Thursday, January 29, 2009

LeftLiberty #1 - (revised) - call for submissions

It was a good day for a variety of reasons. I got a chance to hike around Mt. Tabor, the extinct volcano that sits in the middle of Portland's eastside, wandering around the top as the fog burned off over the city. And I completed, except for a few thorny passages here and there, a draft of my translation of Proudhon's Philosophy of Progress. I actually tapped in the last couple of pages on my Nokia tablet while riding into town. I'm excited about the translation for a number of reasons. Although there have been a couple of important partial translations -- most notably Richard Vernon's translation of much of The Principle of Federation and the portions of La Révolution sociale, démontrée par le coup d'état du 2 décembre that appeared in John Burt Halsted's generally overlooked December 2, 1851: Contemporary Writings on the Coup D'etat of Louis Napoleon -- some bits and pieces, and a subtantial job of unearthing and completing the Proudhon-Bastiat debate by Roderick Long, and there are unpublished treasures like Jesse Cohn's translations that are just starting to see the light of day at Collective Reason, it looks to me like the last complete translation of a book-length work by Proudhon into English was the 1923 John Beverly Robinson translation of The General Idea of the Revolution. It should come as no surprise that the waning of the Tuckerite individualist tradition meant a waning in Proudhon translations. It will be a pleasure to feature Philosophy of Progress in LeftLiberty, a periodical which seeks, among other things, to pick up a number of the dropped threads of that tradition.

LeftLiberty has gone through a lot of changes since I proposed it. So have I, and so has the left-libertarian alliance. I initially rushed forward, hoping to catch a swell of enthusiasm that did quite turn into contributions, targeting some specific debates which were important for awhile, but probably aren't the most important thing to foreground in a movement journal. And, despite the fact that it is largely a one-man show at the moment, LeftLiberty is going to have "journal" heft, even if it is probably more accurately a big, nerdy zine.

The first issue will be out when it's finished, probably in March. It will feature a rather different slate of features than originally announced: a front section, "ALLigations," featuring editorial commentary on the historical and theoretical material included in the central section, plus more contemporary writing about the issues currently facing the anarchist movement; the theory/history section, which will include large chunks of new translation, previously unpublished materials, and occasional educational materials to go with them, with a heavy emphasis on historical mutualism and its sources; a section of fiction, aimed in part at illustrating some of the theoretical material, beginning with section of "Another World is Possible," the introductory volume for The Distributive Passions; and a section about the ALLiance itself, with news and reviews.

It is the last section that I would like help with at the outset. Although it was not what I initially set out to put together, I have grown comfortable with the very Tuckerite notion of a periodical written to suit its editor, particularly as I, the editor, think I have some good stuff to share, and as the ALLiance itself is more a collection of strong, mutually engaged voices than anything else, making it not unreasonable to be very individual and relatively representative at the same time. With the historical sections, I want to solve once and for all some of the problems posed by the simple unavailability of key theoretical texts. If I can compile even three issues a year, five years' output would fill most of the gaping holes in our understanding of Proudhon, Leroux, Greene, Bellegarrigue, Dejacque, etc. (just to mention the work that is in-progress, and there really is a remarkable snowball of stuff nearing completion.)

But one strong voice alone isn't really enough, even for the fairly specialized role I imagine LeftLiberty filling. While I'm filling in backstory, it would be nice if we could clarify our joint present. So...

If anyone in the Blogosphere of the Libertarian Left, or the responsible parties at any other left-libertarian blog or website, would like to send me a short description of their blog or site, their goals with regard to the ALL, etc., email it to me through the profile page on blogger, put it in the comments thread for this post, or email it to me directly.

And if anyone would like to try their hand at the sort of internal communication or exhortation that I have done from time to time at On ALLiance, email those to me as well, or post them and let me know where to find them.

If you have any questions about what I'm looking for, ask, or just send me something anyway.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Deal or No Deal? - II

I'm trying to feel my way around this moment in the politics of the US, which is supposed to be historic and charged with the potential for CHANGE, groping for something in the still-scattered flurry of symbolic and practical bits being tossed around as our "New Deal" that might actually respond to what seems to me a very serious, systemic crisis. My readers should know the punchline: All real change comes from the people themselves, acting together in mutual relations. But we probably satisfy ourselves with the punchline a bit too often, without exploring all the ways to get there. Pardon me while I reconnoiter a bit

It does really seem to me that the moment is a serious one. The layoff numbers in the last couple of days are remarkable, and I'm sitting none too comfortably in a very part-time job, with a company that's riding along today at roughly 5% or their last-year stock value, while the corporate types reshuffle and try to second-guess the trend. Viewed from the retail sales floor, the picture is a relatively grim one. A Big Box Bookstore is, first of all, a Big Box, and that means that 1) you have to maintain a pretty big inventory, or you look like you're in trouble, and 2) you need a certain number of employees on the clock at all times, just to minimize theft, damage, etc., even if you decide that the customer-service model of your online competitors (generally no customer service) is sufficient, and you can't do that, since the warm, semi-informed bodies are about the only thing you have going for you. That means that your basic costs can never drop below a certain level without creating a situation that every customer can recognize as an austerity program of one sort or another. Compare any Big Box you can think of with the small bookstore I described recently, and it should be fairly clear how the stakes differ in that regard. I can barely imagine what things must feel like in the corporate offices, where the lack of alternatives remaining in such a centralized industry must be painfully obvious. There are probably some of the "winners" in the last few rounds of destructive competition, and this is probably the case in more than just the book world, who wish they had left a little less scorched earth in their wake. I spend my days learning to put a friendly, helpful face on what seem to me obviously bad mistakes in business organization and customer relations, but I can't honestly imagine how my own industry will recover any sort of robustness without going through a fairly complete reorganization, opening itself to new models and new players.

Kevin Carson's work on pull models of production seems very promising. But we are still probably lacking a working model of our new agora, and we need to confront some of the problems that retailers currently face regarding the uses of semi-public space.

Those problems, which come down to the fact that much of retail sales work now amounts to a kind of endless war with the customers. I've been a bookseller off and on for nearly thirty years. Right now, I spend all too much of my time picking up after people who look like adults and act like I was their parent or servant. All the "loyalty programs" in the world will not put an end to that struggle, particularly when those programs depend on rather transparent manipulations of various incentives and when "more with less" staffing means stretches the abilities and patience of the staff. Retail sellers are on the front line daily in times like these, breaking the latest bad news to a public still largely in denial -- which isn't entirely irrational, since they have plenty of evidence that businesses are not entirely honest with them, but certainly isn't rational either -- in the form of higher prices, reduced promotions, stricter return and exchange policies, and new corporate dictates of all sorts, frequently driven by every sort of concern except efficient customer service. I think we perhaps see some true things about the state of the nation, and some of what I think I see undercuts some of our current self-congratulation.

When I compare the frequently self-absorbed and abusive behavior of customers that supposed new spirit of toleration that is supposed to be represented by the results of the last election, I wonder if perhaps that tolerance is, at least in part, something more like indifference. The neighbor ready to fly off the handle because I won't honor an expired coupon may simply lack the energy to be a bigot in any robust, old-school sense. Hate may just be too much work for a lot of us, and perhaps too much commitment.

Perhaps that's cynical of me, but it seems an important question to confront: are we looking at renewal or ennui? If it is the first, then we have a chance. None of the systems that might pull, or help to pull us from our current mess can be relied upon to run themselves. A free market can as easily manifest the invisible hand of a deranged sense of social justice as a healthy one. All the traditional criticisms of utopias apply. This is why I've felt it so important to reintroduce the antinomian elements of Proudhon's thought, -- particularly as they relate to concepts like property, the gift, and the free market, -- to emphasize his anti-foundational and anti-fundamentalist elements, his reliance on approximation, his philosophy of progress, and why I have felt it so important to make his Justice in the Revolution and in the Church available in English. It's also why I've starting to work with the Fourierist elements that were so important for Proudhon, Leroux, Déjacque, etc., -- not his own utopias, but his general approach to the notion of series, and his resolutely positive theory of the passions.

None of us, -- not the President of the United States, nor any of the elements in the anarchist movement, -- can expect real change where there is not active involvement by the people. Which probably means all of us who want to be contenders for changing things need to think hard about what our situation really is, what those pesky old "real conditions" might be, both in the material and in the ideological realm.

