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Theory in the
R. E. Puhek
Copyright 1971 & 1997 by R. E. Puhek
All Rights Reserved
Theory in the
The Collectivization of Thought
The Objectivity of Science
The Disappearance of Truth
Primary Knowing
Secondary Knowing
Reason and Symbol
Four Ways
Imposition of Partial Knowing
The Creation of Objects
Symbols and Objects
Value and Importance
Intensifying the Error
Context of the Problematical Situation
Creation of Self
Self as Subject: Knowledge
Self as Object: Society
Why Self?
Issues and Answers
A Priori
Synthetic and Analytic Judgments
Dialectics and Existentialism
Explanation as Instinct
Linkage: The Instinct Satiated
The Use of Laws
Corrupting Knowledge
Part of a Part
Sense and Reason
Contemporary Orientations
Mechanisms: Systems and Functions
Reductionism: Economic and Psychological
Failure of Past Orientations
Separation, Unity, and Filters
Five-fold Blindness
The Object of Social Research
Method of Renewal
Realms of Light
Realms of Darkness
Dictatorship of Consciousness and Concrete Wholeness
Power as Explanation
Power as a Means and as an End
The Tyranny of Means
Power as an End in Itself
Power as a Means to Rational Ends
Power as No-Thing
The Source of the Illusion of Power
Conflict and Conscience Transcended
Knowledge and Power
Power as Utility or Mystery?
Power as Concrete
Nihilism Young and Old
As it has always been, knowledge today is threatened
from two sides. It is threatened by those who wish to
abandon it and return to the pre-conscious world of
paradise and by those who would destroy it by
enchaining it. The two sides, apparently contradictory,
actually feed and thrive symbiotically upon each other.
The victim of each is not the other but our life-blood:
Those professional intellectuals who on the surface
today appear most to serve knowledge are the very ones
who enchain it. Much in the same way as some medieval
Popes claimed to be the “servants of the servants of
God” and, by claiming that they were necessary
servants, rather had made themselves into the masters
of God’s servants thereby displacing God, so, too,
modern professional “servants of knowledge” have made
themselves its masters and the masters of all who would
serve it. They have placed their chains around
knowledge and forged them with resentment, jealousy,
pretensions of pride, and hatred.
The confinement of knowledge has compelled those who
refuse to be enslaved to break from attempts to know
and instead to soar in the illusion of freedom. Their
abandonment of knowledge has only given them different
chains. A new dark age is encroaching upon us and will
overtake us unless knowledge can be freed from its
chains and unless increasing numbers of us discover
that the freedom of knowledge does not mean freedom
from knowledge. Yet the chains grow tighter and tighter
and flight from them more and more frequent.
As dangerous to humanity as the freezing of knowledge
in the physical sciences during the dark ages past
might have been, in the dark age coming it will be
evermore so. Now not only science but with it society
will be completely frozen. In the past, however dark an
age might have become, there was always a place
“outside” society where thinkers could retreat with a
lantern, criticizing, challenging, and finally changing
what was established. Today the dark age confronts us
with the possibility of an entirely closed system, a
system that allows “criticism” perhaps but that utterly
contains it, thereby negating it. The closed system
might allow attacks upon parts of itself, but only on
the basis of its own assumptions, values, and
standards. We may even be at the opening stages of a
dark age where freedom and criticism, and therefore,
change, are not only contained but where the enslaving
order actually lives off, needs, and fosters them in
order overall to remain static.
Confronting this problem, in no place it is more
important to release knowledge from it chains than in
the social sciences. During the past four decades, the
movement in these sciences has been toward an ever more
closed system of thought—allowing diversity and living
off it, but only in the context of the established
order. Unless social knowledge is freed from its
chains, the flight of humanity will be away from
knowledge and toward surrender to determinism. The need
is urgent and the hour late. May we act to renew the
freedom of knowledge now.
In this work I have attempted to set forth an
orientation to knowledge and explanation that stands as
an alternative to current approaches. In discussing
underpinning social science, I am seeking not to
establish a philosophical system so much as to indicate
the way that orientations color all of knowledge and
the way that my orientation, simply because it is
different, leads to a very different understanding of
the nature of knowledge and explanation.
A revolution is occurring in the social sciences, one
that will be even more significant than the behavioral
revolution that took place in some of the disciplines
only a few decades ago. Consequently, I am writing with
two audiences in mind: those who are already involved
in moving with the change and those who recognize it
but are not convinced that it is necessary, desirable,
or even comprehensible. I write to suggest the
necessity for renewal rather than “revolution” and,
therefore, I call on the revolutionaries for integrity—
for the new not as a replacement but as a fulfillment
of the old; to the unpersuaded I hope to suggest the
marvelous possibilities renewal may present for the
solution of both perennial and peculiarly modern
The Introduction offers a general overview of the
development of the social sciences illustrating the
points where, when confronted with two equally valid
paths, these sciences arbitrarily selected one. At the
same time, it suggests how some of the generally
accepted elements in the study of society, such as the
sociology of knowledge, provide possible alternatives.
The rest of the work consists of a way to renew the
roots of the social sciences.
Humanizing the Mind
Socially, personally, and mentally, we invent devices
for coping with what is. Inevitably, the devices turn
against us and become our own undoing. Our creations
escape our control and instead control us. We make
governments to serve us and, in the end, find ourselves
serving rather than being served while the official
“servants” of government tell us, “Ask not what your
government can do for you but what you can do for your
government”; we arrange ourselves for the efficient
production of goods and gradually discover that the
arrangements are first manipulated by special groups in
arrangements take on a life of their own dominating
everyone; we develop ways of relating toward one
another personally, call these relations “roles,” then
come to believe that the roles are really us and must
be perpetuated lest an identity crisis should arise.
These kinds of tragedies occur in every society and
in every human being—the means, the invention, becomes
the end and the reality. One of the most dangerous
instances of this transmutation occurs in the realm of
thought; there we create notions on the basis of our
experience and from collections of those notions we
build theories. The notions and theories are then
adopted as reality thereby entrapping and enslaving
creative thought, preventing it from coping with
ongoing experiences.
All this gives new meaning to the phrase, “the child
is father to the man”—understood now not in the
Freudian sense that the experience of the child
determines the future psychological health of the
adult. The offspring of the parents, the created,
constitute their master. Concrete life is placed under
the mastery of the object of past creativity. We can
easily see that old ideas tend to dominate life
expression; but we are blind to the domination of old
ways of thought. Our minds find it nearly impossible to
comprehend how the old patterns of thought bring death
since our minds use these very patterns in trying to
comprehend. For this reason, we must periodically
suspend all rules of thought in order to discover
whether our ways of thinking are in fact the true basis
of the suffering we are constantly ascribing to
specific ills or specific ideas and attitudes external
to the thinking process.
The scientific study of society has been guilty of
encapsulating and enslaving minds and, consequently,
has been equally guilty of the perpetuation of old
social horrors as well as the establishment of new
ones. While there is no doubt that individuals and
society can be studied scientifically, faith in the
scientific method of “behavioralism” misleads and is
destructive of humanity.
The Collectivization of Thought
We usually imagine that the development of collective
thought is evolutionary and progressive. Most of us
automatically assume that patterns of thought have
gradually become better and better. We believe that old
patterns are discarded or adjusted only when they are
found wanting and that, therefore, the outcome can only
be gradual betterment. We offer, for example, great
praise to the behavioral revolutionaries for freeing
research into social reality from the prejudices of
historical speculation much in the same way that social
philosophical speculation. The historical approach
allegedly liberated the study of society from biased
value judgments. Students drawing conclusions from
historical investigation were to seek out “the facts”
themselves and to let those facts speak. Past
indulgence in philosophical wool gathering led to the
reaction of abandoning ideals for realities. Similarly,
when social history deteriorated into historicism or
into the unending gathering of data with little
illumination and when it was seen that personal value
judgments still crept in and clouded the investigators’
view of the “facts,” the movement to science occurred
as a logical outcome of the original orientation to the
objective facts.
Something happened in the development of social
thought, however, to lay the basis for the loss of what
was most valuable in all earlier ways of approaching
social reality. To characterize that change as
succinctly as possible, thought became collectivized.
The collectivization of labor during recent centuries
has now been duplicated by the collectivization of
thought. Industrialization collectivized labor by
forcing workers to gather in large units and to
specialize and simplify the functions of each worker.
Similarly, the rise of the intellectual factory, the
modern university, which has been indentured to the
service of industry and even more so to that of
technology, forces a concentration and a specialization
of thought. The search for human truth has become the
search for productively useful knowledge. Intellectual
activity is now considered as “productivity.” The
product of thought is the result of specialized,
narrow, and yet intensely interdependent thinking. Even
the major dilemmas of industry and thought are
identical; for example, creative labor can only be the
activity of a person—the outward expression of an
interior state—and likewise creative thought must be
personal because creative thought is the mind’s turning
inward to personal experience. Just as the consumer has
become king as far as material production is concerned
and the productive worker has been enslaved, so, too,
has the intellectual consumer become king and the
extinguished in both.
At any rate, the collectivization of thought has
equivalent of the bureaucratic departments of material
industry. The truth is that thought cannot be
collectivized or bureaucratized without irreparable
damage being done to its essence. Creative thought is
essentially the human mind’s attempting to grasp what
is happening in experience. Since an experience cannot
be wholly shared, collectivization requires that the
unshareable element be relegated to the realm of the
exclusively personal or to non-existence. Ironically,
the cure for collectivization is likely to be denounced
because it will sound like “collectivization” in the
Marxist “collectivization.”
The consumers of ideas—the materially productive
enterprises of economies and governments, their lackeys
seeking jobs through education at the universities, and
individual purchasers of goods—are regarded as most
important. The servant of production has become the
whole discipline of economics, or political science, or
sociology, and so on, and the thinker has been made the
servant of thought. Thinker is servant to thought,
thought is servant to product, product is servant to
consumer, and the consumer is enslaved by beliefs and
thoughts that are either traditional or are produced
mechanically by the demands of an abstract system
purged of all human will. Thought used to be the
servant of life; the thinker employed thought to serve
life and its betterment. Now, life is enslaved to
The Objectivity of Science
objective. Its vaunted objectivity is in fact the very
center of the corruption. To science, objectivity means
the absence of the whole person from a judgment
concerning reality. Although it may be well to
eliminate personal prejudices from the investigator of
society, the objectivity of science fails to remove
prejudice; moreover, the price of its attempt to do so
is the eclipse or elimination of part of human social
reality since these things—such as the way that
emotions are linked to external events or the meaning
of love—are inaccessible to the collective discipline.
Science may succeed in eliminating part of personal,
prejudicial value judgments in investigation, but some
personal value judgment are undeniably present at least
as a basis of determining what is or is not a problem.
No one can investigate something without believing the
activity to contribute something worthwhile to life;
therefore, selecting something as a problem entails a
The same holds true for science itself. It may be
possible to approach objectivity in minimizing the
function of the person in investigation, but value
judgments are also implicit in the notions of science
itself and in the very identification of the various
disciplines. Science is based on the belief that sense
data gathered by mind can be the exclusive basis of
truth—that we can discover a truth about human beings
by empirical observation. This is a clear value
discipline by a collective value judgment that the
perspective of examining society as an “economy” is
valid and valuable—that there is an economic reality,
objectivity—having made its assumptions, it may succeed
objectivity—the collective process of making the
scientific assumptions is a series of prejudiced value
The important challenge to objectivity in the
scientific study of society or of “nature,” then, is
not internal or external. Science is built on
assumptions that are not themselves objective. Once
they have been accepted, objectivity can reign. These
assumptions are not in the nature of prior scientific
propositions openly asserted as applying to the nature
of things. Rather they emanate from the epistemology of
science. In other words, the kind of study and
generalizing possible in science is based on a view of
reality that is not objective. The assumption does not
occur before an investigation begins so that it can be
challenged, but rather the assumption pervades all of
science from the foundation up to everyday research and
operates like a filter the mind is required to look
In error, then, is not the assertion that a scientist
can be objective, but rather the claim that science is
or can be objective. Although it is possible for
scientists to extract themselves and their prejudices
from their studies, this does not mean that their
approach itself is objective in the sense of being a
way of discovering a reality or truth lying outside
assumptions and derived from objects.
If looked at in this light, the objectivity of
science turns out to be at best inter-subjective
validity. Scientists cannot say, as a scientific
generalization, that this room is warm because they
feel warm. They objectify experience and say that this
room has a temperature, measured on an objective,
impersonal Fahrenheit scale of one hundred degrees.
They can get away with this, however, only because
“temperature” of one hundred degrees will nearly always
feel warm. What have the scientists done?
They have
turned a subjective experience into an objective one by
a measuring tool that they say stands outside them.
They have succeeded in extracting themselves, but their
science has significance only because of the subjective
and co-subjective impact of a condition they have
The ideal of objectivity depends upon the asserted
existence of objects to be examined and the belief that
scientists can extract in their studies everything from
themselves except their scientific knowledge. In
varying degrees, it is possible for them to do this,
and they can assert the existence of external objects.
Both of these steps, however—steps that are at the core
of science and are pervasive within any study—may be
attacked. While internally the scientific approach may
be more immune from prejudice than most other
approaches, externally, no way of knowing may be more
prone to it.
The Disappearance of Truth
Faith in objectivity is connected with the loss of
the search for truth. Even the most consistent follower
of empiricism asserts that the facts are merely the
outward sign of a theory and that it is the theory that
brings us closer to understanding reality. Yet the
empiricist would claim that the understanding deriving
from theory consists only of the conjoining of a
multitude of facts; the conjoining can be in error
since it is an operation of human judgment, but the
facts are never.
This faith in facts must not go unchallenged. “Facts”
themselves contain judgments and, therefore, a fact—
while it might be “real” and accurate—is not true.
Moreover, the judgments contained in simple “facts” or
“observations” such as “the sky is blue” are based on a
number of prejudices adopted by the knowers from the
social situation that they are educated in. This
situation is the basis of a belief in the relativity of
truth. We have discovered that what is defined as true
in our society may be defined as untrue in another;
what is seen as a self-evident fact in ours is not
rejected in another. So we come to accept cultural
relativism—all is relative to the particular society we
are born in. There is no truth beyond what our
socialization allows us to accept and, driving the
conclusion far enough, since everyone is socialized in
a slightly different way, there is no absolute standard
of truth aside from what I think is true. From the
relativity of truth, we move to conclude first, the
absolutism of society and social conditioning and,
finally, to insist upon the absolutism of the immediate
belief of the individual—since consensus or group truth
is not truth if I fail to accede to it. That the
absolutism of individual whim must end in chaos for the
community is obvious.
Absolute relativism is blatantly absurd. While
everything is indeed related to everything else,
everything cannot be relative. Relativism of good and
evil or of truth itself is idiotic. Without independent
standards no judgments could be made. The absurdity can
be seen in the position of those who assert absolute
relativism. They are saying: “I know everything is
relative and that there is no standard of truth”—in
other words: “the truth is that there is no truth.”
surrendered to fact or to empirical data. Distinctions
pitting science against philosophy fell when belief in
the existence of anything beyond fact or data
collapsed. It is increasingly apparent that—with the
exception of a few “mad” philosophers who still indulge
in moral and ethical concerns or who fantasize about
art and “feelings”—the surrender of the mind to science
has been unconditional. Speculation of mind has taken a
back seat. “Truth” is revealed by the facts in science,
and philosophy must concern itself only with the
communication of these facts, with analyzing language
and other symbols. Language, some tell us, must be
purified so that one word stands for one fact in
scientific communication will thereby be bettered.
We are faced, in short, with nothing less than a
total collapse of thought. We assert relativity on the
one hand—telling anyone who challenges our lives,
approaches, and disciplines that they have no right to
criticize us because truth is relative --and on the
other hand to insist upon the absolutism of ourselves,
our society, or our discipline as judges of truth. For
professional intellectuals, their science, their field,
becomes the arbiter of truth. They must come to realize
that goods and evils, truths and untruths are relative,
but that they are not absolutely relative. The physical
standard of goods and evils is the human organism—goods
and evils are relative to it; the standard of truth and
untruth is found in the human mind that reflects upon
the whole of human existence. The human is a universal
standard for humans—not me at this given moment in my
passion but me as a whole historical and experiencing
entity. Human good is relative to the human organism;
truth about what is and what is good can only exist
within the human mind and cannot exist within a
discipline. Disciplines began as the communicators of
truth from one mind to another, then they became the
custodians of truth; now they hold truth in captivity—
intellectual fertilization.
The university is a home for truth; we have made it a
market place of ideas. Pick and choose according to
your preference, but take nothing too seriously for the
open secret of this intellectual garden is that there
is no truth. Where there is no whole human mind there
can be no truth. Our minds must become whole, no longer
compartmentalized into disciplines; they must remain
personal, not collective; they must be devoted to
truth, not to facts and things—in short, our minds must
become human again.
Chapter 1
The Dualism
of Knowing
Primary Knowing
No problem for us is more complex, harder to
confront, and yet more necessary to deal with than the
existence of knowledge. The concept “knowledge” refers
to a realm so vast, filled with so many colors, shades,
and figures that even to use one term to encompass all
of its diversity constitutes arrogance. While all of
us, simply because we live, approach knowledge in some
way, none of us has a greater obligation to understand
for ourselves and explain to others what we mean by
knowledge than we who presume to purvey it whether we
be scientist or philosopher.
Much of the confusion arising in science and
philosophy emanates from failure to differentiate
between levels of knowing. Human beings, in the
simplest acts of living, demonstrate an automatic
disposition to confuse and interchange the two levels
of knowledge: the core level and the sign/symbolic
The core level of knowing is the direct, undivided
connection or, or unity among, things. (See Figure 1)
“Knowing” at this level is identical to “consciousness”
or “experience.” In this sense, even animals may be
said to know. Use of the term “knowing” in this way may
strike some as strange and unacceptable, but if we
refer to historical sources, we will find that the term
has often been interchanged with “experience” or
“consciousness.” Biblical usage is most striking.
Simply glance at the reference to the “tree of
knowledge of good and evil” that is taken most often by
contemporaries to mean a different kind of knowledge
but most clearly refers to the first experience of
doing evil. Or, more significantly, consider the longestablished term for sex in the Bible that is carried
over into contemporary life as “carnal knowledge.” “He
knew her” most typically means in this context that “he
experienced her sexually.” Remember the Christian
Bible’s Mary; when told she is to be the mother of
Christ, she replies “How is this to be since I do not
know man?”
This kind of evidence found in language
makes it apparent that ancient peoples were aware of
something that contemporary peoples are less and less
aware of: that the basic level of knowledge is given in
consciousness and experience.
It is not insignificant either that most of these
references to knowledge have sexual implications.
Knowledge is connection and genital sex is one form of
connection. Children, ideas, inventions, are all
“conceived.” The are all manifestations of unification
or copulation. If you would soar on wings of “spirit”
abstraction, you cannot avoid confronting the core
level of knowledge; you must be aware that a successful
flight depends upon the flier’s awareness of its
Our discussion here, like this flight, must begin
with origins—an examination of all assumptions. We
find, however, that we cannot suspend all assumptions
before we embark, but must depend on some, at least for
the sake of initial analysis. We must start, therefore,
with the minimal assumption and proceed critically from
that point—from what we know by assumption—to what we
know having made the assumption. Epistemology is
enmeshed in a fundamental circularity—we cannot speak
of how we know until we have first settled a minimal
ontological question; we must assert the assumption of
something before we can know, and, at the same time, we
must know before we can assert. Until we are able to
epistemology, there is no way out of this dilemma; but
might we suspend the distinction?
Certainly, we can
minimize the threat to knowledge posed by ontological
assumptions and, perhaps, we can negate the whole
dichotomy by standing upon the absolutely minimal
assumption possible. The minimal assumption, which
contains the first level of knowledge, is that
consciousness or “awareness” is.
Like any and every word, “consciousness” is based on
generalization. Some have suggested that since the
concept “consciousness” or the concept “knowledge” or
the concept “experience” is not immediately given, we
are not justified in adopting it as a fundamental
assumption—that since the notions are not concretely
and immediately experienced, they are abstracted from
existence. Humans live and participate in may kinds of
actions and inter-actions; social convention has us
divide the universal character of those actions from
the particular. We perceive paper on a desk and a
telephone and any number of other “things,” what makes
these perceptions different is “what” they are; what
they have in common is that they are experience or
assumption of consciousness is, therefore, to prejudice
reality by taking one part of primary awareness and not
As powerful as this argument seems, two objections
point to its ultimate invalidity in this context.
First, it is based upon an excessive attachment to the
word “consciousness,” to a specific definition of the
word, and to the way that the word is derived rather
than to the concrete reality in experience. Second,
although we may doubt any part of the alleged “objects”
of consciousness, we are absolutely unable to deny
consciousness without denying any possibility of
philosophy or knowledge. Indeed, our very denial of
consciousness could not exist except that it is an
expression of the very thing it denies. Consciousness
is admittedly, therefore, an assumption, but a
necessary and justifiable one.
Similarly, it is possible to argue that consciousness
is always “of” something and that we are, indeed, being
very abstract when we ignore the content. While it is
“consciousness” is an abstract generalization only if
we suggest that “we are conscious” or “we have
consciousness.” That is, as long as the idea of
consciousness refers to the general possibility or a
union transcending “self” and “thing,” it is not
abstracted from the particular but is a generalization
about the particular.
Our assumption called “consciousness,” “awareness,”
“knowledge,” or “experience” initially avoids the
challenge thrown before all theories of knowledge since
Hume and Kant. Arguing that “There can be no doubt that
all our knowledge begins with experience,” (Kant, 1949,
24) Kant proceeds to suggest that it neither ends with
nor contains only what is given by experience. What has
happened in Kant and since Kant is confusion between
the levels of knowing. Kant clearly speaks of the first
level of knowing when he says that all knowledge comes
from experience and, just as clearly, he speaks of the
second way of knowing when he refers to going beyond
experience or to the a priori in consciousness. The
problem of the a priori enters only at the second level
of knowing: the level of sign and symbolization.
Unlike at the secondary level, which admits of
multiplicity in forms of knowledge, at the primary
level the three forms of knowing that emerge at the
secondary level—sensing, reasoning, and believing—are
one. When the “word” emerges, whether in the shape of
“signs” or “symbols,” then and only then is the single
act of knowing transformed into parts. At the primary
level, belief (or knowledge without the support of
sensed facts or logical reasoning) cannot be separated
from sensation and logic does not exist.
Two vital aspects of first level consciousness must
be noted before we turn to the second level. The first
and perhaps most startling point is that at this level
there is no such thing as truth and falsity or error
and correctness. What is in consciousness is. Were we
hypothetically to suggest that perhaps it is not—
something only we who stand in the second level could
suggest, the response would be that the given in
primary consciousness cannot be proven since proof
requires an appeal to the tools available only at the
second level where “facts” are sensed and thought
applies “reason” to them that is built upon the first.
Moreover, were there error at the primary level, we
could never know it. Were error there, it would make no
difference to us, and it would be wastefully useless
for us to dwell on the possibility.
The second point follows from the first. We can never
escape the primary level. We may concentrate upon, and
be entirely aware only of, the secondary level, but
that level is built upon the primary. Without awareness
of the primary, we are building knowledge castles
without a clue of a blueprint to the foundations. Time
and experience will destroy them. We, moreover, may be
aware only of the secondary level (may speak and think
only of it, for example), but we must, because of what
we are, live in the primary level as well. For
instance, I twist my hands. There is feeling, and
messages flow to my mind. But I am unaware. My
attention is elsewhere. I can become aware of the
twisting by stopping the second level focus or
suspending it. Refusal to recognize life on the primary
level may bring both intellectual and personal tragedy.
In intellectual history, this split has been the basis
of torment between our higher and lower “natures,”
animality and rationality, heaven and earth, mortality
and immortality, and time and eternity.
Former theories of knowledge have been unable to
break through the ontological barrier. That is, they
could not move into the realm of “what is.” The theory
of knowledge, epistemology, could never get to “what
is,” to ontology. This was because the theories
knowledge. There is, however, a realm for us where
“what is” and “what is known” are one—this is the
primary level.
Discussing the primary realm is hard, first, because
most philosophers are excessively attuned only to the
secondary level and, second, because a sketch of its
operation or even existence must be presented in
second-level “language” for the sake of communication.
Our statements concerning it are all made by means of
tools such as words and symbols that are based on
assumptions valid only on the second level.
To express the first level, we might say that
consciousness is full or that it is. First level
knowledge is like the knowledge of being in love. It is
known fully and well. It is immediately known, sensed,
believed, and thought, simultaneously. Consciousness is
like love when love is “known” on this level. It may
well be that all most of us now have left of awareness
at this level of knowledge is what we call our
“emotions.” Joy. “What is it?” asks second-level me
number one. “Well, your heart beats faster and other
vital functions are speeded up,” second-level me number
two replies. “But why does this happen and what does it
mean?” “Do you know?” I only know it is. Second level
Secondary Knowing
1. Reason and Symbol/Sign. By dividing knowledge into
two levels, we hope to stress the enormous difference
between them and particularly the way that this
apparently theoretical distinction constitutes great
differences in the actual quality of knowledge.
Although symbolization is one of the significant
activities of the second level, the symbol/sign is not
it only or even its most important attribute. It is at
this level that reason first enters as a mode of
knowing; all the fundamental contradictions such as
time and eternity arrive; logic comes, along with truth
and error; and above all we have the emergence of
consciousness aware of consciousness and consciousness
differentiating among and
getting caught up in
confusion about the various ways of knowing. (See
figure 2)
The first and probably fundamental act of the second
level is consciousness being aware of itself and the
corollary, consciousness being aware of the fact that
it is partial. To understand the rise of consciousness
(not to be confused with self-consciousness), we must
consider a simple, even mechanical, hypothesis as to
the physical operation of consciousness on the first
and second levels.
Primary consciousness probably arises when electrical
impulses pattern themselves through the brain. That is,
“joy” may be pervasive (heart rate elevation, weather,
sky, trees, etc.), but “it” is nothing until “it”
continues “its” activity into the whole of nondifferentiated or simple (the amoeba, for example)
biological units, or into the brain of differentiated
or complex biological units. When this pattern in its
last phases in the brain can be isolated and can repeat
itself without the rest of the environment making its
contribution to the pattern, memory emerges. It is
likely that this isolation occurs first in the form of
dreams (which many animals seem to share with us), and
that when awake the pattern-preserving brain is
involved in the whole pattern and not just its selfisolated part.1
(This is precisely why dreams are a
key to unconsciousness—they connect the organism to the
whole of what has happened.) But then along comes the
human being, and for the first time isolated patterns
are introduced into awake life perhaps still in the
form of, and still called, “dreams” existing “out of
“creativity” to us. From that point on the struggle
still going on today began—the struggle between the use
of the awake state of dreaming for connecting back into
the environment or the use of the environment to
perpetuate awake dreaming.
Henri Bergson’s ideas are most relevant here. Bergson
sees memory or mind-operations as not significantly
different from actions of the body. He indicates that
“there is only a difference of degree, not of kind,
between the so-called perceptive faculties of the brain
and the reflex functions of the spinal cord.” (Bergson,
1962, 299) This position substantiates the belief that
instruments to consciousness. Later he points out that
the process of memory is one where consciousness
thrusts itself into a position permitting the brain and
body to move forward toward “external” actions but
stops such actions at the last moment. (Bergson, 1962,
319) This indicates the importance of the concept of
the “replay mechanism” in explaining human knowledge.
At any rate, from primary knowledge or consciousness
we move to secondary by means of memory, and, it must
be noted, not just accidental memory that we may fall
into like a dream, but memory that can be deliberately
stimulated. Once this act of memory occurs so too does
the awareness of the partiality of consciousness. We
become “aware” and turn into “fallen” creatures” when
we start to comprehend how limited our knowledge is;
the limitation is created by deliberate control, and we
become aware of it when we can deliberately evoke
different patterns of knowledge. We can recall a
situation for ourselves when we were less or at least
differently knowledgeable than we were in another
The existence of partial consciousness is established
by memory and its deliberate control. The central
factor is the possibility of attention. Like most of
the attributes of second level consciousness, attention
has roots going far back into primary consciousness.
Undifferentiated awareness means the world is too much
with us, and the process of evolution seems to be one
constantly moving to filter out more and more
“environment” in a way that makes possible for us to
focus our attention more independently from it. The
development appears continual, but difference in kind
and not just degree emerges to identify second level
attention brings us to scrutinize the parts ever more
minutely, but the more we concentrate, the more what we
seek to know disappears and the less there is to see.
We begin to see “patterns” in our actions. Before, we
“knew” them by doing, by being involved and co-terminus
with them. The process of increasing knowledge on this
level had to be very slow since connecting a new action
with an old one could only begin as an accident. If we
look at ourselves today we can still find the problem
that attention presented to the expansions of our
primitive ancestors’ knowledge. Today, as then, it is
hard for us to do two “things” at the same time; a
typical example is turning our hands in opposite
directions. We can put ourselves into or “know” only
one thing at a time. We can, however, learn the trick
(deliberately only today) of doing two at once by
making the two operations one—by discovering how they
fit together into one continuous motion. When memory
can be evoked at will, we can see, first that our
awareness is partial (in the beginning, we can see we
can do things we could not do before) and, second, that
memory patterns can be juxta-positioned at will as
action patterns might. By putting memory patterns
together, we start to think. Until after another huge
step, however, we are able to do this only on a very
simple level; we can combine our memory “sun” with
memory “fire” and develop the relations with fire for
warmth and light.
What is gradually emerging in this process is, of
course, the power of abstraction—the ability not only
to remember, to “replay,” prior primary knowledge but
also to cut it apart from other pieces of our memory
and put it together with others. Thus comes abstraction
and communicable abstraction—sign/symbolic abstraction—
and along with both comes time. Awareness that primary
knowledge is partial in the sense that sometimes it is
there and sometimes it is not brings time. The eternal
present is lost as is the exclusiveness of primary
knowledge; we decreasingly, but still occasionally,
catch glimpses of the lost eternity when we put
ourselves completely into actions.
Time is discovered, but eternity still reveals itself
in two places. The first is when time is lost in the
midst of action—the loss is increasingly limited to
religious ceremonies of ecstasy but also occurs in the
many tasks we completely commit ourselves to (some
kinds of work, sex, food, etc.). The second is the
transcending of time through memory itself and through
memories highest act, the Name. We are now aware that
our actions occur in time and even that our memory
patterns are in time. But from these actions and
patterns we can isolate similarities; from each primary
knowing of trees, we can have a memory, can put all
connected aspects together, name them “tree,” and thus
“create” an eternal tree. Or we can abstract all the
common attributes of humans and call the abstraction
“human,” or we can abstract all the pleasing elements
of each of these and call them “goods” or “gods,” or we
can take all things, see commonalty in their existence
(our consciousness) and create the abstract of all
existence ("I am who am"), God. We can do, as Plato is
alleged to have done, leave “the world of the senses”
and venture “out beyond it on the wings of the ideas,
into the empty spaces of pure intellect.” (Kant, 1949,
Western religions have tended to emphasize the
eternal-transcendent god while eastern religions have
religions claiming and attempting to achieve a
universal appeal have had to find a balancing
combination. Christianity has suggested that the goal
is the transcending of time in eternity but has
stipulated that this is to come only after proper
development of each of us toward the central concreteuniversal, the “good-man” or the “god-man.”
It is most important that we be clear about what we
have just concluded concerning first and second level
knowledge. The primary level places the organism in
complete unity with the environment—in fact, the
impossible. The emergence of the second level can be
seen both in ancient humans and in some isolated
cultures still today. “Primitive” knowing contains to
an extraordinary degree the sense of “participation” in
the whole. The movement of second level knowing and
second level living, living contained within memory, is
one that gradually destroys that participation. Even
prior to the amoeba, the being “knows” its environment
because it is its environment. The complexifying of
life and thought is a process of enlarging nonparticipation. The cell develops a membrane and the
mind develops similarly: they both increasingly filter
out environment and thereby allow for increasingly
concentrated attention.
Second level consciousness allows us to connect
ourselves more and more tightly not to the whole but
only to pieces of the whole. In other words, the price
of second-level consciousness is division, a turning
away from part of life and consciousness and instead
paying attention to and living and knowing only another
establishes and creates unconsciousness. But we still
must live on the first level. Until now, theories of
“knowledge” or “consciousness” alone—and by those terms
have meant almost exclusively only the second level
consciousness and knowledge. Since the “unknown” on the
second level can be the “known” on the first level,
however, theories of knowledge must pay more attention
to the unknown or to unconsciousness. They have been
too concerned with issues such as the nature of second
level knowledge alone or with the constituents of that
knowledge, and have been too little concerned with the
nature of first-level consciousness.
The second great stage in second-level knowing arises
when we move from historical memory and word to their
concrete forms. For our early ancestors and for early
second-level knowing, memory is primarily of the
historical empirical event and names evoke this
historical event. (Levy-Bruhl, 1926, 108-109) When we
today look at how our ancestors used memory and
especially written names, we see through eyes that
project our own prejudices. We may charge them with
being extremely “spirit"-oriented. In fact, however,
the very spiritualism we see is an extreme empiricism.
During an ancient dance when a dancer puts on the mask
of a dead ancestor, that symbolic visage evokes the
historical empirical presence of the ancestor. The
exterior is all. The mask evokes, not “spirit,” but the
historical presence.2
This tendency differentiates the early stages of
second-level knowing from the later stages. In
subsequent stages, memory and word become abstract. One
the basis of abstraction only do we develop “spirits".
Most importantly, we develop belief in essences. The
impression that “things” are permanent despite their
external transitory appearance becomes possible only
then. An analogy from the animal world may be
instructive here. It has been noted that apes, as
inventive as they are, will be frightened away from
something they like very much when it is presented to
them under an unusual appearance. They seem to delight
in eating bananas, snatch them and peel them when
presented whole; but if the banana is half-peeled
before it is handed to them, many retreat from it in
fear. (Scheler, 1962, 43) They have not been able to
abstract “food” or “banana” or even “good” from the
surface appearance. Similarly, when I, as an ancient,
suddenly see my good friend become angry, I say that a
new being (evil) is present—the surface changed and,
therefore, the whole changed. The discovery of evil as
opposed to non-good, which is really nothingness,
occurs when I expect a good (my friend, for example)
but an absence of that good appears where the good
friend should have been.
The break into the abstract symbolic universe seems
to have been perfected first by the Greeks, reaching
its highest point in, and continuing from, Aristotle.
With the Greeks we find the development of name and
memory not of the concrete but of the abstract. This
seems to take two paths: the “artistic” dramatic way of
using words to refer to the abstraction from the whole
of experience on the internal side (beauty, truth,
justice) and the “scientific” way of using names to
refer to the abstraction from the whole of experience
sensation). The difference between the Greek and the
earlier use of names appears to be that the earlier
humans used names to connect themselves to the
historical whole while the artistic Greeks employed
names to the historical part (historical but abstracted
from the whole); and the scientific Greeks tended to
use names to refer to the abstract alone. The word
throws the earlier humans back to the concrete whole of
their ancestors, for example; it flips them wholly out
of time into a timeless realm by means of repetition of
an heroic life or era. The Greek symbol, expressed in
the form of sculpture, for example, throws the human
back to the concrete feeling of part of what is and
was; earlier Egyptian sculpture, by contrast, seeks to
represent the real—the whole human including both
shoulders—while Greek art is the first to represent
abstract beauty. Symbol for the scientific followers or
interpreters of Aristotle tends to throw us back not to
the historical part or whole but to the entirely
abstract. “Beauty” begins to lose all historical
2. The Four Forms of Secondary Knowledge. The end
product of all this as far as problems of knowing are
concerned is that the primary knowledge, which was in
essence one and unerring, becomes secondary knowledge,
which is multiple and, therefore, liable to mistakes.
Four distinct forms of knowledge emerge. The first is
“belief” or acceptance as known of what is not known by
any of the other three. The second and third are,
respectively, knowledge in the form of external
sensation and knowledge in the form of internal
sensation or “feelings.” The fourth is what we have
already been discussing, knowledge in the form of
thought, which consists both of memories held in the
form of names or words and the process of using them to
think or to “reason.” What is given to us in each of
these modes is given directly and unerringly. What we
“knowledge” can be intercepted in faulty ways.
Knowing as belief is the most disputed and confused
of the four. As usual, a principle source of the
confusion and disagreement is different definitions of
what constitutes belief. Charles Pierce suggested that
readiness “to act in a certain way under given
circumstances and when activated by a given motive is a
habit; and a deliberate, or self-controlled, habit is
precisely a belief.” (Pierce, 1960, 480)
John Dewey
hinted that belief was the end of inquiry; when one
could “remove the need for doubt, he had fulfilled his
scientific enterprise—he had produced a belief.”
(Dewey, 1966, 253-255)
If we consider belief as a way of knowing, we avoid
many of the problems of the pragmatists. Pierce’s
understanding of belief induced him to try to connect
action with self-control under the term “habit.” He,
therefore, concluded that there was some kind of
knowing agency called “self” standing above belief and
deciding whether or not to assert it by voluntarily
pursuing a habit. Pierce misses by this the reality of
the unwilling believer—when we feel compelled to assert
a belief whether we wish to or not. Pierce indicates by
his position an attitude that is not a way of knowing
given to the believer but a habit concocted by the
knower who derives his knowledge elsewhere.
The quotation from John Dewey asserts the existence
of a single place for belief in science; his position
is dangerous because it leads to a method of inquiry
producing principles of belief—if the goal of science
is to end in satisfied minds and belief, then science
can well be stultifying to free research. But, more
important, if belief is likely to be involved at the
end of research, it is only because it was present at
the beginning as well. Belief is merely the acceptance
of what is not know by any other way of knowing.
consciousness—and scientists do too, but we and they
cannot sense, feel, or reason that consciousness exists
since belief precedes sensing, feeling, or reasoning as
ways of knowledge. Belief lies not at the end but at
the core of any scientific study. It is, in fact,
different from all the other ways of knowing because it
is the bridge between the primary level of knowledge
and the secondary. All the other forms have to be
rooted in the primary for their validity; belief is the
expression of the trunk of the tree of knowledge that
links the three major branches with the primary ground
they rest on.
