The Alienation of Reason
(Extract)

by Leszek Kolakowski

[The Culture of Logical Empiricism]

Logical empiricism, then, is the product of a specific culture, one in which technological efficiency is regarded as the highest value, the culture we usually call "technocratic." It is a technocratic ideology in the mystifying guise of an anti‑ideological, scientific view of the world, purged of value judgments. The fact that contemporary positivism is unable to grasp its own relativity and dependence on specific cultural values is perhaps of no special importance: after all, the same is true of all ideologies, which assume that their own values are absolute in contradistinction to all others, and by the same token represent themselves as free of ideological elements, solely concerned with efficient intellectual operation. There is still another reason why this cannot be an objection. A certain degree of blindness as to the absoluteness of one's own values may be indispensable to extract the valuable qualities from the world, the qualities whose value is believed to be the highest. It is possible that in order to realize one's values one must have faith in their exclusive character. Radical historical skepticism discourages practical action. Indeed, contemporary positivism is an attempt to overcome historicism once and for all: it separates all epistemological questions from genetic questions and attempts to formulate rules governing the use of words independently of the conditions under which they came into being. This is why the elimination of genetic questions from the theory of knowledge, and exclusive concentration on the logical validity of thinking—the features that distinguish logical empiricism from empiriocriticism—are fundamental points of this program. Most positivists believe that science and human thinking generally can be completely neutralized from a philosophic point of view, and that within the area of experience so neutralized, to which no existential determinations are ascribed, "the scientific view" fulfills the same conditions as Husserl's transcendental ego, i.e., makes the criteria of the correctness of knowledge completely independent of the cultural, historical, psychological, and biological conditions under which this knowledge is achieved. Once ontology has been neutralized, we have at our disposal an absolute observational standpoint. As a result, logical empiricism is an optimistic philosophy, for it rejects by definition the possibility of insoluble problems and rules out the agnostic attitude (anything of which we might say ignorabimus cannot be formulated as a question). It is an act of emancipation from troublesome philosophical questions, which it denounces in advance as fictitious; it also frees us of the need to study history, which—since any philosophy worthy of the name must be cumulative in character—must appear to those professing this doctrine as a succession of barren, futile efforts, basically unintelligible as to results, only very occasionally illuminated by a ray of common sense. The judgments passed by positivists on the philosophical systems of the past as well as on contemporary metaphysical speculation usually have the character of summary condemnations; they are not based on study of the condemned doctrines, but on ridiculing statements torn out of context. This will be clear to anyone who has read works by Chwistek, Reichenbach, Carnap, Ayer, and others.

In one respect, however, the positivists do give voice to the ideological intentions that inspire their program, although they do not relate their philosophical standpoint to them. All of them have been convinced that their program is eminently educational: it is a call to tolerance, moderation, restraint, and responsibility for one's own words. Politically, the majority of logical empiricists have been close to the Social Democrat position and favor parliamentary democracy; they have been resolutely hostile to fascist and racist doctrines, and for the most part also dislike communism. They have not, however, been liberals in the traditional historical sense of the term, i.e., they have not professed social Darwinism or Spencer's social philosophy. They represent a humanitarian protest against a world entangled in bloody conflicts, and are convinced that spreading the so‑called scientific attitude is an effective antidote to the madness of the ideologists. "The concept of 'truth' as something dependent upon facts largely outside human control has been one of the ways in which philosophy has inculcated the necessary element of humility. When the check upon pride is removed, a further step is taken on the road towards a certain madness—the intoxication of power—which invaded philosophy with Fichte, and to which modern men, whether philosophers or not, are prone. I am persuaded that this intoxication is the greatest threat of our time, and that any philosophy which, however unintentionally, contributes to it, is increasing the danger of vast social disaster." (Bertrand Russell)