I'm creeping up on some things here, -- potato patches and acts of national recovery, infoshops that might be organized for a real long haul, ships and sealing-wax, no doubt -- while I'm trying to read my personal dole of socio-economic tea leaves and get that pesky first issue of LeftLiberty completed and formatted. And the waters get damned deep damned fast, which is probably why we never seem to get much deeper into things. I'm personally very sick of tinkering and vague incentives, and am leaning towards an anarchist appropriation of that mythology of the New Deal which seems to be all that is really in play at the moment anyway. I think Kevin's "briefing" and his criticism of the likely direction of infrastructure projects are both required reading at the moment, but if I was going to emphasize either right now, if would have to be the briefing, which suggests a road forward. I think we've all got very good at anticipating the bumps along the way...

[to be continued...]

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Deal or No Deal?

The media keep talking about Obama's "New Deal" and/or "stimulus package" with lots of vague references to the past, and often even vaguer explanations of what those labels refer to in practical terms. So far, it looks like we're in for a lot of tax-tinkering and a little infrastructure-building, wrapped up in a lot of hype and self-historification, employing references to all those past struggles and historical figures that America has decided to see in its new leader. All the talk of "job creation" seems to be wishful thinking, based on the logic of "stimulus."

As someone working in an industry, retail, where the closings and layoffs are already in full swing, and having already lost my own business and most of my economic flexibility in the early phases of the current transformation/crisis/correction/whatever, my interest in whatever large-scale tinkering is about to take place is more than academic. I suffered through the campaign years listening to all the candidates talk as if the people in America most in jeopardy were those who had bought too much house on risky terms. I'm still not certain that anyone in Washington is aware, in any useful way, that there are poor people in America, or how many of us are working barely part-time jobs that are likely become even less adequate, or simply to disappear. The figures telling us how many jobs there are out there have told us very little about the kinds of jobs they are, the way that it takes 7-day availability to get 15 hours of work a week, the lack, or prohibitive cost of benefits, etc. And I'm waiting for someone in high places to suggest that the ongoing collapses and crises in the retail sector,--all the problems of Main Street, the "food deserts" in so many cities and small towns, gentrification and business displacement, the failing performance of even the largest, best-established brick and mortar operations in some trades (such as books), etc,--are part of a real problem, and one directly connected to our housing crisis, or banking and investment crises, etc.

It seems clear to me that we are in a bad place. It seems clear to me that big-box retail has bumped up against some very serious limitations in its own model, after having done such a job (with so much governmental help) on other retail models. It seems clear to me that "urban renewal" is, and will likely continue to be used as a means of transferring private wealth, displacing populations, etc. It seems undeniable that food deserts are real, and point to the very basic ways in which our current market model supplies the needs of the people only when it suits the profit models of an increasingly monocultural business world. And all of this seems clearly opposed in spirit to the Spirit of Change that is supposedly sweeping America. But spirits are notoriously hard to come to grips with. In that, they are rather like "stimulus," I suppose.

At present, it looks like all of the New Deal hype is going to amount to just that. When there are complaints that the government isn't allocating enough even to make high-profile bridge repairs, then we're probably not going to see a new TVA. Our Rural Electrification initiative will come in the form of the extension of existing tax incentives for alternative energy (itself an unfortunate mix of solidly scientific advances and ethanol-style boondoggles.) Etc. This is probably just a matter of the Change crew facing facts, as an awful lot of the government agencies that would be required for a new WPA, CCC or NRA are pretty beat-up and disfunctional at this stage of the game, and the government has proven overseas and in recent disaster relief efforts that neither it nor its contractors can be counted on to administer relief.

It will be a relief if the solution to the problems of the unemployed will not be workfare brigades, building infrastructure under Blackwater management. But the bar is low: it will be a relief if the solution to state budget deficits doesn't involve selling off roads and parks in crony-privatization.

But I guess, even for me, it will be a disappointment if all this New Deal hype results in nothing but the sort of tax-code monkeying we've seen right along, and a little trickle-down job creation through big, contractor-centered public works projects. Linking the contemporary myth of Change through public participation with the rich mythology of the New Deal seems such a powerful, if potentially dangerous, fusion. At a time when our reigning cultural myths and icons are so frequently negative or dismissive, it seems like there ought to be something good that could come of this weird, thin optimism, before our well-honed cynicism entirely swallows it up.

[to be continued...]

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Looking at the wrong depression, and finding the wrong solutions? - I

The question: If America needs specifically political heroes, and specifically political solutions in the present crisis, why, aside from our general lack of historical memory, are we looking to FDR and the New Deal as a model, rather than say, Potato Patch Pingree? "Who?" you ask. . .

Before I answer, do me a favor: Set aside all the easy responses to the rather vague proposals of the Obama administration, and all the visceral responses to governmentalist bullshit which sometimes stop us from digging into problems, take a minute to read Kevin Carson's most recent C4SS column, and then ask yourself whether there are perhaps some more-or-less "shovel ready" projects out there, in our neighborhoods, if of a rather different sort than we would expect the Cockroach Caucuses to come up with. It seems likely that the rather worse-for-wear practical elements in the US government are simply not in a condition to take on administer Works Progress Administration or National Recovery Act; so what could be done - perhaps just if the government could get out of our way and let us do it - to recover our nation and progress a little? As anarchists, mutualists, agorists, left-libertarians, etc., a key part of what we stand for is supposed to be a DIY ethic, counter-economics and counter-institutions - practical stuff, ultimately.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Happy 200th, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon!

I've been celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon by tidying up my files of material relating to him, archiving some of my scattered translations at Collective Reason, and taking some time to gather my thoughts on Proudhon's importance for the anarchist movements of the present and the future.

I came to grapple with Proudhon's work rather reluctantly, which seems to be the norm, among those of us who come to grapple with it at all. I deeply regret that reluctance, as there has probably never been another figure in the anarchist tradition who has pursued as far, and as doggedly, the answers to some of the movement's most basic questions: What is freedom? How are order and liberty related? What are society and the state? What is property? What is the self, and what are its objects? What, if it exists, is progress? These are not just anarchist questions. They are the sort of questions which must be answered by anyone, or any society, which hopes to establish itself in a lasting fashion, and to provide justice for its members.

Curiously, notoriously, the world, and the anarchist movement itself, remembers Proudhon primarily for that provocative bon mot, "Property, it is theft." There is no denying the importance of What is Property?
Nor is there any denying that that work of 1840 was not Proudhon's last word on any of the subjects he tackled in it. From an emphasis on simple syntheses of existing ideas, Proudhon gradually developed his theory of the antinomies, basic conflicts in the realm of ideas, surrounding all the questions and concepts worth pursuing, which ultimately were characterized as much by their perpetually unresolved and unresolvable character as by more specific or local characteristics. Proudhon has been accused of retreating from his early anarchism, but such a charge is hard to justify. There was at first, after all, only a vague, synthetic notion of liberty as the reconciliation of "property" and "communism," a "third form of society" which, frankly, hasn't panned out, and which, if it did, would hardly satisfy, with its synthetic character, a large number, perhaps the majority, of those who consider themselves the partisans of anarchism now.

Proudhon's mutualism started as an "oil and water" anarchism, and gradually came to embrace what it had been from the start. The result was a resolutely anti-utopian approach, which, if it denied the possibility of a stable, self-sustaining, finally fully-realized free society, also denied the legitimacy of any patent-office panacea that anyone might be tempted to impose, because the best of all presently possible arrangements in the only world we have would only be a stepping stone to something else. He hoped to dethrone religion as a passive adoration of the absolute, but the vaccuum left by God was, for him, only one more thing to draw human beings up and onward. Taking his cues from the gradual internalization of moral justification accomplished by successive manifestations of Christianity, he sought to completely secularize and de-''pneumatize'' judgment and responsibility. In the process, of course, he placed the heavy weight of self-justification squarely on the shoulders of "Humanity."