Very similar to belief as far as the function
attributed to it by pragmatists is intuition. Intuition
seems best characterized as a direct slip into primary
consciousness but one that then comes back and
expresses itself in terms appropriate to secondary
knowledge. Moreover, belief seems close to the demands
of general reason while intuition seems closer to the
nature of particular sensations; it occurs when the
outer senses and feelings slip into their pre-defined
ground. Thus, as under primary knowledge, I might
suggest that I know by intuition that I am loved and I
realize quite clearly that this is different from
saying that I know by belief that I am loved. Indeed,
someone is likely to indicate that love merely believed
in is love deceived.
Empiricists both in and out of the social sciences
have attempted to sidestep the issue of intuition. They
have done this in a variety of ingenious ways, but most
often they suggest that we use intuition in a leap of
discovery and then apply science to gain knowledge of
what we first “guessed.” To characterize intuition as
an imaginative leap or a wild guess about the nature of
things or the solution of a general problem, however,
is misleading. Although intuitive judgments may take
the form of accidental guesses handmaiden to empirical
research, when experienced, intuition is more than a
guess; it is a knowing. Moreover, confining intuition
to the role of an aid to empirical research loses sight
of the claim made by those employing intuition that it
constitutes understanding of realities not knowable in
any other way. For example, I find myself suddenly
docile in the presence of a court of law; the
positivist might explain my docility by referring to
fear of what might happen to me; but even though I am
convinced that there is no danger to me, I may still be
reverent. This feeling may well be the essence of my
relationship to the court and yet the positivist is
unable to understand it. I have an intuitive grasp of
being controlled, but neither empirical fact nor
“subjective” emotions can account for it.
The existence of the mode of secondary knowing called
sensation is hardly challenged anymore though grave
questions can be raised about its nature. Knowledge
does come via sensation, but what is the nature of the
knowledge thus achieved?
Usually, we assume that
sensation somehow brings a sensing unit into contact
with something else. A number of questions immediately
confront us. The central issue in each concerns the
dividing line between the sensed and the sensor in
An assumption long held had been that sensation was
of something outside the sensing ego, but Hume pointed
out, on the contrary, that the sensing ego somehow
imposed categories upon what was sensed—there was an
interplay between sensed and sensor in the act of
sensation and the dividing line between them could not
be neatly drawn. Kant attempted to set up some sort of
line. We today have increasingly ignored the issue,
taking sensation as a given without being concerned
about the extent of participation by either side. This
has led to disputes over the accuracy of sensation
since sensation was used to learn about and control
what we assumed for convenience’s sake to be external
objects. The dispute over external object and internal
subject in sensation is still not over, but Bergson is
illuminating when he declares that the sensor is
neither the perception’s “cause, nor its effect, nor in
any sense its duplicate; it merely continues it.”
(Bergson, 1962, 307)
Of all the modes, reason is the most characteristic
of the secondary level of knowing. Pure intuition,
sensation, and belief experience “knowns” as immediate
givens. Reason interferes with what is given. Although,
unlike the primary level since error is possible when
division into the secondary modes occurs, the knowledge
in the other second level modes is direct and given.
Reason as a mode of knowing, however, is indirect and
the product of activity. It can arise only out of the
givens of sense, intuition, and belief, and it must be
labored after by means of processes of abstraction,
naming, conjunction, and division.
Confusion over their nature often leads to dispute
over the other ways of knowing, but no mode is more
confused and debated than is reason. The act of reason
we have in mind here is the one we have already
referred to—the act that abstracts from particular
sensations, intuitions, and beliefs and through names
creates universals—the act that, therefore, compares
the particulars and finds similarities and differences.
Knowledge derived from the mode called “reason”
abstracts or isolates parts of what is directly knowing
and may consider these parts as “essences.” A related
and more dangerous confusion is that of considering
“knowledge” not only as exclusively the domain of
“reason” but also as coming through the process of
verification to a position of acceptance in society.
Thus, knowledge is seen as the end product of long
investigations under guidance of reason and its
processes. This position, of course, reverses the order
of things; it places the knowing firmly on the
foundation of the unknown.
We have already indicated our hypothesis of how
thought or reason emerges. The primary level of
knowledge becomes conceptual and makes separation into
sensation, intuition, and belief possible only when
consciousness remembers and replays primary knowing
through the instrumentality of the body-brain. The
replaying of the primary experiences makes comparisons
possible and comparisons permit abstractions and, along
with as well as permitting abstraction, the abstract
name/symbol appears.
The abstract symbol or its systemization in language
“is so intimately connected with the products of our
intelligence that the Greeks used the same word to
designate both language and reason,” (Cournot, 1956,
307) and many, including Susanne Langer, have concluded
that the “essential act of thought is symbolization.”
(Langer, 1951, 27) The symbol is the world-body-brain
expression of the commonalty noted in the abstraction
metaphoric; and, since it is, all thought and,
therefore all science and philosophy is no more than
metaphor. It is the expression in a form knowable on
the primary level of the universal abstraction. The
speaking of any word is the materialization of
abstraction. Every word is a symbol; every word is a
universal not a particular.
The symbol is developed by “individuals” but only
within the context of society. The development of the
human individual recapitulates that of the human race,
but, unlike with regard to most other animals, this
recapitulation occurs less within the biological
individual than within the group since much of human
development involves the creation and transference of
development, or, as some like to call it, the superordinate progress—of the human race has rested not only
in the growth of abstraction and symbolization but also
in the necessary diversity and contradictions ingrained
into the human individual because the learning of
symbols comes from a large number of diverse sources.
Vast diversity is possible because of symbolization,
but also whatever tiny diversity exists within the
smallest of groups is introduced into the single human
individual because of symbolic learning.
If the key to biological “evolution” or “progress” is
physical contradiction, the key to human evolution or
progress is symbolic contradiction. This is precisely
why the contemporary era has made tremendous leaps and
communications on the general level have exploded in
our time and have drawn together huge, contradictory
symbolic systems. The progress of the whole now depends
on the integration of these contradictions; upon
achieving integration, the progress of the whole will
eventually slow—and perhaps slow drastically unless
symbolic creativity can be increasingly fostered among
us. The problem of future generations is likely to be
not the dangers of world diversity and conflict but the
horrors world unity and consensus.
Chapter 2
as the Source
of Error
With all the diverse tools of knowledge at our
disposal—mind, outer senses, inner senses, and belief—
it seems strange that we should be so vulnerable to
fundamental error. Yet we know we do err—that one day
we accept one truth and the next adopt its opposite.
Paradoxically, the source of error resides in the very
instruments developed to avoid error.
One thing must be made clear before we undertake an
exploration of error. It may have seemed that somehow
the senses and belief could be relegated to the
position of the primary level of knowing and reason
could be enthroned exclusively on the second level.
Although there is a distinct difference between thought
and the other three modes of knowing in as much as
thought is indirect or deliberative in process and the
others are direct, once the secondary level emerges
through abstract universals, all knowing is decisively
constitutes a fall we can never fully return from.
Never more can knowing be pure; thought darkens—even as
it enlightens—it all. Paradise lost cannot become
paradise regained, but through the renewal of knowledge
the differentiated world can become a good world, a
redeemed world—a new heaven and a new earth.
knowledge in two ways. First, by differentiating among,
and in a sense creating, the separate modes of
knowledge and, second, by delivering error into
knowledge. Both differentiation and error arise when
time and consciousness of consciousness emerge. Time is
a development of second level knowing. Deliberate
memory creates time by comparing the not-known with the
known: “First I knew not; then I knew; then I knew that
I knew not.” Now reflecting upon itself, consciousness
questions how it knows and the answer echoes: “It is
just accepted” (by belief), or “It is just known and
cannot be doubted” (intuition), or “It is given by what
is standing in front of me” (sensations), or “It is
known by comparing two or more other knowns” (reason).
Thus, change and time establish error and accuracy; not
only is consciousness aware that it was filled with
what it was not before (change and time), it is also
aware that it is filled with the opposite of what it
was before—not only did nothingness become something,
but also something become something else. How can we
account for this contradiction?
Not by time but by
We need to deal with two kinds of error separately
even though they are very much related and the
distinction is often ignored by contemporary scientific
philosophers. First, we shall deal with error in what
we have taken to be the more direct modes of knowledge
(sensations and belief) and then we shall discuss error
separation and joining (thought and logic).
Error as Imposition of Partial Knowing
Error in sensations and beliefs is nothing more nor
less than the mistake of confusing one mode of
knowledge with another. This occurs through the
instrumentality of thought. Basically, error consists
in taking or, rather, mistaking the part for the whole
in experience, knowing, or consciousness. It is
possible because of the second level of knowing and the
capacities intrinsic to that level: universalizing and
reasoning by means of symbols/words. In other words,
consciousness is potentially full of a situation when
consciousness is primary, but secondary consciousness
isolates part of the fullness, directs itself toward
it, and relegates all else to the realm of nonconsciousness. I walk in the garden, but only part of
the potential consciousness is present; I experience or
am conscious of “tree,” but unless I make an effort to
overcome non-consciousness, once I have identified at a
very low level of awareness “tree"-as-idea, I ignore
the rest of potential experience or consciousness my
sense organs are open to as I walk there.
If we regard memory and thought as the replay of
neural movements that were part of a whole direct
consciousness, then it is easy to see how we may shut
off the direct consciousness and exist increasingly at
the secondary level, the level that is replaying the
neural parts without the rest. It is likewise easy to
see how we may take the replay instead of the whole and
assume we are conscious of the whole. As you walk down
a street, the “body” is part of a greenish environment;
before you are conscious of the whole situation, the
neural patterns in the body stimulate the memoryexperience or consciousness, not of the whole, but of
consciousness are, therefore, short-circuited; you are
liable to error.
William James said each “thinker,” but it seems more
accurate to say that each “knower” has “dominant habits
of attention; and these practically elect from the
various worlds one to be for him the world of ultimate
realities.” (James, 1890, 293-294)
This is just one
of the ways of stating the problem of perceptual error.
It is, strictly speaking, incorrect to say that a
sensation or belief is false; sensations are neither
true nor false, or they are true or false only in as
much as they mistake for sensation what is not of the
senses but of reason such as the concept “tree” that
joins with the pure senses in every act of second-level
1. Error in Perception. The source of at least fifty
percent of our ills lies here. Because of our fall into
thought, errors in knowing become possible. We come to
depend on our particular schema of defining reality so
that we can live securely within it, and end by
fighting, killing, and destroying those who challenge
them. Two kinds of problems seem to be involved with
this core error in knowing. The first, usually referred
to as “errors of perception,” can constitute extreme
danger for an individual. Most typically these errors
are illustrated by various sensual illusions; the
optical illusion, for example, of “seeing” a bent stick
but discovering later that the stick was straight and
appeared bent only because one half was immersed in a
pool of water that bent the light reflecting the stick
to the eye. Were we to point out that this was an error
not in sensation but in judgment, we might get an
argument from the perceiver that no judgment was made:
“I saw a bent stick.” The point only goes to
demonstrate the extreme intertwining between the “pure”
sensation (as on a primary level of knowing) and the
“concept” “straight stick.” Much of the argument may be
resolved, however, if we proceed to explain that not
just the bend but also the “perceived object” is itself
partly a creation of the symbolizing thought process.
At any rate, these errors may well cause innumerable
serious accidents. Such accidents even in contemporary
jargon are referred to as caused by “errors in
judgment.” The automobile crushed into the tree because
the driver erred in judgment. In this case nothing
could be more obvious than that the driver was not
going through the “mental process” “tree ahead,” “tree
is thin” (when it was thick), “tree is far enough away
for car to squeak by” (when it was not). Rather what is
meant by judgment here is much closer to the act of
“perception” itself. It is only after the accident that
the aspect of rational judgment emerges, “But the tree
seemed farther away.” Such errors arise because of a
lack not of “rational knowledge but of practice driving
an automobile near trees and they may be stimulated
when attitude (not judgment) says “I am confident of my
driving skill.”
2. The Error of Short-Circuiting. Besides these
“errors in perception,” another category of errors is
dangerous to us—the category of errors arising when we
who live, as we must, with pieces of reality formed by
shortcircuiting awareness of them. “We aim at the real
thing; but everything is real as experience; we
substitute the definition for the experience, and then
experience the definition.” (Eliot, 1964, 167)
Mannheim referred to such situations in his Ideology
and Utopia; “knowledge,” he writes, “is distorted and
ideological when it fails to take account of the new
realities applying to a situation, and when it attempts
to conceal them by thinking of them in categories which
are inappropriate.” (Mannheim, 1953, 86)
A couple of points are significant. First, we could
describe what Mannheim called “ideology” as the
symbolic/name concepts that intertwine with the various
senses thus confusing them but also permitting thought.
And, second, we must note that there is likely to be
extensive resistance to changing these names in
perception despite their uncomfortable consequences,
and we are likely to fight to destroy others who use a
linguistic perception system different from, and
therefore threatening to, our own.
We can see in all this the great power of thought and
the ability to name/symbolize. Their impact, however,
is dual. On the one hand, abstraction and naming are
basic to our liberation but, on the other hand, they
are equally basic to our confinement and enslavement.
The most important discovery of linguistic analysis
concerning the problem of knowledge is denied by many
analysts in the field and at most only hinted at by
those who seem fully aware of it and of its
significance. That discovery points to the fundamental
benefit as well as the fundamental problem in the
naming process. We can handle reality intellectually
only if we turn it into discrete things. By doing so,
we have constructed a world, but the edifice is
3. The Creation of Things. Linguistic analysts, along
with some empiricists and positivists, have discovered
with wonder that, quite to the contrary of earlier
views, words and language, rather than merely name and
describe, actually create objects.1 Some readers have
been puzzled by the Biblical emphasis on how God
granted Adam the power to name all the animals and
everything else around him; the tremendous significance
of naming is not just that by virtue of it Adam
discovers a word for things but that he actually
completes the creation of animals and objects by the
act of naming them. The naming of a human infant
similarly commences the human, as opposed to the
natural, creation of people. The lack of awareness on
the part of very young children of separate things as
objects likewise takes on a new significance when we
realize that symbols and especially names create the
objects as objects rather than leaving them as patterns
of infinite experience.
The process giving rise to abstract symbols or
mysterious. How concrete symbols gave rise to language
seems slightly clearer. Sounds, very intimate since
they are in my throat, are part of my whole experience
as a child. The replaying of these sounds without the
whole experience permits the sensation that these are a
part of and connected intimately to the experience but
also the sensation that they can be separated from it.
The sound itself is then translated as a written
figure, and the process of learning to read is the
connecting of the word-sound symbol with the word-sight
symbol. The earliest stages of this process can be seen
in very small babies. Some sounds appear automatically
from the body—apparently the same around the world—
under certain situations. A baby’s early response to
the world seems to be “da” or “ta” ("dad” or “that” in
English) and to its mother appears to be a simultaneous
attempt to express “ta” ("that”—the world) and to suck
so that it comes out “ma.” The contrary efforts of
inhaling and breathing out may induce the stutter “mama.” The ability to replay such sounds without, and
even because of the absence of, the whole referent
environment may induce the establishment of words
standing for the concrete experience.
In this way the name creates and establishes the
existence of the particular object (mother or father or
world), and at the same time points to the intimate
connection between knower and known, between idea and
reality, between word and thing. These observations can
illustrate how it may be quite true that an object
ceases to exist when it is no longer known. The knowing
constitutes the object as object. This in no way means,
however, that the rest of what was is no longer there
just because one intrinsic part of it (object/knower)
has disappeared.
As is indicated with regard to Adam’s naming things,
“ideas,” “concepts,” or “symbols” do not precede
“things” nor do “things” precede them. The two exist
together. Adam and the human race generally are called
to an act of co-creation and not merely to discover
things that exist independently of us. We do not
“discover"; we create. This is the validity at the
hidden core of the pragmatic notion that doctrines,
thinking, ideas, and words are not discoveries but
inventions. The poet does not tell us about objects or
environments but creates them—and without touching them
physically. And He said, “Let there be light,” and
there was light.
Direct knowing and, certainly, first level knowing
are continuous operations; the processes of abstracting
and symbolizing the generalizations abstracted divides
the act. William James distinguishes “percept” from
“concept” in that percepts are continuous while
concepts are discrete. (James, 1911)
The process is
most intriguing. First comes amorphous knowing or
contrasting replays and singling out common aspects;
then come symbolizing generalizations where we turn the
simple, single symbol back upon the percept and so
divide it into parts; and finally, we can take those
parts as the object-given in knowledge.
We take the abstracted part for the real even though
we know we should not. We know that nothing can be a
line or have only one dimension; we know that nothing
can be a plane or have only two dimensions; we know
that nothing can be a solid or have only three
dimensions; we know that the fourth dimension of time
must also be there. Despite our knowing this, we see
things as lines, triangles, and cubes. Even more
important than taking all four dimensions (and we
should consider that there may be more) into account,
however, we must remember that our interference divided
“what is” into these kinds of parts and that it is
impossible for us to perceive “what is” as a composite
relating these parts to each other; what is can only be
comprehended as an inherent unity.
The linguistic effort that started by attempting to
demonstrate the overwhelming importance of words ended
as well in demonstrating their danger. Suzanne Langer
proclaimed that “our primary world of reality is a
verbal one,” (Langer, 1951, 126) and that “all at once,
the edifice of human knowledge stands before us, not as
a vast collection of sense reports, but as a structure
of facts that are symbols and laws that are their
meaning. (Langer, 1951, 21) Although she was seeking
to show just how important language and symbols are by
suggesting that they lie at the very core of the
reality we know, she succeeded even more in alarming us
of the flimsiness of our reality. By illustrating that
every object we know is an abstraction, she succeeded,
in demonstrating, not the all-embracing importance of
abstractions and symbols, but the dubious character of
“objective” knowledge.
Symbols and Objects
1. The Value of Symbols and Objects. Neither symbols
knowledge are, of course, to be rejected even in part
simply because the one depends upon the other. The
value of symbol and object must not be forgotten.
Generalization is absolutely essential for thought, and
symbol and object are essential for communicable
thought. In this is the sum of their value.
Generalization, expressed in terms of words/symbols,
first and above all allows us to master knowledge. By
generalization permits the known or conscious to become
understandable. It permits us to assign the known a
place in the regular order of things that resides in
generalizations created through memory and by their
consciousness, or knowledge a content. No two events
can be exactly the same, and “yet if we are to
understand the nature of the real world, we must act
and think as though these events are repeated and as if
objects do have properties that remain constant for
some period of time, however short.” If we refuse to
make these assumptions, we cannot attain understanding.
(Blalock, 1964, 7) Because they are necessary for this
purpose, we make them.
Almost echoing Suzanne Langer, Peter Berger suggests
that the “reality of everyday life is not only filled
with objectifications; it is possible only because of
them.”Berger, 1966,33) Even though we may be forced to
doubt reality based upon objectifications, they make
what nearly all of us have taken to be the reality of
everyday life possible and understandable. On that
basis alone, we can justify the utility of symbols and
Symbols are metaphors standing for the abstraction of
generalization from experience. Like any metaphor, as
well as the abstracted generalization alone, symbols
and concepts have the added value of pointing out
things that partial knowledge might have missed. In
brief, they tend to point out those parts of potential
knowledge that are relevant and useful to us (ignore
tree, but see tiger in tree). What is relevant and
useful to us has been discerned by our predecessors and
expressed and made available to us through language.
The abstract symbol’s importance is therefore twofold:
first, it permits not just understanding but a pooled
generation and, second, it ties together the human
community by permitting inter-human language that
originate in private generalizations.
The symbol permits not only “individuals” but also
“groups” to hold onto objects they find important. Yet
common symbol and language is significant not primarily
as a tool that permits interchange of generalizations
useful to the group, but most of all as the core of the
group itself. All groups are made groups by a symbolic
tie linking the members together. Primitive kinship
“biological” age or sex groups when symbols for kinship
and its various degrees are created. (Berger, 1966,
Berger has taken his idea of the symbolic core of the
community far. The symbolic universe, he suggests,
permits us the security of regularity. One of us living
alone in nature might have a symbolic system to make
the environment understandable and secure, but we live
in a social milieu where we need social regularity as
well as natural regularity for security. That sense of
regularity and security is achieved and maintained
through symbols. For example, Berger points out, the
man in a social environment symbolically designated or
role-defined as “husband” and “worker” finds his
security and “self” re-confirmed by small insignificant
understandability in the social universe. His wife
tells him to have a good day at the office, dear, and,
by virtue of her few words, his role as father, worker,
and lover is confirmed and secured. (Berger, 1966, 140)
Because of symbols, we live not just in a way
different from the other animals but in a different
dimension—the dimension of “reality.” And if linguistic
positivists are not persuaded that because the “thinglanguage” works, the “thing-world” is confirmed, at
least most seem to believe that because the “thinglanguage” works, the “thing-language” ought to be
adopted. (Carnap, 1950, 24)
2. The Danger of Symbol and Object. The central
problem with regard to the process of generalization,
symbolization, and objectification is that it not only
permits the rise of, but also actually fosters, error.
Although generalization and symbol make possible a
regular and understandable world, they do it by
interfering with experience or knowledge. We can walk
down the street, ignore the trees, and rather direct
our attention elsewhere only because we are permitted
to identify, understand, and remember the “tree,” only
because we can now experience being surrounded by
“trees” rather than experience the fullness of them
possible to us. The error is twofold. It consists of
taking the concept for the experience and of taking a
part of the experience for the whole. Instead of
memoryconstruct “tree"; instead of remaining open to the rest
of the experience, I conclude I have the whole of
experience when I have “tree.”
The error linguistic analysts and positivists in
social science tend to fall into is the very error they
warn others against—the reification of abstractions. In
political science, behavioralists especially have
condemned traditional studies for dealing with the
“state” as if it were an entity, an object, real in and
of itself. When others have suggested that even to
treat such “things” as the human body as real is
equally to reify abstractions, the bantering response
has been that if the body is an abstraction reified,
biological, as well as social, scientists should deal
with activity and process rather than with “things.”
(Van Dyke, Janvier 1950, 24) In truth, any and every
word or symbol stands for an abstraction, and to treat
them as things is to reify the abstract; “the governing
process” is no less of an abstraction and based on
reified abstractions such as “voters” and “senators”
than “the government”—perhaps a different kind of
abstraction, but no less an abstraction. Where
traditionalists in social science reified abstractions,
the positivists have deified them.
A second problem derived from generalization and
symbol can be seen if you look more closely at the
value these two perform by providing the basis for
group and society. The most important kind of control
and perhaps the only kind ultimately (this is a point
political scientists most need to be aware of) is
control by manipulation of the symbolic universe.
institutions have had an influence in shaping the
symbolic universe of the past. In our time, the state
triumphed even while tolerating minor challenges to
disappeared and so has the non-deliberate aspect of
control. Those interested in control are increasingly
aware of the true basis of all control, the symbolic
universe, and increasingly able to manipulate it.
We need merely conjure up images in our own recent
past that illustrate the possibility of changing
“reality” by changing the symbolic universe. It was not
madness or irrationality that Hitler brought to Germany
but an alternative symbolic universe, adopted because
primary or direct elements of knowledge to the German
people negated the old symbolic universe whereby they
knew reality previously and whereby they had been
controlled. It is not, moreover, least important that
the mass means of communication create the mass society
or that the recurring rebellion of youth is always
first a rebellion in language, a symbolic rebellion.
I have suggested that we can comprehend experience or
knowledge if we are able to isolate parts of it,
generalize from the similar parts, symbolize the
generalization, and thereby objectify consciousness. We
must assume objects and their constancy. Not only does
objectification permit understanding, but it also
allows knowledge by description; what we cannot
ourselves know directly, we can receive from others.
But as these operations occur and we understand more
and more because we can distance our awareness from
what is irrelevant to survival or use, we increasingly
distance ourselves from life so that we make of our
consciousness (which is really all we have) a tool.
Once all of it is focussed on the useful, we attain a
highly used and useful reality, and we direct our
attention at satisfying ourselves through that reality.
In the end, however, at this last stage we start to
recognize because of the ever-present existence and
consciousness that we are empty—we have emptied
consciousness into the object for its usefulness and
found that all we have left is the objective
consciousness that may be useful but neither enjoyable
nor meaningful. We pursued the useful, but now we find
ourselves used and abused by it.
So again I would suggest here that much of the abyss
between generations and most of the demands of the
young for renewal arise because of leaps in the
symbolic universe. The “generation gap” has always been
with us since the symbolic universe is constantly
changing, but the vast alterations occurring in it
because of a world wide communications system and
because of much, much broader and longer education
patterns has made the gap unbridgeable by second level
understanding. The older cannot possible know the
symbolic reality of the youth, and the young cannot
possibly know the symbolic universe of their elders.
Eventually, the new reality will dominate as the
symbolic universe directs attention to a different part
of consciousness. Both groups and other symbolic
universe divisions in the reality of experience can
gain tolerance of the others only by accepting the core
of primary or direct knowledge. This seems to be what
the most aware of the younger and older always argue
for, although usually with inadequate doses of humility
on the part of both.
If intergroup problems within a society are created
by divergences among symbolic universes of reality,
still less soluble problems are created by the symbolic
divergences between cultures and societies, though the
saving grace of such divergences so far has been the
physical distance between them. If the reality seen and
the objects perceived are creations of symbols, then
these realities can easily vary from culture to culture
and fail to provide a common basis for communication
grammars are pointed by their grammar toward different
types of observations and different evaluations of
externally similar acts of observation.” (Worf, 1952,
To attempt to escape this kind of limit by using the
allegedly “universal” language of mathematics is merely
to agree to accept a common symbolic system that
naturally will reveal a common reality. Although
disagreement on some questions may be overcome by use
of a common symbolic system, others (especially social
questions) may not be, and at any rate, the prejudices
of the mathematical symbolic system do not preclude
error or positions that run contrary to primary or
“communication” solve the conflicts—indeed, it is the
increase in contact that worsens the situation.
A number of philosophical problems have their source
in the use of a symbolic system to create a “reality”
of “objects.” One long-standing philosophical problem
that cannot be “solved” but may be transcended by
awareness of the role of symbol in creating objective
reality is the problem of change—certainly an issue
plaguing Western philosophy since its Greek inception.
Only things change, events happen. The idea and problem
of change hinge on the assumption that there are things
perceive. We know we sense differences in our
experience; how did the problem of these differences
It arises only because consciousness creates
“real objects” and then notices that there are some
differences in them.
Some ancient philosophers went even so far as to
claim that no two things are ever the same but that all
things are flux. Plato is said to have concluded, on
the contrary, that all change was illusion and that
reality resided in the universals abstracted from the
historical. Aristotle indicated that what was most real
about things was their essence (comparable to this
consciousness) and that the changeable was less real or
was “accidental” to the thing.
Modern sciences still bind themselves to Aristotle,
praising science as “the last step in man’s mental
development and the highest and most characteristic
attainment of human culture.” Ernest Cassirer, a
leading philosopher of science, proclaims this and
continues, “it is science that gives us the assurance
of a constant world.” (Cassirer, 1944, 205)
assurance is given, however, only by ignoring much;
increasingly we have become aware of the artificial,
abstracted nature of essences and of the danger of
living with them. Therefore, the problem of change that
Aristotle “solved” returns to haunt us. It will
continue to haunt us until the chimerical “world of
objects” is unmasked.
The fall into abstraction occurred because humans
“wanted” or “needed” to control or change the world. In
order to do that, we first had to separate ourselves
from the world and, after having separated ourselves,
to attempt to see how we related to it as a part. Only
then could we know to act upon it. Abstraction alone
has made “things” or “objects” possible; it alone has
moved us to the goal of mastery over them all. As good
and useful as this is, mastery may in the end turn out
to be an illusion and the cost of abstraction and
objects has already been monstrously high.
We start by making objects out of the world and we
have ended by making ourselves objects to ourselves. Of
all that has happened, this is the most fearsome. We
are deluded by considering ourselves to be mere objects
and by considering others that way too. Conceiving of
ourselves as objects confines us and closes us in; we
must understand that we surpass ourselves as object.
The center we objectify others from cannot itself be
objectified. The illusion of the defined “known” and
abstracted self is the greatest illusion and in it lies
the greatest unhappiness and lack of fulfillment.
Intensifying the Error
As I indicated at the beginning, twentieth century
positivists, empiricists, and “scientists” have made
the risk of surrendering to these errors and falling
into these problems much greater. This by no means is
to cast aspersions upon the intent and integrity of
positivists and empiricists nor does it fail to
recognize the tremendous service they performed in
turning us away from some categories of past symbolobject illusions. Still, a number of the attitudes
either held by empiricists or created by them in others
are likely to lead to disaster.
Perhaps the most dangerous act performed by the
empiricists, positivists, and scientists is not just to
study only “object-reality” but most of all to insist
that “object-reality” is either all there is or at
least all there is that can be known. Experience,
primary knowledge, or consciousness is filled with what
hallucinations, and mistake.” (Lewis, 1923,174) These,
the empiricists would insist, must be rooted out if we
are to have knowledge of “reality.” The empirical
scientist must report the facts and nothing but the
facts, but, as we have just pointed out, the “facts”
and “objects” are constructs of consciousness created
by a symbolic and theoretical element. The most
striking aspect of science today is its deliberate
concentration upon only that part of experience “which
can be dealt with in terms of uniform behavior.” (Hyde,
1948, 38) The philosophical linguist’s reaction to all
of this is not very satisfying either, for, in view of
the involvement with objects created by symbol, recent
philosophical schools have suggested that “symbols are
not epiphenomena; they are the phenomena of social
investigation.” (Gunnell, 1968, 185)
While it is
erroneous enough for the “scientist” to pursue object
investigation, it is even worse to insist that objectknowledge is the only kind we can have. It is not just
that scientists leave out part of knowledge or
consciousness but more that they believe and even
insist that they have the whole and that no one else
should entertain non-object knowledge. Again, haughty
unscientific language may be acceptable before a means
to scientific analysis is possible but that once
scientific language is applicable “picture language”
must be abandoned. (Reichenbach, 1954, 25) Reichenbach
claims that there is a “picture” or metaphor language
and a scientific or precise language; he fails to
perceive that all language, from mathematical to
picturesque, is metaphor—it is constituted of symbols
standing for generalizations from partial experience.
The attitude is dangerous because it clips off the
mind from fullness, because it viciously disregards
insights other than its own, and for one more reason.
It is destructive to scientific or empirical principles
themselves. Because of refusal to recognize the
projection of symbol upon consciousness, positivists
have argued that they are not defining reality but
simply taking it as it is commonly understood.
(Schlick, 1959), 97)
Rather than challenge what is
given in society to personal consciousness, the
positivists accept constraints of convention; allegedly
free-wheeling investigators suddenly reveal themselves
for what they are: timid reactionaries following preordained ways of thinking.
A most frightening situation for science thereby
emerges. One positivist illustrates the danger by
sketching his position most succinctly: “The opinion
which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who
investigate, is what we mean by the truth; and the
object represented in this opinion is the real. That is
the way I would explain reality.” (Pierce, 1960, 268)
Again, the danger of timid kowtowing to the opinion of
“all” becomes the positivist criterion of truth and
reality. With conventional reality so enthroned, it is
no wonder that “heretics” such as Velikovsky are
sacrificed on the high altar of the intellectual
By accepting symbol and object so completely, Western
thought has fostered the domination of two modes of
second-level consciousness; sensation and reason have
come to the fore, and feeling and belief, let alone
intuition, have been relegated to the position of
incommunicability and to the realm of mysticism. The
Western mind has found intuition, feeling, and belief
modes of knowledge too difficult to be burdened with
and, therefore, has concentrated on the simpler modes—
the sensuous and the rational.
Naturally, in the movement of Western history there
was no deliberate decision to neglect intuition,
feeling, and belief, but, once introduced, certain
factors built barriers against them. Not least of these
revolves around the complexity of these other modes of
knowing. This alone pushed for relegating them to the
personal or idiosyncratic. Since intuition, feeling,
and belief were “individual”—a conclusion affirmed by
the separation of church and state—they were entrusted
to the exclusive competence of the private dimension of
The separation of church and state is quite
significant in the emergent dominance of sensation. Our
ancestors had been brought to war and extreme conflict
because of differences in defining beliefs and
intuitions; therefore, to forestall further disaster
these were deprived of social significance. On the
other hand, all in a given society could agree on what
their senses told them and logic reinforced. So the
basis of the political order became practices not of
intuition and belief but only of the senses and reason
devoted to the pursuit of economic and political
“interests.” Naturally, since consciousness in fact was
partially intuition and belief and since it relied on
feelings of patriotism, the state could never quite be
described in sensual-rational terms—such as economic
benefit, military security, and political interests—but
the attempt to define it in terms of “consent” and
other weird conceptualizations continued.
In replacing religion, science itself becomes a
religion more rigid than any we have known before. It
rigidity is linked to its symbols. Religion has symbols
interpretations of religious symbols since their
meaning is derived only from an inwardly verifiable
reality. Scientific symbols are, in the name of
precision, required to have but one interpretation and
prejudicial investigatory processes. Scientific symbols
are, therefore, properly called “signs” to distinguish
them from the richer symbols that we use in myth and in
paradoxical logic.
The present era is in crisis because it has persisted
in the error of trying to understand and explain “what
is” in terms of sensation and reason—of science—alone.
Indeed, it can be and has been argued that the Second
World War was basically caused by a reaction against
scientific reason. The Germany of Hitler was a
religious-intuitive nation and, as such, Germany went
to war without reason or at least in a way that
subjugated and used reason. If this is so, Germany’s
becoming a religious intuitive nation was only a
predictable reaction to a formerly extremely strong
sense-rational German state. Moreover, the explanation
of Germany as a religious-intuitive society points to
the share of the responsibility that must be borne by
Germany’s enemies. Because the intellectuals of Western
civilization had emphasized sensation and reason, they
could not perceive the significance of the religiointuitive reaction engulfing Germany and within their
own nations. They did not understand what intuition and
belief meant in both places because they had performed
self-mutilating brain surgery on them selves by denying
that they could gain genuine knowledge on the basis of
intuition-belief. Not using this formulation they
blinded themselves.
This interpretation of modern civilization also helps
explain how American government leaders could so
massively miscalculate the nationalist tenacity of the
Vietnamese and their willingness to keep fighting
beyond all “reasonable” motives. It also accounts for
how unprepared they were for events in the Middle East
from the “fanaticism” of the Islamic revolution in Iran
to the “irrational” decision of Hussein to invade
Kuwait. By contrast, American leaders saw great
differences between themselves and the “Communists” of
the Soviet Union. They, therefore, miscalculated in
their expectations of “irrationality.” The Soviets
subscribed, in fact, to sensation-rationalism as much
as the “West” and, indeed, the Soviets in some cases
acted even more on the basis of a sharp division
between sense-reason and belief-intuition. Soviet
“socialism” not only agreed with the “West” on the
separation between reason and belief-intuitiion but
also relegated it to the realm of non-being or
epiphenomena that merely reflects an economic base
though at the same time founded the appeal of Marxism
on realities known only by belief-intuition. It is in
Marxism (as opposed to Marx himself) that this
historical movement toward sense-reason reaches is
culmination and, apparently in its blindness to the
full nature of human life, its end.
Western societies are now undergoing vast internal
domination, for many have seen the origins of both in
World War II and the wars the United States has fought
since as resting in the epistemological estrangement of
sense-reason and intuition-belief. When sense-reason
beliefintuition, it is transmuted into its opposite but in a
malignant form: militantly destructive belief. To be
“rational” about calculating the possibilities of war
and the benefits that could accrue by going to war is
to breed the very upheavals that create war.
Chapter 3
Approaching the Problematical Situation
The dangers implicit in, and the problems created by,
traditional modes of thought are now becoming clear.
Consequently, it is likely that these patterns will be
forced to change drastically soon. The changes must not
be permitted to be merely reverse reactions to the
present since then they will be equally erroneous and
dangerous; rather, we must encourage knowledge to
regain a totality of perspective. We are being called
by our era to rediscover the lost fullness of
“understanding.” Fullness known could not be fullness
“understood”—at least not in the sense currently given
to the word “understanding” since it means capturing,
containing, controlling, and dominating; in terms of
this notion, which is founded upon secondary level
knowing, full knowledge is an illusion. We are driven
by these opposing forces, one to fullness and the other
to “understanding"; how do we resolve the dilemma.
If we were able to entertain experience without
imposing mental order upon it, we would never err; but
we must impose order for the sake of understanding. The
trick of avoiding or minimizing the error and danger
involved is not, therefore, nihilistically to blot out
the attempt to comprehend but to escape its undesirable
effects. This may be achieved—and to some extent
already is achieved—in two ways. The first is through
the proper utilization of scientific procedures.
Scientific procedure, almost by definition, has meant
an attempt to minimize creations of, and projections
onto, reality; but science can never result in an
adequate liberation from symbolic restrictions in
effect against the known as long as science confines
itself to parts, objectified parts, of consciousness.
The sciences focus on some slice of reality such as
“biology” and have always attempted to reveal some
thing about consciousness or experience not previously
known—to point to what we have not seen but could see
and sometimes should have seen—and to develop a
sensitivity to “qualities” of things such as color or
hardness. In essence, the sciences have accepted the
“reality” and “objects” forced upon scientists by their
“perception,” and the judgment of science as to the
validity of its perspectives and operations has long
been that these perspectives lead to conclusions that
“work.” “All that we care about is how it works, it
makes no difference whatever whether a thing really is
green or blue, so long as it behaves on the belief that
it is green or blue.” (Eliot, 1964, 168)
Natural scientists can be quite satisfied with
perspectives that work since their goal tends to be
“usefulness” within the context of a given social
“reality” and “human image.” Neither they nor the
would-be scientists of society, however, can afford to
lose sight of the historically biased character of
their labor; they accept a definition of “use” and
“society.” Emergent humanity, however, needs new uses
and definitions and these can only come from outside
the given and working symbolic universes.
Science is possible only if it operates within the
framework of a specific symbolic universe of reality—a
kind of universe long-dominant in most of the Western
world and increasingly dominant in countries such as
the Soviet Union and China as well as those in the
Middle East. The Soviets and the Chinese constitute no
essential threat to the scientists of the Western world
or to those oriented toward the symbolic universe of
object reality. This explains why scientists, along
with their counterparts in the world of business, have
tended to see the division between East and West as
spurious. The symbolic universe of the scientist is not
Unprejudiced scientists are not justified in concluding
that their symbolic system is confirmed merely because
it is accepted in foreign cultures or that other
symbolic universes are less valid because they are not
The tremendous worth of science must not be permitted
to falter on the great sin of science, the sin of
pride. Scientists must work at times enclosed within
their symbolic-object universe, but they must not have
the audacity to assume, much less insist, that their
reality, their real world, is either all there is or
even the highest there is for us. Science itself
requires no less of them.
