Man in Marxist Theory. Lucien SÚve 1974

The Psychological Sciences and their General Articulation

But before applying ourselves to this problem it is undoubted1y both possible and useful, from the point of view we have reached, to reflect on the still more general problem of the classification of the field of those sciences which have human psychism for their object. In this respect it clearly seems that constituting an epistemologically adult science of personality is not simply to constitute a local advance in the psychological sciences but is naturally to throw new light on their general articulation and possibly fmally to free them from the classification which has characterised their whole development up until our time, i.e. the Comtist classification. Indeed, paradoxical as this appears, the scientific development of psychology has mainly taken place for a century on the basis of Auguste Comie ‘s classification of the sciences, the decisive feature of which is that it excludes psychology; and this is not unrelated to the fact that, as we recalled in the first chapter, up to now psychology has still not totally determined its identity. The Comtist exclusion of psychology, rejected as a false science, is made in the name of the imperative demands of scientific positivity and objectivity; what Comte does not accept in this so-called science, the object of which, in his opinion, is the human mind, mental functions, is that it is both subjective in its method and metaphysical in its inspiration. The human mind is conceived as a quasi-theological entity directly knowable from within by the subject. To this fictive unity Comte opposes the duality of an objective investigation, the only one which counts for a scientist, of either the organic basis of the mind, if one considers its natural functions, i.e. physiological analysis; or of its historical development, if one considers its acquired social knowledge, therefore an investigation in social physics, which he will later call sociology. And the relation between these two sciences, which in his opinion exhaust positive knowledge of man, obeys the general principle on which he founds his whole classification of the sciences: the second depends on the first without exerting any influence on it:

We find ourselves presented with two orders of phenomena; those which relate to the individual, and those which relate to the species, especially when it is gregarious. With regard to Man, especially, this distinction is fundamental. The last order of phenomena is evidently dependent on the first, and is more complex. Hence we have two great sections in organic physics Physiology, properly so called, and Social Physics, which is dependent on it.

In other words: ‘our social science must issue from that which relates to the life of the individual.

Today we can clearly see the error of these last statements. By maintaining that sociology must rest on physiology without in fact determining it in return, Comte accepts as an obvious fact that in his classification, the relation between these two sciences presents no special problem in relation to the transition from any one science to the one f0llowlng it, i.e. without even discussing the principles of this classification, he postulates a homogeneity of the general system of the sciences in all its parts. This is the price paid for a very insufficiently dialectical conception of abstraction, in which one can at a pinch understand qualitative changes (simple discontinuity) but not qualitative changeS between qualitative changes, in other words, not the concrete life of the essence – nor, moreover, the reciprocal determination of qualitative levels. Starting from there, Comte laid great emphasis on the ‘fundamental’ importance of social facts in man. None the less he failed to appreciate their essential originality and distinctive influence compared with animal ‘sociality’. Not having understood what Marx brilliantly formulated in 1845 in the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach a propos of the social exteriority of the human essence in relation to individuals, Auguste Comte, like all of his contemporaries, continued to imagine that the specificity of present-day man compared with animals lies first of all in his mental faculties, the origins of which he attributes to physiology, i.e. he continues to labour under all the ideological illusions connected with so-called human nature. This is why he imagines that ‘our social science must issue from that which relates to the life of the individual’, considered as identical to physiological life. This naturalistic and therefore basically idealist type of mistake already fmds expression in the inconspicuous and little emphasised fact that his preliminary critique of introspective and metaphysical psychology is directed against its method and inspiration, but not against the actual definition of its object: he is not at all worried about the naturalistic- idealist characterisation of man through mental activity and the definition of psychological science through the study of mental functions, but only about the fact that this object is not approached as a Positive reality through an objective method. This is the price paid for the failure to understand the radical critical power of materialism, which is identified only with its ideological forms and is dismissed together with spiritualism.