A highly individualistic thinker, insisting at times on the complete individualization of interests, "complete insolidarity," he was not afraid to pursue his individualist course when it confronted him with something other than a social atomism. Without ever reducing the role he assigned to individual humans as responsible actors, he recognized the high levels of interdependence which characterize so much of human reality. So he was not averse to references to Humanity, or to society as a collective being, even to the State as a collective entity with a role to play even in an anarchist society. His theory of collective force drove his theory of property, from the beginning of his career through the end of his life. As much as the idea of "collective persons" may shock our delicate anarchist or libertarian sensibilities, the social science he was pursuing remains a compelling and useful approach, providing rather direct suggestions for solutions, particularly in the realm of property theory. Far more than his peers, Pierre Leroux and William B. Greene, Proudhon was able to grasp both the philosophical niceties and the practical consequences of the "doctrine of life" of revolutionary neo-christianity, and his appropriation of Fourier's serial method, and appreciation of the positivity of the passions, was, if somewhat less colorful and enthusiastic in his hands, arguably more profound than anything produced by Fourier's direct disciples. Proudhon, at first a rather relentless competitor in the struggles over socialism and the direction of the revolution after 1848, quietly became a rather brilliant synthesizer of others' ideas, though ultimately always capable of making them his own.

We know Proudhon's faults: His ideas about gender and the role of the family blinded him to the importance of the movement for women's political equality. He considered himself a defender of women's rights, and was never, as is charged, a misogynist, but the best we can say about his "Catechism of Marriage" is that it is a clever argument from extremely bad data. The antisemitic comments in his notebooks are undoubtedly of the much the same character. The inability to distinguish "jew" from "banker" plagued lots of people, and not a few anarchists, for a long time after Proudhon's death. The importance assumed by those faults among anarchists suggests a couple of things: 1) that, as a movement, we have not got to know our founding figures well enough to recognize the rather significant faults that nearly all of them had; 2) that we don't know enough to see how those faults are far outnumbered by spectacular achievements, precisely in the realm of respect for individual rights, in thinking through the problems of racism and nationalism, etc.; and 3) that we are all a little too easily carried along by the current of small-f fundamentalism and the eye-on-the-media purity campaigns which rule popular politics.

In this anniversary year, in the midst of an economic dip which threatens to deepen into a real crisis, we should really just get over it, get on with it, spend some time getting to know the figures who first built this movement of ours, and perhaps particularly today's birthday boy, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Proudhon was, par excellence, the anti-fundamentalist thinker, if by fundamentalism we mean the opportunistic tendency to substitute convenient answers for the hard but necessary work of understanding who, how, and why we are, here and now, together. (And that, whatever other definitions there may be out there, seems to be our zeitgeist. Add our unbelievably atrophied organs of tolerance and forgiveness to the picture, and many, many things may be explained.) As such, he is one of the thinkers at least potentially most useful to us, here and now, together.

Anselme Bellegarrigue described the beginnings of the 1848 French revolution as if someone had pressed that infamous "make the government go away" button that libertarians talk about, as if the revolution was, at the moment of the abdication of the king, accomplished. The problems came from the failure of the provisional government, and its successors, to understand that another kind of work was necessary. It's an intriguing thought, though it is equally tempting to valorize the early days of the transition that followed, when public debate on the form of government burst out in so many forms. Proudhon, of course, dismissed the French '48 as a revolution "without an idea," and set himself to establish just what the "general idea of the revolution" might be. He never stopped writing about the possibilities: justice, equality, liberty, mutualism, reciprocity, agro-industrial federation. The Revolution, he said, was both conservative and progressive. All of this is of real importance, and we neglect any of these concepts and principles at our peril. But we have seen all these glorious words captured by various approximations, or attached to various shams, so often that it is hard to see how any of them, or all of them taken together, if we do not remember arguably the most important thing that Proudhon said: The antinomy does not resolve itself. It is not resolved.

Let's call that the Spirit of '58 (the year of Proudhon's Justice), which was also William B. Greene's Blazing Star, and let's reunite with it one of Proudhon's other best observations, which we might see as a necessary corellary: "L'humanité procède par des approximations," that is, Humanity proceeds by approximations. From the various lessons we might draw from that combination, let's start with a certain restlessness and relentlessness, particularly when faced with panaceas, political and economic saviors, "bail-outs" and the like, a skepticism towards claims about what "just won't work," what ideas "can't go together," and a recollection that "it is the clash of ideas that casts the light." In practice, let's try to marry all of that to a more and more habitual experimentalism, a DIY sensibility that springs from our understanding that it never gets done in any way we, as anarchists and libertarians, as full and free human beings, could live with, until we do it ourselves.

Happy Birthday, Proudhon!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

JUSTICE: Principle of guarantee and rule of action

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, Volume I, "Program," section VII.