The second trail to be followed and tread by at least
as many feet as trace the scientific way is that of a
“looking” that constantly strives to overcome partial
knowledge of all kinds and get directly to the fullness
of knowledge and consciousness. Like the scientific
“object” approach, this too has a long tradition of
thought surrounding, if not fully enveloping, it.
Perhaps the most well-known exponent in this century of
the different way of looking at the known is Max Weber
and his concept of verstehen or understanding. His is a
notion of understanding that stands in sharp contrast
to the conventional approach to grasping reality. Most
of those expounding Weber’s, or elaborating on their
own similar, views seem either to have perverted what
Weber had to say or else to have diverged from him more
substantially than they have imagined. For example,
Weber’s “understanding” has been unfairly characterized
by the suggesting that to achieve it we must know
another’s behavior by referring to an analogy between
theirs and our own. (Winch, 1958, 47)
Others have
suggested the use of an emotionally “sympathetic
faculty” to comprehend their behavior. (Hyde, 1964, 64)
One difficulty with this sort of an approach for
scientists is that it cannot be replicated; empiricists
suggest that the knowledge thus developed is likely to
be private since the verification is private. On the
contrary, however, even were the new awareness private,
it might be defended as worthwhile. In fact, it is
likely that “the truth has to me MY truth before it can
be true at all. This is because an ‘objective’ truth is
relative truth” (Eliot, 1964, 168) and, therefore,
strictly speaking, not truth at all.
characterizations of Weberian “understanding” or use of
the “sympathetic faculty” is that it does not dig
deeply enough. It, too, is still seriously infected by
object-subject preconceptions. By introspection we are
to look into ourselves; this assumes that there is a
subjective self to look into as well as a “looker”
doing the looking and other subjective selves that are
similar or comparable. Emphasis upon subjectivity, the
coordinate of objectivity, does not challenge or
question objectivity but rather confirms it.
A better path, closer perhaps to what Weber had in
mind, is not to flee from one aspect of the symbolic
universe of objectivity/subjectivity to the other but
to transcend the object by transcending the division in
the various ways of knowing. We must try not just to
know what we have pre-defined as the inner and the
outer but to know wholly and directly. However, while
we can never stop living in this primary level of
knowing completely, once we have reached the secondary
level, we can never go back to the homeland of our
childhood. We can, nevertheless, re-integrate the
forever distinct four modes of secondary knowing.
The first step in doing this is to accept Hegel’s
dictum that “Everything is real, so long as you do not
take it for more than it is.” (Bosanquet, 1967, 84)
Just as scientists must not take their object, the
artificial creation made necessary when knowledge
relies solely on the senses and reason, for more than
it is, so, too, we who would go beyond science must not
take “ourselves” or “our own feelings, intuitions and
beliefs” for more than they are. We must not take part
for the whole. Whatever we say we know is only partly
known and, therefore, not known; whatever is expressed
in words is only mis-expressed because words are only
Having achieved this humility, we may gain Weberian
“understanding” by deliberately opening consciousness.
For us who have grown up in a symbolic universe of
objects, the ability to perform such an act of purity
can only be gained gradually. Consciousness must
attempt to strip away all the parcelling impositions of
symbol and to know by participating fully. Then a new
understanding may be developed by memory’s replay and
comparison of that consciousness. Understanding cannot
ultimately escape the parcelling process, but, by
participating completely, consciousness can start to
tear at some of the prejudices of present symbolic
In simple terms, the very heart of knowledge or
consciousness is participation. The known is part of
the whole that, in human physical terms, connects into
brain patterns. Brain patterns then can be replayed
deliberately. In this way, Pavlovian-type conditioning
operates not only to change human and animal action
patterns but knowledge patterns as well. “Brainwashing” is achieved by forcing you to participate in a
total environmental arrangement that combines extreme
novelty with prior conditioning; this preparation, if
continued long and intensely enough can at least
temporarily not only repress earlier action in other
total environmental arrangements but also change the
consciousness of the person participating. Ultimately,
the tremendous human fear woven into the hidden carpet
pads our era lays over reality so that we can tread
more comfortably is the fear that our symbolic universe
can be altered and the belief that it has only been
created by participation in a particular culture.
Before, we knew original sin. Now, we know what the
nature of that sin is and why it can never be erased.
The body is the basis for unity with, and knowledge of,
the whole as long as we live exclusively on the first
however, the body has fallen and become the basis of
established not by clinging to the processes of
physical existence but only by beginning with revisions
in mind now separated from body. We cannot solve the
division between mind and body, between one object and
another, by reducing our lives to body but only by
reorganizing our consciousness. Neither can we do so by
fleeing from our body to our mind. We must develop our
soul and our spirit.
artificially, gradually, and divergently by different
groups, at the same time, there is a oneness, a
sameness, in all of us and an inter-subjective tie
linking us all together. We know the accidental and the
essential in our loss of the concrete, but we no longer
know the dividing line between them. In the final
analysis, it is this dividing line that we are trying
to discover because standing on it we may be able to
catch a glimpse of the concrete that can be discovered
abstract-introspectively. Only directly and by facing
life itself, our own life, can we find the lever to
move the symbolic universe. The line between essence
and accident and, therefore, our lever may be
discovered by examining what we often feel we know most
Creation of Self
The problem “What am I?” or “What is the center of
consciousness?” is one of those points where the
dilemma of the relationship between “being” and
“knowing” becomes crucial. Does self (being) exist
prior to second-level knowing or is self a creation of
knowledge. Stated in this way the existence and nature
of self raises the broader issue of the a priori that
we shall deal with shortly, but for the moment let us
return to the original and single position: the only
thing assumed prior to knowledge is the possibility of
knowledge, consciousness, or experience. This position
of maintaining only minimal assumptions is, however,
not common among intellectuals.
Refusing to assume the existence of self as a given
prior to knowledge, we must face the question of the
nature of our knowledge of it. One point seems clear:
self is not a matter of direct apprehension. The
argument from common sense that it is will not do. We
do not know self as self directly. Even though most of
us are likely to assert that self both is known
directly and is the best known of all knowledge, if we
strip what we mean when we say “self” of all the
different things we “immediately apprehend” through
common sense, the “self” we can agree upon is likely to
“consciousness of consciousness.” The self is the
“being-that-knows” instead of the being that is known.
1. Self as Subject: Knowledge. Self is not known as
self; what is known is, on the one hand, a precondition
of, and, on the other, an artificial construct by, the
symbolic universe. Two aspects of self must therefore
be distinguished: self-as-subject and self-as-object.
Self-as-subject is, in the same way that “objects” are,
a construct at the heart of secondary consciousness. In
order to know at the secondary level, experience must
be isolated into parts; that is achieved by creating
objects and facts; objects and facts are possible only
by creating a subject apart from them and separating
out that subject.
We who know objects on this level do not have to be
aware in the process that the objects assume a subject.
Indeed, most of us are unaware of this, and it was only
during the time of Hume and Kant that philosophy
transcended thinking in terms of objects and even of
“relationism.” (Kant, 1949, xxiv)
Nevertheless, for
Kant the difference between subject and object is
assumed as necessary to knowledge even though the two
are intrinsically linked. For those who accept only
scientific knowledge as valid knowledge, “It is clear
that all perception or knowledge implies a perceiving
subject and an object perceived, and that it consists
in any relation whatever between these two.” (Cournot,
1956, 6)
Within this relationship some philosophers
today stress the priority of subject over object while
others stress the priority of object over subject.
Charles Pierce, for example, emphasized, as do the
positivists generally, the priority of object. For him,
“the power of seeing is inferred from colored objects.”
(Pierce, v., 1960, 150) The description of the self as
subject is derived from objects.
strengthened the dichotomy between subject and object
just as it emphasized the difference between one object
and another. For example, Aristotelian logic, which is
based on the law of identity, is possible only because
of these distinctions and, therefore, is tied to the
creation of subject. The law of identity that A equals
A asserts the existence both of an isolated object
named by a symbol and the separate nature of the
knowing subject. More recent logical systems point to
the possibility of minimizing, but never eliminating,
the necessity for the dichotomy if thought is to be
Although Alfred North Whitehead refuses to see the
subject-object relation as fundamental only to second
level knowing and agrees with Descartes that the
“subject-object relation is the fundamental structural
pattern of experience,” (Whitehead, 1933, 225) he does
identify Descartes’ basic source of error as lying
within the dichotomy. Living in a logical-empirical, a
second level, world of knowledge, Descartes easily fell
into assuming that the minimal core of all knowledge
was the given subject. (Whitehead, 1966), 149-156, 166)
Descartes used the given subject-self (I think) to
demonstrate the existence of the object-self (I am). It
would perhaps be fairer to Descartes to use the
original language he wrote in; the Latin cogito (I
think) and sum (I am) link together the thought process
of consciousness with alleged self; Descartes may be
justified in saying because there is thought, being
must exist also, but to assert what later philosophic
commentators have stressed that the presence of some
thought and being demonstrates the existence of a being
such as an “I” or a “self” is completely unjustified.
The most any of us, Descartes included, is able to
demonstrate as evident is that consciousness is. We
cannot demonstrate that “we” exist and cannot even
explain what “we” are (or what “I” am). In the world,
to become an “I” is to become a category, an object.
Subjectivity never proves the existence of any object,
even the self. Although one assumes the other, from the
one (either subject or object) we can never reason to
the existence of the other.
The assumption of self, in short, permits the rise of
second level knowing in general, permits discursive
logic, and, finally, allows the development of
communication in language. By raising the issue of
language and communication in this way, we run smack
into the problem that society seems to create the
notion of self. Society fosters self in its subjective
and, more obviously and strikingly, objective senses.
Society nurtures the subjective but creates the
objective self.
2. Self-as-Object: Society. The basis society uses to
build an objective self, a persona, is action.
Individual consciousness experiences itself as a cause,
as exercising power. On the foundation of this power
the self can be erected and, once in place, modified
when necessary. Consciousness possesses a direct
relationship with a cluster of powers; these are known
on the second level as “bodily powers.” In establishing
the separation of subject and object, second level
consciousness sets the line of division not between
consciousness and all other things, but, since
consciousness can only with difficulty be known as a
“thing,” between what more and what less often fills
hypothetical existence of an ego within the body in the
sense of mind in body, self becomes most closely
identified with body-mind together.
In knowledge a subject-self is necessary; the line in
the second level of knowing between subject and object
is drawn between subject-body (those experiences
regularly and intimately attached to consciousness) and
object-body (those experiences less regularly and less
intimately attached). But the line is never clear; “I”
often know or feel some thing (object) going one within
my body (subject); therefore, I experience the
continuing tension over whether self is “mind” or
distinguished from objects, we develop an object self
through society. That I am a subject is given by the
very existence of knowing on the second level. But
second level knowing is fundamentally an ability
deliberately to replay primary knowing, and primary
knowing is participating knowing. Therefore, society
can create self beyond simple subjectivity by placing
us into specific kinds of participation.
The assignment of role, for example, creates self-asobject initially, and change of role changes objective
self. Object self is created at the same time as
subject-self, and both come concomitant with second
level knowing. Therefore, given a strongly developed
sense of object self, what role change challenges is
not only objective self but the totality of second
level known reality; the intensity of the challenge is
proportional to the radicality of role change as well
as to the closeness of the tie between individual
consciousness and the secondary level with its object
self. While all of us live to some extent at the
primary level, those of us who have lived mostly there
will find reality little challenged by a substantial
role change; while those of us who have lived mostly at
the secondary level and thereby experience objective
self intensely will be very much challenged by even a
small role change.1
That part of self we call object, moreover, is
created not just by participation so that there is a
primary level core to it, but also by recognition of
other people—other “centers of consciousness”—we relate
to as object. So self, as known in everyday life, is
known not only as subject, and as participant in
wholeness, but as object or at least potential object
to others. Thus, self is given not only identity as
subject and doer but identity as object, that is to
say, as separate. Whole “self” is the assumed integral
unity of subject, participant, and object; none of
these elements, while necessary for second level
knowledge, stands as a reality prior to it.
Constituted in this way, self—especially object self—
is in continual process of development with society.
“Once crystallized, it is maintained, modified, or even
re-shaped by social relations.” (Berger, 1966, 159)
This maintenance and change can take place in three
ways. First, in a kind of quantitative arena, the self
may be adjusted by making it more objective or more
subjective. Relations can force self to stand more and
more as object or more and more as subject. A centrally
increasingly an object, autonomy makes self more and
more a subject. Movement toward one or the other,
whatever the direction, creates ego tension; and
confrontation with elements of the opposite in either
object- or subject-dominant societies can induce
resentment. The ambivalent experience of police as
enforcers against the subject in the subjective society
is an excellent example of this. The reverse is true
too; displaced persons who had fought for autonomy in
eastern European countries have been shocked by, and
opposed to, the kind of autonomy demonstrated in
Western nations.
The second place for maintaining or altering self is
role or participant change; not only may relations be
more or less demanding, they may be of different kinds.
Participating in the environment of a prison changes a
self as does participating as a soldier in war. Though
less formal in prison, the tension-filled training
period both in it and in the military is striking; by
participating a self is “made” a convict or a killer.
That a self may be changed in this way and be different
does not argue for an ethical relativism; it does not
deny the capacity of impartial judgment of one self to
be better or worse than the other, though it does
demand humility in the judgment.
Aside from these direct methods, self may be
maintained or altered by manipulating merely the
symbols surrounding it. For example, though based in
the same role as before (the role of “father” for
instance) with the same amount of subjectivity, a self
may be maintained or altered by the everyday symbols
expressed around it. The father may be maintained in
role and subjectivity by symbols standing for respect
and admiration or for recognition as father and may be
changed by expressions of denial as father and of
failure. Discordance, whatever its direction, between
symbolic assertions and position creates tension since,
having defined evil as negation to the individual
consciousness, the individual consciousness cannot
affirm self as evil or negation.
In sum, the self is developed, maintained, and
changed in society and is understandable only as a
dialectical process of interplay with society. Society
goes even so far as to define us if we are experiencing
a breakdown in our mental distinctions as “mentally
ill.” Society’s psychiatrists would even seek to
recondition us after forcing us to accept that what we
are experiencing when the distinction is threatened is
insanity rather than insight. Once self is present, and
its very presence is the result of process, what is
given in it shapes and, in turn, is shaped by, the rest
of the world of things, including the world of others.
Chapter 4
Ego Overcome
Why Self?
1. Control. A question about self at least as
important as its nature and creation is “why?”
does it develop in us at all and why is it universal?
Two kinds of responses appear automatic—one in terms of
social function and one in terms of the human organism
physically and psychologically. The two are, of course,
not unrelated. First, the social explanation. The
enormous role of society in creating and manipulating
self is not without reason. Although often seen as the
antithesis of society, self constitutes the very core
of society and permits it to operate. So important is
self, as Cooley pointed out, that “an unhealthy self is
at the heart of nearly all social discontent.” (Cooley,
1902, 260)
Both the affirmation and the negation of
either the subjective or objective self can provide the
foundation for the group. So far, group inventiveness
has been able to use either self-negation or selfaffirmation while it has been unable to use selfdenial.
The collectivity can use the affirmation of self-assubject by identification or by responsibility. The
establishment of a strong subjective sense of self,
once developed with society, can be identified with
something “beyond one’s own body” under the rubric
symbol “love.” The subjective self, objectified in a
special role, can, if strong enough, pour itself out
into that role or that participation. The self can
empty itself into a poem, a piece of pottery, a cake,
or whatever and be devoted to the creation of something
the group wants. Only a clear self can provide the
stable family relationship in “love” that is beneficial
to the group. It has long been evident that only those
who strongly love themselves can strongly love others,
that it takes a certain arrogance and strong psychic
sense of self to make another person “mine” for life.
Responsibility, too, can be used by the group. The
inner-directed or “self"-centered, the introverted
rather than the extroverted, those of us who act on the
basis of principles we find within ourselves rather
than legal standards imposed from outside, can, out of
a sense of responsibility, be made to do what society
needs. First, the group places into self those
principles to act from; if no other principle is there,
surely the desire for good will be. The will to good
when we are self-oriented leads us to do what is good
for others and thereby serve society. It may well be
that the group can use a strongly developed sense of
subjective self and may even foster it, therefore, only
because the autonomous self is an illusion. Society
fosters the subjective sense because, since all of us
are inwardly tied together in fact whether we want to
responsibility. Lost in our subjectivity and unaware of
the tie, we might be induced to serve the group best by
serving ourselves.
Just as society may be served by self-affirmation, it
is also served by self-negation. Both presuppose the
reality of self. Social control may be established by
threat to self, threat of self-deprivation, but we can
be deprived of self only if self is there and the more
self there the more that can be threatened openly and
subconsciously. If we have a role-self in society, we
probably can be effectively controlled by a threat from
society that it might remove us from that role; if we
have a strong life-sense of self, we may be ruled by
threats of various kinds of death. If we have nothing
of the sort, and in some groups both of these are
lacking though there may be others, we may escape
control. This is one reason that self-denial is so
important in many eastern religions. Somewhat similar
to self-affirmation is voluntary self-negation; a
society that develops in us a depth of subjective-self
may use it and limit it by reminding us continually
that there are many, many subject selves and that the
one should yield to all the others. In other words,
self should yield to the objectification of the
Societies thus far have used the self in whatever
form it comes; self-affirmation and self-negation are
only two sides of the same assumption that is useful to
society. I must assume self to affirm it; I must assume
self to negate it. Self affirmed as subject, self
affirmed as object, and self negated as object are all
useful to the group. Social control has, however, so
far been unable to make its peace with subjective selfdenial. All who deny themselves as subject cannot be
This precisely is the dilemma confronted by many
nations as well as the world as a whole today. Nationstates on the international scene have assumed a stance
of self-denial in their willingness to risk everything
to avoid being controlled by other nations; individuals
within these nations have copied the stance for
themselves, and by denying the self that alone can
commit the person to eternal love, responsibility, and
self-negation, they have “dropped out”—if they drop far
invulnerable to control; power may annihilate them but
cannot govern them. Objectification of the subjective
self, which consists of the willingness to do anything
to preserve yourself as a thing, increasingly destroys
the subjective self; but because subjective self is the
basis of the whole edifice of self, the objective self,
too, is gradually eroded.
A society dominated by the public is possible only
under circumstances of subjective self-affirmation and
cannot exist without objective self-denial. Democracy
is, therefore, pre-eminently a psychological problem.
As long as societies are based upon objective selfaffirmation or objective self-negation, they will be
undemocratic. They will be divided into two parts:
wolves and sheep, the strong and the weak, those who
control and those who are controlled. There is no other
path than the denial of the socially-constructed
illusion of objective self. This may be possible only
by total self-denial and that would mean a postdemocratic, a post-political, society. Moreover, just
as the future of political systems may depend upon the
surrender of subjective self, the future of knowledge
may depend on the surrender of subjective self. Perhaps
groups can make their peace with objective self-denial;
perhaps the time is right for groups to move beyond
control, beyond the necessity for objective self.
Perhaps individuals and the group can make their peace
with subjective self-denial.
2. Survival. The primary reason for the objective
self and motive for its creation in society is likely
to be social control in all its forms—separate persons
controlling each other, primary groups and secondary
groups controlling members, and the political order
controlling citizens and groups. Current “dangers” as
far as this kind of control is concerned are based on
increasing personal awareness of it and increasing
disregard for the keystone in its edifice, role.
Families, the economy, and the whole state are likely
to topple as this occurs.
The threat to the social order and to humanity goes
much deeper than the mere erosion of particular interpersonal arrangements. The human organism itself is
threatened. It is threatened because the major
instrument of attack upon the objective self has become
the subjective self. The subjective self, too, is an
illusion. We end with a situation where one illusion
attacks and destroys the other. But it may well be that
the only check on the dominance of one illusion was the
other, and surrendering one means we surrender to
insanity. The only check on the objective self or role
was the subjective self; the objective self became
stronger and stronger in America at least until the
subjective self revolted; in the ensuing struggle, it
may be that one or the other will be obliterated.
We have seen how the subjective self is established
and, in part, why, how we make the world into objects
in order to use it, how the price of objects is the
simultaneous creation of subjects, and how the price of
both of them is tension. The subject is empty, and this
emptiness moves it to objectify itself as a role. Use
gives birth to object, object entails subject, and
objectification, and the dialectic tension thereby
created may end in our destruction.
So far in the contemporary era we witness the extreme
rebellion of subjectivity against its objectification,
but what happens when subjectivity triumphs?
there be a flight in fright back to objectivity or will
subjectivity then understand that it, too, is an
illusion fostered by our fall into abstraction and into
the creation of objects? If this is understood, will
we nihilistically be driven to the destruction of our
3. Fear. An explanation of why self is established
and not only established but continued despite tension
may throw brighter light on the whole problem. The
source of object, self as subject, and then self as
object lies as much in emotion as in reason. Subjective
self is the logical correlate of objects, but at least
one observer has suggested that a human emotional push
to clarity concerning “what is” is the basis of both,
that subject and object emerge from a state of feeling.
(Eliot, 1964, 165)
Having established objects for
their usefulness, we suffer from an existential wound.
Chaos has been rendered orderly and safe by organizing
it into a structure of defined objects, but out of this
ordering come two realms—inside and outside. The
outside is the world of created objects. Living in the
world and paying all attention to it, I as subject
become frightened of the possibility—which at the
primary level I know is true—that I am “no-thing,” that
this spark of consciousness is only a container to be
filled with alien things, and yet I fight to fill it
and to have others see that it is full. In fear and
trembling I create an object self, make an object out
of subjectivity.
objective self and subjective self-consciousness are
connected to the problem of second level consciousness
itself. One of the roots of second-level consciousness
is the refusal to accept the transitory nature of what
is. We create objects on the basis of mental constructs
to avoid accepting a constant flux or chaos that we
cannot master. Life is the assertion of permanencies.
Second-level consciousness denies impermanence by
holding onto concepts abstracted from experience and
pretending that they are unchanging realities behind
the surface of change.
By turning “what is” into things, we not only can
control it but also make it more stable. The price of
doing so is the establishment of an empty subjectivity
that we then seek not only to fill but also make stable
by means of objectifying it. We objectify it by
identifying it with the things we created, both
“physical” things such as “arms,” “legs,” and “bodies”
and intangible things such as “roles.” In the age of
plenty when things are hyper-abundant and economic
organization depends not just upon identification with
things but also upon the constant willingness to let
them go, to let them wear out or be destroyed before
they wear out, the contradiction leads us ever more to
recognize the emptiness of objects and of objective
self. The very fear that drove us to create objects,
the terror of subjective self, joins with objective
self and now forces us to abandon the objects, but can
we face returning to an empty and chaotic subject? The
drive to flee from impermanence and its usual human
form, the flight from death, have to be overcome. These
problems can be transcended only by yielding to
impermanence or death. This does not mean that life is
denied; acceptance of death is the only path to life.
Issues and Answers
1. Dilemmas. If denial of self holds many dangers for
the group and if we seem driven to establish self both
as subject and object, the assumption of self likewise
holds many problems and dangers for consciousness. Once
we assume the existence of self in any of its forms, we
immediately confront the fundamental subject-object
knowledge dilemma already noted. Given the division of
reality into self and all else, we must choose
epistemologically; either we are “a part of the world”
or we are “the constituting consciousness of the
world.” If we start with ourselves as one among many we
are a part of, we “lock ourselves within” our own
limits and cannot know anything of others. Similarly,
if we are constituting consciousness, we cannot reach
the other. (Merleau-Ponty, 1964, 71)
Either way we
confront a fundamental contradiction once we assume
self. Either we impute to “other people” what we find
in ourselves or else we can demonstrate no fundamental
“other” and that lack contradicts our hypothesis of
self/other problem is set in terms of mind-body or some
other kind of dualism. “The universe is dual,” says
Whitehead, “because each final actuality is both
physical and mental.” (Whitehead, 1933, 245)
of the mind-body problem exists and erects an
insurmountable barrier in knowledge only because of the
prior assumption of dualism in accepting self and
other. Knowledge thus given ego/other dualism has two
choices; for the sake of a knowledge theory it can
accept one side of the dualism (self or other) as
primary and base knowledge on the one side even though
this contradicts the fundamental assumption of inherent
dualism, or, for the sake of consistency with the
assumption of ego/other, it can live with the dualism
that forever keeps knowledge in two separate realms.
It may be true that serious doubt remains over
whether “a solution to the subject-object dilemma is
prior and necessary to a theory of knowledge.” We can,
after all, take knowledge and the dualism as a “fact”—
the physicist need not analyze the concept of “mass” to
use it. Eaton, 1923), 178-179)
We can ignore the
dilemma—indeed, we have long ignored it—as long as we
take “usefulness” or “success” as our standard of
knowledge. The dangerous consequences in ignoring the
problem, particularly for students of society, have
already become all too apparent.
In addition to the epistemological dilemma, one of
the dangers of having a societal system that uses selfresponsibility to maintain control over persons is that
self and self-responsibility allow those successful in
terms of social goals to praise themselves and blame
the unsuccessful for their own misery. This problem is
not insignificant in countries such as the United
States and particularly so among individuals and groups
who have but recently emerged themselves from, or are
still near to, an extremely low status. You are struck
hard in America by the self-satisfaction of the newly
arrived middle class member regardless of their ethnic
or racial backgrounds. If American society caters to
developed countries do likewise, it surely has lost
sight of the sources of some of its most sensitive
Another kind of problem likely to develop and
threaten a society based on self is the family. The
self-confidence and self-centeredness so essential in
some societies in order to allow men and women to
choose each other “freely” for purposes of tying others
to themselves permanently, contradicts the demands of
life together after marriage. Extreme tensions within a
marriage can endanger the well-being of the children—
society’s major motive for encouraging marriage. In the
past, romantic pursuit and marriage demanded that one
of the partners yield to the self of the other. This is
an intolerable situation in a self-centered society.
But the allegedly subordinate self can dominate in
hidden ways. The outcome of this process is likely to
be the breakdown of family arrangements and crises in
identity. It is most intriguing to speculate whether
the early death of Romeo and Julliet is the highest
ideal of the ego-centered romantic marriage precisely
because it avoids not the “horrors of marriage” but
those horrors induced by an egocentric romanticism. The
arranged marriage may not be romantically interesting,
but at least it is societally consistent.
Finally, one last all-encompassing danger of inducing
and using ego-centrism to serve group needs—the tenuous
character of the self. The shaky character of the self
appears as soon as it is lightly tested and not simply
assumed. In his attempts to understand the causal
aspects of self, Brian O’Shaughnessy has presented an
exploration of knowledge of self as an agent. His
relevant and significant conclusions are that not only
is the agent self not experienced directly in action
but also that the attempt to isolate agent self while
(O’Shaughnessy, 1966) He thereby illustrates both the
fading quality of self when self is questioned and the
creation of self on the symbolic level in conjunction
with the isolation of object. Similarly, experiments
conducted by immersing persons totally in bodytemperature water show the weak identification of
“self” with those sense-impressions that are fairly
constant when some of subjects of experiment have
experienced extreme fright when self starts to
dissipate as sensed body outlines disappear.
Both personal and social crises may be the outcome in
a group fostering strong-self assumptions. Currently,
we have innumerable examples. The decay of self has
been symbolized both in “stream-of-consciousness”
writing and in existentialism. Both have, however,
attempted to replace traditional self with new self—
“stream of consciousness” by assuming that the readers
will supply a self to “possess” the consciousness
stream they read and existentialism by noting the
emptiness of self but asserting the self of selfcreation.
Novels and existentialism only express what we of the
twentieth century generally know, the loss of self. The
experience of “identity crisis” seems to be more and
more widespread. It has been attributed to attacks on
both modes of the self—the self-as-subject and the
self-as-object/role. Rapid change, according to what is
already a cliché, forces us to adjust to new roles;
therefore, we must alter our identities; and thus a
fundamental character of identity, its permanence, is
increasingly contradictory; on the one hand, it insists
that on the verbal level we be treated as subjectselves while, on the other, it more and more forces us
to behave as objects. It is not that being numbered and
indexed is depersonalizing as much as it is that the
process forces those of us who conceive of ourselves as
subjects to recognize that we are being treated as
Nothing reveals this subject-object contradiction in
Western societies—especially in the United States—as
well as does the economic arena. Both as workers and as
consumers we have been more and more objectified, yet
resistance to objectification by a society that demands
and verbalizes ultimate subjectivity forces economic
agencies to pretend they are treating us as subjects in
order to make us into more perfect objects. Therefore,
societies such as that of the United States have
tacitly agreed to maintain the pretense that you are
subjective self while requiring that you live as
objective self. Advertising absurdly appeals to fifty
million people to be unique and subjective by all
smoking the same carcinogenic cigarette, and “personal”
identification number printed so that only a computer
can read it. This kind of weird tension in objectsubject self as well as rapid role change induces
serious identity conflict into persons and may lead to
the final collapse of some Western civilizations as
more and more selves in conflict withdraw from
participating and the rest in society attempt to
prevent their departure.
2. Suggestions. This is not the place to analyze the
ills of this or that particular society but to point
out that many of their problems may be traceable to
self. What we need most urgently to explore is a way of
saving knowledge from its link with largely illusory
self and especially of saving knowledge when what has
been self in a society dissipates and is disregarded.
What is needed is a wholeness and an opening of
consciousness to all of its capabilities without the
prior imposition of categories. The history of
knowledge may be seen as the development of principles
categories. Required, therefore, is not the abandonment
of all past processes of knowing but their fulfillment.
The errors of “perception and judgment”—setting aside
“logical error”—may well be minimized by seeing to it
that the categories are still further attacked.
Self emerged with the earliest manifestations of
liberation from the confinement of the given. Strange
as it may seem after all the discussion here so far, a
basic liberation from self/society categories was the
emergence of objects and objectivity in knowledge; the
attempt to rid knowers of conditioning that had
preceded their confrontation in experience was a giant
step. The further development of object and objectivity
went, however, the more the presence of self was
stressed. Apparently, one could abstract the preconditioning of self from consciousness or experience
only by creating a greater and greater distance between
self and object. Thus, the drive to objectivity creates
its own negation; the stronger the objectivity becomes,
the stronger objective and subjective self become. The
stronger self becomes the more likely it is to revolt
against the objects and the objectivity that created
Aware of the contradiction within objectivity, many
recent philosophers have largely rejected both it and
its “opposite”—subjectivity. Neither subject nor object
is ontologically autonomous, and even less is it
epistemologically autonomous. To enclose oneself within
alleged subjectivity is to accept the distance between
subject and object and is in fact to objectify self. To
objects is to assert the power of the subject knower to
stand outside.
Argument in favor of transcending the dichotomy and
merging of the two has come in a variety of forms.
There are elements of transcendence in Dewey’s and
Bentley’s concept of “transactionalism,” (Dewey &
Bentley, 1949), 56) which argues for overcoming
relationism. And, of course, existential attitudes seek
in the emphasis upon existence itself to ignore subject
and object, self and other, by moving to “embrace” them
both together.
There are many was to characterize a method of
knowing that goes beyond self by going beyond, though
not obliterating, former patterns of discovery. Mostly
what is possible in this regard has to be a matter of
conjecture or hints rather than explicit method. The
first direction must be to avoid as much as possible
accepting the conclusions of studies that assume self
and/or object. The second suggests how the process of
learning and knowing is not of isolated parts but of
wholes. For example, when children begin to “know” or
understand what seem to us to be complex concepts such
as the difference between “mine” when spoken by others
and “mine” when spoken by themselves are actually
learning simple ideas—they learn not just the isolate
symbol “mine” but the who complex of emotions expressed
when learning “mine.” This is simple, whole, or gestalt
knowing and not isolated piece knowing. Similarly,
knowledge of throwing a ball is given not by watching
and analyzing the movement of arm and then motion of
ball, the action of the knower, and then possibility of
human agent as thrower; you knows less, not more, about
throwing a ball by watching your own arm and the rest;
you know better by paying attention, by opening
A third suggestion points to a fundamental tendency
of Western intellectual endeavor. Physical scientists
themselves and now increasingly psychologists as well
have discovered the danger of excessive attention or
concentration. Some psychiatrists have found that
intense attention and intention together make the
“object” examined disappear. Viktor Frankel, for
example, found that many phobias con be overcome if the
patient will think of the fear, accept or reject it,
and deliberately attempt to follow its dictates.
(Frankel, 1967, 60) Ordinarily, you will find that if
you concentrate upon a word as a word, as an object,
the word will suddenly become strange , foreign,
erroneously spelled. Scientists, unable to solve a
problem may discover that the solution comes easily
after they stop trying to force it to come. The lesson
to be learned is that the more we seek to capture
knowledge the more readily it eludes us.
Western scientific knowledge has been based upon and
seems ever more oriented around the scientist’s attempt
to force nature to answer questions put to it. It may
well be that this must change in order to renew
knowledge. The increasing role of the scientist and
especially the social scientist both in the natural
laboratory (the social world to be examined) as well as
in the artificial laboratory to gain more knowledge may
instead be preventing the birth of the most important
kinds of knowledge. Like the boy trying to ask the
question of his own arm, “how do you throw,” while
throwing, the scientist by asking may be both
destroying the throw and interfering in the possibility
of answering the question. Intellectual life must
become more contemplative or meditative and less
action-oriented. We must converse with the world,
natural and social, and not cross-examine it.
Wholeness can never be fully recaptured once we have
lost it by the fall into reason and the second level of
knowing, but by dedication and by humility in knowing,
knowledge can be vastly improved. Primordial paradise,
“the unconscious wholeness of nature where there is “no
division between subject and object, no reflection, no
painful conflict of conscious with the unconscious”
(Berdyaev, 1960, 38) may never return and might be
disastrous if it should. Some “things” such as self and
object may never fully be avoided, but their threat can
be minimized by concentrating on opening to the
fullness of experience or, at least, since fullness can
never be re-captured, by deliberately denying self and
object and enabling awareness of the given. Again,
modesty is essential since the unerring fullness of
primary knowledge is forever gone. Since we can no
longer escape from either partial attention to the
given or temporal sequence, we must be modest, denying
of self and object, and open to past and future,
history and teleology, in knowledge.
perception” arise because of mis-taking one way of
knowing on the secondary level for another. Self,
objective and subjective, and object are two elements
in that confusion. These are memory constructs that we
take for sensations or emotions we experience. We can
overcome some of the error in contemporary social
research particularly, but in physical scientific
research too, by rejecting the actual reality of these
Chapter 5
Impure Reason
The characteristics human beings possess that permit
secondary knowledge to arise and that distinguish it
from primary knowing are memory, comparison of elements
that are preserved in memory, and abstraction. These
three become so pervasive that often they or their
resulting “propositions” are taken for the whole of
knowledge. On the contrary, knowledge is much broader
than the list of what is or can be put in propositional
verbalizations—indeed the whole process of memory,
comparison, and abstraction (which is more familiarly
called by a general term “reason")—is secondary
knowledge based on the broader primary knowledge. Now
it is necessary to go beyond discussing the perceptual
and judgmental errors that arise when reason tries to
connect itself to allegedly “external” reality and
briefly examine reason in itself as it operates
isolated from the world.
A Priori
discover that our acts of knowing seem always at least
partly projections upon reality—projections “from our
minds.” For example, when we look at an object, we
experience it as a permanence but only a limited
permanence because to us it exists “in time.” But time
is not a quality of the object; it is instead our minds
that attribute time to our perceptions and attribute it
to the objects we perceive. Time is one example of a
whole series of such projections that are a priori to
our perceptions. Other examples of these a priori
projected categories, which are said to be prior to,
not given by, and not explainable in terms of,
experience, are space and number. We see things in
terms of time, space, and number, but if they are not
“in” the things, if they come from our “minds,” how do
they “get into” our minds and how do we know they are
not just arbitrary and inaccurate distortions of
Kant “solved” the problem of where they come from by
ascribing them to “faculties” or indelible structures
of mind. His solution, however, raises the further
problem of the projecting character of the mind; it
fails to answer how the mind gets its structures—are
they inborn or learned; and it merely suggests that
since we absolutely need the categories we need not be
bothered about comprehending them. To an enormous
degree our difficulties can be overcome by recognizing
two principles: first, the categories are not prior to
experience at all, and, second, they are preconditions
not of experience or knowledge but only of second-level
The categories arise from and after the division of
experience into parts; they are learned out of
experience once that experience has been divided into
parts. That the categories arise out of the second
level where experience is presented in terms of objectpieces can be shown by the example of time. Time is one
of those non-objective categories that Kant understood
to be absolute conditions for human knowledge. We are
immersed in duration, however, primarily because, once
we step into the second level of knowing, we constantly
live in pieces of memory. But duration seems suspended
in certain circumstances when we still know—when we are
“caught up” in work or pleasure or when we “know”
unconsciously. Freud, as early as the 1920’s, suggested
that we are “in a position to embark on a discussion of
the Kantian theorem that time and space are ‘necessary
forms of thought.’
We have learnt that unconscious
mental processes are in themselves ‘timeless.’” (Freud,
1951, 54)
Aware that for Kant “thought” was quite
different in meaning than for Freud in that it did not
contain the possibility of thinking on the primary
level, still, the quietude that usually accompanies the
acceptance of Kant’s categories is truly amazing.
The second principle we can use to cope with the
Kantian a priori problem is one that more of us are
likely to find objectionable. Not only are the
categories non-existent on the primary level of
knowledge but also they are derived from second level
experience. They are not projections of mind upon
experience but are developed out of experience. While
indeed prior to this or that particular (partial)
experience, they are not prior to experience in
general. The categories are present not because
experience cannot do without them but because reason as
it currently operates cannot. They enable us to apply
contemporary thought processes to experience.
The a priori categories are founded upon abstraction
experience. The rise of the a priori category of number
is instructive. Establishing second-level knowing,
creating subject and “things,” and becoming able to
abstract similarities in these things, we can bunch
things; we can see similar bunches and abstract from
certain of them the similarity named by the symbol
“three.” The principles involved in “three-ness” are
valid not only for this world but also for all possible
“thing” worlds. Because of this universality of number,
we deceive ourselves into believing that it is not an
abstraction from experience.
The a priori categories are not projections of the
mind upon reality but arise from the development of
second-level knowing and its attempt to capture and
dominate external reality. However, primary knowing,
the basis of the secondary level, subverts the
imprisonment of this “external” reality by making it
impossible without categories; it thereby shows that
“external reality” is a projection, at least in part,
of our minds. The categories make certain that pure
reason cannot generate knowledge unless it relies on
subvert reason in the name of knowledge.
