Mind and Politics: Introduction

by Ellen Meiksins Wood

Man's speculations about the world began, it is often said, with an interpretation of nature in terms of society, and his earliest attempts to comprehend the world philosophically may have been based on principles derived from social and political order. There have also been suggestions that one sign of a culture's intellectual maturity is its conceptual separation of the natural and social realms; and yet, it is tempting to see, even in the most refined philosophical systems, traces of their political parentage. Certainly, it can be maintained that Western philosophy was born in the political experience of ancient Greece; and the three philosophers with whom the blossoming of the Western tradition is most often associated—Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle—were, if not always politically motivated, at least always profoundly conscious of the political meaning inherent in every aspect of their thought—not simply their explicitly political or ethical doctrines, but their theories on the nature of the cosmos, or on the nature of human knowledge. The connection between the structure of the cosmos and the organization of the political order in the ideas of both Plato and Aristotle seems clear enough; [1] and in the disputes of Socrates and Plato with the Sophists about the nature of truth and knowledge, one cannot fail to recognize a hierarchical conception of society doing battle with the heritage of Periclean democracy. It is beyond the scope of this essay to prove that similarly political motivations have affected the course of Western philosophy in more recent times, or to determine—if it is even possible to do so—what came first in any philosophical system. The task here is simply to indicate some affinities, specifically between certain theories of cognition and certain social and political doctrines; and for the sake of simplicity, without asking if the order of presentation reflects or reverses the actual progress of thought in the philosophical systems being examined, the discussion will begin with the cognitive theories and build upon them to the political doctrines. Nevertheless, it may be worth keeping in mind the possibility that sometimes affinities between these different aspects of philosophy may exist precisely because of a tendency—particularly on the part of a supremely political animal like, say, John Locke—to read political life into all experience. [2]

In any case, without pursuing these suggestions any further or making too many claims for the political meaning of all philosophy, it can certainly be said that whatever its source or motivation every conception of man's nature, whether scientific, philosophical, or simply grounded in common sense, has at least potential practical, moral, or even political significance. Concepts of human nature may serve to mark the prudential boundaries of human action. Sometimes they may be used as negative standards, dismal portraits of what must be overcome to achieve the morally good life; or they may represent positive moral norms in conjunction with the principle that what is "natural" is "good." Certainly, a conscious or unconscious conception of human nature underlies every choice of social or political values; and there is a common tendency to justify political, social, or economic systems in terms of their supposed conformity to human nature, or to condemn others because of their alleged violations of human nature, their "alienation of man from himself." Moreover, social and political systems tend to institutionalize certain conceptions of man by favoring, rewarding, or placing a premium on certain exemplary human types. Indeed, images of man can be self‑fulfilling prophecies. There is nothing unusual, or even particularly controversial, about the observation that people often tend to behave in accordance with the perceptions others have of them. Psychologists, for example, are not infrequently confronted with an inclination on the part of their subjects to adjust their behavior to patterns called for by clinical symptomatology. It may not be so farfetched to imagine, then, that such adjustments take place on a higher, historical plane and that "human nature" may obligingly accommodate itself to the diagnoses of a society's most influential thinkers.

In any case, there comes a point at which analysis of a conception of man ceases to be an empirical problem, a question of the scientific accuracy or viability of that conception, and becomes a practical or even political question. In a sense, it can be argued that ultimately no theory of human nature is empirically verifiable. In the final analysis, whether we approach the problem from the point of view of scientific psychology or philosophical anthropology, we are left with our own perceptions, our own introspection, our own experience of ourselves through which we must interpret our data. Any theory of human nature must in the end be broken down to an irreducible and unverifiable element of self‑experience. Sometimes the demands of scientific or linguistic rigor may seem to force us to describe man in a way which runs counter to our subjective experience of ourselves. But it can be argued that such descriptions remain unintelligible until a meaning derived from self-experience is reintroduced. At any rate, provided there is sufficient "objective" evidence to support the possibility of various conceptions of man, there is, in the end, little basis for choosing among them. Aside from empirical verifiability, we have no criterion but our own self‑experience or—and this is the crucial point here—the practical and moral consequences of adherence to a particular concept of man. From this point of view, then, we may, after exhausting all "scientific" evidence available to us at any given time, find it appropriate to judge theories of man practically and morally. In other words, it may be useful to ask not only "What empirical evidence is there for this theory of man?" but also "What might it mean to act on this image of man?"