§ VII. Before passing on, will you allow me to make the observation that there is not an artisan who is not in a perfect state to understand what philosophy proposes, since there is not one who, in the exercise of his profession, does not make use of several means of justification, measure, evaluation and control? The worker has, to direct him in his labors, the yardstick, the scale, the square, the rule, the plumb, the level, the compass, standards, specimens, guides, a touchstone, etc. Seemingly, there is not a worker who cannot say the purpose of his work, the ensemble of needs or ideas to which it is attached, what its application must be, what its conditions and qualities are, and consequently its importance in the general economy.
Now, what the artisan does in his specialty, the philosopher seeks for the universality of things: his criterion, consequently, must be much more elementary, since it must be applied to all; his synthesis much broader, since it must embrace all.
What then is the yardstick to which we must relate all our observations, according to which we will judge, a priori, the harmony or discord off things, not only of the rational and the irrational, the beautiful and the ugly, but, what is more serious and which concerns us directly, the good and the evil, the true and the false? In the second place, on what basis, according to what plan, in view of what end, will we raise the edifice of our knowledge, so that we can say what Leibniz said of the world of which it must be the expression, that it is the best, the most faithful, the most perfect possible?
The day when philosophy will have responded to these two questions, philosophy, we do not say that it will be done, since, either as observation or investigation, or as acquired science, it has no limits; but it will be [28] completely organized, it will know what it wants, where it tends, what its guarantees are, what its mission is in humanity and in the presence of the universe.
Let us backtrack a little.
From the definition of philosophy that we have given and the analysis that we have made from observation, it results for us, 1) that the idea comes to us originally, concurrently and ex aequo, from two sources, one subjective, which is the Self, subject or mind, the other objective, which designates objects, the non-self or things;--2) that as a consequence of that double origin philosophy bears on relations, already by the definition, and on nothing else;--3) finally, that every relation, analyzed into its elements, is, like the observation which furnishes it, essentially dualistic, which is also indicated by the etymology of the word rapport or relation, returns from one point to another, from one fact, one idea, one group, etc., to another.
It springs from this that the instrument of critique that we seek is from all necessity dualistic or binary: it would not know how to be triadic, since there would be below it simpler elements than it, ideas that it could not explain, and that moreover it is easy to convince oneself that every triad, trinity or ternary is only the abridgment of two dyads, obtained by the identification or confusion of two of their terms. [1][29]
The principle of certainty cannot be simplistic any longer, as if it emanates exclusively from the self or the non-self; since, as we have seen, the subject, without an object which stimulates it, does not even think; and the object, without the faculty of the mind to divide, to differentiate and return diversity to unity, would only send itself unintelligible images. Metaphysical ideas themselves cannot serve as principle for philosophy, although they presuppose realistic aperceptions. The reason is that such ideas, obtained by the opposition of the self to the non-self, reflecting its simplistic nature, are extra-phenomenal, and by themselves contain no positive truth, although they are indispensable to the formation of every idea and the construction of every science.
Let us hold then as certain, and let us attach ourselves strongly to that idea, that what the philosophers sought under the name of criterion of certainty and which must serve in the construction of science cannot be a simplistic or metaphysical notion; that it is not any longer a sensible image, representative of a pure reality, since that would be to exclude the mind from its own domain, and to make it accomplish its work without putting itself into it; that it cannot be, finally, a ternary or quaternary formula, or one of a higher number, since that would be to take the series in the place of its element. [30]
This principle must be at once subjective and objective, formal and real, intelligible and sensible, to indicate a relation of the self to the non-self, and consequently to be dualistic, like philosophical observation itself.
But, from the self to the non-self, and vice versa, there is an infinity of possible relations. Among so many relations furnished to us by philosophical observation, which will we choose to serve as standard and yardstick to the others? Which will form the first basis of our knowledge, the point of departure for our civilization, the pivot of our social constitution? For it is a question of nothing more or less than that.
To this point we have considered the self and what we call the non-self as two antithetical natures, the one spiritual, simple, active and thinking; the other material, composite and consequently divisible, inert or passive, and non-thinking, serving simply as a target, occasion and matter for the meditations of the self. In order to not juggle too many ideas at once, we are carried to the observation of that elementary fact, intelligible even to the children to whom one teaches the grammar of Lhomond, namely, that philosophical observation implies two terms or actors, the one which observes, the other which is observed. It is the relation of active to passive, such as is shown by the conjugation of the verb in every language.
But the passive does not exclude the reciprocal. What we have said of the role of the self and of the non-self in the formation of the idea proves nothing that the one that observes cannot be observed itself, and precisely by the object that it observed. Locke said, and no one has known how to respond to him: How do we know if the non-self is necessarily non-thinking?... In every case, we know, and cannot doubt, that our observations bear very often on selves like our own, but who, in this case and in so many that furnish us facts, observations, impressions, on which our mind then acts, are considered by us as non-selves. In love, for example, there are also two actors, one who loves, the other who is loved; which does not prevent us from reversing the proposition and saying that the person who [31] loves is loved by the one that they love, and that the one who is loved loves the one by which it is loved. It is even only under these conditions that love exists in its plenitude. Who then one more time would guarantee that we alone have thought, and, when we describe that plant, when we analyze that rock, that there is not in them something that looks at us?
One says to me that that is repugnant. Why?... As thought can only result in an organic centralization; as, thus, while I look at my hand, I am quite sure that my hand does not look at me, because my hand is only a part of the organism which produces the thought in me, which serves pour all the members; so it is the same in plants and rocks, which are, like the hairs and the bones of my body, parts of the great organism (which perhaps thinks, if it does not sleep, though we know nothing of it), but which by themselves do not think. There we are. The analogies of existence induce us to suppose that, as there is in the organized being a common sensorium, an interdependent life, an intelligence in the service of all the members of which it is the result and which all express it; just as there is in nature a universal life, a soul of the world, which, if it is not acted on from outside, in the manner of our own, because there is no outside for it and because everything is in it, acts within, on itself, contrary to ours, and which is manifested by creating, as a mollusk creates its shell, that great organism of which we ourselves make part, poor individual selves that we are!
This is only an induction, doubtless, a hypothesis, a utopia, that I do not intend to offer for more than it is worth. If I cannot swear that the world, that alleged non-self, does not think, then I can no more swear that it thinks: that would surpass my means of observation. All that I can say is that mind is prodigiously dispensed this non-self, and that I am the only self which admires it.
Here is then what will be my conclusion.
Instead of seeking the law of my philosophy in a relation between myself, which I consider as the summit of being, and and that which is the most inferior in creation and {{|p32}} that I repute to be non-thinking, I will seek that law in a relation between myself and another self which will not be me, between man and man. For I know that every man, my fellow, is the organic manifestation of a mind, is a self; I judge equally that animals, endowed with sensibility, instinct, even intelligence, although to a lesser degree, are also selves, of a lesser dignity, it is true, and placed at a lower degree on the scale, but created according to the same plan; and as I no more know of a demarcation marked between the animals and the plants, or between those and the minerals, I ask myself if the unorganized beings are not still minds which sleep, selves in the embryonic state, or at least the members of a self of which I ignore the life and operations?
Every being being thus supposed self and non-self, what can I do better, in this ontological ambiguity, than to take for the point of departure of my philosophy the relation, not of me to myself, in the manner of Fichte, as if I wanted to make the equation of my mind, simple, indivisible, incomprehensible being; but of myself to another which is my equal and is not me, which constitutes a dualism no longer metaphysical or antinomic, but a real duality, living and sovereign?
By acting thus I do not court the risk of doing injury or grief to anyone; I have more the advantage, in descending from Humanity towards things, of never losing sight of the legitimate ensemble; finally, whatever the difference of natures which makes the object of my exploration, I am so much less exposed to being mistaken, that in the last analysis every being which is not equal to me, is dominated by me, makes a part of me, or else belongs to other selves like me, so that the law which governs the subjects between them is rationally presumed to govern the objects as well, since apart from that the subordination of the ones to the others would be impossible, and there would be contradiction between Nature and Humanity.
Let us further observe that by that unassailable transaction, philosophy, becomes entirely practical instead of speculative, or to put it better, the two points of view merge: the rule of my actions and the guarantee of my judgments is identical.
What now is that ruling Idea, at once objective and subjective, real and formal, of nature and humanity, of speculation and sentiment, of logic and art, of politics and economics; practical reason and pure reason, which govern at once the world of creation and the world of philosophy, and which both are constructed; idea finally which, dualistic by its formula, excludes nonetheless all anteriority and all superiority, and embraces in its synthesis the real and the ideal?
It is the idea of Right, Justice.


  1. The trinity of the Alexandrians was only a superstitious idea; that of the Christians is a mystery. The ternary facts, borrowed from nature, are from pure empiricism, to which is opposed, in much greater numbers, binary facts, quaternary, etc. The famous division of nature into three kingdoms is incomplete: above the animal kingdom, in which are manifested sensibility, life, the affections, instinct, and to a certain degree intelligence, we must add the spiritual kingdom, of which humanity alone is the subject, and which is distinguished by manifestations unknown in the preceding kingdom, speech, religion, justice, logic, metaphysics, poetry and art, industry, science, exchange, war, politics and progress. The Hegelian formula is only a triad by the good pleasure or the error of the master, who counts three terms where there truly exists only two, and who has not seen that the antinomy does not resolve itself, but that it indicates an oscillation or antagonism susceptible only to equilibrium. By this point of view alone, the system of Hegel would be entirely remade. It is the same for the syllogism, in which there is also two propositions, which are equated by the relation of like terms, rather as in arithmetic proportions. Every man is mortal, and Pierre is a man; thus, etc. It is useless to express the conclusion here; it is enough to correctly write the premises. To take the triad fir a formula of logic, a law of nature and reason, especially for the archetype of judgment and the organic principle of society, is to deny analysis, to deliver philosophy to mysticism, and democracy to imbecility. It appears there, besides, by the fruits. The only thing that one can attribute to trinitarian influence is the ancient division of society by castes, clergy, nobility, common folk, an antihuman division, against which the Revolution was made.

  1. The coming of the people to philosophy
  2. The definition of philosophy
  3. On the quality of the philosophical mind
  4. The origin of ideas
  5. That metaphysics is within the province of primary instruction
  6. That philosophy must be essentially practical
  7. The character that must be presented by the guarantee of our judgments and the rule of our actions.--Conversion from speculative to practical reason: determination of the criterion.
  8. Justice, universal reason of things: science and conscience. (next)
  9. Supremacy of Justice
  10. . . .

JUSTICE: Philosophy must be essentially practical

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, Volume I, "Program," section VI.

§ VI. — That philosophy must be essentially practical.

We would be gravely mistaken if we imagined that philosophy, because it defined itself as the Search for the [22] reason of things, has no other end than to make us discover that reason, and that its object is exclusively speculative. Already, by showing that these conditions are those of common sense, its certainty the same for all, its highest conceptions of the same form and quality as its most elementary propositions, we have had occasion to recall its eminently positive character, its egalitarian spirit. And its democratic and anti-mystical tendencies. It is philosophy, we have said, which made the French Revolution, by deducing from its own pure essence the principle of civil and political equality. Then, we have confirmed that premise by destroying at the foundations all the pretentions of transcendence, and proving that in fact and in right there is nothing for the mind apart from observation, consequently nothing which ordinary mortals can claim by virtue of simple good sense.

Logic, which is to say philosophy itself, demands more.

In ordinary life, which is that of the immense majority and which forms three-quarters of philosophy, the knowledge of things has value only insofar as it is useful; and nature, our great schoolmistress, has been of the opinion, in giving intelligence as the light of our actions and the instrument of our felicity.

Philosophy, in a word, is essentially utilitarian, no matter what has been said: to make of it an exercise of pure curiosity us to sacrifice it. In that regard, universal testimony has judged without appeal. The people, eminently practical, asked what all that philosophy would serve, and the way to make use of it: and as one responded to them, with Schelling, that philosophy exist by itself and for itself; that it would be an injury to its dignity if one sought a use for it, the people have mocked the philosophers, and everyone has done as the people. Philosophy for philosophy's sake is as idea which would never enter into a sane mind. A similar pretension might appear excusable among philosophers who seek the reason of things in the inneity of genius, or among the illuminated in communication with the spirits. But since it has been proven that all that transcendence is only a calabash, and that the philosopher has been declared subject to common [23] sense, the servant, like everyone, of practical and empirical reason, it is very necessary for philosophy to humanize itself, and that it should be democratic and social, or else never be anything. Now, what is more utilitarian than democracy?