Kant himself, we hasten to re-assert, insisted that
all knowledge begins with experience. He proceeded,
experience, it does not follow that it all arises out
of experience.” (Kant, 1949, 24) Our own “faculty” of
knowing, he adds, contributes something to knowledge.
The distinction between what is given by particular
experience—by the object—and what is given by the
subjective knower produces the distinction between
synthetic and analytic judgments. Analytic judgments
are judgments of reason or “mind” alone after, but not
derived from, experience; and synthetic judgments
depend on the object.
Apparently like Kant, many recent empiricists have
been unable to overcome belief in the almost absolute
dichotomy between analytic and synthetic judgments. In
fact, of the two basic “dogmas” of empiricism, one
insists that fundamental cleavage exists between the
two kinds of judgments. (Quine, 1951, 20) Factual or
synthetic judgments (for example: “That is a table.”)
are sharply distinguished from logical or analytical
judgments (for example: “Two plus two equals four.”).
The synthetic a priori, the a priori judgment drawn
from experience, was considered by both Kant and
empiricists alike as taboo. When philosophers such as
John Stuart Mill attempted to demonstrate that analytic
judgments of mathematics were drawn from experience,
that if a demon were to supply one extra apple every
time we added apples, then for us two plus two would
equal five, he was laughed at. Were a demon to do this,
it was said, we would just have to make a sharper
distinction between mathematics and physics, and that
in mathematics two plus two would still equal four.
(Lewis, March 29, 1923)
Mill’s example may be weak,
but the criticism of it depends on orientations drawn
on the basis of our demon-less world; the point remains
that two plus two equals four only given the
assumptions (1) that reality can be objectified into
parts that then can be added and (2) that the idea of
automatically to place another factor in experience.
The invisible shield between a priori and a
posteriori and between analytic and synthetic judgments
is so beloved by empiricists, who generally appear
reluctant to admit the existence of anything imposed on
experience by “mind,” precisely because it is the
empiricist group that most pursues not “experience” but
single, discrete, particular experiences. There is
safety in suggesting that what is given in a particular
experience or a series of them is only object and that
if subjective elements creep in, they come only because
of the unchangeable and universal structure of the
human mind. By means of this assumption, empiricists
are saved from having to deal with the possibility that
mind imposes something it need not upon “objective
experience”—they no longer have to worry about research
beyond their objectifications.
The safe world is not always, however, the true
world, and the safe world has, even in the short run, a
tendency to be safe only for a few and, in the long
run, a propensity to become unsafe for all. The
categories in experience are not a priori to experience
nor are they analytic judgments separate from the
synthetic. The categories come from experience but
subjective/objective alternatives nor into discrete
particular segments.
There can be no doubt that given the assumption of an
subjective-internal world, the absolute a priori and
the absolute separation between analytic and synthetic
judgments are inevitable. If we assume an externalobjective world, that world can only be known by a
“separate” knower who either passively or actively
receives and grasps what is given there. The other
alternative where mind creates and projects the
objective world is denied by the empiricist assumption
of the independent reality of the objective world.
unassailable today. What we experience or extract from
particular knowings and call “things” are partly
constructed; “mind” projects certain categories upon
“objects.” Knowledge of objects in terms of the
categories “space and time,” for example, is not given
by the particular experience. This is not, however, to
say that space and time are not derived from
experience. If you lessen belief in the objective
world, as I have attempted to do already, then the
claims made for the categories as a priori to
experience diminish.
Kant, at least, makes clear that the existence of the
a priori occurs only in what we have called the second
level of knowing. He hints, much to the contrary of his
empiricist interpreters, that the a priori is not part
of “objective experience.” It seems, however, that
Kant, when discussing the a priori neglects the
distinction between generic knowing and judgmental
categories, and the categories become useful and
necessary only because of reason or knowing that
requires judgment.
judgments based solely on experience,” but that beyond
the empirical and beyond the perceptions given by the
senses generally, special concepts must come into play.
These concepts have their origin entirely a priori in
the pure intellect; every perception is first of all
subsumed under them and can then be “transformed into
experience by means of these concepts.” (Kant, 1949,
It seems that Kant is indeed referring here to
judgments in experience, the cutting to pieces of
consciousness and putting them into categories that can
be grasped by intellect. The categories are given by
memory and reason and are useful only to the extent
that reason is useful; they are necessary to one kind
of knowledge, but not to all knowledge. The a priori in
an experience is a posteriori to experience; by nature
the a priori is synthetic.
1. Deduction. As a conclusion to this discussion of
knowledge in general, we should pay some attention to
pure reason in logic and to how it must become less
pure in order to approach the concrete. Pure reason
exists only after, and is ultimately dependent upon,
practical reason and primary knowing. In its core, pure
reason is manifested as the process whereby these
symbols were abstracted from experience. This is, of
course, why Aristotelian logic, or the deductive model,
is the only logic some philosophers wish to label
“symbolic” logic. It is the only logic that ignores the
concrete, is based solely upon symbol/sign, or, in
Kantian terms, offers pure analytic judgments.
Strange as it may seem, the recent empirical and
positivist schools of philosophy, which have argued in
favor of getting to experience and reality in knowing
rather than being confined on the heights of abstract
speculation, are the very groups that have demanded
that philosophy be enclosed within the realm of
abstract symbolic analysis. They start with experience,
denigrating any thing that pretends to go beyond
experience but end by admitting that they cannot decide
what is real but only what it means to say that
something is real—they end by enclosing themselves
within pure reason.
Once abstraction has occurred and symbols are the
matter handled by consciousness, it is impossible for
positivists or anyone else to return to the concrete.
Logical truth then becomes only tautological truth—it
is enclosed within the world of abstractions, it is
analytical. The statement “The morning star is the same
as the evening star” is logically true only if the
symbols “morning star” and “evening star” have
identical definitions.
As Kant suggested, “Pure reason requires completeness
in the use of the intellect in dealing with experience.
This completeness can only be a completeness of
principles, not one of images and objects.” (Kant,
1949, 98)
Only deduction has the right to be called
pure reason; the other so-called logical systems such
as “induction” and “dialectics” may be modes of
reasoning but not modes of pure reasoning. Only
deduction is based on pure symbols, and only pure
reason in its purity is free from error. In deductive
logic we find three symbols all abstracted from
experience; error arises only when we wish to attach
these symbols back to experience. The symbols may be
labeled “A,” “B,” and “C.” If “A” equals “B” and “B”
equals “C,” then “A” equals “C"; the statement is
completely without error. Error arises only when we try
to apply the abstract symbols to the concrete—only when
we try to say that this or that is “A” and so it is
also “C.”
2. Induction to Return to the Concrete. Since a
primary justification for deduction is knowledge of
what we do not or can not know or experience directly,
questions arise over how deductive conclusions relate
to experience. Deduction can offer the dream of
unerring knowledge, but how can we be assured that its
conclusions are related to experience?
The usual
answer is that we must test in experience the
conclusions derived by deduction. But this will not by
itself transfer the certainty of logic to life;
moreover, if it were possible to test, to experience,
conclusions drawn from deduction, little would be
served by the logical process. Instead, we may try to
connect logical validity to the concrete by studying
how close the symbols used in deduction are to the
generalizations from experience. Thus, the symbol
“telephone” is abstracted from any part of experience
that demonstrates the specific characteristics for the
receiving and sending of voice signals over long
distances. From the attempt to verify conclusions drawn
from deduction arises the interest in induction, or
“inference” from those cases to the whole “class.”
Empirical science built the idea of induction into a
religion. If you were interested in knowing, you should
go and gather pieces of experience guided by some idea,
compare them, create a generalization, test the
generalization, and you would end with an everincreasing body of knowledge. Scientific empiricists
began to assume that induction was not really a kind of
servant to deduction in knowing but that it was a
coequal system of logic, that you could, from
induction, come to generalizations that were as certain
as those of deduction. Moreover, induction seemed the
very basis of deduction, in as much as it was the
source of observation-symbols to be compared in reason.
David Hume’s attack on causality devastated this
early empiricism. He demonstrated that no justification
existed for assuming that there was a necessary
connection between parts of experience and that such a
connection alone would legitimize generalizations. You
could gather similarity after similarity in experience
and yet not be justified in generalizing on the basis
of mere similarity. Positivists often responded by
conceding that the actual justification for induction
was not inherent validity but its “usefulness” in
serving given aims. (Reichenbach, 1954, 243)
No one in recent years has taken a position so
strongly against induction as a valid method of logic
as has Karl Popper. (Popper, 1962) Popper points out
that major problems in knowledge have been brought
about by the view that induction is a valid logical
system leading to confident generalization; induction,
he insists, is not logic but science, and science is
the modest statement of conjectures that are then
refuted in a process that never ends in a concluding
generalization. Any other approach makes induction or
science into dogmatism.
3. Dialectics and Existentialism to Return to the
similarity to the other knowing process also considered
to be a form of logic, the dialectic. The long-standing
notion of what constituted secure and certain knowledge
generalizations manipulated using the deductive model;
carefully abstracted from parts of experience, seemed
to contain glaring errors. Errors persisted, observers
at least since the time of Hegel argued, because of the
very nature of the abstracting process.
Two facets of that process are fallacious. First,
abstracting the common element of several things
ignores diversities and often forgets to consider those
aspects that in the concrete are the negation of
affirmed elements. We may, for example, pick out or
“abstract” from the concrete the reality of “human
being” on the basis of the standards of “rationality
and animality,” but humans are not purely “rational
animals.” The statement, “That is a human being,” often
ignores and conceals these negations for the sake of
characterization as a rational animal.1
In other
words, the idea “human” may be that of “rational
animal,” but the concrete existent can never be just
Through the copula “is” we transfer the logical realm
to concrete life. By it we ascribe being to an abstract
essence. Many primitive languages have no verb “to be”
and are therefore saved from the error. Some recent
perspectives suggest we abandon that verb. The
followers of semanticist Alfred Korzybski have tried to
develop a form of English without it, (Korzybski, 1958)
but has not had complete success—the phraseology used
to replace “to be” makes the same, although less
apparent, assumption about the existence of essences.
The phrase, “I feel cold,” is not actually all that
different from the phrase, “It is cold"; both assume
the concrete existence of abstractions such as the
“feeling person.”
The second source of error is not only the
abstraction of common elements from “things” but also
the abstraction of “things” from their “background.”
Those who argue for dialectic knowledge tend to see the
first error in induction—the absence of accounting for
negation and process—and the existentialists tend to
see the second failure of knowing—the lack of
consideration for the whole of experience.
It is precisely because of this that the dialectical
knowers and the existentialists both, though the
existentialists to a much greater degree, have found it
necessary to search for new media of expression
especially in the arts. If understanding and reason
occur on a level subsequent to abstraction and
abstraction itself is a barrier to knowledge, then the
great bearer of abstraction, language, must be
overcome. It is hard enough a problem to tear away at
superstructure is shaken and a full experience becomes
possible, we must still face the issue of communicating
the new fullness. Old language and logic can no longer
serve the task.
Dialectic logic takes one of the steps leading to the
communication of the fuller knowledge and at least
challenges the old logic by stressing unity rather than
separation. The analytic logic of Aristotle—based upon
abstraction—became the synthetic dialectic of Hegel.
The importance of dialectics in this light is not so
much that they stress change and conflict but that they
suspend analysis and adopt synthesis. They reverse the
abstracting process by putting back together in the
concrete the contradictory essences and surfaces
Twentieth century existentialists—Sartre is a prime
example—have partly replaced scientific language as the
pre-eminently precise mode of communication with an art
form. Apparently, it is as of now only in this way that
thinkers can hint at the fullness of knowledge;
discursive language is excessively tied to traditional
abstract symbols. Innovations in some of the art forms,
the novel, painting, drama, and especially film, are
based on and at the same time illustrate Kant’s thesis
that the mind projects categories onto reality; more
significantly, however, the art forms illustrate, not
the projections of “mind” upon “experience,” but the
wholeness of experience before the slicing of reason
occurs necessitating “projections.”
It is intriguing, too, that the new art is
reminiscent of primitive forms. The art of primitives,
like their language, often reflects the absence of the
division into separate things. Since they are not
perceived as separate, for example, there is no need in
language for copulative verbs such as “to be.” (LevyBruhl, 1926, 91)
Since the split is not assumed, it
need not be overcome. The renewal of knowledge may
begin by turning to the origins of knowledge. The
origins may be discovered by looking at the thought,
art, language, and myths of primitive peoples.
Chapter 6
as Instinct
1. Source of the Drive. The nature of explanation is
best disclosed, at least in the beginning of the
investigation, by questioning the place of the
intellectual phenomenon called “explanation” in the
broadest outline of things. Paradoxically, explanation
permits knowing of what is not known. Explanation is an
attempt to overcome partiality and to reach fullness.
It tries to conquer all separation, all dualism, and to
return to unity. It assumes the hope of “deliverance
from the antithesis of consciousness and reality.”
(1950, Cassirer, 3)
Explanation confronts both the
known and the unknown; it is the process whereby the
unknown is known through placing it in the context of
the known.
Whatever the form the unknown comes in, it is linked
to the known by means of the communicable symbol. The
knower knows partially; the explanation of what the
knower knows is that which places what the knower knows
in the context of fullness. You posit a theory relating
this piece of knowledge to all other pieces and thereby
gain a better understanding of the piece. You abstract
from the particular piece of knowledge what will enable
you to place it together with the memory/symbols of
past knowledge; of course, your explanation will be
erroneous to the extent that your pre-existing
memory/symbol patterns are of such a kind that they can
be connected only with certain elements abstracted from
the new piece of knowledge. Moreover, these may be
insignificant or superficial elements so that the
knower may end, not only with ever tinier pieces, but
also with having the new experience increasingly hidden
under rather than revealed by explanation.
Both the new experience and the theory or explanation
may be communicated to someone else whose knowledge is
partial because that person lacks both the explanation
and the new experience. Again the link between the two
people is the memory/symbol, and, something that is
most important, the explanation as well as the
description of the new knowledge is likely to be guided
and confined by the nature of the pre-existing intersubjective patterns—language, for example—that lie
between the knower and the non-knower.
To explain, in general, is to remove the obstacle of
partial knowledge and the mystery of a particular
experience by noting the wholeness, but far more
important to explanation than the removal of the
obstacle is its creation in the first place and the
perception of its nature. In the social as well as in
pointing out an obstacle or the partial nature of an
experience to the rest of us for whom until that time
the obstacle or the partial nature of our knowledge was
invisible. The discovery of obstacles to action—thus,
the connection between usefulness and science—seems to
reveal obstacles to knowledge. I want to climb the tree
or fly to the moon. Assuming I can do these things, I
seem unable because I do not know how. What is the
obstacle to my knowledge?
Now, the framework for removing obstacles is not that
of the communicable symbol alone but also the knowledge
the symbol stands for. If I offer you the partial,
meaningful, but false explanation that the moon is made
of green cheese, I have somewhat explained the moon
even if your knowledge of green cheese is only that it
is a food, but ultimately I have succeeded in my
explanation only if the symbols in it, such as “green
cheese,” are as much based on direct experience as
possible. My explanation of the moon in terms of green
cheese is an explanation to you to the extent of the
Explanation is a reference to the familiarity of
another experience and not just familiarity with other
2. Anxiety in the Drive. Near madness drives many of
us to resolve obstacles to knowing and even more of us
to hide our blindness to obstacles from ourselves. We
are pushed not just by desire for fullness but, more
importantly, by a nagging anxiety that what has not
been explained may threaten the whole symbolic universe
we live in. Our very lives are maintained by our
intellectual endeavor. By the same token, the validity
of that endeavor is found not within a symbolic system
but in the concrete. The more we live from our symbolic
system, the more we threatened we are by the
possibility that something concrete might fail to fit
into it.
This existential anxiety is extensively experienced
among social scientists of our time, less on the part
of the philosophically-oriented, however, than on the
part of the historically-oriented. As the historical
group was challenged by the behavioral movement, the
new generation of strict behavioralists is threatened
by existentialist claims that their symbolic systems do
not and cannot explain parts of experience that are
important in the life of the behavioralists themselves.
The anxiety does not shatter us if we build a wall of
separation in our lives between self and scientist, but
if we enclose the whole of our knowledge of human life
within behavioralism or historicism, then we will be
most threatened—if an important part cannot be fit into
the system, cannot be explained, perhaps the core of
scientists are often better able to cope with this
anxiety primarily because they usually find it easier
to erect barriers between their work and the rest of
their lives. Physical science allows thinkers to
refrain from identifying their whole life with what
they are studying; the subject of social science is the
human being in its entirety. It is with trepidation
that we will put our existence, our lives, under the
power of only a part of it—the mind.
3. Security by Reductionism. A primary thrust in
science is to consider explanation as the same as
reduction. A piece of wood is explained by reducing it
to is molecules, then to its atoms, and then to its
sub-atomic structures. An apparently complex and
mysterious psychological reality is “explained” as
“nothing but” a simple and universal “Oedipus Complex,”
or a fantastic, colorful religious festival may be
explained by referring to it as merely the expression
of a “father fixation.”
The view of explanation as essentially a simplifying
mechanism is inaccurate on two counts. Even though it
is necessary to isolate out familiar parts of the notunderstood or not fully-known experience in order for
simplification risks distortion. If, for example, I do
not understand or cannot explain that thing named
“automobile” in front of my house and yet I am familiar
with color and form, I may reduce automobile to its
artistic explanation and proceed to hang it on the side
of my house.1 Moreover, the very attempt to reduce and
simplify will usually lead me away from essential parts
of the experience. Automobile may be comprehensible
only as a whole “self-moving” vehicle.” To explain is
not to tear apart but to look into the wholeness of
experience by means of symbol; I understand the
automobile I see in terms of the fullness of its place
in the universe I know.
Explanation is both dangerous and limited. It can be
useful only within the realm of an accepted symbolic
universe pattern. One danger is failing to see the
tenuous character of an assumed schema for what it is,
and proceeding to extract prejudicially a part from
what is to be explained. This path to explanation puts
it at odds with true fullness. We can explain only in
terms of abstract symbolic assumptions. Symbols are
only abstract metaphors. No explanation is, therefore,
precise. All is imaginative and created. There are
those who laugh at the “imprecise picture language”
used by thinkers such as Plato and who suggest that
explanation in terms of such language may be tolerated
only until such time as precision is possible as it is
today. (1954, Reichenbach, 12)
But all language is
imprecise, and picture language may have the extreme
value of never letting us forget its imprecision.
4. The Source Revisited. Although social scientists
have, like their colleagues in the other sciences,
developed an increasing interest “in explaining social
facts rather than merely describing them,” (1950,
Harsanyi, 138)
critics such as Wittgenstein have
argued that because of the lack of precision “we must
do away with all explanation, and description must take
its place.” (1953, Wittgenstein, 47)
By description
rather than explanation we may avoid enforcing and
confirming a symbolic system that permits only an
extremely narrow view of what we experience.
Explanation is one attempt to know fullness. We attempt
to know the fullness after having objectified our
knowledge and dispersed it into parts. Explanation is
the re-integration of those parts. It is a reintegration that can, however, never be complete
because it assumes the context of a given symbolic
structure. The attempt to move closer to direct
knowledge after the secondary level is established
constitutes, therefore, a possible alternative to
reductive explanations that oversimplify reality. As we
have tuned ourselves to awareness of the small part,
the object, so, too, we may be able to tune to the
fullness by greater attention to it. Indeed, the
intuitive leap in knowledge, suddenly bestowing upon us
what we labored days to achieve, appears to be none
other than a sudden opening to the fullness, an opening
that tends to come with the most startling of
suddenness to scientists searching for explanation by
picking apart the pieces. The explanation that
intuitively comes to us in a dream or while walking
usually is an explanation that adjusts at least part of
the symbolic framework we were trying to place the
problem under. We are automatically attuned to a
fullness that simplifying explanation must repress in
order to prevail; like other repressions, it comes out
spontaneously and in dreams.
Linkage: The Instinct Satiated
Even if we assume that explanation essentially
consists of the linkage of the unexplained part of
instrumentality of a symbolic system, we still confront
the problem of the form this is done in. How do you go
about creating this link?
intellectual endeavor is the belief that everything, at
least in some fashion, is related to everything else.
We assume that the linkage exists, or, more precisely,
that wholeness is. Our problem, therefore, is not the
attempt to establish that there is a link but
identifying what of the whole is nearest to the
unexplained part of knowledge. If we have a symbolic
universe, in order to explain any new part of
knowledge, we need only refer to that part of the
symbolic universe closest to the new part.
The validity of causal explanations requires more
extensive discussion and we shall return to it later,
but let us at least note here that the link between the
symbolic universe and the new unexplained part of
knowledge is most often set forth in terms of some kind
of cause. This connection is established by means of
the cause-effect concept where the unexplained is
explained by making it the effect of a cause lying
within the symbolic universe and already “known” there
as a cause. For example, I may see Mr. Humphrey
standing on a box in Central Park making a speech. What
a mystery. Mr. Humphrey never did such a thing before.
How can I explain his behavior? Ah, yes, I remember,
Mr. Humphrey is starting his campaign for the
Presidency. He is speaking in the Park because he is
running and because he is too poor to afford the high
cost of television time. I have explained his behavior
by seeing it as the effect of campaigning in poverty.
“Campaigning in poverty” is the causal statement that
Despite alleged desires on the part of many
contemporary philosophers of science to transcend the
ancients, most have added little to the analysis of the
form of explanation provided by Aristotle in terms of
causation and developed by Medieval Scholasticism. The
“four causes,” formal, material, efficient, and final,
as well as variations or combinations of them, provide
the core of most speculation on explanation. Two of the
causes stand out as most used in social science, the
efficient and the final.
Efficient causation appears most useful to social
analysis. For example, we notice something happening
between two men; one man is lying down and shaking. We
do not understand the shaking. We want an explanation.
We discover that the man lying down is shaking because
he is being shaken by the other man. This constitutes
an explanation since our symbolic universe already
contains the notion of one man’s being able to shake
another; one man can have effects or be an “efficient”
or “agent” cause on another. We may be satisfied with
this account.
By far the longest established form of further
explanation is in terms of final causation. Social
scientists have become less attracted to using
efficient cause by itself except to identify a new
piece of knowledge as “social” or as occurring among
people. A greater and increasing interest is the
question “To what end?” We know one man is shaking the
other; further desire for explanation or for fitting
the new knowledge into our symbolic system more fully
leads us to inquire why the one is shaking the other.
One form that defines this final cause is the notion of
purpose. One man is shaking the other because he wants
to wake him up. This is explanation in as much as “the
purpose of waking another up” already exists within our
“shaking.” To some analysts this notion of purpose is
basic and irreducible and always presupposes an agent
or efficient cause.
To an increasing extent, however, explanation in
terms of final cause is becoming absolute in the new
scientific study of society at least in the form, not
of purpose, but of function. One circumstance that may
account for the exchange of purpose for function, or
for an “analytical” rather than a behavioral or
psychological approach, is that recent social—and
especially political—science has turned to the alreadyestablished physical sciences. In the physical sciences
purpose as explanation is considered the antithesis of
knowledge and as reeking of animism.
It is hard to see, for example, that the causal
observation, “It intends to awaken a sleeping man,”
contributes to an explanation of why an alarm clock is
ringing. The attribution of purpose to alarm clocks
does not exist within our contemporary symbolic
universe (though it might have existed in others), and,
therefore, purpose is not explanatory. The approach of
the physical sciences toward whatever they study does
not recognize possible intention
or animism of
In ordinary society, however, purpose has been, until
today, a perfectly acceptable explanation of human
behavior—though, like science, not of “inanimate”
behavior. In looking to the physical sciences for
guidance, social scientists have sought to eliminate
the animism of purpose from their study of humans and
to attribute to us instead a structural final cause.
Purpose may exist, the scientific study of society
admits, but explanation can be furthered by ignoring it
and instead concentrating upon the function of shaking
and waking in terms of some larger social structure.
What is significant in terms of the argument over
what form explanation shall take—efficient cause, final
purposeful cause, or final functional cause—is not that
there is sharp distinction among them (they all imply
each other) but the precedence given one over the
others. Not only the different emphasis but also the
mere fact that there is disagreement and strongly-felt
disagreement is a sign of the attempt to isolate one
cause-effect relationship. The drive to isolate only
understanding and the particular nature of the symbolic
universe erected in science.
identified, then there is clarity and necessity between
the two partially knowns. The nature of the link of the
new part of knowledge to the known symbolic system is
clear and necessary. This cause, which I already know
and know as cause directly, produced the result that I
new partially before I made the causal link but now I
know it as fully as possible. The necessity and clarity
of the linkage is furthermore important since it is
presented within a symbolic system of science wherein
the belief that “consciousness increases in value as it
increases in clarity” (1967, Nietzsche, p. 283) because
clarity permits knowledge to be used is prevalent.
Suppose we want to explain a particular act we have
just noticed. A loaf of bread drifted down from a
grocery shelf. Of course, normally this would not be a
matter demanding “explanation,” but we have made it
problematic by questioning it. By the concept of
efficient causation we could say that the loaf drifted
down because a man took it down; we understand now the
movement of bread since we have already accepted the
possibility of ourselves as a reality and as a cause.
Final cause conceived of as purpose would suggest that
we explain the disappearance of the bread by shopper’s
intention to remove it. When we raise the issue of
final structural cause, we may take two paths: if we
say than the shopper bought the bread because of
hunger, we open a biological symbolic structure we had
already accepted as explanation; or if we say that the
purchase of the bread occurs in order to put currency
into the grocer’s hands, we are turning to an economic
symbolic structure. Whatever explanation we settle on
will be dictated by the reason why we want an
explanation, and the reason why we want one will be
determined by the nature of the symbolic system we
operate under. Explanation does not exist autonomously
but only within an assumed system.
There is tension and argument over what constitutes
explanation because there are more than one assumed
symbolic systems among us. One of these systems, the
scientific one, takes prediction for the sake of
usefulness as the central function of explanation;
another takes “understanding” for individuals as the
central purpose and objects, therefore, to the
confining nature of the scientific system. If there is
debate over the form explanation should come in, it
arises primarily from differences in the goals of
explanation among the debaters.
Chapter 7
Prediction as
The Use of Laws
One of the most sacred tenets of scientific social
studies is that the goal of analysis is prediction.
some philosophers of science have gone so far as to
suggest that explanation and prediction amount to the
same thing. “An explanation,” argues one eminent
philosopher, “is not complete unless it might as well
have functioned as prediction.” (1942, Hempel, 38)
This is not really to say that prediction is the same
as explanation but is to suggest that the explanation
of some part of experience is by virtue of another part
so that when the other part occurs you can predict the
occurrence of the part explained. In other words, the
explanation of the part of experience consists in
stating the causes leading to the emergence of the
partial experience. Many social scientists argue, in
addition, that social inquiry into the cause of a
phenomenon ought aim at establishing those “universal
laws” that “can predict behavior.” (1967, Connolly, 5)
1. Laws: Political and Scientific. The form of
explanation is that of a law subsumed under other laws.
Any number of empiricists can be cited supporting the
view that the ultimate form of explanation is a general
Argument over the nature of scientific law is
very closely related to disputes in the field where the
concept of “law” is derived as a metaphor, the laws of
society. Some jurists have claimed that social law is
simply a universal statement of what is and is not to
be done. The order, “Thou shalt not steal,” is just
that, a demand. Logical positivists in the field of
law, however, have delighted in pointing out that most
laws in society either are, or can be stated in the
form of, an “if-then” proposition: society does not
say, “Thou shalt not kill,” but “If you kill, then you
shall be killed.”
The one form of law, the “if-then” proposition, bears
a striking resemblance to the statement of a prediction
in science. Scientists strive to demonstrate as law the
prediction, “If a Republican is elected President of
the United States, then the United States will
experience an economic depression,” or, “If the sky is
red in the morning, it will rain before evening.” The
metaphoric use of “law” in this way ignores the same
thing that logical positivists in jurisprudence ignore,
namely, that the “if-then” proposition is possible only
within an assumed context of the other kind of law. The
statement, “If you kill, then you will be killed,” is
possible as a law only because of a universal
assumption or “natural law” prior to the “if-then”
proposition: “Thou shalt avoid being killed.” The “ifthen” form of law is only law given the assumptions (1)
that punishment is possible and (2) that being killed
in this case is conceived of as something very
undesirable. This is only one more way of saying that
in science prediction or “if-then” law propositions are
possible only given the larger symbolic universe
wherein they operate in.
We may explain the partial experience that “it is
raining tonight” to some extent by the “if-then” law
“if the sky is red in the morning, it will rain by
night.” The “if-then” proposition is explanatory only
if it refers to the symbolic system in a way that
permits the symbolic system to point to the kind of
necessity and degree of necessity existing between red
jurisprudence and science can be pushed too far, it is
2. Use. The symbolic system of science anoints only
certain kinds of explanation as legitimate. Today’s
scientific symbolic system is oriented to practice;
practice demands prediction, which is the linking of
two or more phenomena within the symbolic system so
that we can do things in the world. It is in order that
things may be done that science needs to identify
cause-effect relationships; who would really care
whether such relationships existed were it not that the
intent contained within the symbolic system of
contemporary science is to alter the cause so as to
bring about a desired effect. Bergson claims, in fact,
that all division of the extended world “is purely
relative to our positive action upon it.” (1962,
Bergson, 328)
The entire pragmatist and positivist
orientation toward “practice”—a concept is acceptable
to the extent that it is useful—betrays the bias in
particular notion of what is “useful.
Once again we return to consider the stultifying
character of science approached in this way. If we are
given its symbolic system as the completely adequate
arena for explanation to take place, then science
knowledge. The “scientific” dictum mis-appropriated
from Kant that any experience that “cannot be
classified under any law of sensation that is
unanimously accepted by men” and that, therefore,
“would only go to prove the irregularity in the
testimony of the senses” should be disregarded. (1949,
Kant, 21)
Herein lies precisely the source of the tremendous,
but unfortunately ignored, difference between the
“pure” and the “applied” sciences. We are driven to
seek explanation of our partial experience because what
is unexplained challenges our belief that our symbolic
understanding. This drive is the core of anything in
human history that can be called “progress” as well as
what we tend to categorize as “pure science.” We are
also driven to indulge in explanation by our physical
and psychological “needs.” This fails, however, to
challenge the symbolic universe and, on the contrary,
forces the unexplained into the mold of the given
symbolic system for it is the context our view of our
needs is embedded in.
Science seeks usefulness and, for the sake of
usefulness, clarity in knowledge. The invention it uses
to achieve clarity is not unlike the physical capacity
to focus our eyes. Clarity demands extreme focus on
pieces so that they may be used. This might be
acceptable as long as we stay within the brightlyilluminated sphere of our symbolic universe; but when
we try to look into the realms not yet illuminated, we
must do what our eyes do in a darkened room in order to
see: we must un-focus our attention.
Both “needs” and the scientific explanation that
leads to their satisfaction are dominated by the given
symbolic system either of a whole society or of a
specific scientific sub-culture within it. The true
scientific drive in Western thinking is in danger of
drying up; science is in danger of losing its creative
mind, a suicide generated by its own devices. Those
indulging in what is currently called “pure science”
most often get jobs in either industry or academe
focussed more on how to overcome more general problems
than the “applied” scientists so that out of the work
of both products may be more profitably sold or
“better” armaments built. Challenges to the symbolic
system of science come less and less from those who
objections they raise among themselves are always
within that system and assume it. Science oriented to
practice, like science under fascism, is extremely
powerful; when it loses its creative mind, it becomes a
powerful malignancy. If society survives long enough,
science may get a transfusion of mind from the nonscientific, artistic and philosophic community, but the
transfusion may come too late, the blood may be too
diluted, and the suicide may still be successful.
Prediction—the dominant orientation of the current
scientific symbolic system—must not be considered as
the goal of social explanation. This is not to say that
prediction has no place within social explanation; it
may serve as one way some forms of explanation can be
stated so that they are testable by different people.
The unlimited pursuit of prediction, however, tends to
corrupt knowledge, and prediction that presumes to
certainty tends to corrupt it certainly.
Corrupting Knowledge
1. Part of a Part. Second level knowing consists of
knowing through symbol or names, and names become
possible only with the parcelling of the world into
small and separate pieces. Scientific knowing consists
of the process of isolating one piece from all the
others and from their influence and then explaining
that piece by relating it to a whole non-concrete
symbolic universe held in the mind. A great dilemma is
that the process wherein a single part of experience is
isolated is only the initial division; another is
performed. Even the single “piece” is not looked at in
its wholeness but, because of scientific explanation,
only that part of it amenable to the scientific verbal
system. Science ends not just with piece knowledge but
only with piece-of-a-piece knowledge. In this way, the
separation of science from whole experience becomes
more and more complete. Science not only creates and
“perpetually recreates its object,” (1949, Schlipp,
125) but also creates and recreates objects within that
“instrumentalists” see it as, a way both of isolating
and then of organizing the isolated parts of general
experience. Theory contains not only general principles
that may serve as explanatory devices but also the
experience, knowledge, or consciousness so that they
may be re-united by thought. It is in this sense that
the familiar idea that the questions science asks are
much more difficult and important than the answers is
most significant. The questions contain the selectivity
bias; changing their nature is inconceivably difficult.
Experience is ultimately indivisible. It cannot be
divided without great violence to its nature and
content. Human consciousness has the capacity to assume
the illusion of successful division. Experience appears
through consciousness to be divided into movements and
moments, but although scientific explanations divide
them artificially, “every indivisible.”
(1962, Bergson, 328) And more than merely divide it,
scientific predictive explanation skims the most
accessible parts of the particular change and connects
them to the general model. Ultimately, the phenomenal
surface triumphs over the existential depths. (1948,
Hyde, 20)
The movement of science seems toward an
ever-greater dividing of experience. This tendency runs
directly counter to the developments in the broader
realm of consciousness. The drive of “nature” and the
drive of consciousness are both in the direction of
“complexification”—the bringing together of an evergreater number and degree of contradictions into unity
to produce harmony “mentally” or “physically.” Science
seeks to state precisely what these individual
contradictions, which it calls “variables,” are and, on
the basis of them, predict and explain the behavior of
the whole. Because there are fewer contradictions in
the less complex phenomena, statement of contradictions
and prediction is easier with regard to them. Because
of the tremendous volume of contradictions in us,
prediction is most difficult for our whole being.
Therefore, the other alternative is taken—to isolate
easily accessible contradictions such as economic
greed, territorial imperatives, or lusts for power and
fit them into a verbal-conceptual schema.
The first and inescapable problem of science,
therefore, is determining where to make the “cuts” in
the fabric of experience. What is to be divided from
what and how massive is each of the divided units to
be. In social science the problem of establishing
standards for making the cuts appears practically
insurmountable and so far social scientists have been
free-wheeling in their choices. “Nation-states” were
once considered the units in political science. But
within them economic parts were cut from sociological
parts. The psychological was long relegated to the
scientists have insisted on seeing all in terms of the
“individual"; others have argued that social wholes and
types, processes and organizations as well have to be
considered units and are just as real as the
The second problem emergent from the discussion is
reductionism in science and especially in social
science. Precisely because whole explanations could not
be obtained, precisely because any part isolated from
us for the purposes of explanation left the other parts
unexplained, sweeping statements of reductionism were
developed. In order to explain us, in order to fit us
into some kind of theory or existent verbal-conceptual
system, we had to be reduced to the size suitable for
Therefore, from Adam Smith during the nineteenth
century to John Maynard Keynes in the twentieth,
reductionism. Human behavior can be explained in terms
of greed; we are “nothing but” economic animals. Others
later said we were only “political animals” or “social
animals” or some other part of us. There have always
been those who claimed there was something more to us
than these kinds of reductions—even if all were put
together—claimed, but they remained a decreasing
minority certainly within science and the social
sciences; the search is on for a general theory that
will reduce us to verbal-conceptual stature and explain
us while forbidding anyone else to say we are
“something more.”
Just as partial knowing is necessary for the whole
category of second level knowledge so, too, is partial
explanation necessary for “science.” As scientific
knowing refuses to recognize anything different from
the defined category “physical” so also scientific
explanation refuses to step into the metaphysical.
Scientific knowing and explanation posit the existence
of physical-metaphysical dualism, but reality is one.
The physical and the metaphysical are only two ways of
looking as the one and same process of life.
Nevertheless, as long as the dualism is assumed,
science can only relegate the metaphysical to the realm
of non-existence. As long as metaphysics is kept in
that place, extreme conflict between those who see
beyond science and those who see only to its borders
for fear of falling off the edge of its world will
2. Causation. To conceive of science as a useful
enterprise is to demand prediction of it; prediction
depends upon laws; laws stem from causation; and
causation is the stickiest problem in science.
Scientific prediction depends entirely upon some notion
of causality; if there is no assumed impact of cause
upon effects, science is either impossible or utterly
arbitrary. The forecast “John will come” implies a full
causal relationship and a full causal knowledge; the
prediction “John will probably come” implies at least a
causal relationship and a partial causal knowledge. As
scientific predictions neither of these can be based
only on correlations. John’s coming and rain may, for
example, have always occurred together. To predict that
because it is raining, John is coming is to suggest
both a necessary relationship between rain and the
coming and a one-way cause-effect relationship—the rain
always has preceded John’s arrival. Prediction assumes
there is something about the rain that affects John’s
In its use as the nexus between an isolated object
causation manifests itself primarily in two ways. The
object or event, seen either as a cause or as an
effect, is explained by efficient or final causation.
Scientists explain the event either by referring to the
factors that preceded it, by what brought it about, or
by referring to the events that came later. It is
important to note that scientific prediction by means
of either approach to causation is possible without any
kind—even without the scientific kind—of explanation. A
preceding variable may be taken to be the cause of the
interesting event; as long as the elements of the
prediction point to scientific “realities,” prediction
can proceed, verification can be made, uses can be
applied—all, with no attempt at explanation by linkage
to the scientific verbal-conceptual system. The prior
cause that you point to in you prediction of an event
may not itself be much integrated into the system and
thus not very much understood; or, you may isolate an
effect of the event you are interested in and still
that event may not be well-integrated into the
linguistic-conceptual system. Prediction is occurring,
but explanation is lacking.