This declaration is not exceptional. At least to some extent the positivists are aware of the extra‑cognitive functions their philosophy performs and they approve of these. In line with Russell's words, these functions must above all consist in accustoming the human mind to accept the constraints of publicly controllable circumstances where any and all convictions are concerned. If such an attitude spread, the beneficial effects of scientism would be manifest at once: controversies to which scientific meaning cannot be ascribed would disappear, and with them would go all conflicts, persecutions, and acts of intolerance stemming from such controversies. However, faith in the therapeutic power of the positivist ideology implies certain assumptions. It is possible to assume that submissiveness to ideological pressures and fanaticisms is merely a kind of error or ignorance, that it derives from rashly ascribing meaning to sentences that in fact are similar to real questions only in grammatical structure, and admit of no real answers. Such an assumption, which tacitly constructs a model of a perfectly rational "human nature" capable of evil solely because of defective thinking, is of course too naive to figure in the positivist program, were it only by implication. We may imagine another, less extreme assumption that might suffice to justify the positivist hopes, namely that the pressure of rationalism in the sense stated above (rationalism as a rule recommending that we regard the degree to which a statement is justified as the measure of the force of conviction with which it is asserted—in accordance with Locke's saying) may be strong enough to increase the probability at least of doing away with fanatic and intolerant attitudes, and this thanks to gradually increasing awareness that all human convictions have a coefficient of uncertainty. Such a view does not necessarily imply the belief that human behavior is completely determined by the given state of knowledge, but only the belief that human nature includes features favorable to development in the direction of increasing rationality. This latter assumption is not as flagrantly naive as the previous one, but it would seem hard to build upon it hopes for the success of the positivist program until one has formed an opinion as to the real sources of violent ideological conflict and the "right" to intolerance a given model of truth carries with it. If, as we have good reason to think, ideological conflicts are the intellectual forms assumed by conflicts of interest not in themselves purely ideological, then hope for the effectiveness of scientistic therapies has no secure foundation. We should rather suppose that ideologies must be fought by ideological means, not by appeals to restraint in the matter of conviction or to silence in the face of questions that do not meet the conditions of meaningfulness elaborated by the logical syntax of language.

In one respect, however, the positivist program has a value that can hardly be questioned. Although the expectation that it can serve as an effective antidote to social dangers stemming from the most various ideological conflicts seems utopian, we are today in a better position than ever before, thanks to more exact definitions of the scientific attitude and the scientific admissibility of assertions, to counteract the ideological misuse of science. In other words, ability to give a relatively good definition of the boundaries of scientific validity—an ability developed largely thanks to the positivists—is of great importance when we must criticize the claims of doctrinaires who invoke the authority of science in support of their slogans. The most glaring example is the attempts that have been made to justify racism on the basis of anthropology. The possibility of demonstrating the hopelessness of such undertakings is not without importance, although it is clear that it cannot decisively influence the outcome of social conflicts. The sheer rigor of the positivist rules has awakened intellectuals to their own responsibilities, and in my opinion have been of practical aid in counteracting attempts to blur the boundaries between the position of the scientist and the obligations of the believer. Precisely because they add up to a kind of scientific ethics, these rules have never lost their timeliness.

Conclusion

The purpose of this book has been to present a few doctrines important in the history of positivism and to show that each of them is an aspect of the cultural background out of which it arose. Each phase of positivist thought is a specific variation of the dominant intellectual style. At the same time, however, a diachronic continuity is clearly disclosed when we compare successive versions of positivism; thanks to this continuity the idea of treating the history of positivism as a distinct whole is meaningful. In the first chapter we tried to characterize (though this inevitably involved a certain degree of arbitrariness) the thematic features of this whole. This leads to the question whether positivism also discloses cultural features justifying its treatment as a distinctive whole, or whether we are dealing with a number of traditional philosophical themes that were in each case adapted to the needs of a given period.

I hesitate to give a clear‑cut answer to this question, for it involves certain difficult historiosophic decisions. The question is all the more vexatious because the meaning the positivists themselves ascribe to their anti­metaphysical bias has been interpreted, as we have seen, in various ways. This is best illustrated by comparing the rules given by Wittgenstein with those given by Carnap. It is one thing to say "What we cannot speak of we must be silent about," something else again to say that metaphysics should be treated like poetry. After all, poetry is not silence, for all that it cannot be called "true" or "false" in the semantic sense. Wittgenstein's rule urges us to banish whatever cannot be expressed as a logical sentence from our image of the world, more generally from all intellectual concern. Carnap's merely warns us to distinguish between meaningful and unverifiable statements, to treat the latter as purely expressive or lyrical utterances; he urges us not to confuse something that merely expresses with something that also has meaning, and hence to refrain from representing the emotional gestures involved in metaphysical, religious, or valuational verbalizations as authentic convictions whose rightness or wrongness it is possible to dispute. When the anti­metaphysical prohibition goes no farther than a definition of knowledge that automatically gives extra‑scientific status to philosophical assertions, the practice of metaphysics becomes, so to speak, legal according to positivism, so long as we do not ascribe so‑called cognitive value to such reflections. In this case, positivism cannot, strictly speaking, fulfill the ideological tasks mentioned at the end of the preceding chapter; that is, it cannot, if it is to be consistent, have a destructive effect on ideological attitudes, it can only deny them scientific justification, truth or falsity in the scientific sense.