And this is what makes it possible to catch a glimpse, behind the manifest content of the Comtist reduction of psychology to the Physiology-sociology dichotomy, of its latent content which also Constitutes its real danger, all the greater as it remains in the shadow. In fact, once it is agreed that the ‘psychological’ analysis of the human individual may be identified with what Comte calls ‘mental functions’, the ‘human mind’, and what more broadly and correctly we will call psych ism, the physiology-sociology dichotomy must be basically accepted, and in point of fact, despite the efforts which tend to ensure the unity of psychology, it always forces itself upon us. For, albeit within a complementarity, there is opposition much rather than unity between a line of research which starts from an act and goes back to its neurophysiological mechanisms, and that which starts from the same act and goes back to its sociological conditions. And in our opinion Comte showed real insight when he considered the unity of such an act as simply an illusion of subjective consciousness underpinned by a metaphysico-theological substantialism. It is like a piece of a puzzle: its unity shatters as soon as one proposes to consider it either as an element of a puzzle cut out in pieces or as a part of a constituted picture. But the whole function of this legitimate dichotomy is to mask an illegitimate one, for if the unity of the act or function remains undiscoverable between the psychobiological approach and the psychosocial approach, it is because function or act have been immediately abstracted from the only place in which their unity concretely exists: the individual. The secret of the Comtist exclusion of psychology as a specific and unitary discipline, the pernicious naturalistic-idealist sense of his physiology- sociology dichotomy, lies precisely in this illegitimate and unnoticed abstraction. The old metaphysical psychology referred to the soul. In so far as Comte agrees that the positive equivalent of the soul is the human mind, i.e. a psychism conceived from the outset as impersonal, the central problem of the personality, which the notion of the soul merely suggested in the speculative and moral form of personal identity, evaporates. All that remains, for man and animal alike, is biological individuality on the one hand and the effects of sociability on the other. In this sense the Comtist dichotomy merely reproduces the Aristotelian defmition of man as a zoon politikon, a social animal. One can recognise here the result of the pre-Marxist failure to grasp social relations as the real essence of man: if the human essence is primarily natural and only secondarily social then knowledge of man begins with physiology and ends in sociology. But if the human essence is the ensemble of social relations, one can understand that a third reality emerges which is fundamentally new compared with the animal world, the personality, a qualitatively new form of individuality induced in the development of the biological individual by way of his social conditions of existence; and this time it is obvious that the system of sciences required is not twofold but threefold. Thus the deep-seated idealism of the apparently anti-metaphysical Comtist dichotomy results from a lack of understanding of the radical originality of humanity compared with animality, and from the uncritical retention, at this decisive point, of the initial abstraction of the old pre-scientific psychology which consists in starting from the notion of human mind, human psychism, as if this were a matter of a natural property in itself independent of the form of concrete human individuality.

Does this analysis of the Comtist theme not throw light on the history of the scientific development of psychology over the last century? In fact, though the progressive constitution of a positive and objective psychology may have seemed to contradict the letter of Comte’s position, it has rather been a confirmation of its spirit. As the possibility took shape of approaching the study of psychic activities experimentally, with all naive introspection and metaphysical speculation being strictly set aside, psychology, after a great struggle, won its place in the classification of sciences and, although very slowly in France, even in administrative and university structures. But the inexorable division of labour within the very heart of this new science was not slow in producing proof that, for all that, the dichotomy was far from having lost all value: psychophysiology on the one hand, and psychosociology on the other, constantly tend to share the spoils of ‘general’ psychology. And in our opinion this is an inevitable as well as a legitimate phenomenon if it is true that in themselves behaviour, acts, psychic functions are by no means two-sided unities – a physiological side and a social side – but, on the contrary, are constituted by essentially nonsuperimposable divisions in which one considers them from the point of view of their belonging to the ensemble of nervous activities or to the ensemble of social activities: an attitude or role have no more unity from the neurophysiological point of view than the bilateral transfer of learning or visual fusion have from the sociological point of view. However, as we showed in the first chapter, it must be carefully noted that even when they recognise the difficulty in unequivocally defming and wholly clarifying this unity, a large number of psychologists energetically refuse to accept the Comtist denial of the unity of psychology. This was the case with Henri Wallon for example. Nobody in France fought more against the Comtist rejection of psychology, nobody contributed more to its unity – and that alone already gives his scientific work paramount importance. Yet the arguments which he put forward in this respect were still not sufficient to produce total clarity and to get unanimous approval. Thus, after having denounced the Comtist physiological-sociological dualism as ‘reactionary’ in his talk delivered at the Symposium on ‘Lenin, Philosopher and Scholar’ in 1954, which was wholly devoted to this problem, he strongly asserted that ‘psychology is necessarily one’, a pivotal-science ‘between two worlds which are one world, and which must not be allowed to separate, between the physical world and the world of human societies’. But what then is the one object of which this one science is then the science? Here Henri Wallon confines himself to the sole idea of consciousness: ‘consciousness is really the object of psychology’; psychology is ‘the study of facts belonging to consciousness or which evoke consciousness’. Such an answer is not absolutely convincing. For it grounds the unity of psychology on one of the concepts – consciousness – the univocality of which precisely constitutes the greatest problem.