Scientific explanation aimed at prediction is causal,
and causal explanation is partial. All descriptions and
explanations tend to bifurcate into the empirical and
the causal modes. Under the empirical mode of
explanation of a part of “reality” that has been
isolated from the fabric of experience, the explainer
merely observes and states all that is seen in the
situation surrounding the part. Causal explanation
isolates those parts of “situations” that are most
relevant to theory or use. Beginning with correlations
that isolate and summarize certain parts of phenomena,
we leap under causation to beatify the “necessary” oneway relationship that we then canonize in the form of
law. It is exactly because of causality that we can
take the part for the whole of experience and tend to
do so. Causality induces us to ignore the whole even
though never is “simple event” “A” causally connected
with simple event “B"; rather “the whole background of
the system is vital to explanation.” (1927, Bridgmen,
The notion of causality permits us to make
“things” to use by isolating and connecting them, but
it may end in the destructive eclipse of our
Causal thinking is dangerous because it blinds
thought to the arbitrary nature of how experience has
been sliced up. Causal thinking is the source of both
the cuts and the blindness to them. Philosophical
analysis, for example, was long plagued by division or
cuts between substance and accident in “objects”
perceived. To a large extent the division was due to
the idea of causation; the taste of the apple was not
the apple, nor was the color, nor texture. The division
of things into parts and emphasis upon causal thought
helped produce conceptualization of substances behind
what was known. The apple causes my taste of sweetness;
the sweetness is not the apple but is produced by it.
Fundamentally based upon the separation of experience
into pieces, the notion of causality, for the sake of
usefulness, sustains two other artificialities. First,
causation maintains the separation by allowing only the
re-unifications it specifies; and, second, it looks to
a chain rather than to a network of links. For example,
you may explain a fire by saying that the short-circuit
caused it. You know that the fire was connected to
electricity, and so on), but you have isolated as cause
what indicates how fire can be avoided in the future.
You have not even tried to isolate all the factors
necessary for fire to burn again but merely the one
thing “under your control.” To verify the link that
interests you, you may try to test the prediction that
all other factors being the same, the electrical system
will cause fire.
To Aristotle, the idea of causation—the material,
efficient, final, and formal causes—primarily revealed
mutual interrelatedness. Usefulness, however, impels us
to see reality in terms of causal chains; knowledge
ends in being bound by those chains. You say that your
running around the block has no impact—or so little
that you are justified in ignoring it—on the rotation
of the earth. (1956, Cournot, 40) But on what basis do
you judge the lack of a connection or characterize
another as “minimal”—is it not according to what you
understand now and according to what is useful to you
and you can manipulate.
Causal thinking has implications that are much more
practical and more directly dangerous than mere
philosophical disputes. When investigating social
problems, for instance, you are often driven to isolate
the abnormal from the normal aspects. You trace the
cause of a crimes, for example, to criminals and then
look for the special causes that make them criminals
when, indeed, crime may be better understood by
examining the social whole that encompasses criminals.
We look for causes regardless of understanding because
of our subservience to “use,” in this case, to end
crime; we can handle “criminal” but not the social
whole. When sociologists focus on “criminals” as
perverse and their treatment rather than on themselves
and their own perversities, they gradually define more
and more of the members of society as criminals. The
same is true of any study that directs its attention
toward the problems through causal analysis. It tends
to lose sight of the whole network so that suggested
solutions to problems generate as many disruptions as
they heal so that every treatment for crime only
increases crime; it tends to concentrate on external
observables and spreads the belief that any problem
consciousness or persons, it takes a moralistic tone.
Given its impact upon the knowing process, we may
reasonably inquire into the source of the idea of
causation. Testimony on this matter is contradictory.
Nevertheless, it seems clear that “cause” is not a
matter of immediate experience even though Kant notes
that causal relationships “can never be derived through
reason, but that these relationships must be taken from
experience alone.” (1949, Kant, 19) He indicates that
causation is known directly in experience; you know
that will and intellect move you today, he suggests,
but cannot explain this knowledge using reason. There
is no rational justification for rejecting the position
that you deceive yourself if you assume that you
experience causation. You may experience a replay in
consciousness of “doing” something and then proceed to
do it, but this does not mean that your thought or your
will or yourself caused the thing to happen. You did
not experience causation itself.
Even before the time of Kant, Hume had devastated the
dogma of causality, and Kant and others since him have
not rebuilt it. “All our reasonings concerning cause
and effects,” Hume pointed out, “are derived from
nothing but custom, (1961, Hume, 68) and “we have no
other notion of cause and effect, but that of certain
objects which have been always conjoined together.”
(1961, Hume, 85) We have no reason for assuming that
what has always been conjoined will always be
conjoined. As we have no experience of that necessity,
so, too, we have no experience of causality.
There have been attempts to re-validate causality,
but all have failed. One recent one simply insisted
that no one can logically deny “that if, whenever I
produce an X a Y follows, then X causes Y.” (1957,
Dray, 95)
The errors in this kind of position can
hardly be more transparent. Certainly, even though you
could not deny the possibility of causality in such
circumstances, you could not affirm it either; and at
any rate the writer assumes the possibility of an “I”
as a cause-unit “producing” “X,” an effect-unit; he
assumes what he purports to establish. Better conceive
of “I,” “X,” and “Y” as happening rather than causing.
To repeat, no correlation, however high, can lead to
the establishment of cause-effect.
If cause is not a matter of direct experience, from
what source does it arise?
The many theories
describing the origins of causation usually point to
something in experience, such as human purpose, to
suggest that while experience does not give causation,
relationships are only conceptual devices that point to
the necessary relationship among all things, a
relationship that cannot be known directly at the
second level. Everything is necessarily related to
everything else. There is wholeness or fullness. An
adjustment anywhere in the wholeness reverberates
everywhere. Causation is the word we use to point to
reverberations we believe relevant—the ones we notice
and find useful to our purposes. Statements such as
“all events...are causally determined by other events,”
(1966, Taylor, 95) or “all events are effects of a
cause or causes,” are only the attempts of limited
consciousness to characterize how the wholeness is
whole. We must ask the question, “how are things bound
to each other” (1964, MacIver, 28) because, on the
second level of consciousness, we cannot know the
fullness directly.
Again we must face the limitations imposed upon
knowing by our “fall” into reason or into the second
level. The same factors driving us to second level
consciousness drive us to causation. In order to be
secure in the world, to control it, we had to separate
ourselves from it and objectify it. The concern for
secure control at the same time meant we had to
understand how we were related to these objects.
Without knowledge of connection we are as much at the
mercy of the world as without knowledge of objects. The
idea of cause performs both functions well.
Instead of seeing causation and total connectedness
as opposites, we see causation and chance as opposites.
It is quite right to say that “chance is only our
ignorance of the real causes"; instead of contradicting
causation, chance is the primary condition that
necessitates and defines causation. We fell from
eternity into time. Partly through causation we built
ourselves a false idol of unauthentic eternity to
pursue—a causal relationship is secure and eternal
since it is necessary and unchanging.
Reason demands the separation of wholeness into parts
and even into things that may then be deceptively
accepted as individual “wholes” or “entities.” To
regain comprehension of the entities, we must place
them back together with one another. One way we think
we can do this is through causation. We know or assume
that all is necessarily linked to all; we are
interested in “causation"; and we employ it to point to
both an awareness of the connection between things and
the importance of particular things to other particular
things. We do not know causation when we say
“causation” but we know connection by the term
“causation.” Causation thus considered constitutes not
the highest reaches of sophisticated second level
knowledge, but the most manifest testimony to the
necessity of our living on the primary level of
Connection, importance, and, therefore, causation are
“known” in several ways. A couple of general categories
of these may suffice, however, to demonstrate the
“knowing” process. One of the most persistently
discussed sources of the notion of causation is the
“self” as agent. Causation is a projection of reason;
“man’s reason (the subjective reason) seeks for and
grasps the reason of things (the objective reason).”
(1956, Cournot, 19) People believe in causes allegedly
because they “know” themselves as causes. However,
people nowhere “experience” themselves as causes; they
may have a sense of purpose, or an idea of future
actions, or a decision, choice, design, or intention,
but these are unknown without at least referring to the
effects; they can be seen only “as the expression...of
a whole event.” (1968, Gunnell, 196) There is no way
that a cause-effect relationship is experienced. One
point of significance in asserting the existence of a
causal link is that there is a necessary connection
present, but we already knew this since all things are
necessarily linked. More importantly, therefore, we are
saying when we observe a cause that we are aware of a
way that things are linked and that this way is
important to us.
One of the most illuminating methods of describing
the genesis of causation is to investigate our earliest
ancestors. On the one hand, we find that they
absolutely refuse to accept the idea of accident—“there
is no such thing as chance to the primitive.” (1935,
Levy-Bruhl, 60-62)
On the other hand, they have no
sense of causation.
The clouds in the sky, which may
be taken to be a sign of rain, are not understood to be
causally connected to the rain. In a sense both clouds
and rain seem to be understood as simultaneous
manifestations of the same event “occurring in two
different forms.” Events occurring are not just what
they are but are manifestations of some “Beyond” (1935,
Levy-Bruhl, 57) not unlike the Buddhist concept of the
ever-present Tao.
Although James Frazer’s famous book, The Golden
Bough, claims that the primitive sorcerer and the
modern scientist are quite alike in their concepts of
causality, the difference between the two is most
significant. It is true that the sorcerer seems to
perform certain acts in the belief that there is a
connection between things—the acts and some desired
event—and it is true that this is similar to scientists
who believe in direct cause-effect relationships
between things. However, the Shaman in performing the
ceremony is seeking not to be a cause of a desired
participates in, whereas scientists see themselves as
involved in a one-to-one cause-effect chain.
Science goes much farther than the people of our
earliest human cultures. They attribute what goes on to
a general mystery, and they conceive of what is central
to themselves as a part of the whole that is beyond. It
is not that they project onto all nature what they feel
subjectively but that subject and object, inside and
outside, are less distinct. Scientists caught up in
cause-effect, having sharply distinguished between self
and other and between subject and object, are
different. They see themselves as cause to external
effects, then attribute what they find in the “inside”
to the outside. Not only are they cause to outside
effects, but outside effects objectified are causes to
each other; this is an enormous projection on their
part. Outer conditions are also causes and scientists
are effects to them.
The birth of scientific research comes with the
realization that the things that are important to us
are important to each other—they cause each other and
they cause us. It is in this sense that all the talk of
causation in subservience to use is most significant.
The rise of the notion of cause is intimately dependent
upon the notion of mutual use. The isolation of a
particular condition to be a cause is not arbitrary but
according to our interests. Causation is employed
because it isolates the “important” parts from the
wholeness and places in our hands the power to control
them. Again, great danger resides in this in as much as
what is identified as important is not always or even
usually immediately grasped but is given in social
construct. We do not direct our attention at the
wholeness or the possibility that other interrelations
may be more important; we accept the definition of
importance and in these way may reinforce our blindness
to the others.
The implications of this for social scientific
scientists may be interested in finding the cause of a
death. According to their or others’ interests, they
may say the cause (or the important or relevant
connection) is a lack of oxygen, or a gun-shot wound,
or the person who shot the gun, or the psychologically
disturbed parents of the killer, or the social whole.
They will choose among these and their choice is
dictated by an importance defined beforehand.
It is as if an ice cream cone were squished upside
down onto a circular table top. If you look at it from
above, you see concentric circles with a dot at the
center. If you look from the side, you see a long thin
rectangle with a triangle on the top. Yet none of us
confronting this situation in the concrete would say
that an “ice cream cone” (if that was what we were told
we were observing) is composed of a triangle and a
circle. We would take much more into account and,
although we are likely even to have ignored the two
projections, we probably have a better idea of an icecream cone than a scientists using tools that control
their perceptions of what is and put it under the
rubric of a particular causal link for the sake of
usefulness. Not even if you put all the partial
perspectives together do you get a better understanding
of what is than if you try to grasp the concrete
When determined in the light of its source, a cause
is only a “relevant relationship” isolated from the
wholeness of necessary relationships. It is required
because we cannot know the whole; we now live in the
realm of second-level consciousness where we see “what
is” initially by what is relevant to us and finally by
“external” use. Wholeness is. In second-level terms,
you could say that every “thing” is necessarily
connected to every other “thing,” or that any clod
washed away from the continent diminishes the whole,
but neither the continent nor you yourself need care
since you can isolate the causes you consider relevant
after assuming an illusory concept of self. Causation
is both a blessing and a curse.
3. Sense and Reason. Just as errors in experience
tend to arise primarily from confusion between the
given of sensation and the given of reason, so does
dispute concerning the nature of explanation emerge
because of confusion among these modes. In shouting
“back to the things themselves,” phenomenologists
suggested how memory-concepts ruled the world of
explanation. Predictive explanation, always in terms of
laws or causation, refers what is to be explained to a
theory, and theory is a construct of reality that
science fits all phenomena studied into.
The necessity for relating scientific experiments to
a given theory places those who would argue that
empirical research is firm and that mental constructs
not derived from it are fuzzy into a paradox. They are
tempted to suggest that theory and its central concepts
are somehow the product of cumulative scientific
grudgingly, that theory cannot be conceived of as a
mere compiling of similar experiments. Our challenge to
them is for a description of what else intervenes. One
description would make the experiment and mathematics
the two keystones of modern scientific method; (1954,
experiments and fit results into given theory, and
theory is developed by discovering two or more
contradictory experiment results when both seem solid
scientific findings. In such a case scientists develop
a mathematical statement that can contain both. (1959,
Reichenbach, 30)
Again the question concerns what
interferes beyond the experiment to develop theory.
There is no way that fundamental concepts of a science
can come inductively through experience. In social
science a number of central concepts such as “role” and
“culture” are generally accepted but are never used in
testable propositions. (1967, Homans, 1)
“mind” comes into play, and yet the predictive
scientists strive to insist on the belief that
sensation and its servant, reason, act unaided.
The scientific embarrassment is made worse when there
are defections from the ranks of “science” itself as in
the case of Einstein and when critics justly charge
empirical scientists with having attitudes that injure
their very ears—accusing them of “metaphysics, for
example.” It is not possible for empiricists to defend
themselves merely by suggesting that the “mind” is
simply a reflection of previous sense observations. At
best such a suggestion merely pushes the matter a
little further back in time. Somewhere, certainly,
theory must have been first presented and must have
been beyond experiment. Where does the first or the
“new” new theory come from? It comes from an intuitive
leap into the fullness of experience that stands
beneath all knowledge and theory. We still live in the
fullness of eternity even though our experiments and
established theories create the isolated conceptualsensuous world. The fullness of our experience suddenly
illuminates the specific experiment or contradiction in
greatest of scientists are those who can maintain an
openness at least in their private lives to all modes
of knowing.
If scientific theory is considered a mere reflection
of empirical research, scientists confuse the rational
construct for sense data. You must not, for example,
see “role” as a social “reality”—as a given now or from
past sensuous observation—otherwise you mistake reason
for sensation. But neither should you take the
theoretical construct as a creation of sensation and
logic merely applied to sense data. Both of these
approaches are valid only within the assumed context of
a theory. The final source of that theory and immediate
source of any new theory is found by jumping outside
the context to the fullness.
One final difficulty with scientific explanation must
be noted. It is the general problem that “explanation”
seems in tension with knowledge. When you explain the
tree by fitting it into some already established mental
pattern, to some extent you have said, “The tree
Inevitably, scientific explanation “explains away.” As
this kind of explanation has developed, it has become
increasingly rigid. The temptation to use apparently
new discoveries not for the purpose of expanding the
scientific pattern but to support or to fit them into
old patterns may be the fundamental problem—the
contradiction between mind-expanding discovery and
mind-limiting explanation.
Theory, or scientific explanation, does not bring
knowledge to us. it is not there to impose itself upon
and guide our experience. It is rather to reveal on the
second level what we already know on the primary level.
“Everything is in man, waiting to be awakened.” (1951,
Pachter, 25)
The liberation of thought from moral philosophy has
long been taken as one of the most important steps in
civilizations. The movement from moral philosophy to
scientific philosophy is seen as the victory of physics
over metaphysics and, therefore, of clarity over fog.
The victory was liberating, however, not because of the
intrinsic higher value of scientific philosophy but
because moral philosophy had become so controlled and
degenerate that investigations carried out under it
could not possibly emerge with ideas that could
challenge accepted patterns. By separating itself from
The most significant aspect of this change was, in
fact, not the surrender of metaphysics—since physics
must assume some kind of metaphysics in practice—but
rather was a shift in the center of attention.
Formerly, explanation was always at least partly
directed at “individual” or “personal” consciousness.
Physics, by contrast, directs attention toward the use
of knowledge not by persons for themselves but by
technicians for others.
Because science is oriented to the technicians and
their use, the standard for evaluating scientific
explanation has become the possibility of deducing the
future from it. Explanation is essentially, in all
modes, directed at understanding, and understanding is
reached by placing the newly-found in the context of
the already-known. Scientific explanation does this for
technicians by placing the newly-given into the
framework of a “law” or complex logical statement they
already possess and that contains all other relevant
pieces of knowledge.
Any number of difficulties arise over this kind of
scientific explanation. For one thing, such an
explanation may not be meaningful. That is, the
explanation may carry you no further than the newlyknown since your acceptance of the general model may be
quite arbitrary. Religious life may be explained as
“nothing more than” society’s way of attaining selfawareness. But notion of “society’s self-awareness” may
be as obscure as “religious life"; you may feel that it
is less obscure, but your feeling may be due only to
the prior use of the words “society’s self-awareness,”
or the position of these words within a logical schema.
(1964, Merleau-Ponty, 89)
For this reason those who attempt explanation must
minimize their use of technical abstract patterns for
fitting the newly-given into and turn instead to
explain the newly-given in terms of the past-given.
They must avoid technicians, causes, and prediction and
return to “personal” consciousness. Social scientists
need not explain the crime of theft by theoretical
statement. The crime of stealing bread is explained no
more by the “law,” “Human beings seek food when
hungry,” than by the ordinary observation, “He took the
bread because he was hungry.” Both are partial
explanations based on cause-effect thought, but the law
has meaning only because the experience of hunger and
its effects are known without the law. (1966, Louch, 1)
As soon as explanation goes beyond appeal to a given
known of this kind, as soon as it attempts to explain
by placing the new in the context not of experience but
of a logical model, the risks become overwhelming. In
order for an explanation to be an explanation under
these circumstances, receivers of the explanation must
first accept the validity of the general law that they
themselves have not experienced. Explanation thus rests
on the tenuous grounds of non-necessary faith or
belief. Ultimately, the so-called basic laws themselves
cannot be explained or demonstrated. If a law is
challenged and it is really a basic law, it cannot be
defended other than by an appeal to the given. A basic
law can be placed in no logical pattern since it is the
foundation of the logical pattern. (1966, Hospers, 116)
The social sciences are primarily interested not in
explaining. Only two things make prediction valuable—
its use as an aid to action and its use as one kind of
check on hypotheses. Explanation is prior to prediction
or deduction, and to jump to deduction and prediction
without explanation or understanding is to jump into
error. Explanation is intrinsically connected not to
prediction but to meaning—there is a meaning woven into
a perception itself and there is a meaning derived from
social not prediction but diagnosis.” (1963,
Runciman, 17) Diagnosis is based not upon particular
prediction but upon understanding of the whole—of
meaning; “that we can successfully predict how people
will behave in certain circumstances does not imply,
much less entail, that we can explain their behavior.”
(1960, Dodwell, 1)
The point is twofold. First, “explanations” that are
scientific may not lead to understanding and, second,
all valid scientific explanation depends for its
ultimate validity on the same kind of knowledge the
ordinary, commonplace, popular explanation does. If
scientific investigation wishes to challenge or add to
conventional knowledge, it can best do so by referring
to these general givens and reporting in terms that
make the outcome explanation for all and not just for
There are a couple of extremely serious obstacles to
all of this. To achieve it requires a major alteration
in both scientific knowledge and explanation; and it
may demand, in addition, a revolution not only in
scientific thought but also in all social thought. The
problem is that all groups in Western society—
scientific and all others—are trained not to see the
given in experience. We all have social blinders fitted
to us shortly after birth that permit us to see some
things more clearly and others not at all; the
scientist has only a slightly altered and later-fitted
pair. Scientists must disencumber themselves not only
of reliance on their private conceptual universes but
also from the unconscious. To achieve this the entire
society they operate in may have to become unrepressed.
Chapter 8
in Decay
Contemporary Orientations
It is an impossible and, therefore, foolishly pursued
task to review all the social sciences in terms of
general trends, especially when the discussion turns,
as it does now, to theoretical tendencies within the
disciplines. Therefore, the sketches of dominant
developments offered here are of the briefest kind, yet
they may reveal the depth of the rut all the social
sciences have fallen into. Assuming that the goal of
all social science is understanding and grasping the
meaning of society, how far have contemporary processes
advanced that goal?
Even a cursory view of social studies makes clear the
presence of a dichotomy deriving from the nature of the
subject. Social science tends to assume a dualism that,
like the dualism of subject and object in knowing,
appears impossible to overcome. The dualism is between
the whole and its parts. Explanations of social
phenomena tend to be set either in terms of the
operations of the whole or in terms of its parts and
the motives underlying them. One kind of social
explanation insists that understanding can come about
only if you look at the entire social arena; the
Keynesian economists, for example, seek to understand
the economy of a country only by looking at national
income accounting, the overall circular flow of wealth,
and by generalizing constructs such as the “multiplier
effect” or the “acceleration principle.” The other
approach insists that an understanding of society can
be derived only by explanations that refer to units
within or forces beneath the whole; thus some
economists, still not entirely in vogue today, insist
that economies cannot be understood without reducing
the overall picture to its constituent parts and
concentrating on consumer, entrepreneurial, and labor
More striking than in economics is the distinction in
sociology between the approaches of Americans and
Europeans. One view holds that “American sociology is
characterized by a psychological realism (social
nominalism); and European sociology, by social realism
American sociology apparently reduces social phenomena
to psychological categories of the parts of society or
to psychological forces while to Europeans the
psychological is only an epiphenomenon built on the
Probably the greatest difficulty in trying to discuss
all the social sciences at once is the tendency of one
social science to reduce itself to another for purposes
of explanation. Political science has started to see
phenomena, and sociology has attempted to explain
social phenomena by reducing them to the psychological.
Strangely, psychology explains allegedly psychological
phenomena by reducing them to categories of social
patterns or social needs. This interdisciplinary
reflects the desirability of a fuller or holistic
explanation. It reflects these, but it does not achieve
1. Mechanism: Systems and Functions. The most
characteristic kinds of theories of explanation arising
from those social scientists who concentrate on the
whole of the object of their disciplines are the
systems theories and the theories of structuralfunctionalism. Theories of society or the group as a
system take on a mechanistic bent while theories of
functionalism ground themselves slightly more on an
organismic basis. Both attempt to isolate cause-effect
relationships and to develop, on the foundation of
them, some regularized laws. As scientists, the systems
analysts and the functionalists devote their attention
By definition, a “system” is a “set of variables each
of which is inter-dependent with at least one other
variable in the system.” (1968, Kaplan, 37) The set of
variables relevant to identify a specific system would
cluster around some concept central to the discipline:
a family system, for example, identified as a system
upon the basis of a sexual or economic factor—or the
political system, identified as such because of the
clear distribution of authority within it. Explanation
of family as a political phenomenon is given primarily
in terms of the whole, but systems, like mechanisms,
have parts, and these are also discussed independently.
They are discussed in terms of actors or roles and in
terms of subsystems. Cooley, for instance, isolated
three fundamental “thought” systems—personality, group,
and culture. You might identify the United States, to
take a concrete example, as a political system, but, if
so, you must take admit that it has economic and
personality “subsystems” and that it itself is a
subsystem within the international political, economic,
or social system.
The very great value in systems theory is that it
does insist that what exists or happens socially “does
not exist in the abstract.” It turns attention to some
relationships (1949, Hyde, 186) and so raises some hope
of returning to the uncreated metaphysical rather than
sticking to the created “things.” It tends to view
society as a process rather than as a thing. However,
it does little more than that. The interpretation of
social life “as a system of behavior set in an
environment and open to the influences stemming from
that environment, as well as from internal sources”
(1945, Easton, 479) and the society as nothing more
than the “organized repetitive responses of a society’s
members,” (1945, Linton, 5) opens what might have been
a closed social world, but it does this at a high cost
and with danger.
Not only is the theory excessively artificial and
lacking substance but also it threatens to replace the
content with the container, the actor with the play.
(1966, Kress, 11)
Certainly, some accommodation for
the actor and the subsystem have been made by the
admission that a system can be “subsystem dominant”—
that the parts can dominate the whole—but still the
parts are determined and defined by the whole. This
means that the system is static; systems theory can
account for change and activity but only in accordance
with the system as envisaged; it does not account for
the transformation of the system itself. Even the
Parsonian assertion of “emergent systems” does not
explain but only accepts the existence of systemic
One of the “most developed” of the social sciences—
so-called because of its reliance on apparently precise
and mathematical methods—demonstrates how serious the
danger from systems theory can be. Economic analysis in
the Keynesian mode concentrates on the surface, on the
national flows of wealth and labor. Prediction based
upon Keynesian theory, however, is also based on
questionable assumptions about human activity hidden in
its theory. As some recent economists have suggested,
modern societies may be on the verge of an implicit
renunciation of economic competition because it has
become inefficient in the global marketplace. If so,
then policy suggestions, for example, to stimulate the
economy by relaxing controls on the availability of
money, may not have the anticipated effect. Keynesian
theory is unlikely, since it concentrates on the
national system level, to be able to account for
important changes occurring below the level of the
system as conceived.
More intriguing—for what they attempt rather than for
what they achieve—than the systems theorists are the
various functionalists. Nearly every systems theory,
save for the crudest, contains at least elements of
functionalism. Usually functionalism is represented in
systems theories to account for the ultimate origins of
them: systems or organizations are developed to serve
certain social needs. Functionalism implicitly reintroduces as its essential characteristic “final
causation” into the study of society. It is in fact the
attractiveness of “final causation” that as made
functionalism so strong today.
Earlier theories that might be called functional,
what some have referred to as “organizationalism,”
(1960, Wolin, 409) that were derived from Hobbes,
Herbert Simon, or Chester Barnard, for example, suggest
that the system or structure is rationally arranged for
clear purposes. Although this certainly may be true of
some organizational structures, it is hardly true of
those that social scientists have conceived of as most
important. Certainly, nation-states are not rationally
established by those who currently live in them even
though consent-philosophers, while admitting this, then
avoid the consequences of their admission by positing a
rational establishment in the past.1
Far more dominant functional theories refer to the
structure as an organism rather than a mechanism —it
exists to serve needs that cannot be reduced to those
of any of the parts within it. The structure serves its
own needs above all. These needs include stability,
integration, and cohesion. The whole requires that it
be a “good” whole or good as a whole—where the parts
fit together, mesh, and stick to each other well.
Talcott Parsons, one of the great functional systems
theorists, insisted that the whole is directed
predominantly toward its own survival and because of
that direction is equally driven to equilibrium and
balance—its goal is stasis.
Functionalism in the social sciences constitutes the
pre-eminent return of causal thinking. It is under
functionalism that, of the four Aristotelian-Scholastic
causes (efficient, material, formal, and final), the
formal and especially the final become dominant.
Society and social phenomena are understood and
explained in terms of the form or “essential character”
of the social relationship and in terms of the general
outcome of the relationship. Older explanations had
sought understanding in terms of the origins of the
social relationship—in terms of the human purpose to be
served; the new functional explanation refers to
outcomes and how they are conditioned by structures.
The differences, for example, between the Renaissance
and modern conceptions of the character of human beings
and society is that while the Renaissance mind saw a
mechanism with an end or purpose in its origin or use,
the modern functionalist perceives the end as lying
within the mechanism itself. (1966, Grene, 227)
religion, the transcendent God of medieval thought has
become the immanent God of Protestantism. In the
natural sciences, the creator standing outside and
giving meaning to creatures because of the higher
purpose they serve has become the inward creator of
evolution—the end is contained within the thing itself.
Functionalism stands in the closest of relationships
to the biological model not only because of the
connection based on the immanency of evolution but also
because of the idea both share of an “energy transfer
system.” Like the biological model, the functional
model suggests that “Living forms are not in being they
are happening.” There is a ceaseless change going on in
the matter of the structure; material is not constant
but overall form and process are. “The meaning of any
part or the function it performs for the
system as a whole.” The meaning of the stomach in the
animal body is determined by the digestive function it
performs for the whole body. The tendency for social
systems as for biological systems is toward greater
specialization. (1968, Landau, 55-58)
It would seem that much of science is constantly
driven back now to functionalism as an explanation. We
do appear to explain something well by referring to its
purpose or function. Yet there are many difficulties.
transferred to social science, it does prove fruitful
and most suggestive. But surely the same faults—and
some others besides—that lie at the core of biological
Paradoxically, although functionalism concentrates on
processes rather than things, functionalism also looks
at reality in terms of entities. As has been
demonstrated by recent investigations in ecology,
biology errs when it concentrates on “organism-inenvironment.” Biological studies at least have always
examined many forms of animals-in-environment while
social science looks only at one, us. Social science,
like biology, has attempted to overcome the isolation
environment, but for social scientists much more than
for biologists the lines dividing one structure from
the other are drawn arbitrarily.
One of the stickiest problems in functional theory is
the establishment of the functions served by different
structures in the social universe. The most essential
ends of processes within structures are said to involve
the preservation of the system. Since what is needed
for the ongoing operation of the system is not obvious—
certainly as long as the system is still operating—
functionalism provides an opportunity for the theorists
to inject their own personal preferences into the
outline of the functions necessary to the efficient
operation and continuing development of the social
system. If personal prejudices are not a problem, there
is still the additional tendency to assume that those
social “realities” that have persisted for a long time
are the ones that must support the system; they could
not themselves survived unless they maintained the
system they depended on. In actuality, however, every
recurrent social reality supports the whole—or at least
can be claimed to. The entire theory of functionalism
is built on this gigantic, rigid tautology.
Before functional analysis can be meaningful, it must
comprehend the whole system, not just its “supportfunctions” but how they relate to each other and how
important each is to the others. Biological analysis of
human beings is postulated upon an assumption of a
whole human being. If we do not know the whole human
being (and many biologists do not even try to), it is
not meaningful to suggest that the stomach functions to
help digest food. The idea of the stomach may be made
meaningful by the idea of digestion but only if
digestion is then connected into the whole organism.
This is done in biology by the concept of “life
support,” and it is attempted in social science by the
idea of “survival of the system.” But surely for social
life, and maybe also for biological life, single-minded
pursuit and preservation of the “life processes” is a
fanaticism that understands neither life nor society. A
equilibrium and survival may be the greatest destroyers
of genuinely human existence.
It is most difficult, if not impossible, for social
scientists to isolate those social realities that are
actually needed for the survival of a system—which of
“dysfunctional.” In the field of political science
particularly, Gabriel Almond has come up with what he
calls “functional imperatives” of a social system. They
include political socialization and recruitment, rulemaking, rule-application, and rule adjudication. (1968,
Landau, 75) Are these truly requisites of stability?
If they are, are the particular social realities that
are said to perform them actually needed to do so?
By its own standards, functional explanation requires
that scientists (1) state that and how particular
phenomena perform a function, (2) show what the
function is and why it is universal—why all such
systems must have it performed—since only then will it
constitute an expansion of understanding, and (3) raise
the question, “Must this function be served by this
particular phenomena alone?”
If it is possible that
the function need not be served in this particular
manner, then functionalism, to avoid a persistent
status quo orientation, must show alternatives, discuss
consequences of change, and point out how the belief in
the need for the particular expression of serving the
function has so far been sustained. Surely, the value
in functional analysis of connecting particular social
phenomena to the whole is important, but functionalism
may dangerously assume it is demonstrating a clear
stomach-to-body relationship for survival when the need
for that relationship in all such organisms is not
clear and may not even be present in a particular
existing whole.
Another objection to functionalism is that it is
entirely too impersonal. This criticism comes from both
humanists, who already object to the depersonalization
of us in society let alone our depersonalization in the
study of society, and from the reduction-oriented
social scientists about whom we shall speak next.
organization itself, depersonalizes us by restricting
to a minimum the distinguishing traits of our
individuality. As the organization is one method of
bringing order out of chaos, so functionalism is one
method of bringing knowledge out of chaos. But there
organization, relates objects to each other externally;
different constructs, more in keeping with the idea of
“community” rather than mechanism, connect us more
Perhaps functionalism is one of the easy paths out of
intellectual chaos, a path that forces social reality
to conform to the more secure mental tools scientists
can be equipped with. One of the great thinkers in the
social sciences, Karl Mannheim, argued long ago that
“the development of modern society led to the growth of
a technique of thought by means of which all that was
Behavioralism has pushed to the foreground this
tendency towards concentration on entirely perceivable
reactions, and has sought to construct a world of facts
in which there will exist only measurable data.” (1953,
Mannheim, 39)
Despite warnings such as these, the
behavioral movement persists. It fails to understand
that to be made meaningful, explanation must relate
social phenomena not just to some abstract function of
some abstract structure or system but to human
experience. You will really understand the stomach in
terms of its functions only if you know directly what
it means to be alive.
structuralfunctionalism can be useful in prediction. On the basis
of what happened again and again in the past when
certain functions were not performed, we might be able
to predict the collapse of a system. But this does not
mean that we have arrived at an explanation even in the
sense of the natural sciences where scientific
explanation means that the statement about behavior can
be deduced from a model, and this cannot be done from a
strictly mechanical model—prediction for this kind of
model must come as well from some condition antecedent
to the model.
Some critics go farther and suggest that the ideas of
structure and social forces should be pried entirely
from science, arguing that like explanation in the
natural sciences, the social scientific explanation
requires intervening variables—“dynamic facts”—and that
these “rather than the symptoms or appearances are the
important points of reference.” (1949, Lewin, 285) Or,
as Whitehead argues, “What is the sense of talking
about a mechanical explanation when you do not know
what you mean by mechanical?” (1962, Whitehead, 834)
3. Reductionism: Economic and Psychological. The
tendency opposite to holistic simplification and at
least equally important in science is reductionism. We
look at a social phenomenon and say that it is “nothing
but” a manifestation of some “more basic” human
impulse. We “reduce” the complex event to a simpler
event or to one of its parts. This tendency in social
explanation, like the holistic tendency, has its
correlate in the physical sciences. Underlying many of
the approaches and activities of physical science is
world...will somehow be explained in terms of physics
and chemistry.” To represent “higher” or more complex
things “in terms of their baser particulars” is a
persistence dream of many physical scientists. (1959,
understanding easier since it point to the more complex
in terms of the less complex. Yet reductionism seems
inevitably in error, inevitably prejudicial, since it
takes the whole and sees it in terms only of a part
that is said to be better comprehended. But the part as
part if only a figment of the imagination of the
Two forms of reductionism have proved most pervasive
in our time. These are economic and psychological
determinism. The two outstandingly creative figures of
the past two centuries in the social sciences, Marx and
Freud, gave them birth although more recent midwives of
Marxism and Freudianism contributed most to establish
the reductionist perversion of their core ideas.
Probably most familiar is the economic deterministic
argument ascribed to Marx. Society, according to a
Marxist viewpoint, has been “nothing but” a struggle
among classes for their own economic advancement.
Derived from the earlier utilitarian viewpoint that
conceived of all humans as economically determined
competitive individuals who were, because of nearly
interchangeable, Marxian theory argued that the group,
rather than the individual, was economically determined
and that, therefore, competition made us almost
inevitably unequal. Everything in society can be
reduced to this single form of conflict—philosophy,
religion, politics, the family, or whatever. Philosophy
is no more than the rationalizations of ruling class
interests; religion is the opiate of the people working
to narcoticize the natural resistance of the lower
classes thereby protecting the higher classes; politics
is nothing but the struggle for economic advancement;
the family functions only as an instrument of
reproduction and of the production, preservation, and
distribution of wealth.
reductionism appeals almost aesthetically to the human
desire for explanation. But a number of inconsistencies
arise to plague even the crudest outline of the
perspective. Not least of the problems of such an idea
is that all ideologies under it are supposed to be only
expressions of particular economic arrangements. How is
it that individuals such as Lenin or Stalin, who are
only “parts of nature” are able to make statements that
escape ruling class service and are universally valid?
Even Marxists themselves begin at this point to insist
that we are “something more” than mere objects or
victims of history and of particular economic systems
existing in history.2
What makes economic explanations meaningful is only
the assertion and, following the assertion, the belief
that at their core our actions are economically
motivated. We can explain work as “nothing but” the
manifestation of a need to eat, a desire for
television, or an acquisitive drive. These are
explanations only because all of us have done things
“in order to” eat or watch television and only to the
extent that we do things in order to reach these
satisfactions. Thus, we understand “explanation” itself
since we experience or assume we experience purpose.
It is clear that these economic explanations are
inadequate or not meaningful unless we specify our
definition of adequate or meaningful in terms of
inadequacy is at least partly because the idea of
purpose and cause may well be illusions that we are
told we ought to experience and because our experience
is not exhaustively described by these terms. Hunger
may be only a small part of experience that, therefore,
fails to explain other parts; for example, why is there
hunger, what “function” does it perform, and was it
actually “hunger” you felt.
Similar observations can be made for psychological
determinism. This reductionism is derived from Freud
who at one time said that all human behavior is
psychologically determined by an “instinct” always to
return to an earlier stage of development and that
mental illness is all induced by trauma and usually by
childhood trauma. The similarity between Freudian and
Marxist thought becomes even clearer when you compare
the economic motive of acquisition with the Freudian
“pleasure principle.” Freud seems, like the economic
liberals, less hopeful than Marx since for Freud the
pleasure principle is ultimately subordinate to the
will to die—that we strive perhaps only because we have
repressed the will to death and there will be no
quiescent society except in physical death. The healthy
society is a contradiction in terms.
A major basis of the anti-Freudian critique of
psychoanalysis coming from some of Freud’s best heirs
stems precisely from his determinism-reductionism. This
is not totally apparent in Adler’s but it is most clear
in Jung’s approach. Adler does make both heredity and
environment, which are determinants of human behavior
for Freud, much less important and stresses instead the
“attitude of the person to his defect,” (1955, Munroe,
337) but Jung explicitly rejects Freudian mechanistic
and reductionist explanations: “when exalted into a
general explanation of the nature of the soul, whether
impossible....Life has a tomorrow, and today is only
understood if we are able to add indications of
tomorrow to our knowledge of yesterday.” It is not your
childhood that is most significant to you today as much
as what exists right now that pushes you to regress to
your childhood. (1955, Munroe, 534)
Freud finds himself in an insoluble quandary because
of his reductionism. He cannot resolve the dualism
between the pleasure principle and the death instinct
reductively—looks to the origin of animal life and the
origin of individual human life. He writes, for
example, that human germ cells and their drive to
coalesce demonstrate that the sex instinct, like the
germ cells, seeks life while the ego instinct seeks
death or a return to a more primitive state of things.