The majority of positivists are strongly inclined to follow Wittgenstein's more radical rule: they do not simply reject the cognitive claims of metaphysics, they refuse it any recognition whatever. The second, more moderate version is also represented, however, and according to it a metaphysics that makes no scientific claims is legitimate. Philosophers who, like Jaspers, do not look upon philosophy as a type of knowledge but only as an attempt to elucidate Existenz, or even as an appeal to others to make such an attempt, do not transgress the positivist code. The latter attitude is nearly universal in present‑day existentialist phenomenology. Awareness of fundamental differences between "investigation" and "reflection," between scientific "accuracy" and philosophic "precision," between "problems" and "questioning" or "mystery" is expressed by all existentialist philosophers, Heidegger as well as Jaspers and Gabriel Marcel.

More than that, the newest theological tendencies, particularly the Protestant ones, take cognizance of the positivist critique, and their interpretations of the world meet its requirements, at least those of its more moderate formulation. They do not try to prove that the theological conception of the world is a description of facts, a legitimate deduction, or a construction of hypotheses; they (Paul Tillich, John Hick) recognize that it has interpretative functions thanks to which the facts take on special meaning as constituents of a purposeful order organized by Providence. According to them, this kind of non‑empirical meaningfulness is like other common‑sense interpretations that are independent of theology, such as the realist view of the physical world.

Other writers make use of the more relaxed rules of meaningfulness in Wittgenstein's later works, and argue that the rules governing the use of theological terms are sufficiently defined to meet the conditions of meaningfulness no less completely than empirical terms. The last‑mentioned kind of apologetics goes back to views that assign equal cognitive status to science and metaphysics, and thus violate even the moderate positivist injunctions. The former kind, however, may be regarded as marking an essential change in attitude, and implies partial agreement with positivist criticisms. This attitude brings to mind Pascal, who defended the Christian religion while subscribing to the rational critique of Scholasticism and recognizing its results as irreversible; therefore he resorted to practical arguments trying to persuade others that they must accept beliefs that he himself agreed cannot be proved on rational grounds.

If the positivist slogans advanced over and over again for a few centuries could be reduced to this tempered version of the anti‑metaphysical program, positivism would merely express science's continually renewed attempt to constitute itself, differentiating itself in turn from theology, religion, politics, and art; it would be a natural secretion of science, its growing awareness of its own irreducible position in social life. The radical version has an entirely different cultural meaning. It is an attempt to consolidate science as a self‑sufficient activity, which exhausts all the possible ways of appropriating the world intellectually. In this radical positivist view, the realities of the world—which can, of course, be interpreted by natural science, but which are in addition an object of man's "existential curiosity," a source of fear or disquiet, an occasion for commitment or rejection—if they are to be encompassed by reflection and expressed in words, can be reduced to their empirical properties. Suffering, death, ideological conflict, social clashes, antithetical values of any kind—all are declared out of bounds, matters we can only be silent about, in obedience to the principle of verifiability. Positivism so understood is an act of escape from commitments, an escape masked as a definition of knowledge, invalidating all such matters as mere figments of the imagination stemming from intellectual laziness. Positivism in this sense is the escapist's design for living, a life voluntarily cut off from participation in anything that cannot be correctly formulated. The language it imposes exempts us from the duty of speaking up in life's most important conflicts, encases us in a kind of armor of indifference to the ineffabilia mundi, the indescribable qualitative data of experience.

What I am particularly concerned with, however, is to bring out a certain interpretative ambiguity or, perhaps, a certain hard‑to‑trace boundary line separating two possible interpretations of the positivist assumptions. I mentioned earlier the scientistic ideology that would prescribe a kind of intellectual discipline as a preventative of arbitrary thinking. In the words of Bertrand Russell quoted earlier, such a discipline imposes humility on the human mind and subjects it to facts. And yet, whether this ideological formula can be vindicated depends on whether we can free the positivist code of dangers involved in the pragmatic interpretation of truth—in other words, on whether we can renounce metaphysics irrevocably, without leaving room for its justification, not on the ground of its "truth" but of its "utility."