Religion, which certainly had a very different birth than democracy, ne le prenait from so high with our poor humanity. It has made itself all things to all people; it has been given to us, by grace from on high, to raise us from sin and misery, to teach us our duties and our rights, to give us a rule of conduct, to enlighten us on our origin and our destiny, and to prepare for us an eternal happiness. Religion responded, in its way, on all the questions that consciences and our hearts could address to it. It gave us rules for the conduct of our interests; it did not even disdain to explicate for us the beginnings of the world, the principle of things, the epoch of creation, the age of the human race, etc. It only left outside its teaching, and did not deliver to our arguments, the things of which the knowledge was not of an immediate usefulness to our moral perfection and to our eternal salvation.

Will philosophy do less than religion? It has taken it upon itself to destroy these venerable beliefs: could it have had in us any other mission than to fill the void?

To pose the question in this way is to answer it. No, philosophy cannot be reduced to a kaleidoscope of the mind in its practical application; its purpose is to serve us, and if the critique of religion that it allows is fair, the service that falls to it close to us, in the place of religion, is determined in advance by that very critique. To the old dogma philosophy must substitute a new doctrine, with the only difference the first was of faith and was imposed by authority, while the second must be of science, and impose itself by demonstration.

Under the empire of religion, man found everything simple by relating it to the word of God; on the strength of that guarantee, it rested in full security. Now that, [24] thanks to philosophical reason, the supposed divine word has become doubtful, and the celestial guarantee itself subject to caution, what remains, except that man finds in himself the rule of his actions and the guarantee of his judgments? This is what the ancient philosophers had understood very well, and that they sought so long, under the name of criterion of certainty.

Thus the aim of philosophy is to teach man to think for himself, to reason methodically, to make exact ideas of thing, to formulate truth in regular judgments, all in order to direct his life, to merit by his conduct the esteem of his fellows and himself, and to insure, with the peace of heart, well-being of the body and security of mind.

The criterion of philosophy, deduced from its practical utility, is thus in some sense double: relative to the reason of things, that it is important for us to understand such as it is in itself, and relative to our proper reason, which is the law of our perfection and our happiness.

A principle of guarantee for our ideas;

A rule for our actions;

As a consequence of this double criterion and of the accord of our practical and speculative reason, a synthesis of all our knowledge and a sufficient idea of the economy of the world and of our destiny: this is what philosophy must accomplish.

But where do we find the criterion? As much as philosophy has shown itself powerless to discovery the smallest truth with the aid of metaphysical notions alone, so much it has up to the present been unfortunate to establish a principle which, serving all at once as critical instrument and rule of action, would give in addition the plan scientific and social edifice, and later would enlighten us on the system of the universe.

In that which concerns the rule of judgment, we have been served, lacking an authentic instrument, and we continue to be served by different principles, chosen arbitrarily from among the axioms that we suppose most capables of responding to the wants of philosophy. Such is, for example, the principle of contradiction, by virtue of which yes and no [25] cannot be affirmed simultaneously, and from the same point of view, for a single thing. It is the principle which rules mathematics. But that principle, which at first appears so sure, when we work with definite quantities, has been judged insufficient in regard to the sophists who are themselves prevailed upon to maintain that all is true and all is false, as much in the ontological as in the moral order, since, in the fundamental questions, on which depend the certainty of all the others, one can affirm simultaneously, with an equal probability, the yes and the no... The absence of a higher principle, embracing all the content of the mind, appears to make itself felt up to the highest mathematics, the style, the definitions and the theories of which have been justly criticized, though one cannot, in fact, contest the results. Wearied of struggle, we have thought to say, after Descartes, that the guarantee of our judgments is self-evidence? And what is it that makes that a thing appear self-evident?...

In that which concerns the rule of actions, the philosophers have not even taken the trouble to test anything. All have returned, by some detour, to the religious idea, as if philosophy and theology had exactly this in common, that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. It has even been said, and it is repeated every day, that a little philosophy leads away from religion, but that a lot of philosophy leads back to it, from which it is necessary to conclude that it is not truly the philosopher's problem. If some adventurers in free thought have abandoned beaten path, they have lost themselves in the mires of egoism.

Finally, as to the unity of the sciences, the distress is still more noticeable. Each philosopher has built his system, leaving it to critique to show that that system was a work of marquetry. It is thus that, according to Thales, water is the principle of all things; according to others, it is fire or air; according to Democritus, it is the atoms. Philosophy, like language, is materialist in its beginnings: but that is not where the danger lies; it will go only too long in the ideal. Later, indeed, one has invoked by turns, as the principle of things, love, numbers and the idea; and philosophy, from [26] abstraction to abstraction, has ended by burning what it first worshiped, adoring the spirit that it had only glimpsed, and falling into a hopeless superstition. It is thus that eclecticism was born, the meaning of which is that there is not a unitary constitution, neither for the world, nor for thought, and that consequently there are only specific, relative certainties, between which the wise must know how to choose, giving, according to the circumstances, satisfaction to all the principles, but not allowing themselves to be mastered by any of them, and reserving always freedom of judgment. Eclecticism, which has been so criticized in our days, has not yet received its true definition: it is polytheism.

In this moment, it is with philosophy as with the public conscience: both are demoralized. Eclecticism in philosophy, just like the doctrinaire position in politics, laissez faire, laissez passer in economics, and free love in the family, is the negation of unity, death.

However, an unresolved problem must not be considered insoluble problem: it is even permitted to believe that we have come closer to the solution the longer we have searched for it. Also, the lack of success of philosophy on this capital questions of the certainty of ideas, of the rule of morals, and of the architectonic of science, has not prevented it from arriving at theories of which the growing generality and the rigorous logic seem a sure pledge of triumph. Why, indeed, if man has the certainty of his existence, would he not have at the same time certainty of his observations? The proposition of Descartes -- Je pense, dont je suis, -- implies that consequence. Why, if the intelligence of man is capable of connecting two ideas, of forming a dyad, a triad, a tetrad, a series, finally, and if each series leads to his self, why, we ask, will he not aspire to construct the system of the world? He must advance: everything invites us. If philosophy is abandoned, it is the end of the human race.

  1. The coming of the people to philosophy
  2. The definition of philosophy
  3. On the quality of the philosophical mind
  4. The origin of ideas
  5. That metaphysics is within the province of primary instruction
  6. That philosophy must be essentially practical
  7. The character that must be presented by the guarantee of our judgments and the rule of our actions.--Conversion from speculative to practical reason: determination of the criterion. (next)
  8. . . .

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Getting collaborative at Collective Reason

Well, I had expected complications in my translating efforts, and they have come already. But the largest complication of the last several days has been of a rather fortunate sort: I have help.

As I've mentioned before, there has been a fairly long-running, if somewhat desultory conversation about establishing a collaborative translation site. But there has also been a fair amount of practical tinkering going on as well, and it looks like we have one, and potentially more, projects really moving forward. Collective Reason, which I have been using for some of my work, now has a set of simple tools installed to help facilitate collaborative translation. It's all very simple, but the present emphasis is on providing a common platform for the translations, which can be used other places and incorporated into spiffier sites.

We'll be incorporating more tools as needed, and as time allows, but we are "open for business," so if you're interested in doing a little translating, or a lot of translating, or in helping to prepare texts for translation, set up an account and subscribe to the general discussion list.

PS: If any of our graphic artists want to design a more serious logo than my temporary graphic, that would be great.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

JUSTICE: Metaphysics is within the province of primary instruction

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, Volume I, "Program," section V.

§ V. — That metaphysics is within the province of primary instruction.

The definition of philosophy implies by its terms: 1) someone who seeks, observes, analyzes, synthesizes and discovers, which we call the Subject or Moi; 2) something which is observed, analyzed, the reason of which we seek, and which we call the Object or Non-moi.