This practical dimension is perhaps more apparent in what we may call the conative aspects of conceptions of man—those which concern human will, desires, passions—than it is in the cognitive aspects—those which embrace epistemology and conceptions of the mind. Nevertheless, it is the fundamental premise of this study that moral and even political implications can be drawn from epistemological theories and their underlying conceptions of the mind; that sometimes, in fact, the ultimate meaning of a theory of mind may be seen as a moral or political one; and that sometimes epistemology may, so to speak, be read as political theory. Again, sometimes theories of epistemology and conceptions of the mind may seem to establish the groundwork for moral and political doctrines; at times, theories of mind and epistemology seem instead to be derived from moral or political doctrines. But whichever comes first, the affinities between theories of mind and political doctrines are often striking, and an examination of those affinities between two perhaps seemingly unrelated kinds of theory may shed light on the meaning of both.

Our concern here will be with some social and political implications of the Kantian theory of mind, according to which the subject plays a positive, in a sense self‑active and spontaneously creative, role in the constitution of experience; and the opposition of this theory to Lockean empiricism, in which the subject is seen as essentially receptive, reflexive, and responsive‑-passive in the sense that it does not play an active role in the constitution of experience. The link between these theories and political doctrine will be sought particularly in their common concern with the problem of human individuality. Perhaps the most basic questions which must be confronted by social and political thinkers in some way concern the nature of man's individuality and his sociality, and the relationship between the two. It is strange, therefore, that analyses of social and political thought generally confine themselves to the conative aspects of human nature as they bear upon the questions of individuality and sociality, virtually ignoring the importance that a theorist's view of cognition and the cognitive dimension of the self and individuality may have for social doctrine.

We have begun, then, by opposing the "Kantian" approach to empiricism; nevertheless, such an opposition may be misleading. Kant certainly did not see his doctrine as diametrically opposed to philosophical empiricism. If anything, he considered himself an heir to the empiricists, proceeding from their legacy in an attempt to correct its deficiencies. It is true that in certain respects Kant may be said to have sought a synthesis of rationalism and empiricism, but it is perhaps more accurate to say that Kant's epistemology was meant as a correction of empiricism a correction that preserved many of the latter's fundamental principles. [3] In other words, the opposition between the epistemology of Kant and, for example, that of Locke is perhaps an opposition between two kinds of empiricism. The essential character of Kantian "empiricism" and its opposition to Lockean epistemology will be discussed particularly in chapter 1 of this essay, and the implications of these epistemological differences will be developed in subsequent chapters.

The significant point here is that the distinction between these two "empiricisms" can be carried into the realm of social and political thought. Specifically, this distinction has a bearing on the notion of individualism, which will be our primary concern in this study.  One cannot help being struck, for example, by the coincidence that the British intellectual tradition that contributed so much to the so‑called philosophy of individualism should also have fostered the philosophy of empiricism, or by the fact that John Locke, the high priest of empiricism, should also be regarded as a founding father of liberal individualism. Moreover, it is being suggested that, if we can speak of two opposing varieties of empiricism, one exemplified by Locke and his philosophical approach and the other by the Kantian "revolution," an analogous opposition can be found between two modes of individualism; in other words, there is one mode of individualism related to the Kantian approach and another related to the Lockean position.

There is a tendency to apply the term "individualism" rather narrowly to the social doctrine associated with liberal democratic philosophy. In common usage, what purports to be a purely formal objective definition of the term nevertheless secretes certain doctrinal assumptions about the nature of man and society. A number of assumptions are compactly packaged, for example, in the dictionary's opposition of "individualism" to “collectivism,” “socialism," etc. Such a definitional antagonism is not justified unless one proceeds from certain liberal premises. If individualism as a social doctrine involves a commitment to the moral primacy of the individual in society and the right of the individual to freedom and self‑realization, a host of additional assumptions must be made about man and his relationship to society before "individualism," individual freedom, and self‑realization can be made by definition to exclude "socialism" and "collectivism." In short, the meaning of "individualism" depends on one's conception of the nature of individuality.

