers ordinary discourse into a special academic universe which is purified and synthetic even where (and just where) it is filled with ordinary language. In this analytic treatment of ordinary language, the latter is really sterilized and anesthetized. Multi-dimensional language is made into one-dimensional language, in which different and conflicting meanings no longer inter penetrate but are kept apart; the explosive historical dimension of meaning is silenced.
Wittgenstein’s endless language game with building stones, or the conversing Joe Doe and Dick Roe may again serve as examples. In spite of the simple clarity of the example, the speakers and their situation remain unidentified. They are x and y, no matter how chummily they talk. But in the real universe of discourse, x and y are “ghosts.” They don’t exist; they are the product of the analytic philosopher. To be sure, the talk of x and y is perfectly understandable, and the linguistic analyst appeals righteously to the normal understanding of ordinary people. But in reality, we understand each other only through whole areas of misunderstanding and contradiction. The real universe of ordinary language is that of the struggle for existence. It is indeed an ambiguous, vague, obscure universe, and is certainly in need of clarification. Moreover, such clarification may well fulfill a therapeutic function, and if philosophy would become therapeutic, it would really come into its own.
Philosophy approaches this goal to the degree to which it frees thought from its enslavement by the established universe of discourse and behaviour, elucidates the negativity of the Establishment (its positive aspects are abundantly publicized anyway) and projects its alternatives. To be sure, philosophy contradicts and projects in thought only. It is ideology, and this ideological character is the very rate of philosophy which no scientism and positivism can overcome. Still, its ideological effort may be truly therapeutic-to show reality as that which it really is, and to show that which this reality prevents from being.
In the totalitarian era, the therapeutic task of philosophy would be a political task, since the established universe of ordinary language tends to coagulate into a totally manipulated and indoctrinated universe. Then politics would appeal in philosophy, not as a special discipline or object of analysis, nor as a special political philosophy, but as the intent of its concepts to comprehend the unmutilated reality. If linguistic analysis does not contribute to such understanding; if, instead, it contributes to enclosing thought in the circle of the mutilated universe of ordinary discourse, it is at best entirely inconsequential. And, at worst, it is an escape into the non-controversial, the unreal, into that which is only academically controversial.