And yet in our eyes Wallon himself suggests the real answer elsewhere, for example in an article in 1958 entitled ‘Foundations of psychology – metaphysical or dialectical?’ in which, after having emphasised the difficulties which there are in grasping the specific domain of psychology, he wrote that its object is ‘the person himself’.This, indeed, is the only convincing solution to the problem. Not, of course, that there can be any question of disputing the title of psychological sciences to the sciences of psychism, considered independently of individual singularity. In the broadest sense the psychological sciences cover the whole terrain alluded to by the old notion of the science of the soul as far as it corresponds to a positive reality. But this is a twofold notion, for the soul may be understood as substance or as subject. Not everything in this duality has lapsed. It rediscovers itself again in the form of the basic distinction between the sciences of psychism and the sciences of the individual. The former take psychic activities, functions in their supraindividual generality, for their object. This is why their unity necessarily splits between the biological and the social approach, since the only real support of this unity is the concrete individual. At the same time, one can see that the sciences of psychism cannot be purely psychological sciences: not investigating psychological life in its specific essence, which coincides with the form of individuality, they treat psychism as the effect of a process the essence of which is situated on a different terrain. In fact, they are therefore pivotal-sciences and consequently also semi- psychological sciences: psychobiology, psychosociology. But in so far as one did not conceive a psychology different from the sciences of psychism, one would therefore necessarily remain trapped in a contradiction: ‘specifically psychological’ science studies an object which in itself has no essential specificity; in other words psychology is an indefmable science. And as a matter of hard fact, this is the lesson which emerges in various ways from almost a century of so far insufficiently decisive efforts to clear up this question of the definition and subdivision of the psychological domain: all attempts to justify its specificity and unity which omit the concrete individual are inexorably doomed to idealism, therefore to scientific inconsistency, since they consist in admitting in one way or another of a psychism irreducible to nervous processes on the one hand and social processes on the other, a psychism without real support, or, which comes to the same thing, a general and abstract individual who has only ever existed in ideological imagination. Far from appearing as prefiguring a really specific psychology, attempts to approach problems of the concrete individual are themselves swept along in the general current of dichotomisation: biotypologies on the one hand, cultural anthropology on the other. With child psychology, psychoanalysis and certain forms of psychiatry, however, the notion of a real unity of psychology grounded on the unity of the individual has gradually emerged. But, important as the successes of pathological and child psychology are, they cannot make us forget that the main point continues to be put off so long as problems of the normal adult personality still elude real scientific theorisation. This is why, in our opinion, the elaboration of an epistemologically adult theory of the developed personality is the decisive task as far as the actual question of the defmition and subdivision of the general field of psychology is concerned. For only then will the general solution to the problem appear in its full light: linked to the biological sciences on the one hand and to the social sciences on the other, the sciences of psychism do not by themselves constitute the specific domain of psychology; this, strictly speaking, is the science of the human individual and its centre is the theory of personality. None the less they do have a fundamental importance for psychology in so far as the human personality, considered in its generality, is both a biological macrocosm and a juxtastructure of society; but in so far as the personality is grasped in its essential singularity, they are merely subsidiary sciences of the psychology of the concrete individual.

If this really is the case, the main question is to know how to go about hastening the constitution of a real psychology of personality. Up till flow, in this connection, the dominant idea, based on the seemingly obvious principle that one goes from the known to the unknown, has been to start from the sciences of psychism in order to clarify the problems of the individual – and on the actual terrain of the sciences of the individual, to start from what already exists (theories of nervous types or character, child psychology, psychoanalysis, etc.), in order to tackle the question which everyone agrees is the least developed, that of the adult personality. Thus it is by starting from the margins of the terrain of the psychological sciences that one could progressively arrive at the centre: altogether a natural attitude if one agrees that the personality is only essentially a particular manifestation of psychism m general and that the adult personality is a developed form of child personality. But it must be clearly stated that all the efforts undertaken on this basis for decades have essentially ended in impasses. And this being so, it will no doubt be agreed that it might be useful to examine whether by chance the key to the problem might be the inversion of perspectives, i.e. the effort to think the developed personality directly in itself, therefore to start at its centre, which is also the centre of the terrain of psychology.