We have suggested, then, that there are doctrines of individualism which are opposed to Lockean individualism in much the same way that Kantian epistemology is opposed to Lockean empiricism. If this analogy is pursued, insofar as the non‑Lockean individualism may encompass "socialism," it can be said that socialism is not the diametric opposite of individualism any more than Kantian epistemology is the opposite of empiricism. The suggestion that Kantian epistemology and the "new" individualism are related is not simply derived by analogy from the relationship between Lockean empiricism and liberal individualism. [4] The connection between the Kantian epistemology and socialist individualism may not be as immediate as that between empiricism and liberal individualism; or at any rate, in the former the union is not so clearly represented in the person of one thinker, as it is in the case of Locke. Nevertheless, it can be argued that socialist individualism, particularly as it is elaborated by Marx, is in a very fundamental sense grounded in or supported by the Kantian philosophical revolution and that Marx derives certain important aspects of his critique of liberalism from principles traceable to the Kantian critique of empirical epistemology.

These connections between theories of mind and social doctrines have a number of aspects, which will be discussed in what follows. We can, however, establish a general conceptual framework at the outset by referring to what might be called the structural connections between the theories being discussed. One might begin by saying that, in the two cases under scrutiny, each epistemological theory is united to a social theory, not simply by inference, by analogy, or by a concept of man, but by fundamental formal or structural similarities. In other words, they are united by a common mode of thought. The Kantian and Lockean philosophical approaches may be looked upon as representing different modes of thought—or what might be called systems or structures of thought—which have implications for, and manifestations in, a variety of problems which may on the surface seem otherwise unrelated. There are often cases in which a particular mode of thought, a certain form, a system of logic, can be seen as a distinctively characteristic common denominator between, for example, certain scientific theories, on the one hand, and certain philosophical systems, on the other; and this common denominator, this structural similarity, allows one to classify the theories together as representing a single "approach" or "pattern." And for our system of classification perhaps we can adopt in a rather simplified form the Marxist distinction, derived from Hegel, between "metaphysical" and "dialectical" modes of thought. [5]

For our present purpose, we may use Friedrich Engels' characterization of the two modes of thought, with the admission that his presentation of the dialectic is rather superficial and fails to do justice to the philosophical meaning which the concept has for Hegel and even for Marx. If Engels' account is simplistic, it is nonetheless useful here where our intention is simply to outline certain obvious differences in typical patterns of thinking:

To the metaphysician, things and their mental reflexes, ideas, are isolated, are to be considered one after the other and apart from each other, are objects of investigation fixed, rigid, given once for all. He thinks in absolutely irreconcilable antitheses. "His communication is 'yea, yea; nay, nay'; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." For him a thing either exists or does not exist; a thing cannot at the same time be itself and something else. Positive and negative absolutely exclude one another; cause and effect stand in rigid antithesis one to the other.

. . . And the metaphysical mode of thought, justifiable and necessary as it is in a number of domains . . . sooner or later readies a limit, beyond which it becomes one-sided, restricted, abstract, lost in insoluble contradictions. In the contemplation of individual things, it forgets the connection between them; in the contemplation of their existence it forgets the beginning and end of that existence; of their repose, it forgets their motion. It cannot see the wood for the trees.

. . . [But] every organic being is every moment the same and not the same . . . every organic being is always itself, and yet something other than itself.

Further, we find upon closer investigation that the two poles of an antithesis, positive and negative, e.g., are as inseparable as they are opposed and that despite all their opposition, they mutually interpenetrate. . . .

None of these processes and modes of thought enters into the framework of metaphysical reasoning. Dialectics, on the other hand, comprehends things and their representations, ideas, in their essential connection, concatenation, motion, origin, and ending. [6]

Engels associates the metaphysical mode of thought with the growth of empirical science, and then, significantly, argues that “this way of looking at things was transferred by Bacon and Locke from natural science to philosophy." [7] Moreover, he goes on to suggest that, at least as far as natural science is concerned, Kant's theory of the solar system marks a crucial breakthrough in the development of dialectics. [8]  It can even be argued, as we shall see, that it is not simply Kant's scientific thought but his philosophical system as a whole, notably his epistemology, that introduces the dialectic into the "new German philosophy." In fact, it may be suggested that the opposition between the "Kantian" and the "Lockean" approaches corresponds essentially to the Hegelian and Marxist distinction.  This would mean that we can speak of Lockeian empiricism as "metaphysical" empiricism (remembering that the term "metaphysical" is being used in a special sense), while the Kantian brand of empiricism might be called "dialectical." And, in accordance with our fundamental premise that there is a connection between these epistemological theories and certain social doctrines, perhaps we can also speak of metaphysical and dialectical individualisms.