Let me give a simple illustration. Stanislaw Brzozowski, commenting on Avenarius's philosophy in Ideas, pictured it as an ideology of despair, a dramatic confession by the philosopher that the true, the good, and the beautiful are not "elements" of experience but "characters." Unlinked to experience in any one-to‑one correspondence, they are rooted in socially conditioned modifications of experience, and in every case are "someone's" truth, good, or beauty; what is regarded as true or false, good or evil, is determined by various circumstances connected with the ecological situation of the organism; truth is an attitude just like recognition of a given experiential complex as pleasant or unpleasant.

According to Brzozowski, this epistemology conceals a tragic renunciation of human pride, which Avenarius does not state explicitly because to do so would be incompatible with his ascetic style. Irrational external circumstances determine what we are supposed to regard as the true or the good; cognitive values have been reduced to the level of ephemeral, changeable experiences of pleasure or pain, which cannot be the object of argumentation. Reduced to a biological reaction, the world of moral values collapses along with the alleged eternity, "objectivity," or autonomy of aesthetic values. On this score the note of resignation in Avenarius's philosophy coincides with Nietzsche's nihilism; with this difference, however, that in the face of the destruction of all traditional values, Avenarius does not attempt to create his own scale of values, but is content to lay bare the critical point human self‑knowledge has reached.

It might be said that this is not an interpretation of positivism but rather of naturalism or pragmatism, more generally of any doctrine that programmatically reduces the account of cognitive functions to an account of biological behavior, and thus makes pointless any question concerning "truth" in the usual sense. This was exactly how Husserl interpreted nineteenth‑century positivism, however. He, too, saw it as symptomatic of cultural crisis, as a theory that reduces human life to animal forms of appropriating the world, and that rules out all possibility of ever encountering truth. This was why he set out in search of certain knowledge; the purpose of his transcendental reduction is to rediscover the irreducibly primitive domain lost sight of by positivists and evolutionists, where doubt is impossible when the content of experience no longer depends on specific biological or historical situations. Thus Husserl interpreted evolutionist and biology‑oriented positivism in the same sense as Brzozowski, although Husserl, less sensitive to the non­philosophical causes of the crisis, believed it could be overcome by philosophical means, and devoted his lifelong labors to this task.

The question arises: Is the whole evolutionist current of positivism, the reduction of knowledge to a biological instrument of adaptation, touched off by the Darwinian revolution but already rooted in Hume's critique, merely one variant of positivist thought—a modification, an aberration, a deviation, perhaps an accident? Or could it be that the constitutive, the essential core of positivism contains something that leads inevitably to such biological relativization, for all that one and another variety of positivism fail to draw this dangerous consequence?

It is well known, of course, that some versions of positivism, especially logical empiricism, are not concerned with the genetic conditions of knowledge and concentrate their efforts on analyzing the procedures and results of science. This version of positivism never asks what are the origin and the use of metaphysical beliefs, but defines valid cognition in such a way as to rule out metaphysical investigation. It also defines the conditions of legitimate experience, rejecting or ruling out questions concerning its ontological status. Tarski's legalization of the semantic notion of truth, though important in the history of logical empiricism, does not change this situation, for it refers to the relation obtaining between linguistic signs and elements of experience and does not prejudge or even raise the question concerning the metaphysical meaning of experience itself.

At the same time such philosophical neutralizing of experience does not make the question concerning its origin meaningless. What follows from it is merely that assertions that imply a causal relation between cognitive contents and a "thing in itself" or a "spiritual substance" are meaningless. Therefore, if the question is nonetheless put, the only possible positivist answer to it is the naturalistic one: knowledge is biological behavior. Such an answer implies the denial of truth in any transcendental sense and paralyzes all possible faith in experience or reason conceived of as capable of disclosing to us something of "the world's qualities." All contemporary positivists are convinced that valuational predicates have no experiential counterparts; as for predicates characterizing logical values ("true," "false"), they are supposed to refer not to things but only to sentences, and hence their situation appears different from the others, for here these predicates are inapplicable (one cannot ask: are things truly true?).

This, however, is merely a verbal distinction: the traditional philosophic question concerning the authenticity or the limits of authenticity of knowledge is not nullified by the limited applicability of the adjective "true." From the positivist standpoint, this question requires certain distinguos. There are ways—not perfect, but fairly effective ways—of distinguishing between knowledge and error within the limits of compelling experience, but any question referring to the totality of experience is meaningless. In other words: the epistemological problem in the strict sense cannot be solved, and hence (or because of this) it is not a problem. Since it refers to the object of knowledge as a whole, i.e., refers to "all," it is a metaphysical problem in the positivist sense of the term.

