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Lecture 6.

This line of argument illustrates again what I was calling the strain of Individualism in these thinkers and connected there with the emphasis on consciousness. For even if we are going to investigate social phenomena by studying especially what particular men do it doesn't in the least appear that we should achieve that by studying what they deliberately decide to do. On the contrary we should expect a Materialist doctrine especially to recognize that what men decide to do is not at all co-terminous with what they actually do and in line with Marx's statement (Preface to the Critique of Political Economy) that men's being determines their consciousness and not their consciousness their being (which he illustrates by saying that we don't judge a man by his own opinion of himself—don't assume that he knows exactly what he is—or even that there aren't better judges of some aspects of his character, at least, than he is—) so we can say more broadly that men do not know what they are doing—that they are ignorant about some of their actions and mistaken about others so that, in particular, we should not draw any conclusions about what a man is doing from what he decides to or wishes to accomplish.

Then, secondly, when Engels speaks of innumerable social processes which give rise to one resultant product (historical product) he is exhibiting that Totalism which is a feature of Marxist theory—that is he is putting forward without any support the view that there is one movement


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in history when, on the face of it, or in line with the reference to innumerable intersecting forces we might say that there are any number. Once again, of course, it would be a question of what is necessary—of a type of historical change conditioning all other or more special changes so that, let us say, in the change from Feudalism to Capitalism any political change would have as one of its conditions the economic change and, similarly, any cultural change generally would have this as one of its conditions. In other words anything that happens within a capitalist society has in some measure a capitalist character and similarly with feudal society etc.

But this is a mere begging of the question, it is quite certain that one cannot demonstrate this universal character derived from the prevailing economy and on the showing of the Marxists themselves any economy embodies struggling antagonistic forces and the most that we could say, it could be argued, is that there are types of social change which have a very great influence on other social processes though we might have difficulty in determining just what is meant by “very great”. In any case this wouldn't show that they had an influence on all social processes—that there could not be social changes quite independently of large economic change or in the absence of large economic change. Again it would give us no reason for substituting Determining for Influencing and in fact it is the confusion of these two that enables Marxists to make their theory plausible. It is very easy for them to show that a great many social phenomena are subject to economic influence—still easier, of course, if all social phenomena are taken to have a certain economic character but it is a very different


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thing to show not merely that the economic character, but something that is taken to be the outstanding economic feature of the given system or state of society determines these other things. (Cf. account of Religion as nothing but social dope).

The same sort of running together of the connected (cf. Freudians and Society) is exhibited in the Marxian theory of Classes—that is, there also they take a great multiplicity of forces and insist on treating them as all parts of one force or as all contributing to the one result. Though this doesn't hinder them from talking also of the internal contradictions of a social class or social force where the real contradiction is between their own false assumption of unity and the actual multiplicity.

Coming on to the next point it may be that Engels shouldn't be taken literally when he talks about the way in which every will is frustrated by other wills—that is when he assumes that because there is some clashing of wills therefore no one gets his desire; though certainly if we took the ultimate, the only real objective in the full sense, to be the whole movement of society we would certainly say that no one wills this—no one is conscious of all that is going to happen—a person cannot be absolutely secure in the attainment of his actual objectives. Nevertheless, not only are many volitions successful—apart from any question of the general course of history—but volitions do not always frustrate each other. Co-operation is as much a social fact as conflict.

You might even here give some support to the Idealist view


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(Bosanquet) that in institutions men learn to co-operate—go beyond initial frustration to full recognition of a common objective. Once more, however, one would have to put in the precaution that human life should not be reduced to pursuit of objects—that even where common objects are indefinite, common activities must have preceded them and common activities go on very largely without determinate objects—without at least any decision on program or policy (of course we find in Marxists strong opposition to this view—implies reliance on tradition—substitute deliberate decision but impossibility of living in this way).

I have referred to Engels' difficulty about the transition from Necessity to Freedom or the rising of Necessity to a higher level—its complete fulfilment in Freedom and here would only say that if unconscious activity and conscious actions are subject to the same laws of motion then the consciousness is irrelevant. If, on the other hand, the gaining of consciousness is an important, a revolutionary innovation, that will show the operation of different laws from those which operated in the field of unconscious action. The position here is similar to that which is adopted by some scientists and which is discussed and in the main accepted by Mill namely that the laws of the behaviour of different things can be reduced to certain general laws—that the ideal of science is to have the smallest number of laws from which the whole sequence of phenomena will follow. Mill himself rather spoils the force of this contention by admitting that there would at least have to be a law for every distinct type of quality that we can recognize. For when we admit the irreducible


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distinction of qualities we are admitting the irreducible distinction of ways of behaving. When, on the other hand, we say that a great range of phenomena is governed by laws all that we can mean is that there are certain common characters throughout that range and anything that can be said about these characters doesn't explain the characters that are NOT common—doesn't explain the peculiarities of particular things throughout the range.

We see then that Engels, although he does try to make some distinction, is committed to a doctrine of reduction of character and to a quite arbitrary decision as to what distinctions are to be accepted or treated as important and what ones are to be explained away or reduced to the common ground.

And, finally, the concluding contentions of this passage would seem to be an attempt to have things both ways—to make a will both effective and ineffective—the point being that to say that the result could have been different if a given will had not been there is not to say it was effective as a will or in relation to an object of volition but, as I said, Engels wants to leave room for conscious activity coming in at some stage while at the same time he wants to uphold the doctrine of a total movement—a movement in accordance with the most general laws of motion to which I suggest consciousness would be irrelevant.

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