Thus, for example, if the fundamental characteristics of the dialectical mode of thought are its tendency to reunite rather than simply to separate, to see things in dynamic interaction, to synthesize rather than simply to compare, particularly to unite and synthesize opposites, and, finally, to see things in process rather than static rigidity, we shall see how these qualities are reflected in Kantian epistemology, in its attempt dialectically to unite subject and object. Moreover, it is not difficult to foresee what a dialectical theory of individualism might be. It might, to begin with, take a characteristic view of the relationship between those "antithetical" opposites, individual and society. As we shall see, for example, the dialectical approach, unlike the metaphysical, emphasizes the dynamic unity, the reciprocity, of individual and society, the ways in which individuality and sociality are mutually reinforcing rather than antagonistic. It also conceives of individuality and sociality as evolving through a dialectical interaction in which the nature of self‑consciousness and the sense of community develop and mutually change each other in a dynamic process. In any case, the discussion that follows will attempt to show how dialectical individualism reflects both the union of opposites and the dynamic characteristics of the dialectical mode of thought, while metaphysical individualism, in the form of liberalism, maintains the antagonism of  opposites and their static rigidity.

Given this general "structural" framework, we can now proceed to a more specific outline of the argument being presented in this essay.

1.  The controversy between Kant and the empiricists revolves around the role of the subject in experience—i.e. around the subject‑object relation and the question of the independence or "concreteness" of thought and reason.

2.  Conceptions of the role of the subject and of the subject-object relation have implications for conceptions of the nature of consciousness and the self, and the relation of self to other—to the external world and other men.

3.  These conceptions of the self have a two‑fold significance for the present argument:

i)  In their ideas on the relation between the self and the external world in general, they suggest something about the nature of individuality and the freedom of the individual.

ii) In their ideas on the relation between the self and other men specifically, they suggest something about the relation between the individual and society, individuality and sociality, something about community.

4.  Needless to say, ideas on the nature of individuality and sociality, liberty and community, will be reflected in conceptions of man's relation to objective social conditions, and, in particular, the individual's relation to specific social institutions: government, property, etc.

In short, two of the most fundamental political concepts—liberty and community—can be regarded as two aspects of the self's relation to other. In other words, a conception of the self (and hence, ultimately, a theory of mind) is an implicit unifying factor in political theory—uniting two of its most essential questions; and liberty and community are two sides of the same coin. I would argue, then, that certain theories of mind and the conceptions of the self they imply tend to encourage or support certain social and political ideas.

To emphasize the connections being suggested here, it may be worth mentioning, in a rather lengthy digression, that the logical associations are at least sufficiently strong actually to have caused a good deal of intellectual uneasiness in the minds of certain thinkers who found themselves holding certain views on the nature of mind and the self, on the one hand, and apparently conflicting social ideas, on the other. David Hume and J. S. Mill are two striking examples.

The problem of the self was an insoluble one for both Hume and Mill, and one which attacked the very foundations of their philosophies. In both instances, the problem is one of reconciling a conception of the mind and the self as simply a "series of feelings, or possibilities of them," with the more definite, independent conception of the self demanded by some of their apparently most cherished principles. Hume in effect admits that his conception of the self cannot sustain his conception of sympathy, the source of community; Mill, that his idea of the self cannot sustain his ideas of individuality and liberty. These ideas of liberty and community seem to be a fundamental source of friction, both within these philosophers' own systems, and often between them and the ideas of their liberal colleagues and predecessors.

The discussion of Hume that appears in chapter 2, for example, cites his attack on Hobbes and Locke for their conceptions of sociality. Hume begins by following Locke's conception of the self to its logical conclusion, but soon finds that it conflicts with his own conception of sympathy. Finally, unable to find a more satisfactory explanation of the self consistent with his philosophical principles, but still unwilling to sacrifice his idea of sympathy, he simply admits his confusion and throws up his hands.