The first - the observer, subject, moi, or mind - is active; the second - the thing observed, object, non-moi, or phenomenon - is passive. Let us not frighten ourselves with words: this means that the one is the artisan of the idea, and that the other furnishes their material. There is no statue without the sculptor: this is very simple, is it not? But neither is there a statue without the marble: this is also clear. Now, it is thus for ideas. Suppress one or the other of these two principles, the subject or the object, and no idea will be formed; thought will no longer be possible. Philosophy vanishes. Suppress the sculptor or the block of marble, and you will have no statue. Every artistic or industrial production is like this. Remove the worker, you will remain eternally with your raw materials; remove the materials from the works, and if your ask him to produce anything by his thought alone, he will think that you are mocking him.

However, in this competition, or this opposition, of the subject and object, of the mind and things, we want to know in a more precise manner what is the role of each; in what consists the action of the mind, and what are the natures of the materials he puts to work.

The mind or the moi is, or at least it acts as if it is, prone to affirm itself as a simple and indivisible nature, consequently as if it is more penetrating and impenetrable, more active and less corruptible, more prompt and less subject to change. Things, on the contrary, appear extended and composite, consequently divisible, successive, variable, penetrable, subject to dissolution, susceptible to a greater or lesser degree in all their qualities and properties.

How the mind, put in relation with external objects by the intermediary of the senses, perceives a nature so [18] different from itself is what seems at the first abord inexplicable. Can the simple see the composite? That repels us. On reflection, however, we recognize this it is precisely that difference of nature which renders objects perceptible to the mind, and subjects them to it. For it sees them, remark it well, not in their substance, which it cannot conceive as other than simple (atomistic), after its own example, and which consequently escapes it; it sees them in their composition and their differences. The intuition of the mind, its action on objects, comes thus from two causes: by its acuity, it divides them and differentiates them infinitely; then, by its simplicity, it restores all these diversities to unity. What the mind sees in things is their differences, species, series and groups, in a word their reason, and it is because it is mind, because it is simple in its essence, that is sees all that. What the mind cannot discover is the nature or the in itself of things, because that nature, laid bare of its differences, of its unity of composition, etc., becomes then like the mind itself, something simple, amorphous, unapproachable and invisible.

The consequence of all this is easy to grasp. The mind put in the presence of things, the moi in communication with the non-moi, in receipt of impressions and images; it grasps differences, variations, analogies, groups, genera, species: all that is the fruit of its first perception. But the mind does not stop there; and the representation of things would not be complete in its thought, it would lack basis and perspective, if the mind did not add something more of its own.

In seeing then that infinite diversity of things, such a diversity that each thing seems to denounce itself as having been able to be completely different than it is, the mind, which feels itself single, in opposition to things, conceives the One, the Identical, the Immutable, which is not to be found;

In observing the contingency of phenomena, the mind conceives the Necessary, which it does not find either: lucky, if it did not decide to adore it under the name of Destiny!

In taking the comparative dimensions of objects and establishing their limits, it conceives Infinity, which is no more real; [19]

In following, in its consciousness, the revolutions of time, and measuring the duration of existences, it conceives the Eternal, which cannot be said of any person or any thing;

In recognizing the mutual independence of creatures, it conceives of itself as superior to the creatures, and affirms it Free Will and his Sovereignty, of which nothing can yet give it the model;

In seeing movement, it conceives of Inertia, a hypothesis without reality; in calculating speed, it conceives of force, which it never grasps;

In noting the action of being on one another, it conceives of Cause, in the analysis of which it only grasps a contradiction;

In comparing the faculties of some to the faculties of others, it conceives of Life, Intelligence and Soul; and by opposition, Matter, Death and Nothingness: abstractions or fictions? it does not know;

In classing and grouping creatures according to their genera and species, it conceives the Universal, superior to every collectivity;

In calculating the relations of things, it conceives of Law, the notion of which immediately gives it that of an Order of the world, although there has been struggle everywhere,and consequently as much disorder as order;

Finally, in condemning, according to the purity of its essence, all that appears to it out of proportion, small, mean, monstrous, discordant and deformed, it conceives the Beautiful and the Sublime, in a word the Ideal, which it is condemned to follow always, without ever enjoying it.

All these conceptions of the mind, famous in the School under the name of the categories, are indispensables for the understanding of things; reasoning is impossible without them: while they do not result from sensation, since, as we see, they exceed sensation, the perceived image, by all the distance from the finite to infinity. What they take from sensation are the various points which have served to form them antithetically; the point of view of diversity, of contingency, of the limit, etc. Except, the categories or conceptions of reason all merge in with one another; they are adequate to one another and [20] imply each other mutually, since all are invariably related, not to things, but to the essence of mind, which is single and incorruptible.....

The formation of the categories or ideas, conceived by the mind apart from experience but on the occasion of experience, their collection and classification, forms what we call metaphysics. It is entirely in grammar, and its teaching belongs to the schoolmasters.

From the manner in which the categories form, and from their usage in language and in the sciences, it results that, as analytic or synthetic signs, they are the condition sine qua non of speech and of knowledge, that they form the instrumentation of intelligence, but that by themselves they are sterile, and consequently that metaphysics, excluding, by its nature and destination, all positivism, can never become a science.

All science is essentially metaphysical, since every science generalizes and distiguishes. Every man who knows, however little he knows, every man who speaks, provided that he understands, is a metaphysician; just as every man who seeks the reason of things is a philosopher. Metaphysics is the first thing that infants and savages think: we could even say that in the mind of every man, metaphysics is present in inverse proportion to science.

Thus, by what fanaticism of abstraction can a man call himself exclusively a metaphysician, and how, in a knowledgeable and positive century, do professors of pure philosophy still exist, these people who teach the young to philosophize apart from all science, all art, all literature and all industry, people, in a word, making a trade, the most consciensciously in the world, of selling the absolute?

Those who should once understand the theory of the formation of ideas, and who will carefully take into account these three capital points: 1) the intervention of two agents, the subject and the object, in the formation of knowledge; 2) the difference in their roles, resulting from the difference in their natures; 3) the distinction of ideas into two species, sensible ideas given immediately by objects, and [21] extra-sensible or metaphysical ideas, resulting from the action of the mind solicited by the contemplation of the outside; that one, we say, can boast of having taken the most difficult step of philosophy. He is freed from fatalism and from superstition. He knows that all his ideas are necessarily posterior to the experience of things, metaphysical ideas as well as sensible ideas; he will remain unshakably and forever convinced that, just as adoration, prophecy, the gift of tongues and of miracles, somnambulism, idealism, whether subjective, objective or absolute, and all the practices of the great work of alchemy, has never produced for indigent humanity an ounce of bread, has created neither shoes, not hats, nor shirts; so it will not have added an iota to knowledge. And il will conclude with the great philosopher Martin, in Candide: "We must cultivate our garden." The garden of the philosopher is the spectacle of the Universe. Verify unceasingly your observations; put your ideas in order; take care in your analyses, your recapitulations, your conclusions; be sober in your conjectures and hypotheses; mistrust probabilities and above all authorities; do not believe the word of any soul who lives, and use the ideal as a means of scientific construction and control, but do not worship it. Those who, all all times, have claimed detach science from all empiricism and to raise the edifice of philosophy on metaphysical ideas alone, have only succeeded in making themselves plagiarists of the ancient theology. Their counterfeits have fallen on their own heads; their transcendentalism has brought to ruin the supernatural in which the people have at all times believed, and they have managed to lose what they wanted to save. Remember, finally, that there is no more innate or revealed science than there are innate privileges or wealth fallen from heaven; and that, as all well-being must be obtained by labor, or be theft, so all knowledge must be the fruit of study, or be false.

  1. The coming of the people to philosophy
  2. The definition of philosophy
  3. On the quality of the philosophical mind
  4. The origin of ideas
  5. That metaphysics is within the province of primary instruction
  6. That philosophy must be essentially practical (next)
  7. The character that must be presented by the guarantee of our judgments and the rule of our actions.--Conversion from speculative to practical reason: determination of the criterion.
  8. . . .

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Anarchoblogs relaunched!

Thanks to Charles Johnson for reviving and improving the Anarchoblogs aggregator!

JUSTICE: The origin of ideas

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, Volume I, "Program," section IV.

IV.-- The origin of ideas.

Here is the great temptation, I should say the great conspiracy of the philosophers; here is also their chastisement.

