If my last two posts were right in discerning the movements of concrete social forces – feudal religion and bourgeois science, at first individual, then systemic – behind changing currents of consensus in the philosophy of mind, what does this imply about philosophy of mind under different circumstances? And what does it mean for people actually working in that field?
It might be imagined that if first religion and then science created a certain philosophy based on a certain class society, a classless society will have neither religion nor science. But this is only half true. For both of these terms, as for many others, one must distinguish two things: a reasonable, inescapable and important element of the human condition, and then a narrow and distorted worldview based on misconstruing that element and requiring all other elements to be subordinate to it.
In the first case these two might be distinguished, roughly, by the words ‘spirituality’ and ‘religion’: spirituality being an experience, a feeling, a way of relating to the world, and religion being the doctrine that because people have this experience and relate to the world in this way, certain groups must be exterminated, certain individuals obeyed, certain foods never eaten, and certain organs never inserted into certain other organs.
In the second case the division of words is less easy, but ‘science’ and ‘scientism’ might work, or ‘technology’ and ‘technocracy’. Science and technology per se are obviously huge benefits to humanity and only a mad society would dispense with them. But they are, equally obviously, only one section of life. To do science, for example, one must put aside considerations of how beautiful or ugly things look (apart from the ‘elegance’ of theories, that is): a certain aspect of the world is dispensed with as we begin the endeavour.
This does not mean that nothing is beautiful, or that aesthetic judgements are meaningless – but there have always been people willing to believe that it does, or that the ‘unscientific’ nature of a facet of existence makes it, in some unspecified way, secondary and ephemeral, compared to the cold hard facts.
Now I would argue that modern philosophy of mind has tended to suffer from, and operated within the bounds of, precisely such ‘scientism’, but that this is not a result of science; just as pre-modern philosophy suffered from ‘religion’, but this is no fault of spirituality.
What is the relationship between, say, capitalism, scientism, and science? I would suggest something like this: science, like any facet of life, involves taking a determinate attitude, with certain formal features – for example, it is rational, it is totalising (i.e. always looking to explain more observations, pushing towards a theory of everything), it deals with a relatively narrow range of concepts (meaning, purpose, beauty, relevance, feelings, homeliness and unhomeliness, canniness and uncanniness, etc. are all outside its remit).
This intellectual attitude shares these features with certain practical attitudes. Commerce and market-place activity, for example, are also rational, totalising, and deal in a narrow range of concepts (everything is reduced to money, or in economic theory to ‘utility’). So there’s a ‘congruence’ between these two.
Now in a capitalist society, that market-oriented attitude is dominant. This is not just in that the most powerful people (capitalists) often take this attitude – it’s that their power depends on them taking it, that they are powerful insofar as they are capitalists and hence insofar as they see things in this way, and that everyone, in order to succeed, finds themselves taking that attitude.
The intellectual result of the practical dominance of capitalism is then the dominance of the scientific outlook – i.e. that this outlook is inflated into a whole worldview, a final answer to which all other areas of life are to be reduced. Hence scientism is the commonsense, the ‘natural’ outlook.
Conversely, spirituality has certain features, such as a passive uncomprehending acceptance, that make it fit very nicely with the practical attitudes necessary to live in and uphold a traditional but essentially irrational society. So the intellectual trying to express their intellectualitude in such a society is liable to find that this sort of mentality is the most common sense, the most natural. And hence we find a distorted worldview in which spiritual experiences have been claimed as ‘divine revelations’ which are so intensely authoritative that everything else must be seen as subordinate to them.
If this is the pattern, then what philosophy in a communist society will lack is scientism, but not science, and religion, but not spirituality.
Other examples might be suggested: for example, there is no harm in feelings of pride and self-esteem, nor in taking pleasure in projecting such an image. The ethic built on this – ‘honour’ – is however grotesque in myriad ways, as it sacrifices happiness, truth, and one’s own, or other peope’s, lives for this feeling: which is merely the reflection of the sacrifice of oppressed classes to those classes whose way of life focuses on honour (military aristocracy, or to an extent men in general).
So we might desperately hope that the ethical and cultural life of a classless society, while preserving some sense of the pleasures of pride, would have nothing analogous to such ‘honour’ (I say ethical and cultural, because honour seems to have had little impact on intellectual life – which is not too surprising given its nature).
We might put it like this: in a class society, just as one group of people are harmfully privileged, and through them a certain form of activity, so a certain mentality and intellectual outlook is harmfully privileged, giving one-sided and distorted philosophy.
In a classless communist society, by contrast, we might hope that all people are equally respected and empowered, and correspondingly all forms of activity are equally valued, and therefore, all aspects of the human condition will be recognised and treated respectfully. The result, we might hope, will be a philosophy which does not implausibly reduce or subordinate one feeling, one intuition, one experience or class of experiences, to another.
I won’t attempt to describe the positive content of such a philosophy. It would simply be me attempting to express the general fullness of human life, a task to which I, equipped only with an amateur cleromancy set, am intensely ill-suited. It’s a wonder that mystical divinations with the bones were even able to generate the ideas for this post.