The case with Mill, which is also discussed in what follows, is strikingly similar. It is precisely his conception of individuality and liberty—considered to be his primary innovative contribution to liberalism—that comes into conflict with the rest of his own philosophical system, in which he remains more true to his predecessors. To quote from R. Anschutz's respected work on Mill, in which he discusses Mill's consternation over the difficulties posed by the only theory of Mind and Ego that is compatible with his basic philosophical position:

In other words, Mill is unable to make anything of the notion of a knowing subject in associationist terms and he is unwilling to try and make anything of it in any other terms. It is hard to imagine a more candid confession of intellectual bankruptcy; and the consequences of Mill's failure in this case are fully as serious as they were in the previous case [i.e., in the case of Mill's account of the objective world. E.W.] For when we turn from speculation to practise, the problem of reconciling flux and permanence in the knowing subject re‑emerges as the problem of reconciling determinism and free will in the moral agent; and this is a problem, as Mill had already discovered, which is capable of preying on the mind. [9]

In any case, we may think in terms of two model social theories or two traditions, each characterized primarily by a particular conception of the self-other relationship in both its aspects that is, particular conceptions of liberty and community. The model of liberalism is characterized by a conception of liberty in which human freedom is not incompatible with subjection even to objective forces external to the individual; and a conception of community as externalized, perhaps enforced coexistence, assuming atomistic relationships among individuals and, insofar as individuality tends to be equated with atomism and privatization, an essential antagonism between individuality and sociality. The contrasting "Kantian" model is characterized by a conception of freedom as self‑activity, autonomy, and transcendence of objective determination; [10] and a conception of community as an integral part of the human psyche, united in consciousness with individuality, so that sociality and individuality—which here does not simply mean atomism or privatization, but the impulse toward self‑activity, creativity, and self‑development—are not antagonistic but mutually supportive. [11]

Needless to say, each model will be exemplified by a variety of thinkers whose systems of ideas are not identical to one another. For example, the liberal model or tradition, anticipated by Hobbes, includes Locke, Madison, Bentham, and J. S. Mill. The other group, which is anticipated by Rousseau and includes Kant, Hegel, and Marx, is even more complicated. [12] Since the pivotal point of this essay is the Kantian revolution, we must concern ourselves with the "Kantian" model less as the representation of a unified and complete school than as a unified abstraction from a revolutionary process, in reaction to the liberal tradition—a process that, in an important sense, begins with Kant's epistemology and culminates in Marx's social theory, proceeding by means of successive adjustments to an initial revolutionary break. [13]

At any rate, as diverse as the thinkers in each group may be, to class them together in this instance seems no less legitimate than in any other instance where thinkers are "lumped together" in either a "school" or a "tradition." To the extent that any school or tradition includes more than one creative thinker, it cannot, of course, be monolithic. The mark of a tradition is surely not identity among its members. Instead, aside from the kinds of "structural" similarities discussed earlier, we tend to bind thinkers together on the basis of a few essential shared assumptions which are so central that the similarities among the thinkers may be regarded as more fundamental than the dif­ferences. For example, as has been suggested, the frame of reference in the present discussion is the view that the most salient and far‑reaching characteristic of liberalism is its conception of liberty and community; and that all the thinkers here designated as liberals, whatever their specific differences, share these funda­mental assumptions about the nature of liberty and community, a fact that places very definite limitations on their specific differences as well. By the same token, the Kantian tradition is united by its opposition to the fundamental assumptions upon which these liberal principles are based.