This principle so luminous, so simple, that in order to know the reason of things, it is necessary to have seen them, has not always been (can you believe it?) accepted in philosophy. Without speaking of those, in so great a number, aspired to sound the nature of things, one encounters profound geniuses who have asked if the human mind, so subtle and so vast, could not, by a concentrated meditation on itself; come to that intelligence of the reason of things, which is only, after all, the intelligence of the laws of the mind; if the man who thinks had such a need, in order to learn, to consult a nature which [14] does not think; if a soul created in the image of God, the sovereign organizer, did not possess, by virtue of its divine origin, and prior to its communication with the world, the ideas of things, and if it truly needed the control of phenomena in order to recognize ideas, that is, eternal exemplars. I think, thus I know, cogito, ergo cognosco such is the principle of these arch-spiritualist philosophers. Never has a brain which came from the ranks of the people conceived of a chimera like that. Some, interpreting in their own way the hyper-physical dogma of creation, go so far as to pretend that external realities are products of pure thought, and the world an expression of mind, so that it would be enough to have the full possession of the Idea, innate it our soul, but more or less obscured, in order, without further information, to possess the reason and grasp the very nature of the universe!

That manner of philosophizing, which would dispense with all observation and experience, if it had been justified by the least success, would be, we must admit, very attractive and could not be more convenient. The philosopher would no longer be that labored explorer, winning the bread of his soul by the sweat of his brow, always exposed to error by the omission of the least detail, reaching only a limited comprehension, obtaining often, instead of certainty, only probabilities, and sometimes ending in doubt, after having lived through an affliction of mind. He would be a clairvoyant, a thaumaturge, a rival to the Divinity, directing thought as a sovereign, to say nothing of creative power, and reading fluently the mysteries of Heaven, Earth and Humanity, at home with the divine thought. Ambition, as one sees, is never lacking among the philosophers.

Where does this titanic presumption come from?

From the start we have sensed, in a confused manner, what philosophical observation later clarified, that, in the formation of ideas, the perception of phenomena does not render reason by itself; that the understanding, by the constitution which is proper to it, plays a role; that the soul is not exclusively passive in its conceptions, but that in receiving the images or impressions from outside it, [15] it reacts to them and derives ideas from them; so that, for half if not for all, the passage of ideas, or the discovery of the truth in things, pertains to the mind.

Thus there was, one recognized, in the soul, like the molds of ideas, archetypal ideas, prior to all observation of phenomena: what were these ideas? Can we recognize them, among the multitude of those, more or less empirical, that the understanding strikes on its press? How to distinguish the patrimony of the mind from its acquisitions? If something in knowledge properly belongs to it, then why no everything? Wouldn't we be in the right to suppose that if the mind, possessing the innate principles of things, advanced in science only with the aid of arduous observation, that was the effect of the heterogeneous union of the soul and the body, a union in which the ethereal substance, offended by the matter, had lost the greatest part of its science and of its insight, retaining only a memory of the fundamental principles which formed its framework property?... Others attributed the darkening of the intelligence to original sin. Man, for having wanted to eat, against the express order of God, the fruit of science, would be, according to them, blinded. All the rest convince themselves that with a good mental discipline and the secours of the Spirit of light, one could restore the human soul to the enjoyment of its high and immortal prerogatives, make it produce science without any imbibition of experience, by the energy of his nature alone, and by virtue of the axiom already cited: I am the child of God, I think, therefore I know...

What was at the bottom of all that? A diabolical thought of domination: for one must not be mistaken, privilege of knowledge and pride of genius are the most implacable enemies of equality. Now one thing is known: human science is not enriched by the slightest scrap of a fact or idea by this exclusively pneumatic practice. Nothing has served: neither metaphysics nor dialectics, nor the theory of the absolute, nor revelation, nor possession, nor ecstasy, nor magnetism, nor magic, nor théurgie, nor catalepsy, nor ventriloquy, nor the philosopher's stone, nor table-turning. All that we know, we have [16] invariably learned, and the mystics, the illuminati, the somnambulists, even the spirits which which they speak, have learned in their turn by the known means, that is, observation, experience, reflection, calculation, analysis and synthesis: God, doubtless, jealous of his work, wanting to maintain the decree that he had entered, namely, that we would see nothing with the eyes of the mind except by the intermediary of the eyes of the body, and that all that we claim to perceive by other means would be an error and a mystification of the devil. There is no occult science, no transcendent philosophy, no privileged souls, no divinatory geniuses, no mediums between infinite wisdom and the common sense of mortals. Sorcery and magic, once pursued by parliaments, are dispelled by the flame of experimental philosophy; the science of the heavens had only begun to exist on the day when the Copernicuses, the Galileos and the Newtons bit an eternal adieu to astrology. The metaphysics of the ideal taught nothing to Fichte, Schelling and Hegel: when these men, whose philosophy is rightly honored, imagined they had deduced a priori, they had only, without knowing it, synthesized experience. By philosophizing more highly than their predecessors, they have enlarged the scope of science: the absolute, by itself, has produced nothing; translated into correctional policy, it has been jeered at as a con. In moral philosophy, mysticism, quietism and asceticism have led to the most disgusting turpitudes. Christ himself, Verb made flesh, had taught nothing new to the conscience; and the entirety of theology, patiently studied, is found, in the last result, convicted by its own testimony as nothing other than a fantasmagoria of the human soul, of its operations and its powers, liberty, justice, love, science and progress.

Willy-nilly it is necessary to keep to the common method, to confess in our hearts and with our mouths the democracy of intelligence; and since it is a question in that moment of the origin and the formation of our ideas, to demand the reason of the ideas, like all the rest, by observation analysis.

  1. The coming of the people to philosophy
  2. The definition of philosophy
  3. On the quality of the philosophical mind
  4. The origin of ideas
  5. That metaphysics is within the province of primary instruction (next)
  6. That philosophy must be essentially practical
  7. . . .

Friday, January 02, 2009

JUSTICE: On the quality of the philosophical mind

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, Volume I, "Program," section III.

§ III. — On the quality of the philosophical mind.

But here is a rather different affair! It is a question of knowing if philosophy, of which it was first said that the people were incapable, will not, by its very practice, create inequality among men. What can we conclude from our definition?

Since philosophy is the search for, and, so far as it is possible, the discovery of the reason of things, it is clear that, in order to philosophize well, the first and most necessary condition is to is to observe things carefully; to consider them successively in all their parts and all their aspects, without permitting oneself a notion of the ensemble before being certain of the details. This is the precept of Bacon and Descartes, the two fathers of modern philosophy. Couldn't one say that in expounding it, they thought especially of the people? Philosophy is all in the observation, internal and external: there is no exception to that rule.

The philosopher, the man who seeks, who still does not know, can be compared to a navigator charged with making a map of an island, and who, in order to carry out his mission, being unable to take a photograph of the country from high in the atmosphere, is obliged to follow with attention, and to record one after another on paper, with exactitude, all the sinuosities and crevices of the coast. The circumnavigation completed, and the summary of observations finished, the geographer would have obtained as faithful a representation as possible of the island, in its parts and in the ensemble, which he never could have done, if, holding himself at a distance, he had been limited to drawing perspectives and landscapes.

The philosopher can also be compared to a traveler who, after having traversed in all directions a vast plain, having recognized and visited the woods, the fields, the meadows, the vineyards, the habitations, etc., would then climb a mountain. As he made his ascent, the objects would pass again before his eyes in a general panorama, which would [11] make him understand that of which the inspection of the details had only given him an incomplete idea.

Thus, must stick close to the facts and constantly refer to them, divide his material, make complete counts and exact description. He must go from simple notions to the most comprehensive formulas, testing his views of the ensemble and the glimpsed details against one another. Finally, where immediate observation becomes impossible, to show himself sober in his conjectures, circumspect with regard to probabilities, to challenge analogies, and to judge only self-consciously, and always with reserve, distant things by those near, the invisible by the visible. -- Under these conditions, would it be too much to say that the practical man is closer to the truth, less subject to illusion and to error than the speculative one? Regular contact with things preserves him from fantasy and vain systems: if the practitioner shines little from invention, he also courts less risk of making a mistake, and rarely loses by waiting. He who works prays, says an old proverb. Can we not also say: He who works, in so far as he pays attention to his work, philosophizes?