(1928, Freud, 78-79)
The dualism noted in humans is
further reduced by identifying them with all living
creatures when Freud, assuming that the inorganic world
is quiescent and does not itself contain a push to the
organic, points to “the most universal endeavor of all
living substance—namely to return to the quiescence of
the inorganic world.” (1928, Freud, 108)
Even with the briefest of glances it seems clear that
germ cells are not seeking to perpetuate their life but
to die and allow another different development. The
germ cell, like the seed, seeks not its own existence
but the larger life and its reproduction. We must see
the germ cell in terms of the larger life, not the
larger in terms of the lesser. Probably still under the
influence of Darwinism, Freud considers only the
adaptation of things for life—the germ cell strives
only for life—and he ignored the possibility that the
germ cell allows not life or existence but meaning.
Similarly, the search for that principle universal to
all life seeks only a reductive explanation. The most
universal is not necessarily the most important or the
best explanation and certainly is not the most
meaningful. If we are to explain human psychology, we
need start with human life itself and not with the
simple cell. In a persistent way, Freud sought to
reduce psychology to biology by referring repeatedly in
his explanations of human behavior not just to human or
animal sex but more deeply to the sources of sexual
activity common to all life.
reductively explained by referring to sociological and
economic events. Sociology and economics reduce to
motivation. Psychology reduces to biology. And biology
reduces to chemistry and physics. Whereupon explanation
increasingly tends to flip a full circle and chemical
and physical relations are explained in social terms or
metaphors such as the “magnetism” of “attraction and
repulsion.” To claim that these are explanations is to
assert a deception.
5. Combination Approaches. Reality makes it hard and
contradictory to pursue a completely one-sided approach
to explanation; most contemporary theories in some
fashion combine reductionism and mechanism. Combination
approaches are represented by a diversity of labels
including social psychology itself, game theory, and
decision-making. One of the more fruitful fields in the
social sciences recently has been that of social
psychology. For a time during the early twentieth
century psychological boom, some social scientists
attempted to use psychological explanations to make
individual social behavior understandable; although
there are still such attempts, more recent movements
have explained the personal in terms of the social. On
the surface, unity of the individual and the social is
the goal, but so far most results seem to suggest
either that social or political behavior can be
understood by individual psychological observations on
the childhood traumas of political leaders, for
example, or that the individual can be seen as a
manifestation of social conditioning. The socialpsychological mixture has failed to become a solution
and the two have separated in the same glass either the
social or the psychological floating to the top
according to the light-headed prejudices of the
A contemporary device in political science is
similar. The decision-making approach seeks to isolate
all factors going into the making of a decision. On the
one hand, the researchers strive to understand a whole,
a social or a political decision, but at the same time
try to take into account the individual and less-thansystematic factors going into the decision. While
considering both the whole and the parts, the decisionmaking approach tends to concentrate on the part, and
hence, to fall into reductionism. The political
decision will be “explained” by referring to the
various private and individual actions that have gone
into making it. In this sense, the decision-making
approach is similar to the reduction of sociological
phenomena to individual psychological attributes.
Exactly the reverse, and therefore more similar to
the reduction of individual psychology to sociology, is
the device of game theory. Here again we try to put
together those parts that we term roles or actors, look
at them and yet see the whole pattern of the game as
instructive. For example, if you are interested in
understanding an international situation or the nature
of conflict within a city, you may bring together a
small group of people or a number of small groups,
assign them values and rules, and have them interact.
The rules, values, and interactions are formulated to
symbolize the international system or the city system.
If “in real life” you are a mayor, allegedly you should
be better able to understand the sentiments of a “real”
racists if you play a role similar to theirs in a game.
Or if you are a “real” American, you may be able to
know the feelings of Soviet citizens if you play a role
similar to theirs in a game. In any case, the
importance of the game scientifically speaking is not
to the player primarily but to the observer who expects
to watch the game and, on the basis of the interaction,
be better able to predict the course of social affairs.
Few things appear as ironic in the behavior of social
scientists as game theory. Games, imitations of life—
but usually with “better” outcomes—are made into the
standards of life. We are told that we all, as
individuals psychologically or as nations politically
in our interpersonal or international relations, are
doing “nothing but” playing games. So game theory
reduces, although subtly, human behavior to a function
of the game.
The game as game has a victor or winner not for the
sake of the victor but for the sake of the game itself.
Both sides or players “die” at the end of the game
divesting themselves of their roles and the values they
represented. To end the game there is a winner, but the
“game” of life, it may cogently be argued, is perverted
if it is played for the sake of victory or the game
goal. The game is to be played, like life, for its own
sake as a celebration or for the sake of the player and
not in order to get something out of it.
Here is the error in the “games people play.” We tend
to see these games in terms of something sought—
something to be won—rather than in terms of the living
itself. Awareness of the game should lead us to
understand what life is actually—that it is not like
winning or losing a game. To repeat, if Western life is
full of problems and if the problems are related to or
based upon competitive illusions, then game theories
foster both the illusion and the problems and may well
lead to self-destruction. If the rules developed in
game theory do reflect the illusory constructs of
civilization, then game theory may indeed possess some
predictive power, but that power is more than vitiated
by the failure of the theory to provide understanding,
to permit players at least to “stand under” the game,
see through it not in terms of arbitrary and relative
rules but in terms of what is not a game or what is not
arbitrary and relative.
Failure of Past Orientations
The common defect demonstrated by nearly all of the
contemporary methods in the social sciences stems from
phony separation and phony conjunction. The persistent
tendency of social scientific explanation has been to
reduce phenomena established in one discipline to
unfamiliar terms borrowed from another. One example was
the reduction of sociology to psychology. Obviously,
this form of explanation becomes possible and perhaps
necessary only because of the division of reality into
the two parts, “the psyche” and “the social.” In point
of truth, the “reality” of society is psychological and
the “reality” of the psyche is social. It is precisely
conjunction an “explanation.” When you put the
psychological together with the social, the result is
satisfying only because in doing so you artificially
join what you had formerly artificially separated. The
attempt to join the two fragmented sides never fully
succeeds; it is always distorted by the mediator needed
to accomplish it artificially.
More broadly, social scientific explanation has
failed in as much as explanation remains in the realm
of symbol/name and refuses to step into the realm of
the concrete. Social scientific explanation is offered
only in terms of words. What you explain you merely
restate by way of explanation in terms of something
that you know no better than the phenomenon you wish to
phenomenon in terms of the psychological in most cases
understand the psychological no better than the social
and many times understand it less well—they are more in
touch concretely speaking with the social rather than
the psychological. To repeat, they explain the unknown
with what they take to be the known while what they
take to be the known is not known concretely and
directly; it is nothing but a system of words held in
their minds and taken for, but not known to be, a
representation of the reality.
The problem is not only the reification of the
abstract but also the reification of the concrete.
Social scientists take the abstract notion of “power”
or “society” as some “thing.” They reify it. But also
dangerous and at the root of this reification of
abstraction is the reification of experience itself.
The most creative of social scientists do refer to
actual experience, but then proceed to reify that
experience. You experience other people; the social
scientist calls that common experience “society,” a
thing. You experience feeling or thought; social
scientists make that “a thought,” “a feeling,” produced
by “your psyche,” a thing. The concrete experiential is
reified and thus distorted. Second rate social
scientists then come along and reify the abstraction
that they never even themselves experienced in the
Now, lest the picture in the social sciences appears
too darkly painted, recall recent trends. Not least of
value is the indication that we ought to turn to the
concrete, even though we rarely do. Initially, this
push helped wipe away prejudicial misconceptions of
social reality, but then as the first push gave way,
the new science erected its own abstractions blocking
the view of the concrete.3
The very fact that social scientific explanations
seem satisfying to some indicates a core worth. This
core lies in the attempts to put reality back together.
Social philosophy is satisfying because it is an
attempt to rejoin at least two kinds of pieces formerly
separated. Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason. refers
to two types of students and scientists; one group
follows the principle of “homogeneity” and the other,
the principle of “specification.” (1946, Cassirer, 6)
You might call the one group “synthesists” and the
other “analysts.” The analyst takes apart and specifies
the elements, seeing that knowledge can be achieved by
looking at the parts. The synthesists seek to discover
a unity. The synthesist follows a process of knowing
called comprehending or grasping “disjointed parts into
a comprehensive whole.” (1959, Polanyi, 28)
The difference is not merely between theoretical and
practical research, although theory seems to be a weak
“synthesist” refers to is more Hegelian; the synthesist
seeks to see the concrete unity and not to create the
verbal/symbolic unity by putting together the parts
separated by the analyst. The political synthesist
strives for comprehension by seeing the whole direction
of the political society. Modern social science tends
to be analytical and theoretical and tends to forget
that understanding can never be achieved through
analysis alone. Both analysis and syntheses have places
in social science; analysis contributes usefulness,
understanding and meaning.
What do or should social scientists study? As in the
natural sciences, in the social sciences great debates
Reductionists say that the “state” is not real, only
human individuals or small groups are real. Natural
science reductionists say that the human body is
nothing but its chemical, cellular, or organic parts;
the body is abstract, unreal, or at least less real
than its parts. These disputes hit home the importance
of looking at all levels, microscopic and macroscopic,
the person and the government. All are equally real and
equally unreal. What differs among them is neither
their reality nor lack of reality but our eyes, the
persistently in the social sciences is to allow our
determine our perceptions of reality. We set up our
godly explanations such as conflict theory and let them
dictate the terms of our surrender to a illusory
“reality” in our scientific explorations.
Chapter 9
The Whole
Arena of
Separation, Unity, and Filters
In order to renew explanation, we must take the
wholeness of potential experience into consideration.
When we explain, we are attempting to bring to
awareness or consciousness what we had been previously
unaware or unconscious of. Consciousness seeks to drag
from the darkness what it not yet contains. The process
of bringing into consciousness what was formerly not
there has been described by Bertrand Russell as self
telling self something. He suggests, for example, that
“a desire is ‘conscious’ when we have told ourselves
that we have it.” (Russell, 1921, 167)
This view is
certainly incomplete. Undoubtedly, the process of
increasing consciousness for us contains an element of
internal verbal dialogue, but telling ourselves does
not constitute the consciousness even though such
action maybe a condition of second level knowing.
Awareness or consciousness of what was not conscious
formerly is constituted primarily by a recognition and
an affirmation of the words internal dialogue presents.
We become conscious of something through explanation
when we recognize and affirm it. In other words, the
conscious realm is surrounded by an unconscious and
consciousness when it points to that unconscious realm
and we affirm it as present not by our conscious selves
but by our concrete whole selves. For example, when I
jump into an icy lake, I do not become conscious of the
chill only because I tell myself that I feel chilly but
also because the telling is confirmed and affirmed by
more than my conscious self. Occasionally, it may seem
that I do not feel cold until I tell myself I do; the
illusion arises because while telling myself does not
make it so it does facilitate attention. My attention
may have been temporarily elsewhere.
This statement not only defines consciousness more
fully than Russell’s does but also indicates the answer
consciousness possibly reach beyond itself into a realm
as different from it as night is from day; how can day
reach into night and illuminate it?
It does this by
performing the miraculous act of inducing “copulation
of subject and object.” (Brown, 1966, 249) The current
realm of consciousness does not contain this union but
it can choose to induce it. We are indivisibly
connected with everything; consciousness is separation
and “discrimination of opposites.” (Jung, 1959, 96)
The affirmation of knowledge comes from the universal
union prior to the divisiveness of consciousness. “My
body” is intrinsically connected with the chilly lake;
I am conscious of the chill when my conscious self lets
in or directs my attention to the immediate information
of chill.
Just why consciousness is so hard to attain, is an
enormous mystery. Why, if there is an ever-present
human conjunction with everything, has consciousness to
go through as elaborate and tortuous a process as
thought to produce copulation?
We, like all nature,
appear to be plagued with two contradictory principles:
the filtering principle and the uniting principle. The
contradiction has been excessively obfuscated by
single-factor theories of human nature that stress only
one or the other. Evolutionary theories, for example,
almost universally dominant in science for well over a
century, fall on the uniting side of the contradiction—
at least as they have been interpreted by lesser minds.
Evolution, based upon the ideal of survival of the
fittest or upon “natural” selection, argues that that
organism best adjusted to the environment will survive—
that organism, in other words, that fits in or is most
united and at peace with the environment.
Evolutionary theory failed to take sufficiently into
account the organism itself. “That which” was to
survive was hidden too deeply under the idea of
survival alone. We find that all organic life, rather
than adapting to the environment, is driven to resist
it by an opposite principle. Organic life pre-eminently
operates as a filter against the environment. The
environment; thus “lower” forms of life seem more
fitted than the “higher.”
Human consciousness is only a special type of the
general filtering phenomenon similar to the body’s
filter, the skin. Sun touches or is connected to the
human body; the human body is arranged to filter out
much of it. If the filter fails to work, “dangerous”
burn/pain arises. Pushed into consciousness is a
message of filter failure and pain as a means of
suggesting a substitute filter. Burn/pain seems most
intense, incidentally, in the very young who have less
developed the secondary filter of consciousness and
must instead react automatically; strangely, the
difference in sensitivity between the young and the
mature is usually thought of as the effect of old age
“wearing down” the delicate instrument of youth rather
than putting it aside for a better and more accurate
A further expansion of the notion that the human body
in the broader organic realm and the human brain in the
specifically human realm operate as filters is to be
found in the amazing phenomenon of the human brain
cells that are “uniquely surrounded by a littleunderstood electrochemical fence” dividing brain from
chemicals in the blood stream and allowing in only
selected substances. Certain chemicals injected into
the brain cells directly have profound effects, but
(Rosenfield, 1969, 228-229) Certain hallucinogenic
substances such as LSD apparently are able to leap the
fence, enter brain cells, and induce the amazing
results experienced among large numbers in contemporary
Although this sounds suspiciously like an argument in
selfpreservation, it is not since the argument in favor of
understanding or definition of the self to be
preserved. Thus, some have derived from Darwinian or
Spencerian theories rationalizations for greed or
competition using the idea of self-preservation. They
understood that what they took themselves to be was
justified in beating down everything and everyone in
order to survive and prosper. My “self” defined in
terms of “rich man” had a right and an evolutionary
duty to maintain and increase wealth. If any single
question is unanswerable by conscious self, it is
undoubtedly the nature of that for the sake of which
the filtering occurs.
The processes of organic matter and certainly of life
is the development of an ever more secure filter
against environment, and, as the filter becomes
thicker, the desire to reunite with environment become
stronger. The sexual drive and the drive to know are
both forms of this impulse to re-unification subsequent
to filtering. If we are to re-unify in consciousness,
to bring to consciousness what is not there, if we are
to renew the search for knowledge, we must be aware
that each of the filters that “things” and ” organisms”
have built for themselves have exacted a price. Each
type of filter has created some “thing” and cast it
away. Expanding consciousness demands not just looking
at one type of thing formerly cast away but the
realization that what is looking stands in a defective
perspective. To adequately know or become conscious of
something, we, these centers of consciousness, must
first become aware or conscious of the defects in
ourselves, the filters.
The first step in overcoming the effects of the
various filters as far as awareness is concerned is
development of some conceptualization of the filter or
filter system in the human organism. The duality of the
filter is most important and yet has only been
recognized with the last hundred or so years. Envisage
consciousness as a sphere floating on the surface of a
lake. Unconsciousness exists upward and outward into
the sky and light but also exists beneath the surface
and into the depths of the waters. The realm of the
liquid depths of the waters below and the realm of
liquid space into whose depths ships now enter becomes
analogies of God’s separating the waters and mystery
below from the waters and mystery above. The human
“self” consists of this filtered sphere on the surface
between the liquid above and the liquid below; renewed
consciousness depends on penetrating both realms at
once. The researcher or knower must look into the
phenomenal-external level of unconsciousness and at the
same time move into the noumenal-internal level of
unconsciousness. As much a possible the realm of superconsciousness
subconscious, conscious, and unconscious can thus be
Renewal must proceed in both directions for, if drawn
too much upward, the floating sphere is likely to plop
harshly back into the waters and if sucked down too
deeply the sphere is likely to leap raggedly to the
surface. Some degree of fluctuation can make existence
“exciting,” but excessive fluctuation can bring on the
Five-fold Blindness
Rather than divide the realms of unconsciousness
simply into two, the external and the internal, clarity
requires that we divide them into five parts based on
five distinct kinds of filters. The parts are, first,
unconsciousness of those objects we perceive as
“preconscious” unconsciousness—that kind of internal
unconsciousness shared by all living creatures; third,
social or “common” unconsciousness that exists as the
unconsciousness or those elements of unawareness that
exist because of attempts to filter out individual or
childhood trauma from the organism; and fifth,
because of our use of abstract names or symbols. Each
of these aspects of unconsciousness or lack of
knowledge manifests itself as a paradox—they arise
exactly as the price of knowledge or consciousness on
the second level. Researchers into society must
conceive of themselves as the sphere floating on the
water and look at self/environment with all five
perspectives of potential unconsciousness.
1. External Unconsciousness. The first and most
typically regarded realm of unconsciousness is the
external. We do not know all the things we can identify
around us. The “object” has arisen as separated from
the “subject.” Things become things or objects to the
extent that we do not control them. The objects are
both social and natural. We cast (literally , “ob-ject”
means to “throw off") these away from ourselves since
we have been unable to live at peace with them and then
approach them with care as objects to be controlled or
used where necessary. We must measure, calculate,
quantify these things not so that we can use them but
because they are unavoidably connected to us. We must
know these, or come back to them, after alienating
ourselves from them because they control us.
The price of the external-internal split is the
necessity of casting outside what is inside and casting
inside what is outside. The objects or things are
identified as being “out there"; they are “matter.” The
Therefore, external study, if pushed far enough,
inevitably runs into and bangs against the obstacle of
discovering “external objects” all the way into the
core of “self” and against the impossibility of ever
grasping whatever it examines since “part” of that is
what the scientist has enclosed “within”—the interior
of mind or self.
Aside from this fundamental failure of external study
as we know it, two significant problems arise when we
consider the attempt to renew it. One difficulty
concerns the purpose or orientation of the analysis.
External study of external objects, unfortunately and
erroneously identified with the word “science,” is
supposed to “aim at the prediction and control of
behavior as an ideal of inquiry rather than merely at
the development of ‘appreciative understanding’ of the
process studied.” (1967, Connolly, 5)
The danger in
this is that it tends to imprison consciousness, which
is striving to expand, within the conceptualizations
and demands of the present. Consciousness is trained or
trains itself to disregard or ignore certain aspects of
“external reality” as irrelevant. Rather than expanding
awareness, such arrangements restrict awareness. For
example, the much-used ideal of operationalism in
social science tends to maintain the status quo and
becomes what Herbert Marcuse has called “the theory and
practice of containment.” (1964, Marcuse, 12-20)
operationalize “love” is to reduce it to behavior
within the context of the present mental system. We
thereby prevent ourselves from moving.
The second difficulty arises when we try to suggest
that science should basically renovate itself and not
only reach into other “external” realms but also into
the unconscious. We know that this is necessary since
we have seen the outcome of emphasizing “external”
science at the price of the other realms of
consciousness. In Germany we found that the best
investigators of the external realm in the twentieth
century lived in, and contributed most to, a situation
proving disastrous to the rest of the world. One of the
greatest dangers “threatening us comes from the
unpredictability of the psyche’s reactions.” (1959,
Jung, 23) The universal rule for human consciousness
seems to be that whenever matter from one side of a
filter is excessively dense in comparison with that on
the other side, the filtering membrane is likely to
burst. We do not overcome the other realm by
concentrating on the one or by strengthening the filter
against it but merely become less aware of it. Like the
sun shining on us, if we ignore and refuse to recognize
one realm because our attention is elsewhere, we are
likely to get burned.
Scientists are not unaware of the possibility of this
effect, yet they persist in their lopsided view of the
object of their study. Scientists have developed their
system—the scientific self floating high on the water
encompassing much and bloating on the skyward side. The
opening of consciousness in the other direction
consists of an opening to the void. To “admit the void”
is “to accept loss forever.” (1966, Brown, 261)
Scientists, like others who identify self with role, do
not want to die. It is not an economic or social
position or even an “interest” that they try to keep
alive but it is themselves. Like all of us, scientists
repress the instinct to death or to “give up” the
identity that imprisons them; to keep it repressed,
they must assert themselves and will “kill” all whose
existence “denies” their position.
2. Life or Preconscious Unconsciousness. The second
manifestation of unconsciousness might be called
“preconscious-” or “life-", unconsciousness. Freud, in
Beyond the Pleasure Principle, offers the theory that
the cerebral cortex is the nervous system’s outer layer
and performs the primary function of being a mental
shield or filter. Much like the skin and hair on the
consciousness that depends on language, is a layer of
dead membrane whose primary function is as a filter.
“Protection against stimuli is an almost more important
function for the living organism than the reception of
stimuli.” (1928, Freud, 52-53)
The living organism
influences. The cortex filters both ways. To avoid
consciousness of interior disruptions such as extremely
conflicting emotions, the human organism projects upon
the environment. (1928, Freud, 56)
The primary matter that the cortex must filter out
for the living creature is death. The physical body is
organized to avoid externally caused death and the
cortex aids this organization, but the cortex also must
filter out what Freud discovered on the inside, the
death instinct or the interior drive to accept death.
We are conscious that elements in our environment
threaten us with death so that we can protect
ourselves, but we tend to be unconscious that the
“threat” of death from the outside has an inner
counterpart or that, indeed, the externally perceived
threat may in many cases be only a projection of the
interior “wish.”
unconsciousness in the human mind and perhaps in the
awareness of all living things to the extent that they
are alive. Animals may fight strongly—more strongly
than us—to avoid death but at its point will become
accepting and yield to it. Many of us yield to death in
the end when it is inevitable. Both animals and
ourselves accept death when seen as unavoidably coming
from the outside. All nature “wants” to return to the
more primitive states of being—to die or decompose
according to Freud. The condition of life itself seems
to be unconsciousness of a drive to return.
Again, more important for the scientific researcher
than the fact of the element of unconsciousness are its
effects. Two results stand out. One is that the
researcher develops an untoward stake in upholding a
theory of life without a theory of death—a theory that
we have the right to do all for the sake of avoiding
death, for example. If researchers refuse to recognize
their own death “wish,” they may have to explain
themselves and all of us as dominated by only survival
drives. The second result may be a remarkable
resistance to change—at least a remarkable resistance
as far as their own lives, their pet theories, are
concerned. Indeed, it may be behavioral scientists’
unscientific or even anti-scientific.
Freud’s thought leaves us, as it did him, with many
problems. The theory that instincts are fundamentally
conservative is a case in point. Freud argues that
every instinct is connect with a tendency to repeat and
is basically a drive to return to an earlier state
(death) that has been frustrated by circumstances. Any
alleged drive for perfection is only the result of the
repression of the death instinct. (1928, Freud, 67-68,
76-78) We, like other animals, strive to live, to eat,
in ways we find better only because we refuse to accept
our instinct that tells us to die; refusal to accept
instinct defines us as neurotic. This leaves completely
unanswered the question as to what it is that resists
the environment and why a return to an earlier
condition is sought or what has produced the specific
differences that make some of us more resistant to
return and others less so.
At any rate, the necessity for the internal filter
establishes a realm of mystery within all of us. It is
this realm of darkness that lies at the base of the
excessive fear of night and of the complementary
attraction to a kind of Jungian archetypal initiator
into mystery. And for this reason researchers must pay
attention to darkness and mysteries within themselves.
3. Social or “Common” Unconsciousness. Still another
realm of unconsciousness that the researcher needs to
face is the “social” or “common” unconsciousness. This
form is less the price of life itself and more the
price of life within society generally and within one
society particularly. Human existence is predicated
upon distinctions among people, and human societies are
predicated upon accentuating the distinctions. We and
our civilizations may be seen as parts of a tremendous
natural process of specialization. In order to have
sexual specialization and reproduction, it is necessary
to produce the biological repression of polymorphous
sexuality. In order to have industrial production, we
may have to develop some strong worker types on the one
hand and scrawny intellectuals on the other. The price
of our human, our sexual, our social organization is
the repression of parts and pieces of whole organisms
both biologically and psychologically.
Jung has broadly investigated the phenomenon of the
opposition to Freud and Adler that not only are there
realms of darkness in all of us but that also there is
a surprising universality in the specific structures
that are hidden in all of us. He isolates, for example,
general manifestations in the masculine psyche of what
he calls “the shadow,” the “Anima,” and the “wise old
man.” (1959, Jung, 41) Not only personal-type figures
but also stories that are practically identical crop up
everywhere in the world as do dreams that have
strikingly similar details.
Civilization forces attributes universal to us into
the realm of the unconscious, the price of civilized,
or even of social, life is a set of archetypes based on
what everyone in any civilization or society knows. We
are extremely diverse because we are extremely
malleable, and we are malleable because we have the
capacity, through unconsciousness, to be what we are
not. This seems to emerge most typically in the arena
of sex. Freud himself presented the polymorphous nature
of human sexuality—how as children we seek pleasure
orientations, built-in social hierarchies, where one
sexual orientation dominates and orders the person.
According to Jung, “As civilization develops,” the
historically factual bisexual primordial being becomes
only the symbol “of the unity of personality, a symbol
of the self, where the war of opposites finds peace. In
this way the primordial being becomes the distant god
of our self-development, having been from the very
beginning a projection of our unconscious wholeness.
Wholeness consists in the union of the conscious and
the unconscious personality” we all strive toward.
“Just as every individual derives from masculine and
feminine genes, so in the psyche it is only the
conscious mind, in a man, that has the masculine sign,
while the unconscious is by nature feminine. The
reverse is true in the case of a woman.” (1959, Jung,
Thus, “social man” is pursued and pursues a
mystical feminine creature and “social woman,” a
mystical male.
The sexual context is most useful since it may well
demonstrate both the general pattern of “social man’s”
psyche as well as the differences arising from society
to society. If it is true that men seek wholeness by
recovering their repressed, unconscious self since that
unconscious self has been projected into women and that
women seek wholeness in uniting with the projected
masculine unconscious elements within her, then whole
societies can be organized by directing these searches
through appealing to the archetypes of men and women
without their being aware of the control; they will
know only their desires for each other but not be
permitted to know that the desire is only for
themselves through the other.
All societies obviously use this to some extent for
the sake of stimulating births, but others such as the
United States and other extremely industrialized
societies use it for purposes less and less related to
human reproduction and more and more related to
economic production. Industrialized societies use and
accentuate sex in ways significantly different from
less industrialized societies and this could be a
source of problems in the industrialized society. For
example, to take full advantage of the archetypes,
advertising and sales are likely to tap not just the
increasingly the whole range of polymorphous sexuality
particularly what appears in the form of Narcissism.
The outcome is likely to be “confusion” in sexual
Social researchers may tend to think of socioeconomic-political ideologies as the most important
influences their societies have had upon them and
therefore as the most important influences to avoid for
significant may be the images of man and woman, of what
they themselves are, of what a person is, or of what
crime is. Ideological influences are usually quite
visible; these others are not.
4. Personal Unconsciousness. The fourth realm of
unconsciousness, arising like the collective and social
information is the personal unconsciousness—those
realities in one’s own life now hidden but still
influencing it. Most of Freud’s work involved the
personal unconsciousness, the psychological problems of
individuals arising from their own early “traumas.” The
distinctions between the personal unconscious on the
one hand and the collective and common unconsciousness
on the other are significant not least because they
illustrate the nature of internal unconsciousness
generally. The price of our becoming human or conscious
on the second level is collective unconsciousness; the
price of our becoming socially conscious is common
unconsciousness; and the price of our becoming
personally conscious is personal unconsciousness. Those
human thoughts or ideas that Jung called archetypes and
saw to be available to all of us were from a time prior
to thought. They are not mentally constructed figures
but images forced upon us. Thus, for men, the “eternal
female” and the wild haetari are not constructs of
perceptions. (1959, Jung, 33)
It is confusing of Jung to suggest that the “social”
unconscious is “inborn”—that it does not derive from
personal experience. (1959, Jung, 42)
unconsciousness in as much as the personal is the price
of personal consciousness whereas the life and even
sometimes the social unconsciousness are not the price
of personal consciousness. This does not, however, mean
that the social unconscious is inborn. Rather it means
that it is the result of non-personal experience. The
unconscious archetype called “anima” in men arises not
from any of their personal experiences but from
experience or consciousness nevertheless, form prepersonal consciousness.
Jung’s claim that the archetypes were “inherited”
seems to have been an over-reaction to Freud’s
unconsciousness by early childhood incidents. The
archetypes are neither “inborn” nor derived from
projections such as a man’s turning his mother into an
“anima"; they are conditions of our becoming human.
Jung himself emphasized that “it is not a question of
inherited ideas but of inherited possibilities of
ideas.” (1959, Jung, 66)
The statement says little
since the possibility of becoming whatever a we do
become has to be inherited, but it does reflect Jung’s
discomfort with inheritance as an explanation.
Personal unconsciousness stems from second level
unconsciousness, from first level consciousness; common
or social consciousness and unconsciousness tend to be
from both. Therefore, within our social unconsciousness
in a capitalist society may be hidden desires for
community, passivity, and the acceptance of death.
Repressing that acceptance of death, for example, may
be what drives us to accumulate wealth.
The particular society may encourage a particular
mode of the life unconsciousness all of us have. One
way that societies may foster repression maintenance is
by special family arrangements and trauma that tend to
be common in the lives of most children growing up in
the society. The price of our particular capitalist
society, or social unconsciousness, is a particularly
reinforced by our personal trauma. It is surely
unconsciousness not only inter-penetrate but, in a
sense, are actually one; we who are living and
communicating on a second level must divide the society
into parts to avoid being a Freudian or even a Jungian
5. Cognitive Unconsciousness. All this talk brings us
to the fifth and final distinction in modes of
unconsciousness, probably most descriptively referred
to as “cognitive.” It appears to be the latest step in
the development of unconsciousness and may be,
therefore, the easiest to overcome. We are not only
conscious of things, of life, of society, and of our
person but we are also conscious of universals, of
concepts, of symbols. From a broad and sweeping
background, we abstract things, life, society, and
ourselves (our per-sona), and ultimately from these
things we abstract uniformities, representing these
uniformities in words or symbols. The price of becoming
conscious of these uniformities and even naming them is
Repetition seems required here because of the extreme
danger involved for humanity and human knowledge:
Consciousness is threatened by being entirely reduced
to abstract symbols and words. That we have words for
things while these words are only abstractions from
abstractions is dangerous. But we have them and too
often insist on keeping only them rather than seeing
what we are missing. “If consciousness is all words and
no silence, the unconscious remains unconscious.”
(1966, Brown, 258)
Symbols and words may be absolutely indispensable for
intelligibility, but the danger in their use is not
lessened by their necessity. Once we have established
objects and once the human cerebro-spinal system
reaches its full development, that system “only
apprehends surfaces and externals. It experiences
everything as an outside.” (1959, Jung, 20)
emerges the tremendous problem with the human mental
creation of objects and entities. Once we live with
them and with abstraction, we tend to see only in terms
of abstractions. We cannot know the interior of things
as entities. Above all, the social sciences tend not to
know the interior of human or social objects. It is
still hard to see ourselves only as objects. It is hard
not to recognize people as subjects, but we can, if we
sufficiently harden our abstractions, cast their
subjectivity into our unconsciousness.
intelligibility of society and ourselves? How can we
see the interior of others?
It is not necessary; we
can see the interior by proximity to our own interior
but only if we suspend our objectification and
abstraction of ourselves. Again, only by reaching into
unconsciousness—is this possible. Thus, it is most
important for researchers to examine their unconscious
on all levels, not least of them is the abstractsymbolic, the cognitive level. Jung points out that the
interior of what we have come to regard on the second
level of knowing as objects can be known by departing
from the cerebro-spinal nervous system and turning to
the sympathetic nervous system that “experiences
everything as an inside.” (1959, Jung, 20)
Too long we have believed that there is a “knower”
residing in our heads alone. The knower does not exist
as a thing and is not located in any one place. Knower
exists only as permitting us to unite with all. The
forces manifest themselves in “the brain” but also in
“the heart” and in the “guts-spine.” All of these and
others too point to how we are united. The knowing
possibilities called “heart” or “spine” are not “just
emotion” but true bases of knowledge as valid as
Other dangers of abstract unconsciousness are equally
evident. For example, object-abstract consciousness
tends to follow the standard Kantian position of
calling existence a quality or perfection, or,
consequently, a predicate and property. Can we
truthfully ever make the statement “It exists"?
existence a quality possessed or demonstrated by some
thing or, on the contrary, is thingness a quality of
existence? Rather than say “John is,” and so predicate
“is” of “John,” we may just as accurately as that John
is a predicate of “is-ness” or existence. In a sense we
do say this when we declare that John is a
manifestation or predicate of humanity. Pushing things
far enough, we can say that humanity, too, and all
being is “merely” a quality or predicate of existence.
It should be clear by now that to predicate existence
of John is just as ridiculous as to predicate thing or
John of existence. But the important point is
illustrated—that confronting consciousness is the whole
single realm called “what is” that is then given
division and classification by consciousness. The first
division is between essence and existence; subordinate
essences. Essence does not precede existence nor
existence essence. The structure of our minds may tell
us so, but we need not accept the dictatorship even of
the changeable kaleidoscope of our minds. Indeed, we
must not accept it if consciousness is to grow.
The Object of Social Research
Just as researchers must look at each of these levels
of unconsciousness within themselves, so, too, they
must look into all such levels in the social objects of
their studies. They must, of course, examine the
behavior of societies and their members and the
attitudes of individuals. They examine these, first
because they are investigating the conscious life of
the society and, second, because the behavior-attitudes
of individuals may illustrate or at least point to the
extent and areas of their unconsciousness. However,
social studies, especially those dealing primarily with
behavior also must take into account the life
unconsciousness—the extent that the specific social
organization giving content to the study requires a
special repression from its members; of the personal
unconsciousness, particularly in “attitude” studies,
the extent that attitudes reflect personal trauma and
unconsciousness or the extent that the minds of the
individuals are enslaved to, or liberated from, their
own abstract word systems.
Recent psychological thought has presented us with a
tremendous breakthrough for understanding individual
and society. It consists of the insight that peering
into the internal, as much as looking into the external
unconsciousness, leads us not to the idiosyncratic or
unique and personal but to the universal. Because early
individual to individual and differences dependent upon
the variety of their personal experiences. It is true
that when we look at individuals, we usually first see
the person, both the conscious and unconscious
distinctiveness of the individual, but when we look
harder, the universals start to emerge. In the depths
we reach not “egocentric subjectivity” but universal
Chapter 10
Finding the
Whole Arena
of Awareness
The Method of Renewal
1. The Realm of Light. Much harder than suggesting
what should be the object of social investigation or
what would lead to greatest understanding of the
individual is describing how investigators should go
about their task. Dangerous error constantly arises
primarily because of the divisions set up by human
consciousness and active thought, yet the very goal and
comprehension. Whether we want to understand either one
single thing or all things, we must take into account
how it or how all is related. Social science has
gradually been offering a technique for understanding
through deeper abstraction or deeper division of the
social reality and for indicating how one segmented
piece is related to the others. This must be continued
and expanded, but it is a limited technique that tends
to direct attention only to certain kinds of “external”
connections between things, toward conscious attitudes
and visible behavior.
The method of achieving understanding that is
dominant but still in the process of developing in the
social, as contrasted with the natural, sciences
operates only on the abstract level of knowing.
Abstraction is the core of fragmenting instead of
integrative understanding. It is impossible for the
human mind operating at this level to see wholes.
Standard social scientific research is, therefore,
likely to serve the goal of understanding by following
two rules: (1) All objects must be studied with at
least occasional attempts to suspend the subject-object
split and look at life as we best know it: by studying
our own personal life; and (2) things must be looked at
perspectives we now have (physics, biology, political
science, economic, sociology, and the rest). It must
not be forgotten that all the social sciences as of
now, with the exception of part of psychology, probe a
realm of human unconsciousness that is already
illuminated; the shadowy realms have been too long
2. The Realm of Darkness. For the darker realms,
other techniques become more relevant. We are already
very familiar with psychological depth probing for
unconsciousness. Even here, however, it has been
discovered that we cannot judge the significance of
childhood traumas and memories objectively but only
subjectively. The individual suffering from a problem
must recognize the meaning of the traumatic incident.
It is not the behavioral incident that induces personal
psychological problems—indeed, it has been show that
these “incidents” may never happened in reality—but the
individual’s experience of it.
individuals, even if they are researchers, and is the
most effective check possible on all areas of
unconsciousness. Such study may be the only way that
the barriers abstraction builds to consciousness may be
overcome: Did I actually experience “tree"; how much of
it was lost in the language of my perceptions; how
little attention did I pay to experience rather than to
object “tree"?
In many of the social scientific disciplines the most
forbidden kind of analysis, second, of course, to
philosophy, is history. Yet in an important sense
historical and developmental study is at the root of
all second level knowledge. Even the strictest
empiricists cannot escape history. The laboratory
itself is only an attempt to enclose and control a
brief history for study. The newest scientific
approaches use history “as a laboratory for their
researches.” (1966, Kaplan, 15)
The only difference
between what are usually called “historical” as opposed
to “scientific” studies are, first, the length of time
involved and, second, the amount of control exercised
over the phenomena studied.
More important than its use in uncovering external
unawareness and ignorance is history’s role in
revealing internal unconsciousness and ignorance. Just
as the contemporary nature of the individual and
society is revealed by its development so, too, is the
present individual and society illuminated by the
entire history of humanity and the universe. To put it
in opposite terms, “Just as the human body is a museum,
so to speak, in its phylogenic history, so too is the
psyche.” (Jung, 1959, 15) Just as the body can reveal
the development of the biological organism and just as
the biological development of humanity can reveal the
nature and development of this particular individual,
so does the psychological development of humanity and
human society reveal the psychological nature and
development of this individual and society. Most
significant is the extent that natural and social
psychological and cognitive development of the human
race is that there is concerning it a decided lack of
the kinds of evidence that most of the social sciences
define as valid. One source of information on this
development is biological, and Freud’s work has been
most important in this regard. His notion that we
humans can be defined as neurotic animals is one
indication of the fertility of his ideas. Perhaps we
must go farther into biology and suggest that animals
are neurotic plants and plants are neurotic minerals.