A more difficult problem is posed by the fact that our "models" unite theories of mind with social and political theories. This means that the models demand a congruity, perhaps even a logical connection, between sets of ideas that are often at best only unconsciously connected in the mind of a given thinker. Perhaps, therefore, it would be useful to emphasize that this essay is seeking to construct something like "ideal types" or "typological simplifications," which, for purposes of analysis, abstract an integrated, coherent order from the ideas of a number of thinkers who may not themselves have been conscious of such integration, or may not have clearly formulated the implications of their ideas in such a way as to unite them into a coherent system. It is assumed that the construction of such analytical devices is justified, first of all, on the simple grounds that comprehension almost invariably demands an assumption of understandable order. It is in itself significant and illuminating that the material lends itself to the imposition of coherent order by an external observer. It is obviously more significant if there is some indication that the order is not simply a subjective construct imposed by the observer, that the compulsion toward unity and coherence among sets of ideas about different problems is operative within the presumed "tradition" itself. In other words, the use of such typological constructs is particularly useful if the deviations from the model which actually occur in concrete cases are, in some sense, "objectively" meaningful. In the present instance, the construction of types seems especially justified, since in those cases where a particular thinker deviates significantly from an ascribed pattern the deviation is objectively meaningful, either in the sense that the thinker himself seems to have felt an imbalance in his system, or in the sense that the deviation is of such a nature that it has triggered a revolution in thought, a "paradigm change," carrying in its wake a series of profound readjustments among various sets of ideas. In other words, in the latter case, a deviation in one element of our pattern seems to have called for, in the minds of immediately succeeding thinkers, a change in the total pattern to restore the balance. If such a relationship, such a compulsion toward balance, consistency, or coherence, seems to exist among sets of ideas about different kinds of problems—for example, between theories of mind and social theories—it seems helpful to think of them as united into a thought pattern or type, whether or not any given thinker reflects the pattern perfectly and consciously.

Here, then, is how the discussion proceeds chapter by chapter.

The first chapter begins with a brief discussion of the Kantian "revolution" and its implications for the concept of mind. The central point here is Kant's attribution of a positive, as it were self‑active or original, role to the subject in the constitution of experience and the implications this has for the subject‑object relation, the dialectical mode of thought, and the concept of freedom.

In chapter 2, the subject‑object problem becomes the self-other problem. In other words, the theory of mind and the subject‑object dichotomy is pursued to its implications for the idea of consciousness and the self, the process of individuation, the nature of individuality and its relationship to sociality in the development of individual men. Again throughout the discussion an attempt is made to contrast the "Kantian" approach to these problems with the Lockean-empiricist approach.

Chapter 3 proceeds from this examination of the growth of individuality in individual men to an examination of an analogous development in the history of mankind as a whole. In other words, just as chapter 2 deals with the psychological dimension of individuality, chapter 3 discusses the anthropological dimension—the process of individuation in the passage from nature to culture. This discussion then is followed by an analysis of the nature of human sociality and its relationship to individuality and freedom as seen by certain thinkers who reflect the approaches being contrasted.

Chapter 4, on the political dimension of the problem, begins with a few general remarks on the meaning of "individualism" in terms of the different psychological and anthropological conceptions of individuality previously outlined. Finally, an attempt is made to relate these contrasting conceptions of individuality and individualism to Karl Marx's distinction—again inspired by Hegel—between "civil society" and "human society." This distinction, it is held, provides a useful conceptual framework for exemplifying the contrasting principles of society that might be based respectively on the two contrasting individualisms. In other words, "civil society" might be the society of metaphysical individualism; "human society," that of dialectical individualism.

A few concluding remarks will be devoted to the suggestion that modern behavioral political science in many fundamental ways follows in the tradition of the "metaphysical" approach as here outlined. In a sense, this suggestion constitutes a plea for the elaboration in modern political theory of a new "antimetaphysical" approach, as in some ways is already true in other social sciences.

One final introductory word. It has already been pointed out that the two "traditions" under discussion are not diametrically opposed, indeed are in many ways less two traditions than two aspects of a single one. They are both, after all, "individualisms." The "socialist" mode owes a great deal to the "liberal" and shares many of its commitments. Only if one forgets this is it possible to regard a critique of liberalism, such as the one implicit in the present essay, as a betrayal of all the respect for freedom and individuality that liberalism is said to represent. The present critique is not meant as a betrayal of these "liberal" values or of the admirable political and legal tradition they reflect, but, on the contrary, simply as a reminder that it is possible at least to conceive of an "individualism"—perhaps one might even call it a "liberalism" in a broader sense—that is somewhat more true to its commitments.


