Date: Thu, 23 Jul 1998

To: (Andy Blunden)

From: (davie maclean)

Subject: Re: fragment of a discussion ....


I have to admit, I'm still somewhat confused on this. Let's keep working on it.

"epistemology is ethical" - no, this is an unclear forumulation: epistemology is the study of the limits and validity of knowledge; ethics is the study of the consciousness of social practice. Clearly, there is a sense in which there can be no true ethics so long as practice is in the main formed by processes which are alien to the individual human being, but to say "epistemology is ethical" can only make sense if we equate ethics with how people actually live in any given epoch - i.e. under capitalism, an alienated existence.

I think that's pretty much what I meant.

What I am saying is: · that philosophy has a number of distinct aspects which have been known since the ancients, which include Ethics and Epistemology; · that bourgeois philosophy develops through a series of crises, each of which generates still deeper crises, and in this process goes through a definite development covering the whole span of the bourgeois era; it begins with Being (the unexpressed practical activity of trades-people, travellers, etc.), which is forthwith declared by Descartes and Bacon to be Nothing for example, in Bacon's words: ...;

You've lost me completely here.


I still haven't clicked what you mean here.

The only way I can make sense of this is to relate it to the conflict between Thought and Being. So long as thought is divorced from being this is a reflection of our alienated existence and Thought of this nature is therefore locked into bourgeois reality, is therefore 'bourgeois' in this sense. Hegel did unify thought and being, of course, but only in the Mind, Marx sought to do so in practice, moving beyond philosophy therefore as it had been understood to that point.

that Ethics may be expected to go through a series of crises in the struggle of the working class to achieve its historical mission (so to speak); "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work" and "the right to this and the right to that ..." (bourgeois right); "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs" (communism) ... we'll see. Epistemology will not disappear, but the main question has already become, not epistemology but the actual acquisition of knowledge; now, over and above that - what to do with that knowledge;

This ties knowledge to ethics in the sense I've talked about previously ie to overcome the bourgeois separation of the sciences from ethical life that begins with Bacon.

"the kind of knowledge a society has is a reflection of the kind of society it is" - yes, I agree with that; "subordinate" or "integrate" knowledge to the problem of how we should live": well that sounds like a good compromise to me. I think we have to "let go" of the desire to accumulate knowledge for a while, we have let go of the desire to control and centralise practice, to regulate and plan. I think that is the problem with the interpretation of socialism as "planned economy". I think the issue is to concentrate on how people should live and not on planning everything.

Yes, definitely. I think we should leave planning to the computers, to the 'administration of things' in automated production for example. This can only ever be a small component of the kind of society we desire since the object is precisely to move beyond the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom. In other words, planning (ie programming computerised manufacturing systems) is something we may have to get out of the way to get on with the real job of living, but in no way do we conceive of socialism as a 'planned economy' that binds the activities of human beings.

"late 19th century Marxism has attempted to reinforce its argument for the socialist transformation of society by appealing to 'historical necessity'". In relation to our discussion about positivism and what Lenin was on about in 1908, I think it is worth notig that this tendency in the 2nd International was nto unrelated to their capitulation to Positivism in the arena of Philosophy. Kautsky thought that Mach had the "last word" in philosophy.

He was also a Kantian in his ethical views and saw 'no contradiction' between Marxism and Kantian ethics, something you may want to look into.

"The idea that 'freedom is the recognition of necessity' ... comes from Hegel, where it plays a particular, and essential role in Hegel's system" - I thought so too, and then I tried to find where Hegel says this, and I don't think he does say it in the Logic in any case.

I got it from the Introduction to the Philosophy of History. Its not a direct quote but a paraphrase. (The nearest I could find was 'Philosophy is the objective science of truth, it is science of necessity' and 'the higher point of view is that Mind is free in its necessity, and finds its freedom in it alone, since its necessity rests on its freedom' p.26) but its a theme that runs right through. Maybe it was Engels who made up the exact phrase, but there is no doubt where he got it from.

What he does say is: "the notion is the truth of necessity" and "Necessity is blind only so long as it is not understood" [Logic, 147n] which is either a tautology or something quite different.

Its a sort of tautology since Hegel's is a logical system. Necessity is defined as contingency. 'Thought' on the other hand 'may occur with the consciousness of necessity, in which case each in succession deduces itself' (p.29)

"The problem with Hegel's conception lies in the fact that it is completely passive" - well, that would not be my impression of the problem with Hegel. Marx says: "in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism" [Thesis I] and I think it reasonable to assume Marx has Hegel in mind more than anyone else. "It leaves no room for human practice beyond the exercise of the mind." Well, Marx said that for Hegel practice was conceived "abstractly". I think that your formulation not the most fruitful approach.

Perhaps not, Cyril makes the same point, but as you read on you can see what I'm getting at. In practice, in social terms, Hegel's philosophy did imply passivity ie reconciliation to the existing order just as Marx's implied revolution. I'll work on it to express it better.