This is why, according to the canons of this philosophy, genetic questions concerning knowledge can be formulated only as psychological questions; in contradistinction to the illusions of "correct" perception, we always reduce "correctness" to agreement among many human subjects as to their perceptions, and we cannot go beyond this ontologically neutral area. Every answer to the question concerning the reasons for such intersubjective agreement ("Why do we agree on a great number of perceptions?") must in the end refer to characteristics common to all members of the human species. The moment genetic questions make their appearance, positivist naturalism is transformed into a biological interpretation of knowledge and cannot avoid such relativization. This makes it possible to preserve the strict rules governing the use of the terms "true" and "false," but they must now refer to the human species; a considerable degree of invariability is ascribed to truth but its transcendental meaning is denied.

Many contemporary positivists reject this consequence and make use of logical values as though they had a transcendental meaning, but the pragmatist interpretation lies in wait for those who are less restrained in their questioning. In this case restraint does not reflect positivist radicalism, but a halfhearted positivist attitude. The least restrained positivist—Avenarius—is the most radical. His neutralizing of experience is at the same time liquidation of the fictitious "inner essence" within which the "outside" world supposedly manifests, discloses, or subjectivizes itself. By the same token the subject‑object relation becomes the relation "nervous system­environment," and the whole epistemological problem becomes biological, while the value "truth" is only a particular biological instance of how the human species interprets its experiences.

The idea I should like to formulate as a result of these reflections is as follows. Positivism, when it is radical, renounces the transcendental meaning of truth and reduces logical values to features of biological behavior. The rejection of the possibility of synthetic judgments a priori—the fundamental act constituting positivism as a doctrine—can be identified with the reduction of all knowledge to biological responses; induction is merely one form of the conditioned reflex, and to ask, Under what conditions is induction legitimate? is to ask, Under what conditions is the acquisition of a given reflex biologically advantageous? All so‑called generalizing functions and the formulating of scientific hypotheses serve merely to increase or improve our store of conditioned reflexes, and there are no such things as necessary truths, i.e., truths that, according to the old metaphysicians, could tell us what the world "must be," rather than what it in fact is. (Needless to say, the very question concerning "necessary" features of the world is meaningless from the positivist viewpoint.) According to Mach's theory, science is an extension of animal experience and has no other meaning than the totality of experiences on which it is based; but in contrast to animal empiricism it operates with a system of shorthand notations thanks to which connections between the phenomena we discover can be handed down to posterity. This is a distinctive characteristic of the human species, which enables it to benefit from past intellectual and technological achievements.

Now a question arises that positivists rarely ask themselves and that cannot really concern them: How can we account for the peculiar fact that over many centuries human thought has ascribed to "Reason" the ability to discover "necessary" features in the world, and for so long a time failed to see that these features are figments of the imagination? Whence comes this desire for a "metaphysical certainty" that can be gratified only fictitiously, by an illusory, purely sentimental feeling of certainty?

Positivists confronted with questions of this kind are satisfied to give a purely epistemological answer: like all allegedly metaphysical riddles, the whole problem of necessary truths results from the abuse of words, from grammatical inertia (hypostatizing abstract terms, substantializing verbs and adjectives, etc.—Hobbes said the last word on this subject). In short, according to the positivists, we are dealing with an error. We shall not inquire here whether it really is an error. We shall confine ourselves, in conclusion, to the following observations:

If non‑analytic knowledge is only the sum total of the individual experiences on which it is based and man's cognitive functions are distinguished only by his ability to record experiences, store them, and hand them down to posterity, then his stubborn aspiration to "necessary" knowledge must obviously be dismissed as a futile longing for a non‑existent epistemological paradise. The enormous efforts made in the history of culture to discover this paradise were wholly chimerical. Nonetheless the vast amounts of energy squandered in these explorations and the extraordinary tenacity with which they were carried on are worth pondering, all the more because the explorers were perfectly aware of the technological inconsequence of their efforts. After all, what seventeenth‑century writers called "moral certainty"—i.e., conditions under which we may recognize the truth of a given judgment although our reasons for doing so have no absolute character—is entirely sufficient in scientific thought. From the point of view of applied knowledge, the desire for an epistemological absolute, i.e., "metaphysical certainty," is fruitless, and those in quest of this certainty were perfectly aware of the fact. And yet, we repeat, philosophy has never given up its attempt to constitute an autonomous "Reason," independent of technological applications and irreducible to purely recording functions.