One instructive example, among others, to analyse in this respect seems to us to be the attempt to extract a general theory of personality from psychoanalysis – and the failure of this attempt. We know that Freud often specified the limits which he himself attributed to psychoanalysis and we read that ‘psychoanalysis has never claimed to provide a complete theory of man’s psychic life in general’, and drawing up the balance-sheet of thirty years of efforts in 1932 in An Autobiographical Study, he concludes:

By itself this science [of unconscious mental processes] is seldom able to deal with a problem completely, but it seems destined to give valuable contributory help in the most varied regions of knowledge. The sphere of application of psychoanalysis extends as far as that of psychology, to which it forms a complement of the greatest moment.

However, these wise statements are contradicted in certain respects by Freud himself and much more still by a number of those who continued his work, in so far as they take it for granted that the infantile structures of the unconscious are, at the same time, the basis of the structure of the psychic apparatus as a whole and this throughout life: this being so, the temptation of a generalised psychoanalytic interpretation of the personality in its entirety and of human activities in their diversity cannot be easily resisted. Even if one refrains from confusing irresponsible speculation and honest research in the flood of generalised psychoanalysis, and we will discuss only the latter here, how can one accept the principle of an essentially reductive attempt to make the most varied adult activities, and the structures of activity which they involve, appear as expressions of what might have been structured in childhood life by way of the Oedipal triangle? After all, for anyone who considers this type of investigation from a really critical anthropological position, the lack of theoretical rigour is constantly obvious. Serious psychoanalysts hardly dispute it moreover. Dealing with sublimation, for example, J. Laplanche and J. B. Pontalis readily acknowledged that ‘the lack of a coherent theory of sublimation remains one of the lacunae in psychoanalytic thought.

It remains to be examined whether persistent lacunae of this sort are are contingent or structural. In a similar way, at the end of a lengthy study of the theory of the ego in Freud, and particularly in his second topology, the authors of The Language of Psychoanalysis come to write

It does leave one essential task outstanding: a whole group of activities and operations has yet to be integrated into any genuinely psychoanalytic theory of the mental apparatus, notwithstanding the fact that one psychoanalytic school, in its attempt to construct a general psychology, has categorised them as ego-functions as though this attribution were a matter of course.

This is to state the problem of theoretical research in psychoanlysis with a critical caution which is all the mere remarkable because it is not so frequent in the subject. And to us this position on the matter appears acceptable for anyone who adopts the standpoint of historical materialism since, from its side, historical materialism clearly cannot reject the necessity of thinking the articulation between the theory of personality which it supports and those theories which are based on the structures of infantile activity, including psychoanalytic theory. But one may note the fact that more than half a century of psychoanalytic investigation has still not produced a convincing theory of this articulation and the conclusion can be drawn from this that nothing is more opportune than a resolute attempt, based on historical materialism, to grasp the problem from the other direction, from the theory of the adult personality and its social structures of activity.

This inversion of methodological perspectives is so evidently on the agenda that one may wonder why, in relation not only to Freudianism but to all existing theories of the individual and the sciences of psychism themselves, with rare exceptions, it has so far remained simply a possibility. I propose the hypothesis that a fundamental reason is the burden of an insufficiently dialectical conception of the broad notion of Psychological genesis – more recently taken over by an even less dialectical structuralism, the theoretical efforts of which, from this point of view, are therefore identical to those of the conventional geneticism which it combats. What is insufficiently understood, therefore, whether by a theory of stages, in which the later stage is conceived as issuing from the earlier one, or by a structural conception, in which atemporal logical forms or norms underlie all development, is that the adult personality, i.e. the living system of social relations between acts, is by no means the result of the unfolding of a human nature or essence inherent in the individual, nor, consequently, the outcome of the development or structuration of an individuality present from the stare, albeit in germ, but the effect of the singular insertion of an individual in a determinate system of social relations. This is why one essentially cannot account for the developed personality, as it were,from below, as a more complicated stage or form of that which appears in the early months or years as nervous type, character, psychoanalytic structuration, but on the contrary, as a neo-formation which tends to subordinate to itself the formations inherited from the initial stages of life simply as materials, through a fundamental inversion. One might undoubtedly throw light on this characteristic mode of relations between the developed personality and the infantile elements which have preceded it by the suggestive analysis which Levi-Strauss provides of bricolage in The Savage Mind, which goes widely beyond the limits of the structural method as he conceives it. Levi-Strauss shows that the ‘bricoleur’s’ rule is,

always to make do with ‘whatever is at hand’, that is to say with a set of tools and materials which is always fmite and is also heterogeneous because what it contains bears no relation to the current project, but is the contingent result of all the occasions there have been to renew or enrich the stock or to maintain it with the remains of previous constructions or destructions ... Such elements ... represent a set of actual and possible relations; they are ‘operators’ but they can be used for any operations of the same type.