The chain may lead us to a better understanding of the
nature of humanity, animal, plant, and universe, not to
mention what it might do for the notion of neurosis.
A second fertile field for cognitive phylogenic
investigation seems to be peoples living today under
what appear to be primitive social conditions. Their
actions and attitudes may reveal not only the stages of
increasing consciousness but also the stages of
increasing unconsciousness. One of the tendencies
nearly universal in these primitive societies seems to
be a strong belief in “invisible spirits” that have an
essential impact on life. We who are modern and
civilized take most of these attitudes either as silly
or as ways leaders manipulate ordinary group members.
Yet the people are not merely responding to “spirits”
as words or explanations for phenomena; they concretely
experience these “spirits.”
Many such communities need no state armies or police
forces to control them; they are internally controlled
by the taboos and fears related to these spirits. The
members of the society fear the release of the powers
of the evil spirits when taboos are broken. They tend
to be extremely careful about offending others or
making others angry, not because the particular actions
stimulate antagonistic feelings, but because the
actions release an unconditioned element in humans. The
unconditioned element is not created by an act but is
found or revealed in the horror felt at incest or the
anger let loose for an offense. When people do get
angry or act unconventionally, they are not necessarily
looked at as evil but as “possessed” by, or belonging
uncontrolled or uncontrollable dimension of the anger.
The “possessed” may be well-treated at least for the
sake of avoiding worse punishment by the “demons”—
unlike our “criminals”—but avoided. (1935, Levy-Bruhl,
67-77) We who are “civilized” usually see society as a
rational, or at least a conscious, unity of wills; we
can learn a lot from those we consider “uncivilized":
Even if two sides agree on something, such as sex
outside of marriage, for example, the “evil spirit”
within may flower to poison both the couple and even
the whole society.
Finally, we have an enormous store of information on
the unconscious lives of early cultures and, therefore,
on our own, not only from those early forms that still
persist today but those of ancient times, in the form
of universal dreams and myths. Myths and dreams occur,
to a great extent, in the realm of feeling and seeing
rather than in that of the abstract-verbal form of
“thought” (Cassirer, 1944, 81). Myths and dreams are
symbolic, that is to say, they are verbal but not in
the abstract stultified way that modern thought is.
The precision of the scientific mind is often
disturbed by the vague quality of myths and dreams. In
the symbolic language of myths one word does not stand
for one thing and so myth appears to be an inexact
“pathology of language.” (Cassirer, 1946, 18-22)
it is precisely because symbol and myth are indistinct
to the sharpest focus of our eyes that they are so
important. Ordinary and scientific language is forced
“to take up a single thought at a time"; it “skims over
the surface of understanding like a soft breeze"; it
makes the infinite finite. But symbol and its exegesis,
which is called “myth,” contain contradictions, sink
into depths, and keep the infinite infinite while
making it comprehensible. (Bachofen, 1967, 48-50) The
insistency of dreams and myths, their completely
involuntary character, reveals their connection with
the unconditioned in us; they are eruptions from
unconsciousness that the cerebro-spinal consciousness
filter cannot hold back. The spontaneous emotions or
the “instinctive involuntary reactions” of the organism
reveal the part repressed. (Jung 1959, 278-279)
But today what is the usual mode of exploring the
meaning of dreams and myths?
We try to explain and
understand them by analyzing them using precise words.
We try to interpret in terms of abstract terms what is
already a completely comprehensible symbol. We try to
reduce the irreducible. We violate the integrity of the
concrete whole. We try to place the unconscious in
consciousness by means of the very tools that forced
awareness to become unconscious in the first place.
Myths, especially in the form of dreams, are not
“aberrations in the organs of sensation” (Cournot,
1956, 12) but the senses and the mind spontaneously
reorganizing information to increase our understanding.
We tend to see myths as inventions of earlier
peoples— as created by the old men who try to make a
story to amuse themselves and others, but the
“primitive mentality does not
invent myths, it
experiences them. Myths are organic revelations of the
preconscious psyche, involuntary statements about
unconscious psychic happenings, and anything but
allegories of physical processes.” (Jung, 1959, 154)
The basic myths and universal dreams presented, for
example, in the form of archetypes are images that are
themselves flooded with meaning. At best our scientific
languages can indicate how to read myths and dreams but
never how to give them meaning.
Myths die or lose their meaning precisely when anyone
gets concerned about discovering their meaning. The
religious myths,
for example, change but never
disappear. Why do they change or die? Because someone
asks, “What does our stone idol mean; what does the
virgin birth mean, or the Trinity?”
The gods die
because people from time to time forget that they have
meaning in and of themselves. Having lost our JudaicChristian God, we will look for a Buddhist one. We
suddenly find we have no “thoughts” on the subject of
our own gods, but the strange gods are dripping with
hidden meaning. (Jung, 1959, 13)
The order and objects that reason and thought weave
during the day ravel at night in dreams and myths.
Early human consciousness was in terms of myths; myths
must be the starting point for any investigation of
awareness. “It is the origin which determines the
subsequent development, which defines its character and
direction...True scientific thought cannot consist
merely in an answer to the question, What?
It must
also discover the whence and tie it up with the
whither. Knowledge becomes understanding only if it can
encompass origin, progress, and end.” (Bachofen, 1967,
The Dictatorship of Consciousness
Whoever wishes for knowledge must seek two things:
wholeness and the concrete. The one is the path to the
other. Concrete wholeness cannot be captured but at
least it can be approached and caught sight of. The
obstacle blocking the road and letting only very few of
us pass through is secondary consciousness. It often
seems that grizzled dictator becomes all the more
powerful and all the harder pushes us backward from the
citadel of concrete wholeness the stronger we strive to
storm the fortress. We seek the ever-clearer picture of
what is. We seek not only breadth or wholeness but also
depth or the concrete.
The concrete is opposed to the abstract. Abstraction
can be a path to enabling us to use “what is,” but it
can never allow us to approach wholeness; on the
contrary, the abstract is built of pieces and
progressively smaller pieces of the whole. Attention to
the concrete rather than to the abstract provides the
one way that epistemology and ontology inter-penetrate
and fertilize each other. The possibility of uniting
“what is” and “what is known” was brought farthest by
Hegel; unfortunately over since, Hegelian thought has
been mostly an enigma but only because it was being
looked at either from a “knowledge” point of view or
from a Being point of view—it was so regarded without
the realization that Hegel denied the dualism of these
and made them one.
When we turn to the concrete rather than the
abstract, what we see, as Hegel so clearly indicated,
contradictions “exist,” however, only because we cannot
see the concrete wholeness. Until we become God, we
must perceive contradictions. Yet by turning our
attention toward the concrete we may find the effect of
these contradictions lessening and dissipating and we
will find ourselves transcending them more and more.
We cannot approach the concrete by means of analysis
but only by means of synthesis and the dialectics of
transcendence. We cannot see it by cutting apart but
only by perceiving together. For the sake of the
concrete, we must suspend analysis and activate
synthesis, providing we understand that synthesis is
not merely putting opposing pieces together but
immediately knowing that and how the pieces are
actually one. Paracelsus, the parent of modern
medicine, pointed out that anatomy took apart what
belonged together. (1951, Pachter, 41)
psychoanalysis takes apart what belongs together.
anatomy, psychoanalysis, political analysis, we can
psychosynthesis, and social synthesis.
consciousness, and abstraction consciousness. How can
the dictatorship be overthrown save by death. Plato’s
philosophy” as those “willing to die,” those knowing
how to die, (1920, Plato, 444) refers to much more than
the ability of Socrates to drink the poison calmly. It
means that philosophers are those who free themselves
from the domination of these various kinds of
consciousness, these constructors of being, and let
them and, therefore, themselves die. As an awakening
thinker, you awaken to a world you do not understand,
and you, therefore, fight to interpret it analytically
thereby putting yourself securely asleep again. If you
are lucky, you are eventually entangled in life, and it
interpretation having failed you, you despair of it and
sink into a voluntary death. Only then do you become a
philosopher for only then will your eyes be without
categorical encrustation.
Einstein and relativity may well be the culmination
of the old modes of thought that stretched back to the
time of Rome and the late Greeks. Perhaps the process
of life may have another lesson for the principles of
thought; at the end, the being always returns to its
origins before it dies. Division and analysis have
snatched us from the primitive condition; perhaps we
have begun to take three small steps to the end and to
the beginning. One was the rediscovery of dialectical
logic, even if in a form that permitted us to contain
rather than transcend the contradictions, so that it
placed us nearer to the earlier paradoxical logic and
the even earlier primitive pre-logical systems of
awareness. Cassirer and others have taken a second step
reflecting the ancient sacredness of names and naming
by demonstrating the way that objects are created by
symbols. The third step, which will complete the
process, is a method that can suspend the subjectobject dichotomy and return to a transformed version of
primitive unity to achieve renewal and rebirth.
We may begin to reorient social studies to the
concrete by recalling that explanation of a social
event means rendering it open to direct experience. If
your automobile is stalled, you explain the breakdown
by showing how the vehicle operates. You do not explain
the concrete event by claiming it occurred because you
have no gasoline. This may be a part of an explanation
that might allow you to regain use of the car but it is
explanation if you see what role gasoline plays in
operating the engine and only if you have directly
experienced this as well as the vehicle’s operation and
non-operation. You must concretely experience the whole
and how you, as driver, viewer, or passenger, are
connected with it. Even those of us who might not
directly experience the operation of this automobile
may have that operation made available to our direct
apprehension by means of analogy. This kind of validity
scientists are usually quick to question; they are less
quick to question their own scientific prejudices.
For the sake of the concrete, it is most important to
emphasize that explanation must get behind and dig
under causal analysis. Your pleasure of walking under
the tall trees in a garden might be explained by
referring to the coolness of the air, but this does not
mean that the trees caused the coolness even though you
may assume some relation between trees and coolness. If
someone catches up with you and says, “Why are you
You may respond that you are walking in
order to enjoy the coolness. He says, “No, you are in
the garden for the coolness, but walking makes you
warm.” So you may say that walking gives you pleasure.
He asks why it does, and you reply that walking is
beneficial to health, but you cannot explain why you
enjoy it. So walking has meaning for you—or better,
enjoyment has meaning for you; it is the explanation
for your walking. But unless your interrogator already
“knew” “enjoyment” or “pleasure,”—unless he has had the
explained to him. You can make your experiences
directly accessible to him only if your words point to
his experience. You need not and should not say, then,
that walking gives you pleasure but only that it is
“part” of a pleasurable experience, that somehow it
“participates” in such an experience although you
yourself do not yet know how.
All this should make clear that the approach to the
concrete is the most empirical of all possible
approaches—empirical in the sense that it refers most
closely to experience and suspends the ordinary
abstract categories that stand between consciousness
and experience. Abstraction inevitably opposes not only
the concrete but also and proportionately experience
itself. It is usually practically impossible to
demonstrate this to an abstract scientist. Jung, for
example, went to great lengths to insist that his
archetypes were not mystical artistic reactions but
experiences, that he was dealing “not with abstract
concepts but empirical ones.” (Jung, 1959, 56)
familiar problem of time is also most instructive. No
matter how much abstract mathematicians may try to
describe and explain time, they must always omit a key
and central element in it; time is real only in
experience, and there is no objective way of measuring
Reichenbach, 144)
The length and quality of an
“objectively measured” hour is infinitely variable.
Rationalism is dehumanizing when it manifests itself
in reality and pervades an entire civilization in the
form of technology and bureaucracy; (Davis, 1963, 546)
it is no less dehumanizing when its pervasiveness is
confined to the realm of thought. In rationalism the
so-called “known” is non-human, “something admitted by
‘self-evidence,’ previous proof, or by assumption"; in
knowledge beyond reason, the known is something
recognized by the human being. (1968, Bigger, 22)
Socrates’ example from geometry is still instructive
and familiar. He leads an “uneducated” slave boy to
discover for himself the significance of diagonal
measurement of a square in determining how to double
its area, not by giving him the formula that “to double
the area of a square, you use the diagonal of that
square as one of the four equal sides of your double,”
but by leading him to see, to recognize, and to come to
the insight for himself. (1920, Plato, 361-367)
word does not contain the known, nor does the system of
thought, but the word points to the human experience,
and in that way it permits of direct apprehension or
One final comment on what the rise of scientific
explanation has done to us. Aside from relegating a
tremendous potentiality for consciousness into the
realm of unconsciousness and thereby establishing the
usual extreme danger of gigantic eruptions such as
those that have already occurred in Germany and the
Soviet Union, aside from the tremendous costs these
eruptions will have for both person and society, and
aside from the sharp division between light and night
in our lives that causes us constant uneasiness of
spirit and occasional crises1 we confront a horrible
loss of meaning in this century. The enormous expansion
remaining to us on abstract explanation has made this a
century bereft of meaning.
Meaning is neither behavioral nor attitudinal. It
refers not to the physical person but to the
experiencing person. It cannot be captured in theories.
It is neither in the word nor in the sentence but only
in “us.” Only metaphorically do things have meaning.
Clouds, we say quasi-scientifically, mean rain; tears
mean sadness. All these are dependent upon the knower
who alone “has” meaning. Clouds connect with my
experience of rain. The word “tears” connects with my
experience of some internal activity. What is usually
called the problem of meaning refers not to meaning at
all but to communication. I want to be of one mind with
you, to be understood by you, so I try to stimulate in
you, by means of words, what is in me. But the words
that can capture what is in me may not be available to
me so I must shuffle the words I do have around and
ultimately use them to refer to a real living
experience; unfortunately, it is unlikely that your
experience was the same. However, by dialogue directed
at mutual understanding, we can expand ourselves
through each other
"Meaning is a continuous creation, out of nothing and
returning to nothingness. If it is not evanescent it is
not alive.” (1966, Brown, 247) But it is of continuous
creation only through experience, while contemporary
social science scholars keep drawing us to the
explanations are adequate for the study of society.
What must be re-established is the centrality of human
meaning. The primary question must once again become:
“What significance does this have for us"; not what
does it do to us or for us, but what does it mean.
The scientific orientation has proved itself utterly
incapable of providing us with an answer to the problem
of meaning, yet if any problem is ours it is that of
meaning. The “scientific” orientation has afforded us
only reductionism, and reductionism cannot offer us
meaning. Why not?
Because the universe itself is
dominated not only by the principle of division that is
integration and disintegration. The face of history
looks, in an evolutionary sense, ahead to ever-greater
integration or complexification, yet throughout the
process there is ever-present disintegration, decay, or
entropy. The chaotic spread of energy throughout the
universe in the beginning has led to globules of
energy, systems of energy, evermore complex. Globules
divide from each other only to reunite into complex
relationships—so it is with matter and so it is with
us. We are born, grow by pulling the pieces around us
into our systems, then decay by letting them fall back.
We become individuals, separate, then flee to reunite
ourselves to ourselves and others driven back by fear
and love.
"Science” first reduced us to where we came from, the
parts that made us up physically and historically.
Those who took the historical perspective of science
farther pointed out that the complexification process
has not ended or if it has for us physically, it has
not socially. Marx explained us by the future and so
did Teilhard de Chardin. We at least had a function to
perform in Marx’s schema—we could choose whether to
considered his system to be scientific, but one reason
established science failed to see it as such was that
he attempted to offer some kind of meaning in terms of
the future rather than merely make “objective”
Science fails whenever it refuses to admit the realm
of the concrete. Both Teilhard and Marx make the
concrete perform some role in their schema but not a
central role as far as meaning is concerned. For
meaning, we must indeed look beneath our parts and
beyond and above ourselves but only in as much as these
places illuminate the concrete within the realm of
spirit. It is our interior, the pre-eminently empirical
interior, that is the path to the concrete. Scheler has
pointed out how strange it is that the spirit has come
to be looked on psychologically as an artifice of the
generalized substitute for the “lower animal’s” methods
of survival, or as an over-compensation for our
inferiority, or as the repression of the death
instinct—when it is clear that the spirit is not
explained by these but rather these are explained by
the spirit. (1961, Scheler, 59, 64-65) Meaning is to
be found neither by reductionism nor by futurism but
only in the concrete, the spirit. Science must,
certainly in its study of society, finally comprehend
that it is strong enough, that it can be brave enough,
to dare to reach forth and touch the concrete.
Chapter 11
Power as Explanation
After this brief sketch for a renewed approach for
social science as a whole, there remains one final
problem: What can and should be done to renovate the
individual disciplines?
Each field is based on a
series of central concepts, and each research project
has its own narrower conceptualizations. Probably the
most fundamental concepts of the social sciences are
the very words identifying them as distinct: the
“economic” (economics), the “social” (sociology), the
“psychological” (psychology), and so on. A first step
in the renewal of social investigation and social
consciousness entails reconsidering these; we must reassess the true nature of “social” relationships or
“economic” relationships. Discussion even of each of
the defining ideas, let alone the other major concepts,
in the disciplines as well as some examples of research
conceptualizations, is decidedly out of the question
here because of the limited purpose of this study. Yet
one fairly detailed example may suffice to outline the
direction of the kind of re-examination that needs to
be undertaken.
Tradition in the field of political science has made
“power” the concept closest to the heart of the
discipline and one rooted in political theory since the
time of Machiavelli. Despite the centrality of the
concept, political scientists have failed either to
give it concrete meaning or to discard it in favor of
something else. Political science has consequently been
markedly lacking in coherence. The result has been a
form of theorizing that demonstrates little connection
with what is happening politically, (1968, Gunnell,
163-164) and leading political analysts have suggested
that unless the issue of “power as the problem of
political science” is settled, “political science as
the study of power, cannot be said to exist.”(1968,
Simon, 28)
Other political scientists have been less disturbed.
For example, some argue that it is fundamentally an
error to attempt to define power or the political, “we
are not students of some subject matter but students of
problems.” (1968, Gunnell, 163) Others, insisting on a
theoretical eclecticism, argue in a similar vein that
theory in political science has always been practical,
the theoretician always a partisan confronting problems
and issues. (1953, Cobban, 330-331) To a degree these
arguments are persuasive, but their validity must not
be misunderstood or overestimated. They rightly suggest
that there is no need, and in fact it could be
positively dangerous, to define and delimit the field
of political science by claiming that its subject
matter is power, that power is defined as such and
such, and that political science validly deals with
nothing falling outside the definition. We must concern
ourselves with power not so much because we need to
delimit or define a discipline but because we use it
within a discipline as an explanation, a means to
understanding, or a path to meaning.
Most crudely, and wrongly of course, “power” has been
used as a reductive explanation in political science
the same way that “society” has been used as an
explanation in sociology or “economic satisfaction” has
been used in economics. Even eminent sociologists such
as Durkheim try to explain religion, for example,
reductively in terms of its “social” function of
confirming and strengthening the connection among
scientists attribute meaning to political activity by
reducing it to a power struggle. The most ironic thing
about the political scientist’s plight is that, at a
time when more subjects are being politicized or
falling under the operations of the societal “power
structure,” a process that has been characterized as
the “sublimination of the political into forms of
association which earlier thought had believed to be
non-political,” (1964, Wolin, 429) there seems to be
less and less concrete experience of the political.
That is to say, fewer people seem to participate in
real struggles for power or for things. Surely,
therefore, this explanation called “power struggle” is
a minor part of what goes on and demonstrates that
political scientists excessively concentrate on the
political activists or the politicians and interest
group leaders. A deeper investigation into the nature
perspective and better solve practical problems of
political life as well.
A richer description of power is needed both because
power is being used as explanation and because those
who refuse to describe it more concretely and instead
have pursued social studies that look at problems given
methodologies. The students of politics or society who
confine themselves to social or political problems put
themselves into straight jackets and allow the object
of their studies to be determined by, and therefore
enclosed within, the existing political system. Unless
they stand outside the practical system, they may be
unable to see even its most glaring flaws, and they
cannot stand outside it without a piece of theoretical
earth to set their feet upon.
We can achieve a better understanding of the nature
of power only if we look at it from two standpoints:
what it is and how we can know it. These two must be
involved in the individual social sciences is secondlevel
subject/object separation has been made but, it is to
be hoped, not necessarily after complete abstraction
from the concrete. It is in fact precisely because we
must minimize the importance of both “reality” and
knowledge of “reality” and are tying at the same time
to keep in mind that “knowledge” and “reality” are
actually one, that distinction for purposes of
discussion is important.
Power as a Means and as an End
The meaning of “power” in society is deceptively
simple. Power is the ability to do or have done. You
act or have actions performed for you. You control. You
“possess” power. Two aspects of power that are hidden
from outside observation are most important. The first
is that power is always a means and the second, that
power is not something you possess—it is not a quality
of your person or your life—but is generated only in
connection with other persons or things.
In the physical realm, you may claim you have the
power to climb a mountain, but your actual gradual
ascent is impossible without the slope of a hill;
moreover, were there no hills, you would not have the
real ability to climb. You might object that you could
climb, that you still had the power to climb, were
elevations to be made available in the future. Of
course, with elevations, climbing would again be a real
possibility, but you would not be able to climb unless
they were actually present; climbing is not a power you
possess; it exists only in your relationship with
another. Similarly, social power—power between people—
is never your power or my power but always our power.
The same holds true as far as the social is concerned.
Power over you is not something others “have” but
something that is generated by you and the other.
Others may say that they have the power to fire you
from your job, but they “have” this power obviously
enough only because a social organization allows them
it and only because you have been working in this
organization of your own volition. Let us turn now from
this brief sketch of the problem of the so-called
possession of power, to a more lengthy exploration of
the other issue, power as a means.
contemporary technological society we are met by an
encroaching tyranny of means. Indeed, it may be the
mark of the technological society, epitomized by
countries such as the United States and Japan, that it
establishes means as the standard of all life.
Modern theories and attitudes “deny contemplation and
recognize nothing but struggle. For them not a single
moment has value in itself, but is only a means to what
follows.” (1960, Berdyaev, 152) American society is a
wealthy one because it is efficient, not as efficient
as Japan but still more so than Russia. Efficiency
consists of the achievement of the greatest value of
returns for the least value expended, and the
development of this relationship depends on clearly
visible and accepted value. That is, the ends of
activity must be definitely established and all must
work to those ends. Assuming the ends, all can and will
work well to reach them.
Concentration on means is likely, however, to be
dangerous in the long run because human concern about
ends, long repressed, tends to become unrepressed
suddenly, popping up at any time to disrupt the
efficient society. Both the former Soviet Union and the
current United States are experiencing crises in ends.
concentrating on means, and their rising similarity has
induced a false sense of hope for international peace
in the minds of many social scientists who have
neglected to see that while moving more closely along
similar paths, the United States and the former Soviet
Union have been traveling paths that are not equally
good but equally bad.
A society that casts its lot on the side of means is
forced thereby to repress interest in ends. Ends become
the forgotten Achilles heel of the system; ends become
the shadowy realm of darkness as means become the
object of high intensity lamps. Questions of ends
emerge insistently from the darkness whereupon the
means-interest technocrats can do one of two things—
give in to those who challenge current means as
inappropriate to alternative ends or suppress them.
Signs of eruption of the ends-interested elements in
both American and Soviet societies as early as the
1950’s. There was some hope that the technocracy would
accept modification. Ironically, in the United States
panels of technocratic experts were set up by President
Americans.” Ends interests then flowered briefly in the
children of the early 1960’s and slightly later in the
Carter administration, then blinked out. Today all
reform programs focus on means; “better” education
never questions the established goals of education,
jobs, but only how more effectively to fit us into
Technicians, calling themselves scientists, both in
the physical and social arenas, contribute to the reign
of means in contemporary society. Individual and
society are indefinable in terms of ends since we are
“project” or process, and “project” indicates that ends
emerge from life discoveries and not imposed on it.
(1965, Desan, 71)
Social scientists implicitly
establishment of ends, pretend to be “value-free,” and
say they speak only in terms of means or power. This
has not, unfortunately, meant that ends have been left
open; by ignoring them, or by defining them in terms of
domination of stagnant ends.
Recent history in political science includes a huge
battle—now superseded by the temporary victory of
scientific Behavioralism in the discipline and an
uneasy toleration of diversity—with Hans Morgenthau on
one side and a scattering of forces on the other. The
issue was Morgenthau’s enthronement of power as the
central concern of the State and, therefore, of the
discipline. (1951, Morgenthau)
Resistance to the
coronation lacked unity but not intensity. Some
expressions of opposition insisted that power had to
have purpose, that the means had to have an end. (1952,
Cook & Moos, 342-356)
Unhappily, the opposition was
weaker than it could have been since, as it stood, it
tended to give the impression that purpose had to be
“set up"; then power could be utilized to achieve it
and that “ends” were only means of exciting people in a
way that gave their leaders power. More attention might
have been paid to the nature of human purpose; purpose
is pregnant not positive. It is surely one of the more
significant justifications of democracy that human ends
are emergent and not imposed. Were it not so, we should
all set up the goal of a world safe for “democracy,” or
a “free world,” or “winning” all our contests, or
“great societies,” and then devote our lives to the
fulfillment of these ends, marshalling all the power we
could for a social system of law and order that
enforces them.
2. Power as an End in Itself. At this point, the
discussion of power must bifurcate. We must concern
ourselves with the view that power is an end and a
specific goal in us and the view that power is a means
to rational ends. Morgenthau, many of his followers, as
well as earlier and more profound thinkers such as
Hobbes and Nietzsche, conceived of the desire for power
as an elemental category of human activity. (1959,
Hoffmann, 350-351) Some emphasized the emotional side
and called it a human “lust” for power; Morgenthau,
like many psychologists of his time, rationalized this
emotion and justified deliberate human behavior in
terms of it. He and they together argued that we all
have a desire for power; having it equally, it must be
universally human and needs therefore to be moderated
by reason if we are to survive together. Hobbes’
assumption of the natural and inevitable human
passionate lust for power, by contrast, led him away
from the notion of democracy as a system for rationally
reconciling opposing desires for power to develop
society as Leviathan and controlling monster. (1952,
Voegelin, 185)1
There are at least two explanations for the rise of
the concept of power as an end in the post World War II
era. One of them is the reductionist tendency. If we
cut any human act into small enough parts we are always
going to find as one of them a desire that the action
be completed. As reductionists, we would be tempted to
say that all human beings lust for the ability to
complete there acts, or for the “power” to do so; we
may fail, if we are sufficiently reductionist, to see
that the human individual lusted not after the power
but after the completion of the act. Power was both an
abstraction and not even one central to the act.
A second explanation for the rise of the concern with
power and for failure to recall that power is only part
of a whole action is the general cultural orientation
in political society that places high value on action.
Those who are interested in election to, or control
over, public office attract most of our attention
politically in a democracy. One of the prerequisites
for achieving election is, however, that the candidates
demonstrate no self-interest in the office other than
the office itself; they must show that they do not want
to exploit the office but only “to serve the public.”
This need to prove a lack of interest in goals is one
of the principal peculiarities and difficulties in
American two-party democracy.
Candidates are, first of all, to demonstrate they
have no “private interest” in the office—they are not
seeking it for their own personal gain in any sense
except for the honor and respect they receive in
exchange for having done a good job. Second, in the
American system the candidate for public office is
placed in a two-party environment. Two parties need to
attract a majority of the voters in any given election.
To do this, the candidates must, therefore, appeal as
Consequently, they try to show as little interest as
they can in issues or to prove that they are closer to
the national consensus, if there is one, on any issue
than the other candidate. The enormous contradiction
and danger in this to the nation and its citizens lies
in the role of politicians who are supposed to be
trying to attain the power to control the power of
society. Almost pathologically, they are supposed to be
interested only in doing a good job; on the other hand,
how do they, as Presidents and Representatives,
experience that they have the power to control the
American society’s power save by making decisions for
themselves—decisions that may not be in their selfinterest necessarily, yet decisions that do not merely
reflect the wishes of the society but are their own.
Because of this, duplicity is built into the system.
Presidents are supposed to be, as they proclaim
themselves to be, the national unifying figures, yet at
the same time, they are to be power-oriented by nature,
though this they may hide from the public, themselves,
but not to clever political scientists who see through
to the “basic power motive.”
To conclude, then, American political scientists are
tempted to look to public officials as manifestations
of the universal power motive and to concentrate on
what seems to be the psychological motivation of these
officials. Politics is the struggle for power and power
itself is the end of the struggle. Of course, “power”
would not have survived so long as a central
theoretical concept unless it could successfully
account for the “facts.” “Power” is a successful
explanation both because it is always an element in
action and because other motivations must be concealed
in two-party consensus politics.
Morgenthau’s situation is most revealing. Not only
does he look at life from a Western-democratic
perspective but relates that perspective to his primary
politician is struggling for power, pure power; the
nation-state in international politics is similarly
struggling for power. The pathology of the politician
that political scientists falsely identify as normal is
projected onto the international scene. Clarity may be
achieved by reversing the examination; we should look
to the international scene to illuminate the nature of
domestic political power.
American politicians are supposed to be pre-eminently
interested only in getting into and staying in office,
“having” power to control America’s social power. They
are then entrusted also with the guidance of American
foreign policy. From a domestic position where they are
selflessly to search for power over power, they assume
an international position where there is little
organized international social power to control. It is
at this point that politicians and political theorists
as well should recognize that hidden assumptions about
goals are made in domestic life while there are few
internationally, and that these purposive orientations
are prior to and dominate the means called “power.” Is
it any wonder that these political scientists regard
political society they also see as the greatest
failures in international politics—and vice versa?
domestic servants who represent no interests; in
international life they must create the purpose and
focus it. If the development of an international
community in the future is unlikely, it is not because
of inherent prejudices in the peoples of the world but
because of the prejudices built into them and into the
current domestic political systems that place the
future in the hands of those incapable of building a
world and that to a large extent gives them a role that
makes them incapable of guiding it.
3. Power as a Means to Rational Ends. The second path
in the bifurcated discussion of the use of “power” as
an analytical category concerns the error not of making
power its own purpose but of attempting to establish a
abstract goal for power outside of life. While those
who consider power its own goal tend to emphasize the
emotional in us as fundamental and reason as merely a
tool that serves it, the theorists who try to establish
a purpose for power put reason on the top. They see
power as something deliberately chosen for the sake of
goals other than power; these goals, of course, they
regard as having their source in something else
unconditioned in us. How they identify the goals
Morgenthau rightly objects to when he insists on the
priority of power. He is right that others are wrong
when the adopt this alternative reduction but fails to
see that he is wrong for the same reason that they are
One goal that many claim power serves is “selfpreservation.” We, it is assumed, possess a fundamental
drive to preserve ourselves; so do societies. They
organize to generate the ability or power to maintain
their lives and themselves. The self-preservation focus
induced Nietzsche to insist that power was its own
purpose: “Where I found a living creature, there I
found the will to sacrifices itself—for
the sake of power! He who shot the doctrine of ‘will
to existence’ at truth certainly did not hit the truth,
this will does not exist!” (1961, Nietzsche, 137-138)
If all human activity involves power, then the goal of
existence explains neither it nor power, for we do not
act merely to continue to exist. Preservation does seem
to be part of our goal at times, but it is not the
goal; there is an opposite goal too—the goal of
release, the death instinct, the purpose of using up
one’s life rather than conserving it. In this sense,
preservation of life is not the goal of life but a
means to the goal of living.
The most typical organizing goal set up by American
political scientists is economic. We not only want to
conserve life but we want spend life enjoying
satisfactions. The economic goal is attractive to a
large extent because it “contains” both the principle
of preservation ("savings") and that of dissipation
(expenditures on satisfactions). There are, however, at
least two major objections to the economic explanation
of politics and power. One is that, in operation, it
tends to make politics primarily a matter of rational
“exchange.” We are engaged in a political enterprise so
that we may get what we want from others, and getting
what we want is referred to as having power. Analysts
persist in making this claim despite the overwhelming
evidence that we do not sit down, rank hierarchically
what we want in terms of our “values,” and then
exchange what we have for what we have decided we want.
This is not what brought people together into political
societies nor how they operate once in them.
The second and related objection to reductive
economic interpretation is that it forces an explicit
content on the “rational” deliberation each of us and
each society performs when discovering goals. For
example, in the United States a legitimate political or
economic goal is anything whatsoever—as long as it can
be defined in terms of such things as money or
These categories of goals are not, in fact, universal
to those wanting to do something and so to exercise
power. Indeed, the definition of such goals in a group
or society tends to be most stultifying and blinding to
the mind. For example, Marx argues that private
property has made us “so stupid and one-sided” that
objects exist for us only if we “can possess them or if
they have utility.” (1959, Brown, 328) On the contrary,
many Marxists saw the early stages of World War II as
an unimportant conflict; because the struggle was only
among capitalists, socialist states could ignore it. To
nearly anyone outside Marxist goal definitions, “class
struggle” would not be “more real than theoretical
conflict” within classes. (1964, Merleau-Ponty, 148149)
The establishment of such goals as fundamental in us
is dangerous because they are essentially projections.
You project your illusory, yet strongly felt, goal upon
others in your own society; the illusions pervade the
society, but illusion will inevitably be seen through.
increasingly suppress those who see through it. It will
find their behavior incomprehensible, will ignore them
until the anger is great, and then will act to suppress
them. Or the whole deluded society will project its
economic-interest illusion upon the rest of the world
and find it comfortable until a Hitler, who can not be
accounted for by it, overturns it.
Trying to discover rationally established goals for
power it itself an illusion. This is because humans are
project—are open-ended—and so much so that even as
broad and vague a goal as economic satisfaction is
excessively constricting. Aristotle was one of the
earliest philosophers of ends, establishing the human
goal and human development as well as the conditions of
moving toward that goal. But for Aristotle at least,
there was a human good; for him it was not simply that
whatever any individual wanted that was our good as
long as we could define it in terms of money.
An end—even one as broad as “good”—is dangerous to
us, however, because it eventually we come use it as a
justification for inequality. This means we can defend
basic inequality among members of society according to
their proximity to the end or the human good. Today, we
avoid inequality by asserting that all are equal yet
refuse to point to the good—we start by discussing the
human good and end by discussing the human essence: If
good is not something beyond us that we need seek and
find but something we immediately possess without
effort since we are all equal, there must be some
condition already present that makes us all equal; this
is our essence. Thus today the illusion arises that we
can discover this essence by talking a poll and finding
from it what is most common. Greed and lust for things
seem most common; therefore, it is of our essence to be
acquisitiveness is inhumane and unequal.
The “new” insight of recent “existential” philosophy
claims to reject the notion of essence and, therefore,
liberates us from the domination of the past or future.
What it rejects, however, is not Aristotle’s “essential
character” or “form,” which is the original meaning of
the notion of essence. (Aristotle, 1960, p. 9)
Instead, it abandons all definitions of that essential
character while affirming an alternative nature to it.
It argues that only “things” have essences; humans have
possibilities. We use our minds and our reasoning to
dictate to nature: A bone is a bone—a bone is a thing;
a bone has essence. The world becomes flesh—or rather,
the “flesh” becomes a world. But seen from the inside,
we are existence without essence. (1964, Merleau-Ponty
66) The mind cannot turn back upon and sting itself to
death. Individuals, whole individuals who are the
source of thought as thought are the source of
essences, cannot place over themselves the dictatorship
of essence. We can establish their purpose over
“things,” but we cannot establish purpose over
Our minds divide nature into being and non-being and
see only being. What we give names and words to is
being. But the “things” we say we see, including
ourselves, actually are the mixture of being and nonbeing;
contradiction defies “definition” and boundaries. The
contradictions produce something new. When hydrogen and
oxygen unite in specific proportions to form water, do
they remain hydrogen and oxygen or do they become
something else? When water breaks down into hydrogen
and oxygen, is it still water?
Do we when we marry
constitute a marriage or are we still independent?
Like all nature, we are fundamentally dynamic, not
static nor mechanistic. Our dynamism, based on the
contradictions within, is not directed to “bio-psychosocio-equilibrium.” We are basically self-transcending.
We can define things according to our use or purpose
for us, but we can give neither purpose nor definition
to ourselves. Power and purpose are bound in the
insoluble marriage called life; life itself is
destroyed when they are put asunder. Power is a means
only, but to ends that are not external to it.
Power as No-thing
1. Source of the Illusion of Power. The question,
“What is power?” is unanswerable. Power, like we
ourselves, is no-thing; “it” has no nature; there is no
“it.” The term or symbol “power” is an abstraction from
what is, an abstraction whose reality dissolves as it
is abstracted. The problem of social power has a twin
in physics where scientists have long puzzled and
eventually have given up on some aspects of the
relationship between objects. One instructive example
is the nature of light. Some described light in terms
of a “thing” or “particle"; others insisted that the
waves consisted of nothing material at all but only
represented probabilities. (1954, Reichenbach, 174)
Thus, the unsettled dispute over the nature of light
ended by concentrating only on the effects of light in
students of society end up discussing the outcome
rather than the nature of power.
Light for the physicist and power for the social
scientist become problems because of the temptation to,
and perhaps the human necessity for, abstraction.
Action puts us in a very peculiar relationship to
things. We act in hundreds of ways. A uniformity that
we find we can abstract from all our actions is power.
We fit diverse activities under a category, the
category of “power,” and thereby make them all more
familiar to us and more mastered by us.
One distinction that could clarify our abstract
understanding of power is the difference between power
and action. We say that the term “power” contains a
prediction. We say that power is not a state but an
ability. You claim to have the power to move the paper
clip across your desk with your finger. If you do so,
you can no longer claim to have the power to do so; the
paper clip is already now on the other side of the
desk. The potency has resolved itself in the action.
Your whole ability to describe power in this way is
based on abstract, not concrete, categories. One of
these is time sequence. You want the paper clip to move
across the desk and it moves. Partly because one piece
of information came before the other, you can proudly
claim the power of moving the clip—surely the clip
itself and the surface it slid over are bases of “your”
power. (1890, James, 422-485)
A second abstract category giving rise to this notion
of power is the “cause/effect” prejudice. As the
difference between cause and effect is shaky, so “the
distinction, which we often make between power and the
exercise of it, is equally without foundation.” (1961,
Hume, 157)
In both cases, you separate one piece of
“an event” from another and call one the “source” of
the activity and the other the “result” of it. You are
the source of the clip’s motion; it is the recipient of
your energy.