[1] One commentator has written, for example: "Aristotle wants to show that the Greek city, oligarchical and solidly structured along hierarchical lines, is just because it is constructed in the image of nature. Obviously, this implies that he must have begun to construct nature in the image of the city, ... and it is by no means easy to distinguish historically what in the politics stems from the science and what in the science stems from the politics." R. Lenoble, "Origines de la pensée scientifique moderne," in Histoire de la science (Paris, 1957), p. 391, quoted in Paolo Rossi, Philosophy, Technology and the Arts in the Early Modern Era (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), p. 14. [—> main text]

[2] At any rate, one is tempted to suggest that epistemological disputes sometimes revolve around propositions that seem unintelligible, or at best formalistic and scholastic, until they are understood to have some other meaning or intention, whether political or otherwise‑-that is, until they are read as something more than propositions about the nature of cognition. What, for example, does it mean to say that experience is in principle not necessary in the formation of ideas, that experience is simply the "occasion" not the cause of ideas? Such a proposition in the case of Descartes (to use an obvious example) might be as much theological as epistemological. It is by formulating his theory of the origin of ideas in a particular way that Descartes is able to make certain statements about the existence of God, who, in the absence of a direct relationship between ideas and the world of experience, becomes the cause of the correspondence between ideas and external reality. [—> main text]

[3] Notably, the principle that there are no ideas where there is no sense experience, and that experience is the cause and the subject matter of ideas, not simply the occasion—if anything—of ideas, as it is in a sense for the rationalists. Also, see below, pp. 19‑20, for Hegel's account of what Kant shares with the Lockean empiricists. [—> main text]

[4] If Lockean empiricism can, in a sense, be regarded as an "individualistic" epistemology—because of its subjectivism, for example—Kantian epistemology can perhaps be regarded as the ultimate in individualism in a somewhat different sense. See, for example, Georg Simmel's observation that in Kant's philosophy ". . . the ego has wrested its absolute sovereignty. . . . It stands so much on itself alone that even its world, the world, can stand on it": The Sociology of Georg Simmel, trans. and ed. Kurt Wolff (New York: Free Press, 1964), p. 70. [—> main text]

[5] Hegel distinguishes—for example in the introduction to his Logic—between the dialectic and the "older metaphysic." The Marxists—Marx and Engels, later Plekhanov, etc.—refer to the non‑dialectical mode of thought simply as the metaphysical mode. For the sake of convenience, the latter designation is being adopted here. The special use of the term "metaphysical" will not, I hope, create confusion. [—> main text]

[6] Friedrich Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Selected Works (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, 1962), pp. 130‑131. [—> main text]

[7] Ibid., p. 130. [—> main text]

[8] See, e.g., Ibid., p. 132. [—> main text]

[9] R. Anschutz, The Philosophy of J. S. Mill (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953), pp. 179‑180. [—> main text]

[10] The difference between these two conceptions of freedom is perhaps the difference between naturalistic conceptions of man and the conception of man reflected, for example, in Sartre's observation, "What we call freedom is the irreducibility of the cultural order to the natural order": Search for a Method, trans.  Hazel Barnes (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), p. 152. [—> main text]

[11] This distinction between a conception of community as enforced co‑existence and a more "integrative" conception of community is reflected in the liberal fascination with punishment and with law and order, in contrast to an opposing view which places less emphasis on violence than on "creative space." [—> main text]

[12] Others have sometimes been included, although rather tangentially, for purposes of illustration. Jean Piaget, for example, while he certainly has an elaborate theory of mind, does not explicitly develop a political theory. Nevertheless, his explicit conviction that the natural tendency of the healthy individual, if allowed to mature and develop fully, is toward a desire for equality, autonomy, cooperation, and solidarity with his fellow‑men, rather than inequality, heteronomy, competition, and egoism, has some tantalizing implications for politicaI theory, if followed to its logical conclusion. [—> main text]

[13] To be perfectly accurate, the object here is not so much to trace the influence of Kant himself as to discuss the significance of a particular theory of mind which is most commonly associated with him. That theory of mind may have been held, and may still be held, by people not influenced by Kant himself, but he is certainly the thinker who is credited with its first systematic elaboration. It seems no less meaningful, then, to designate a certain development in theories of mind as "Kantian" than it is to refer to certain scientific theories as "Newtonian," despite the fact that there may have been scientists who arrived at "Newtonian" insights independently of Newton. [—> main text]

SOURCE: Wood, Ellen Meiksins. Mind and Politics: An Approach to the Meaning of Liberal and Socialist Individualism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972. Introduction, pp. 1-18.

Marx & the Individual Reconsidered: Selected Bibliography

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