Is there not something highly suggestive in such an analysis for understanding the relations between the developed personality and the materials or structures bequeathed by its past? The deep-seated persistance of infantile experiences throughout life is generally considered by psychologists to be uncontestable and easily perceivable even at the level of elementary observation. But from this, vulgar geneticism or even the structural interpretation of psychoanalysis seems to draw the conclusion that the later development of the personality is therefore necessarily mainly determined by childhood. This is to fail to see that the progressively radical changes in the objective problematic of the personality which go with the transition to adolescence and adulthood have the result of profoundly changing the nature of the preceding phenomena, reducing them to the level of a stock of polyvalent psychic materials the persistance of which tends to be no more than that of an element in the ‘bricoleu‘s new construction ‘flius, infantile acts of rebellion which are not properly mastered might have a role in adolescence, in the development of a critical reappraisal bearing on religious, moral and political attitudes and judgements, which is largely unconnected with their original meaning. Every developed personality thus constantly ‘tinkers’ with its childhood. Nothing is more mistaken than the confusion of these re-workings with a naive determinism of persistance, which too often takes the place of real analysis: here too, the Marxist science of history could usefully serve as a pilot-science. There is certainly no question of denying the reality of phenomena of survival, fixation, regression, but of understanding that childhood cannot live on within the adult by virtue of a sort of ‘principle of inertia’ but rather because in his own way the adult reproduces childhood in himself; and the secret of survivals may consequently be found in studying what is specific in the adult. In our opinion this is the major cause of the failure of psychology to make any headway with regard to the problem of the developed personality, a failure comparable to the one in historical science so long as it sought to account for social development by way of external considerations – from geographical or biological ‘facts’ to ‘laws of the human mind’ – instead of tackling the heart of the problem: the basic structures of social activity itself. Until now psychology has sought above all to understand man by way of the animal, the adult by way of the child, the normal individual by way of the sick, the total system of the personality by way of isolated functions, and the content of this personality by way of certain forms of activity. We think that the time has come to supplement this rather unfruitful effort by a real effort in the opposite direction.

The general result at which we arrive and which, of course, is nothing other than a set of theoretical hypotheses formed on the basis of historical materialism and the irrecusable articulation with it of every investigation concerning the human individual which wishes to constitute itself as science, is therefore not only a threefold division of the field of the psychological sciences (psychobiology, psychosociology, Psychology of the concrete individual), nor even the centering of this set on the psychology of the concrete individual, the crucial part of which, in our opinion, is the theory of the developed personality, but it is also the idea that the scientific development of the whole complex of Psychological sciences, and in particular the maturation of its centre, requires that we supplement the efforts which until now have been almost exclusively centripetal by centrifugal efforts undertaken on the bases of a phenomenon which at the moment is fundamentally underestimated: labour, the relations of activity involved in this labour, the structures and processes of the developed personality founded on these relations. This presupposes that the personality should not be confuse with an incarnation of a nervous type, character, infantile topology, etc. but that it is grasped in its real human content; i.e. that without neglecting everything else, of course, one gives a central place m research to what is objectively its centre. In short, as Politzer demanded, it is a matter of making the science of man and concrete human life coincide, and this obviously presupposes that one can base oneself on a theory of this concrete life and therefore on a scientific conception of society and history. This is why historical materialism is essentially the pilot-theory for the development of the psychology of personality and without doubt of psychology tout court. For the transition of the psychology of personality to adulthood would put an end to the constant effect of distortion between the actual contents and legitimate boundaries exerted on the other psychological sciences by the void which its present deficiency maintains at the heart of their domain. For such uneven development does not fail to give rise to compensatory efforts: thus child psychology, psychoanalysis, psychophysiology and even animal psychology try to do in its place a part of the work of which the psychology of personality can be seen to be incapable. In doing this they encounter problems on their own terrain which are really problems of a different level, and which therefore cannot be located there without creating some confusion. And at the same time they sometimes hesitate to acknowledge cicarly the limits of their own task as if they were afraid to see it objected that the psychological life of the individual is not reducible to it. Is not this the reason, for example, why behavioural psychology sometimes hesitates to move towards neurophysiopsychology, and seeks in an impossible defmition of a psychism which at the very least is methodologically irreducible to nervous processes, the substitute for what only the science of the concrete individual can deal with legitimately as a specific object? By taking its own affairs sufficiently in hand the psychology of personality will help all the other psychological sciences to attend correctly to theirs. The general subdivision of their domain will thus have not only theoretical consistency but also practical worth.