Every explanation of power in current use by
political scientists is based on one fundamental false
assumption that must be overcome if political science
is to escape its conceptual morass. C. Wright Mills
suggested that “power refers to the realization of
one’s will even if others resist.” (1959, Mills, 37)
Power, according to Morgenthau, is “man’s control over
the minds and actions of other men.” (1960, Van Dyke,
And Herbert Simon suggests concerning the
assessment of power “that the phenomenon we wish to
measure is an asymmetrical relation between the
behavior of two persons. We wish to observe how a
change in the behavior of one (the influencer) alters
the behavior of the other (the influencee).” (1957,
Simon, 77)
The fundamental assumption lying behind
these seemingly diverse statements concerning power is
separation between people, separation that, when
assumed in life, must be bridged if society is to
2. Conflict and Consensus Transcended. One perennial
dispute reflecting the apparent incapacity to overcome
subject-object separation concerns the alternative
images of the political order as power or authority.
The “conflict/consensus” school of political study has
not been reconciled to the “consensus/integration”
school. (1957, Connolly, 382)
Each by itself is
untenable, yet we have found no way to bring them
together. Numerous attempts have been made, but none
has actually succeeded. One attempt was to connect the
two by means of the concept of “socialization.”
Individuals and groups fight one another and are in
“internalize” standard norms for all parties whereupon
inapplicable” to them. (1968, Wrong, 673) In effect,
this position consists of nothing more than the
competition, there is conflict; and where that conflict
stops, we call that lack of conflict the effect of
“socialization.” The concept of “socialization” here is
not an explanation but merely an observation.
The viewpoint of society based on socialization,
despite its illusory character, is a real and serious
danger. It is a two-edged sword. Fostering an
internalized moral code to replace coercion as the
manipulator of behavior may, on the one hand, be
praised for establishing peace. On the other, such
internalization may be condemned. A society may use the
excuse of socialization to destroy those who are
seeking to bring it needed reforms to it. If only
socialization preserves the human group from chaos, any
individual who suddenly stands up and refuses to abide
by the moral code not only is begging society to coerce
him into silence, but also inviting annihilation.
“Society,” Nietzsche pointed out, “has never regarded
virtue as anything but a means to strength, power, and
order....The State organized immorality—internally: as
externally: as will to power, to war, to conquest, to
revenge.” (1967, Nietzsche, 382)
Opposition between
authority and “power,” consensus and conflict, is not
overcome in society by the idea of “socialization.”
The major alternative to the socialization theory is
some image of a “rational” way of living together. If
custom and socialization do not make for peace and
order, society must have another basis. The basis,
allegedly, can only be rational recognition of the
necessity of cooperation.2
You get along with others
for the products you can manufacture together; you get
along because you know that otherwise you are likely to
be hurt by others. Knowing these things, you behave
yourself so that coercion need not be used against you.
You are even supposed to have signed a social contract
rationally surrendering individuality to the military
mastery of General Will.
Each of these fails, of course, because your
conforming behavior is only rationally guided but not
ultimately rationally motivated. To be rational in a
way that requires moderation and restraint in your
conflicts with others is only to use reason as a means
to ends that are not, and cannot themselves be,
completely rational. That is, while it may be rational
for the sake of “economic ends” to cooperate with
others in labor and to restrain yourself from theft,
the “economic ends” themselves can never be entirely
rational. You may ignore your “economic well-being” or
you may not care about the risks of pain and death. At
that point the coercive element in the society steps
forth perhaps to annihilate you, not just for pointing
out that obedience is not sacrosanct and thereby
threatening the stability of the society but also for
being inhuman because supposedly all of us in the
society know that the human individual will be
persuaded by wealth or by the fear of pain and death.
Unfortunately, we in society tend not to know that the
all-encompassing and final authority of the fear of
death exists only because we have repressed our will to
die and must pathologically hide that from ourselves.3
Others do not coerce us; we let ourselves be coerced.
We allow ourselves to be compelled primarily because of
our preconceptions and abstractions. We need not accept
these preconceptions, and from time to time large
groups in every society rejects them. If the whole
society could recognize that they were unnecessary and
accept revision where revision was good, then most of
the conflict believed to be inherent in society and the
individual could be eliminated. Society organized under
power, whether the notion of power is founded on the
pernicious idea of socialization or “pure” coercion, is
a creation of the mind—a creation returning to haunt
The notion of ordering society through power when
power is understood as something exercised by some over
others can be traced at least as far back as the
Greeks. One of the central points of dissension between
Plato and the Sophists had been over their attempt to
define the state in terms of power. The Sophists took
the position that the state was ordered by power; Plato
held that the state was ordered by a principle of
harmony. Aristotle disagreed with his teacher, Plato,
by arguing in favor of power—not power expressed as the
arbitrary domination by leaders over followers carried
out by means of socialization or coercion but as the
domination of the higher humans over the lower.
Christianity, in the beginning pointing to a realm of
harmony, quickly relegated that realm to the kingdom of
Heaven to come after death; the kingdoms of the earth,
both churchly and secular, were to consist of power
exercised by those who were closer to knowledge of God
over those who were farther from it. Perhaps only now,
after so many centuries, can we not merely rediscover,
but renew the Platonic notion of harmony.
The nature of crime in the context of social power is
instructive. It is probably true that society cannot
live without the power of coercion but only because
society itself generates crime and evil. Crime is the
dark side of the artificial sphere of light we create
when we build societies. We punish criminals not
because they do something bad but because they see the
defined “good” as “bad” and the defined “bad” as
“good.” Moreover, the punishment of evil in criminals
is not to improve them but to improve the other members
of society since criminals did what the others
consciously or unconsciously desire to do; “good
citizens” enjoy crimes vicariously and must punish
criminals all the more severely, not so much for
committing the crimes but for tempting the good
citizens. They are tempted to the horrible evils, not
by inborn inclination, however, but as the consequence
of flaws in the socially-established notion of good.
The temptation to crime that afflicts both the
wrongdoer and the pillars of the community is of common
origin—it is not so much that society leads people to
crime but that by establishing the category of “good,”
it forces all to relegate much within themselves to
unconsciousness as “evil.” Society induces repression,
and repression induces crime and punishment.
This is why the utilitarian attitude towards crime is
so illusory. Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and the rest
argued that humans were dominated by dread of pain and
attachment to pleasure, and they obeyed these two
inflict just enough pain to overcome the pleasure the
potential wrongdoer anticipated in the criminal act. In
Totem and Taboo, however, Freud demonstrated that many
criminals perform crimes because it gives them
Dostoevskian guilt (Freud, 1946) and Sartre said the
same thing about the poet-homosexual-thief, Jean Genet
(Sartre, 1963).
However invisible, the belief in the use of force
remains entrenched as the ultimate in persuasion even
in the most “enlightened” of nations. The decisiveness
of force itself, however, is being challenged by the
attitude of some people that they would rather be dead
physically than spiritually. Again, the reason for the
present situation is that politically, people are still
consciousness upon whom order is imposed from the
outside. Social science, in studying “power” conceived
of as something operated by one upon another, is not
only studying but fostering an illusion.
themselves physicians visiting a patient; they see
themselves as subject and the patient as object, rather
than recognize that they are in the patient and are
attempting to capture themselves with their minds. They
then assume that all in the society are related to each
other as they (outside analysts) are related to the
object of their studies. Upon the basis of these
errors, they are doubtless going to come to the
analytical illusion of power. We are not about to
suggest that students treat their objects as themselves
subject/object division. This point directs attention
to the final topic of the discussion of power—how do we
“know” the relationship in society that we have
labelled “power.” Illusions are not absences but
mistakes; there is something to be known underneath
power, the concrete, but how do we come to know it?
Knowledge of Power
To those for whom the study of society is the study
of the interaction of objects and the study of power is
examination of a relationship from the outside
measurable in terms of the behavior of one person
towards another, society and power will remain a
mystery. If they ignore conceptualizations such as
power and claim to study only behavior, they will find
it impossible to describe what is going on. They will
discover themselves turning back to synonyms for the
very words they rejected; “influence,” for example,
might replace “power.” But what they wish to discuss
will always elude their study. Like physicists who
cannot truly move from the event “lightning” and
“smashed tree” to the conclusion that the lightning
“caused” the smashing or had the power to smash the
tree, so, too, behavioral social scientists will never
get from the event “John helped Joe on with his coat”
to knowledge of the event: “Joe had power over John.”
1. Power as Utility or Mystery? We look at political
society. What is there?
Surely not only or even
primarily a “community of interests.” Political society
cannot be understood as a system of exchange. We live
in it not in order to use it or others; we live in it
and only then may we discover we can use them. Were the
core of political society a mutuality of interests and
were interests absolutely fundamental, there would be
by now a single international society. Politics depends
“implanted” consciously or unconsciously nor merely a
trading between individuals. It is rather a sense of
unity that depends on acceptance of a “beyond
ourselves” that we serve together. It is not that we
get or give to this larger whole as individuals but
that we are an integral part of it and it is an
integral part of us. Pressing problems of contemporary
life derive from both a loss of the sense of community
by means of immersion in the cult of the separate
individual and at the same time an intense longing for
communal existence. (1960, Wolin, 366)
A curious twist of irony has led us to indoctrinate
each other in the religion of rational utilitarianism.
I, separate and sedate, live in this society because I
can get the things that give me pleasure. All of a
sudden the pleasures I have sought have evaporated upon
their achievement. The wealthy society emerges because
of a tremendous drive for goods. The goods achieved
leave us empty, and not all of us are so stupid as to
believe that the emptiness can be filled by more goods.
Yet we insist that we have a right to intense
individual pleasure, a right to get it from society,
and a right to destroy the society that fails to
deliver. This contradiction is not economic but
spiritual; it is not in “capitalism” as opposed to
“socialism,” but is born out of the utilitarianism that
gave birth to both of them.
Until we are ready to look at society and power as a
mysterious. “Visible society is, indeed, literally a
work of art, slow and mostly subconscious in its
production.” (1927, Cooley, 21) If we do begin to look
at it as if it were a deep, slow mystery, the rewards
might be tremendous. There may be much to be learned,
for example, in the pre-scientific medieval view of
correspondences and affinities or of the influence of
psychic and magnetic fluids. (1948, Hyde, 55) We are
likely to find that the ultimate structure of matter is
much closer to mind than anyone expected. (1948, Hyde,
13) We may even see, in returning to these and in the
intriguing talk of “vibrations,” the possibility of
renewing both social and physical sciences, and, in
that renewal, a startling union of the two may become
Whether any of these are possibilities we cannot be
certain, but we can be certain we will not fine out
unless we look with an air of mystery at those things
we think we understand. We do know that power, the
abstraction, does not exist; we know that we usually
speak of power as if it were concrete, and we know that
the abstract power is based on some concrete. Modern
behavioral science borders on blindness. It tends to
see power on the basis of activity, suggesting that
power relationships, like all relationships, are
“determinate ways of acting towards or in regards to
one another,” (1964, Nadel, 8) but patterns of action
omit too much. As we suggested a moment ago, upon the
basis of action there can be no judgment of the nature
of a human relationship. No one, for example, can
perceive whether love exists between two people—not
even if the two say it does when polled nor even if
they think it does; never having experienced love, they
may wrongly identify it. Neither from their behavior
alone nor from their words and thoughts alone nor from
these together can the existence of love be adduced.
The same thing holds true for a relationship of power.
Power is never measurable in quantitative terms; at
best, only manifestations of it are. We can never,
moreover, say with assurance that these quantified
qualities are truly manifestations of power.
When using the term “power,” behavioral scientists
have tended to refer to more than their investigations
warranted. They investigate one thing and refer to
behavioralists alone but appears in practically all
political science, especially in its utilitarian
elements. In reducing us to an observational category
and assuming the pretence that behavior is all that
words such as power refer to, social scientists, like
the Greek Sophists, dehumanize us. They take as their
interviewed, and spindled humans rather than the
universal human of Socrates. They insist the universal
is only a philosophical fiction derived by adding up
the qualities of individuals, but Socrates looked for
universal is concrete.
Power is essentially spiritual. It flows from what
things mean to us, not from what they are in
themselves. Meaning is as evanescent as air. Air we
cannot capture with any conceptual net however fine.
Both utilitarian liberalism and behavioralism have
materialized the spiritual, have reduced us and the
activity of philosophers to the level of their own
activity. They have seen politics and power in terms of
practice rather than in terms of meaning. (1960, Wolin,
As a result, the good they seek to propagate
through government activity, however beneficial their
motives, is only likely to pour our more poison down
our throats.
2. Power as Concrete. To know power we must take
steps leading to the concrete. Power is knowable only
in experience. Therefore, power can be known only by
the experiencing agent, and only after experience can
this knowledge be applied to other situations. Human
knowledge of electricity in physics is derived
indirectly and abstractly. It is known by its “effects”
as the movement of electrons, by the light it produces,
or by the shock felt when it is discharged into the
body. Scientifically, electricity can be known only
from the outside or indirectly. This indirection is a
defect in knowledge that can be overcome by suspension
of the subject-object division as far as human and
nature is concerned. The indirect nature of knowledge
of social power is also a defect, but one that may be
more easily overcome. (1963, Gibson, 9)
We must see
the interior of things to see them concretely. Seeing
electricity from the interior entails the overcoming of
the division between mind and matter, but seeing social
power from the interior may entail overcoming,
initially at least, only a division in mind. It may be
When you are interviewed by your employer, when you
visit the President in the Oval Office, when you speak
to the judge in court, you are likely to experience
power from the inside. Your experience depends on who
“you” are to yourself and who the other is to you—both
refer to meaning, the meaning of self to you and the
meaning of the other to you. By listening within you
are able to feel your mind manipulate yourself to give
the appearance that there is some visible interchange
between the other and yourself. Instead, you become
aware that generating in this whole, not between two
separate objects and contingent upon their exchanging
words or things in a particular way, is a “reality”
that we may call “power.” “It” always operates, but we
tend to notice it only when a part of us resists—only
when there is a contradiction over what is to be done.
Everything we do, everything we think or feel is tinged
with it, but we become aware of it only when there are
Absolute power is the perfect imitation of God. Like
anything that is everywhere, power is nowhere. Thus,
the inevitable error of those who say, “Here is power;
there it is.” What they isolate are those elements of
contradictions. The discomfort of the contradictions,
we have tended to call power and to be interested in.
It is not those who have always “held” power who tend
to pursue it most madly, but those who have experienced
the contradiction of being under the power of others.
We can become conscious of it at these moments and then
move to know how it is everywhere.4
“Power” in this
sense expands awareness not as an “analytic” or
divisive and reductionist tool but only as a synthetic
"Only by virtue of the recovery of a sound ontology
and an adequate epistemology will political theory be
able to flourish as it once did; this will require an
abandonment of the physicalist interpretation of
experience that has for decades been dominant in
political science.” (1963, Germino, 437) “Concepts are
empty when they cease to be closely connected with
experience.” (1959, Reichenbach, 32)
The concept of
power has become increasingly empty as it has grown
more abstract. But the concept of “experience” itself
becomes empty when it is not closely connected with
experience. The experience we usually call “experience”
in social science is itself an abstraction. The major
idea behind an experiment, supposedly to draw us nearer
to experience, is an abstraction. To know concrete
“power” is to turn to whole human experience and not
abstract experience. This we can do.
Chapter 12
Nihilism Young and Old
Circumstances have coalesced during our era not only
to make the renewal of knowledge a goal for comfortable
academics but an absolute requirement for all of us if
we are to survive. Renewal is required since thought
has strayed from truth. This age of relativism,
however, fails to find arguments from the standpoint of
truth convincing. Although relativism makes such
arguments only less persuasive and not less valid, it
may be wiser to point to something we may all be
willing to see—the nihilism of the present age and, in
the midst of deathly despair, the floundering for a
sense of meaning.
The germ cells of nihilism have been fertilized by
the very expressions that made earlier generations
hopeful. As religious faith declined during recent
centuries, our predecessors either became lost and
lonely in the world or found a new hope in rationalism.
Its most recent and culminating form, scientific
rationalism, taught that if only science devoted enough
attention to our problems we could overcome them and
enter an era of peace and perpetual progress. But now
discredited, scientific rationalism has turned against
We learned rapidly in this century that, even though
the end goal of rationalism might be a good and
peaceful world, each step in the movement toward that
end does not bring an equivalent escalation in good or
peacefulness but merely makes the possibilities for
both good and evil greater. Therefore, we were willing
to surrender belief in perpetual progress, but we
refused to surrender an almost fanatic belief that the
future will bestow upon us the solutions we have been
unable or unwilling to produce in our own time.
Therefore, one of the aspects of scientific rationalism
continues to threaten us. It is regularly confirmed by
our scientific achievements: At one time we were unable
to set human foot on the moon; now we are able to. At
one time Mars was unapproachable; now we approach it.
We stand puzzled—if we can place a rocket ship on the
planet Mars, why can we not end poverty? The answer,
of course, is not that we cannot but that we will not.
We demand that the future confer a solution to poverty
upon us rather than create that solution for ourselves.
We live not in the present but for the present and
expect the god of the future magically to take care of
At the same time we are killing our future not only
by living for the present but by means of the very
science—especially that of society—that gives us our
dreams. The enterprise of knowledge has become one that
intends to find out what is not known now—that is our
primary concern. In doing this we tend to ignore or
forget what we know now or have known. Such ignorance
as is likely to occur from our focus on the unknown may
be our downfall; what we discover out there in the
bright future will be based on ever more crumbly sand
foundations from the present and past.
Although what has been is immortal and undying, we
have sought immortality in the continuation of life
rather than in its fulfillment. We treasure not what we
are accomplishing but the dream and too often only the
dream of what we might accomplish. In both our lives
and science we idolize youth because youth has that
indefinite character of millions of shining future
indefiniteness has become our greatest treasure and the
young our greatest resentment. Most fantastic of all,
we have convinced ourselves and our young, those most
dangerously so convinced, that youth is the fountain of
life and truth. We have failed to teach youth that
every possibility, every bit of their indefiniteness
that becomes definite, and every bit of knowledge
possessed they derive from the past—their own and the
past of all humanity.
Youth is a hope because of indefiniteness; that
indefiniteness is valuable because it is open to accept
the best of what age offers while age tends, though not
necessarily so, to become defined and ossified. The
worth of youth depends, however, on willingness and
ability to discriminate between the best and worst in
the old while relativism in scientific and humanistic
standards, has made the standard of youthful choice
whim rather than the good. Rather than be culled for
what is good, age has become the obstacle to the
fulfillment of youthful spontaneity; age, therefore,
must be destroyed. Of course, the destruction of age
will also constitute the destruction of youth, but that
matters only to wisdom and, according to the absolutist
bias of the relativist, all things are relative.
Futurism, arising from scientific rationalism and
from the direction of life during the era when such
rationalism has become dominant, ultimately turns
destructively back both against scientific rationalism
itself and the society dominated by it. Within
scientific rationalism and current liberalism, its
social equivalent, reside a restrictive element. The
future is everything as long as “future” is defined in
terms acceptable to scientific reason. In this way,
nihilism of youth and precipitate, paradoxically, a
similar nihilism of age. The nihilism of age accepts
indefiniteness but only as contained within a certain
system and through a specific method. All things are
relative, but this does not free us for our whims. If
all things are relative and chaotic, then all we have
is that order that scientific reason establishes, and
there is no valid argument against the imposition of a
system that represses all desire for indefiniteness or
liberty save scientific indefiniteness and scientific
The least danger from the scientific enterprise is
the emergence of societies where democracy has become
impossible. Democracy, for all practical purposes, has
already become impossible in the United States. There
is no way that citizens can judge issues or their own
elected officials. Elections are not utterly blind but
are without valid rational or emotional bases.
Essential in democracy is a broad common awareness of
what is what. The concentration of direct information
about what is going on in the hands of experts in the
specific areas of happenings and the complexity of
issues has produced a society of elite, and not just
elite but expert-elite, control. They dribble out
information to the rest of us conditioned by their own
biases. The only hope for a good society is the sense
of integrity and responsibility of all of is, including
that elite.
At worst, of course, and much more likely because of
confrontation between the nihilism of youth and that of
age is the rise of the closed society permitting
indefiniteness but only within the strictest boundaries
of scientific rationalism. The vague illusion that such
a society is impossible based on the assertion that
science must be free has been rapidly fading. True
scientists may have to be free spirits, but there is
little reason to believe that the true scientists need
be any more than a handful in number in any society
today (the evidence is that there are very, very rarely
more) and less reason to believe that true scientists
are in fact necessary to the technocratic society.
After a certain point, technicians are sufficient to
maintain and “develop” societies. No need to dwell
further on the image of the technocratic society. While
its actual form is likely to be non-technological and
even anti-technological in ideology, its reality has
been adequately sketched by Orwell, Huxley, Burgess,
and others. Still, a quotation from a seer even older
than they is appropriate. Nietzsche predicted: “Once we
possess that common economic management of the earth
that will soon be inevitable, mankind will be able to
find its best meaning as a machine in the service of
this economy—as a tremendous clockwork composed of ever
smaller, ever more subtly ‘adapted’ gears; as an evergrowing superfluity of all dominating and commanding
elements; as a whole of tremendous force, whose
individual factors represent minimal forces, minimal
values.” (1967, Nietzsche, 463)
There are two sides to this problem of technology
today. It is easy and comforting to see only one side
because then the answer to the problem is simpler. It
is easy for youth to see the nihilism of age and to see
tightening fists of suffocating suppression around
their throats—to experience the feeling that age both
insists on actualization and at the same time opposes
the actualizing choices of youth. It is easy for age to
see the nihilism of youth—complete indefiniteness, no
actualities, only possibilities. It is hard to
comprehend that both sides are really one and, after
that, still harder to understand how the apparent
opposition can be transcended. Nevertheless, it seems
obvious that one uniting element in both is nihilism
with its implicit undergirding presumption, relativism.
Perhaps age cannot help but oppose the indefiniteness
of youth; perhaps youth cannot help but to rebel
against the definiteness of age, yet hostile feelings
may be minimized if age ceases to hate the very
indefiniteness it clings to. The possibility of
moderation depends on our willingness to revise our
approach to life and its meaning. This, in turn,
Secondly, if hostility cannot be eradicated and youth
and age cannot rejoin in love since they cannot replace
self-hate with self-love, at least the consequences of
the feeling—the disastrous consequences—can be avoided.
In other words, even if youth rebels, it will be
deterred from annihilating age if it recognizes the
valid claims to life of its parentage and ancestry
despite their weaknesses by seeing them not only as
human but as the precondition of its own arising.
threatened, it will not repress and an impose a closed
system if it recognizes youth as human and so as
spiritually equal.
It is unfair that the greater, if not the whole,
burden of renewal falls to age rather than youth. This
is, of course, contrary to the ideas of the times that
hold that the new comes from youth while age is but a
cesspool of decayed life. While youth must not seek to
destroy age, age must give youth room and a place equal
to its own and on youth’s terms, not those of age.
Youth seeks to destroy age only because of what age
implants in youth; a reversal of this poisonous
implantation can come only through the creativity of
age. Age must deliberately and fruitfully revise its
approach to what is. It is only age that can reverse
the relativistic, value-free, nihilistic nature of
contemporary life. Renewal comes from age, but youth’s
contribution is threefold. Youth offers the inestimable
value of irresponsibility; it pressures age to reform;
and it proves that age acts not for itself alone but
for all together.
Values in the Study of Society
It seems almost ridiculous today to attack the idea
of value-free social science—almost no one believes it
possible any more. Even behavioralists appear ready to
admit that “to speak of human actions at all, we must
describe behavior in moral terms.” (1966, Louch, 234235)
Rather than the language of social science being
value-free, we find it value-laden. Sometimes the value
judgment is disguised by changing a familiar word into
one that is less familiar and, apparently, factual. For
example, instead of “good” you can say “welfare,” in
place of “end” you can say “function,” for “norm” you
can say “law.” (1960, Gibson, 66-67) Most striking of
all, the whole attempt of social science to reform and
change society reflects a prejudicial value judgment in
favor of “improvement” and of some particular kind of
improvement at that.
Social scientists often adopt a pretense similar to
their kin in the physical sciences when they suggest
that there are basically two kinds of questions,
questions of fact and questions of value, and that
ethical questions involve a “different activity which
neither physical nor social enquiries need enter into.”
(1960, Gibson, 59) The very existence of a scientific
culture is, however, the assertion of value. We know
culture in the United States is science-oriented; its
prejudices favor examining the world and it believes
and expects that problems should be settled by
scientific techniques—few deny that we should find the
scientifically best (that is, the “most efficient")
solutions to our problems. (1968, Sternberger, 124-125)
Just as when it deals with social “power,” reason
cannot isolate you from goals and values even though it
can develop a social scientific definition of power
that is “value-free.” If you try to isolate yourself,
you end up making your means (for example, “power,”
“efficiency") into goals or arbitrarily asserting them
without intending to do so.
But the problem as far as the future of social
knowledge and human beings are concerned is not the
recognition of the inevitability of values. It is
rather their nature and origin. We know that all of us,
scientists included, have and assert values in all that
we do, but the problem of nihilism is its notion of the
relativity of those values. Rather than combating
relativism in society, social scientists have added to
universality of valuation, discovered differences in
values from society to society, and decided that values
were not human givens but were established through
culture or cultivation.
The pragmatists and logical
positivists apart from those in the social sciences
insisted similarly on the arbitrary creation of values
by arguing that to “judge value is to engage in
instituting or determining value where none is given.”
(1931, Dewey, 22-23) They tried to exchange values or
norms for “laws.” The standard of evaluation was
derived not from life or from us but was arbitrarily
organization either in the social mechanism itself or
in its “rational” deliberations.
The social sciences have ultimately denied that value
is derived from the spiritual in us and have asserted
instead that it is derived from the social. “The moral
life is,” on the contrary, “the explanation of the
social and not vice versa.” (1960, Berdyaev, 20)
the basis of the assumption that value is established
by, and originates in, society, social scientists have
at best been able to derive standards either of based
on determining whether something produces “more life”
or “more goods in life.” They have, however, been
unable even to comprehend “life”—to establish any but
quantitative evaluations in regards to it.
The attitude that values are established rather than
discovered and that their basis is either arbitrary or
biological has led to the relativism both of using
force to maintain a specific set of values and of using
force to tear them down. Fortunately, the discovery of
the variability of strongly held values can lead to two
different conclusions. It can lead to surrender to
relativism or to a search for the value behind values.
Social scientists, unfortunately, take one direction,
accept relativism and reality, and thereby embark on a
destiny of passivity and preservationism. Seeing the
variability of values and yet driven to seek “universal
laws” or security and certainty, social scientists
accept the current value system as established—their
current set of values or the group’s they live in—and
feel justified in defending them to the death since
they see no super-ordinate principle to worry about
that might rank different values as higher or lower.
The opposite path is open, however, the variability
of values can teach us the need, first, to surrender or
at least examine those values we tend to hold most dear
and, second, to develop or change our social values. We
may at least, then, be able to gain a few pre-eminently
important insights: First, value and valuation do not
consist of a code of rules but are the “establishing
movement itself” (1962, Levi, 25) that leads to rules.
Second, the variability of values from society to
society and the obvious manipulation of peoples by
appealing to values should lead us along with Nietzsche
to take the logical step beyond positivism—values
themselves can and should be re-evaluated and in the
light not of the abstract but of the concrete.
intelligible; we must learn, to the contrary, that
being is a radical mystery (1961, Strauss, 151) because
it is grounded in an ultimately unfathomable depths.
The renewed social science must be whole. It must not
depend on the arbitrary fragmentation of analysis. It
must be synthesis. It must be unafraid to refer
questions and issues to concrete experience for
validation. It must be unwilling to cut itself off from
knowledge as apparently “foreign” as that deriving from
the physical sciences. We find, for example, a
universality in some principles that transcends the
boundary between physical and social science—the law of
complexification1 may help us to integrate the two. The
one is not to be reduced to the other but the substance
of both may be better comprehended by principles
transcending them. It may very well be, with respect to
humanities can come about only through the intermediary
of social studies. But re-integration will not occur if
those who pursue social studies ally themselves with
one or another side, disparaging their opponent in the
controversy with obfuscating, unprovable epithets. The
study of society confronts a future of enormously
important possibilities. It may end as a technocratic
tool in the hands of social manipulators or it may
provide the key to a dual reconciliation—the great
reconciliation of science and the humanities and the
still greater reconciliation of conflict between
individuals and nations.
The problem rationalism faces is not merely a crisis
in theory but a crisis in culture.2 The re-examination
of rationalism and the renewal of theory serve not only
the aesthetics of mind but the requirements of life.
Crises in culture provide impetus for the new theory
that gives the crisis meaning. There are some
contemporary cultures that rest on the most dangerous
precipice of all—the precipice of not knowing. All
former philosophies and eras were driven to propose
concerning what is. The historic development of
philosophy, certainly from Plato through Hegel and the
existentialists, has driven us to see how little we
philosophical foundations have been built on the
principles of use and usefulness; we now reach a
situation where usefulness is no longer useful. We have
societies where expanding knowledge of “truth”—which
was not actually “truth” but usefulness—is not needed;
they have all they required from the “world.” It is
time to accept a critique of former “knowledge” in
order at least to liberate us from the shackles of the
concept or the idea as the image of reality.
Just as the morality of moral codes is outdated so,
too, is the morality of scientific codes. Scientific
codes, like moral codes, assume that we can “mentally”
know being and define it (or else can ignore the whole
question of being or “what is” in favor of the question
“what is useful?"): moral codes do this so that the
“individual” can better approach the transcendent god
and scientific codes so that transcendent goods can
better approach us. For exactly the same reason both
moralities must be rejected. We can never grasp being
purely “mentally,” and if we push ourselves down the
long-trodden paths of the mental that are oriented to
use, we alienate ourselves through both science and
morality. In seeking the “concept” of morality or in
searching for the “goods” we can use, we lose
ourselves, we destroy ourselves.
This analysis that has looked forward to the
possibility of integrating knowledge on a higher level
that brings together the humanities and physical
science has also extensively and at length criticized
the scientific aspects of the social studies. This is
because these aspects have become dominant in recent
years, and the entrenched error is more subtle and,
therefore, harder to ferret out. Long-established
students of any subject, no matter how “liberal” about
other subjects, become intensely protective as far as
their own fields of expertise are concerned, so that in
spite of the clarity of the need for renewal, current
resistance is strong.
One question that we must attend to if theory is to
respond to the present crisis and that may point the
way to reconciliation is that of meaning. Confronting
the question of meaning can lead away from the
“abstract, partial realities,” and bring us closer to
the “world as a whole.” (1960, Berdyaev, 5)
The one
overwhelming gap in social and physical science, and
among ordinary citizens as well, is a lack of meaning,
and this lack is exactly why “science” at its apparent
pinnacle is faltering in the eyes of humanity. The
social sciences, in their attempt to explain, have
persistently tended instead “to explain away.” Life is
explained away as psychological struggle, as economic
strife, as constant conflict for survival, and these
explanations have help make life meaningless. No
despair is deeper than the despair of meaning. To lose
meaning is to lose spirit; to lose spirit is to lose
life. Life today has been “shown up” for “what it is” —
it is “nothing but.” “Nothing but” has destroyed the
meaning that human beings, up to our era, had found;
meaning must be rediscovered. It may be true that we
seek “pleasure” or that we seek “power,” but, above
all, we seek meaning.
To use as metaphoric some of the theories presented
in recent anthropological treatises,3 we humans emerge
from animal or “ape” as a great refusal to die. The
process that led pre-human primates to move from the
forest to the plains, competing with the “cats” and
“dogs” that were better equipped to survive there was
based on an unusual refusal of that primate to die. In
Freudian terms, it demonstrates repression of the
“death wish.” Life seems to have been inordinately
attractive to it.
The refusal to die may also explain the extreme push
in this unique primate to separate itself from the rest
of nature—to separate and then re-unify selectively for
the sake of avoiding death. We “fell” from the animal
state and were driven out of the garden of animality
into the dry plains of humanity, to the clarity of
second-level or “use-” knowledge so that we took the
form of the neurotic animal. All these separations and
illusions may have been created for the sake of
avoiding death and of achieving life—the life that was
re-unification with nature.
Now there comes a time when the repression of the
death wish and the striving for life bring death not
life. At this point, renewal is needed. The deathinstinct
temporarily and we may have to return to our starting
point—some of us will return to the earth, some to the
sun, all must return to the spirit. All must return, in
other words, to meaning.
Social or cultural life may yet learn much from
biological life. There “the completion of every
existence is a coming back to the beginning, and every
departure contains a return.” (1967, Bachofen, 34) We
know that the society facing death becomes radical—
turns back to its roots—and that this very radicalism
contains the promise of rebirth. The rotting, decayed,
and desiccated branches need not be pruned; they fall
off, and the root gives new life to the tree. Many
contemporary societies witness a flowering radicalism
that is not, of course, to be identified with
revolutionary sentiments exclusively nor is it to be
understood in terms of its outward manifestations.
Dance, music, concerns with mysticism are all radical.
We are returning to those roots that have given our
lives meaning after having been exiled too long in the
realms that “scientific” analysis has rendered empty
and lonely. We are in essence trying to return to the
All societies are rooted in the concrete, and the
abstract only grows fungus-like on their branches. The
place of the abstract in society and the individual has
become too large. Unless the society can return to the
concrete, it will wither. Ultimately, with the
withering of both, chaos may become permanent. The Dark
Age that is beginning to engulf us reminds us that
night is born at mid-day; we may yet be able to reply
that day is born at mid-night.
Chapter 1
1 This is why dreams are a key to unconsciousness—
they connect the organism to the whole of what has
2 Primitive symbols seem to be almost entirely
religious in the precise sense of that word. They link
us back (re-ligio: “to link back) to the concrete.
3 Aesthetics become possible only after we reach the
secondary level. Beauty consists of a reconciliation
between second-level divisiveness. Beauty must contain
that part of “what is” that the particular level of
civilization is concentrating on (for example, “goods”
or “abstract ideas") and reveal how that part is at one
with the whole.
Chapter 2
1 Wittgenstein was subtler than
most in revealing
the issue. He paraded first the traditional belief that
words named “objects” but then turned everything upside
down by pointing out that for him the “objects” that
words named were “meanings.” Object-meanings are
created, not discovered. (Wittgenstein, 1953, 2e).
Note: While there is a vast difference between signnames and symbol-names, here I ignore most of the
Chapter 3
1 By living at these various levels, of course, we do
not necessarily mean working at simple jobs as opposed
to complex jobs or living simple country lives as
opposed to complex city lives. In addition, there is
the problem of unconsciousness of primary self and so
little conflict is experienced when role changes occur
because subjective self changes in tandem with it.
Chapter 5
1 Wittgenstein gives an example: “Consider for
example the proceedings that we call ‘games.’ I mean
board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and
so on. What is common to them all? --Don’t say: ‘There
must be something in common, or they would not be
called “games.”‘ --but look and see whether there is
anything common to all—For if you look at them then you
will not see something that is common to all, but
similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them
at that.” (Wittgenstein, 1953, 31e.
Chapter 6
1 The actions of those of simple and isolated
cultures confronted with devices from other cultures or
the creativity of small children who find fantastic
uses for ordinary objects are instructive here.
Chapter 7
1 For example, “What we mean by explaining an
observed fact is incorporating that fact into a general
law.” (Reichenbach, 1954, 6); “An explanation of a
phenomenon consists in subsuming it under general
empirical laws.” (Hempel, 1942, 45); “A scientific
explanation which is complete is one that has assumed
the status of a law.” (Di Renzo, 1966, 251).
2 This is not really surprising since “chance” and
“cause” depend on each other.
Chapter 8
1 It may be that some recent political theorists try
to deny ontological status to the nation-state exactly
because they are searching only for “rationallyestablished” organizations.
2 Neither the charge of reductionism, nor, therefore,
the charge of a contradiction here can be made against
Marx himself. Certainly, his philosophical manuscripts
make clear that he starts from an assumption of the
possibility of transcending both alienating economic
systems and history.
3 Eulau suggests that the value of novel behavioral
methods lay in techniques and not in the theories
entrapping social studies; he seems to indicate a wish
for the concrete, but he will never attain it through
his idea of empirical research: “But I do not think
that, in the long run, the behavioral movement will be
judged by these theoretical perishables; it will be
judged by its empirical staples.” Eulau, Spring, 1968,
Chapter 10
1 Why do dreams tend to vanish as the day wears on?
It seems as if the explanation of their instability
resides in that consciousness is at the expense of the
unconscious--that is, we can be conscious only if we
consciousness is unconsciousness. Thus, dreams, which
are manifestations of unconsciousness, must dissipate
if we are to go about and as we go about our daily
lives. Thus also, week-ends, when we may play out our
fantasy world, roughly and uncomfortably end in Monday
morning blues even though we feel we like our work a
Chapter 11
1 A “new” psychological theory came out in the late
1990’s called “power therapy.” It claimed that the key
to psychological health was giving the person a feeling
of being powerful. (Aleksiuk, 1996)
2 Si la systemization des comportements ne releve
plus des coutumes, elle doit reposer sur un autre
fondement: ce ne peut etre que sur la connaisance
rationelle. En s’immiscant dans les structure du
comportement, le pouvoir s’exerce sur la connaisance.”
(Dumont, Avril-Aout 1966), 17.
3"If we are to take it as a truth that...everything
dies for internal reasons...then we shall be compelled
to say that ‘the aim of all life is death’ and, looking
backwards, that ‘inanimate things existed before living
ones.’” (Freud, 1967, 70-71).
4 Children raised without strong authority over them
will be less power-striving than those very under
control. This is how the 1950’s in the United States
were “subverted” in the 1960’s. Neither the necessities
of life nor the character of parents had made
controlling demands on the young; they, therefore,
became little interested in grabbing for power. Yet we
must wonder whether social or natural authority over us
once we have reached the second level of knowing is not
necessary in order for us to discover the contradiction
within and whether discovery of the contradiction is
not the prerequisite for transcending it.
Chapter 12
1"In its own way, matter has obeyed from the
beginning that great law of biology...the law of
complexification.” (Teilhard de Chardin, 1959, 48.
2"...crisis in culture is the world ground for crisis
in theory.” Meadows, 1967, 77-103.
3 See, for example, The Naked Ape, African Genesis,
The Territorial Imperative.
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