Even if this attempt could be accounted for by the mere misuse of words (which seems highly unlikely), the very fact that it has been made again and again would be evidence of some sort of intellectual degeneracy in the human species. For how else can we interpret these persistent yet fruitless efforts? What gave rise to this orgy or intellectual debauch, which has been practiced for so many centuries and is still being practiced? Ought we not to suspect that the "Reason" that aspired to make itself independent of empirical data and to discover its own domain is some sort of cancerous tissue that has lost interest in its proper, its biologically useful, instrumental mission, and has kept on growing at the expense of genuine vital needs? What else can be the meaning of the assertion that we are dealing with an error, a mistake, an abuse or misuse of words?

If it is true that the quest for "metaphysical certainty" is by definition cognitively fruitless (and it is certainly biologically fruitless, at least in the sense that it does not increase the technological effectiveness of the species), we are compelled to conclude that man's intellectual life is evidence of his biological decadence—a conclusion that accords with the extremer versions of the so‑called philosophy of life.

Obviously, another hypothesis is possible. We may imagine that man's specifically "rational" life—i.e., his efforts to establish the autonomy of "reason"—is evidence of man's participation in another existential order than the one in which his body and animal needs participate. Then everything that is scientifically fruitful, and hence technologically useful, everything that can in one way or another be reduced to articulated conditioned reflexes, would belong among the biological functions, modified only by inherited elements—in accordance with Hume and Mach. On the other hand, everything that stems from other efforts and interests, all aspirations to "transcendental" knowledge, we would be obliged to regard as the result of our participation in some non‑animal world, in chronic opposition to the other. In accordance with Bergson's doctrine, scientific and analytic intelligence would be a functional extension of organic efficiency, while autonomous "Reason" (as the faculty of non‑discursive intuition or of discovering metaphysical truth) would not be an extension or surface layer or instrument of this organic efficiency, but an antagonistic power. In other words, we would be compelled to assume that our biological life and our metaphysical explorations spring from two incompatible and even hostile existential sources, or, to put it concisely, that the physical world is a kind of malicious joke, a trick played on us by some god or demon, while we, the victims of this joke, suffer all the consequences of simultaneously and inevitably belonging to hostile worlds, the consequences of dual citizenship in two countries at odds with each other in a state of protracted warfare. This is roughly the Manichaean doctrine, which can perfectly well be formulated without recourse to religious ideas.

Such an alternative is not encouraging. It is hard to choose between an image of man as the result of evolutionary decadence and the other image, in which he must be looked upon as made up of two halves that do not really fit and cannot possibly be harmonized. Such a choice, of course, is not dictated to us by any scientific considerations; for the time being it remains at the level of purely philosophic reflection, and hence, from the positivist viewpoint, can be set aside like any other metaphysical dilemma. But from the observational standpoint to which positivism assigns an ideological function in our present historical situation, the question takes on reality. From this standpoint, positivist criticism is a rejection of "Reason" so understood, and hence is inevitably an animalization of the cognitive effort. But this criticism is unable to account satisfactorily for the existence of its opposite, which it treats as mere "error," and hence demands no further interpretation.

Now, several centuries of positivist thought—particularly its critiques of synthetic judgments a priori, of the validity of induction, of "essentialist" metaphysics, and of value judgments—have given non‑positivists an awareness of the problems such as can no longer be reversed or concealed. We are not compelled to accept this critique in the sense that it reduces every metaphysical investigation and quest for certainty to mere "error," but we must take cognizance of one of its results, namely, that this technologically useless intellectual effort to attain to Being must once and for all renounce claims to "scientific" status. This result, as I have said before, may be regarded as almost universally accepted. Finally, we must under this assumption recognize that when we try to justify our metaphysical investigations or at least to account for them, we are confronted with the alternative outlined above: either "Reason" is a cancerous tissue in a sick species, or, within the physical world and the imperatives of our bodily nature, is an alien body originating in another world. The philosophical work of our day has found itself caught—to a great extent under the influence of positivist criticism—between the philosophy of life and the lurid Manichaean vision.


Kolakowski, Leszek; Guterman, Norbert, trans. The Alienation of Reason: A History of Positivist Thought (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1968), pp. 202-206, 207-219. This extract compromises the end of chapter 8, "Logical Empiricism: A Scientistic Defense of Threatened Civilization," and the concluding chapter. This book was originally published in Polish in 1966. Revised and republished as Positivist Philosophy from Hume to the Vienna Circle, 1972.

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