It is only by following this scrupulous and slowly rising method of observation, that the philosopher could flatter flatter himself to have reached the summit of philosophy, science, the condition of which is double, certainty and synthesis. These words should frighten no one: here again the most transcendent philosophy contains nothing outside the abilities and reach of the people.

Indeed, a man may have seen more of things than is common among his fellows; he may have viewed them in more detail and more closely; he can thus consider them from a higher level and in a larger ensemble: this question of quantity, which has no influence on the quality of the knowledge, adds nothing to the certainty, and consequently does not increase the value of the mind. This is of extreme importance for the determination of personal right, constitutive of society: allow me to clarify my thought with some examples.

2 multiplied by 2 equals 4: this is, for everyone, a perfect certainty. But how much is 27 multiplied by 23? Here, more than one innocent will hesitate, and [12] if he has not learned to calculate by figures, it will take a long time to find the solution, let alone dare to respond. Thus I take up the pen, and making the multiplication, I respond that the product demanded is 621. Now, knowing so easily the product of 27 times 23, and being able with the same promptitude and sureness to make the multiplication of all the possible numbers by all the possible numbers, I am clearly more knowledgeable that the one whose arithmetic capacity will stop at the elementary operation 2 x 2 = 4. Does this make me more certain? Not at all. The quantity of knowledge, I repeat, adds nothing to the philosophical quality of the knowing: it is by virtue of that principle, and another just like in that we will speak of below, that French law, coming out of the Revolution of 89, has declared us all equal before the law. Between two citizens, between two men, there can be inequality of acquired knowledge, of effective labor, of services rendered; there is no inequality of the quality of reason: such is, in France, the foundation of personal right, and such is the basis of our democracy. The old regime did not reason in the same way: is it clear now that philosophy is the legacy of the people?

It is the same for the comprehensive power of the mind.

2 multiplied by two produces 4, and 2 added to 2 still gives 4: on one side the product, on the other the sum are equal. However little the innocent to whom one makes the remark reflects on it, he will realize that addition and multiplication, although they begin from two different points of view and proceed in two different manners, resolve themselves, in this particular case, in an identical operation. By making a new effort, he will comprehend as well that 2 minus 4 or 4 divided by 2, it always remains 2, as subtraction and division still resolve, in this particular case, into one single and same operation. All this will interest, and perhaps astonish him: he will have, in the measure from 2 to 4, a synthetic view of things. But the arithmetician knows much more, and his synthesis is incomparably more comprehensive. He knows that whenever one operates on numbers larger than 2, the results can no longer be the same; that multiplication is an abbreviated addition, and division an abbreviated subtraction as well; that [13] more, subtraction is the opposite of addition, and division the opposite of multiplication; in summary, that all these operations, and others more difficult which are deduced from them, come down to the art of composing and decomposing the series of numbers. Does this give him the right to believe himself superior to the other, in nature and dignity? Certainly not: the only difference is that one has learned more than the other; but reason is the same for both of them, and this is why the legislator, at once a revolutionary and a philosopher, has decided that he will take no account of persons. It is for this reason, finally, that modern civilization tends invincibly to democracy: where philosophy reigns, where as a consequence the identity of philosophical reason is recognized, the distinction of classes, like the hierarchy of church and State, is impossible.

We can make analogous arguments about all of the genres of knowledge, and we will always arrive at that decisive conclusion, that, for whoever knows, certainty is of the same quality and degree, despite extend of the knowledge; just as, for whoever grasps the relation of several objects or ideas, the synthesis is of the same quality and form, despite the multitude relations grasped. In no case will there be room to distinguish between the reason of the people and the reason of the philosopher.

  1. The coming of the people to philosophy
  2. The definition of philosophy
  3. On the quality of the philosophical mind
  4. The origin of ideas (next)
  5. That metaphysics is within the province of primary instruction
  6. That philosophy must be essentially practical
  7. . . .

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Justice: The definition of philosophy

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, Volume I, "Program," section II.

§ II. — The definition of philosophy.

Philosophy is composed of a certain number of questions that have been regarded at all times as the fundamental problems of the human mind, and that for that reason have been declared inaccessible to the common people. Philosophy, it was said, is the science of the universal, the science of principles, the science of causes; this is why we can speak of universal science, the science of things visible and invisible, the science of God, of man and of the world,Philosophia est scientia Dei, hominis et mundi.

We believe that the questions which philosophy occupies itself are all questions of common sense; we believe all the more that, far from constituting a universal science, these questions only deal with the very conditions of knowledge. Before we think of becoming erudite, it is necessary to begin by being philosophical. Is that so much to boast of?

Thus the first and most important question, for all of philosophy, is to know what philosophy is, what it wants, and above all what it can do. What does all this come down to? The reader will judge.

Philosophy, following the etymological signification of the word, the constant practice of thinkers, the most certain results of their labors, and the best-accredited definitions, is the Search for, and, insofar as it is possible, the Discovery of the reason of things.

It has required much time and effort by the seekers, to come to that conclusion, which it seems the first [8] comer would have found, if he had only followed common sense, and which everyone will definitely understand.

It follows that philosophy is not science, but the preliminary to science. Isn't it rational to conclude, as we just did, that education, instead of ending with philosophy, must begin with it? What we call the philosophy of history, or the philosophy of the sciences, is only an ambitious way to designate science itself, that is to say, that which is most detailed, most generalized in our knowledge, scientists by profession liking to stick to the pure and simple description of facts, without seeking their reason. As the reason of things is discovered, it assumes rank in science, and the scientist follows the philosopher.

Let us examine our definition more closely.

The word thing, one of the most general in the language, must be understood here to refer, not only to external objects, in opposition to persons, but to all that which, in the man himself, both physical and moral, can furnish material for observation: sentiments and ideas, virtue and vice, beauty and ugliness, joy and suffering, speculations, errors, sympathies, antipathies, glory and decadence, misery and felicity. Every manifestation of the human subject, in a word, all that passes in his soul, his understanding and his reason, as well as in his body; everything that effects him, either as an individual or in society, or which emanates from him, becoming thus an object of philosophy, is considered, with regard to the philosopher, a thing.

By reason we mean the how and why of things, as opposed to their nature, which is impenetrable. Thus, in each thing, the philosopher will note the beginning, duration and end; the size, the shape, the weight, the composition, the constitution, the organization, the properties, the power, the faculties; the increase, the diminution, the evolutions, series, proportions, relations and transformations; the habits, variations, maxima, minima et means; the attractions, appetites, accompaniments, influences, analogies; in short all that can serve to name known the phenomenality of things [9] and their laws. He will abstain from all investigation, and from any conclusion, on the very nature or en soi of things, for example on matter, mind, life, force, cause, substance, space or time, considered in themselve, and setting aside their appearances or phenomena.

Thus, by its definition, philosophy declares that there is a side in things which is accessible to it, which is their reason, and another side about which it can no absolutely nothing, which is their nature: can one show at once more sincerity and more prudence? And what would be better for the people than this modesty?... Philosophy, by its own testimony, is the search for, and, if possible, the discovery of the reason on things; it is not the search for, and still less the discovery of their nature: we will not complain about this distinction. What would a nature be without a reason or appearances? And if the latter were known, who would dare to say that the former was to be missed?

To render account, in three words, of that which occurs inside, that he observes or carries out outside, of which his senses and his consciousness give testimony, and the reason of which his mind can penetrate: that, for man, is what it is to philosophize, and all that which allows itself to be grasped by the eyes and the mind is matter for philosophy. As for the intimate nature of things, that je ne sais quoi of which metaphysics cannot stop talking, and which it imagines or conceives after having set aside the phenomenality of things as well as their reason, if that residue is not a pure nothing, we don't know what to make of it; it interests neither or sensibility nor our intelligence, and it does not even have anything in it to excite our curiosity.

Well, now. In what way is all that outside the range of the common people? Just as we are, do we not incessantly, and without knowing it, make philosophy, as the good M. Jourdain made prose? Who is the man who, in the affairs of the world, concerns himself with anything but that which interests his mind, his heart or his senses? To make ourselves consummate philosophers, it is only a question of making ourselves more sensitive to what we do, feel and say: is that so difficult? As for the contemplative, those who wanted to see beyond the reason [10] of things and to philosophize on their very nature, they have ended by putting themselves outside nature and reason; they are the lunatics of philosophy.

  1. The coming of the people to philosophy
  2. The definition of philosophy
  3. On the quality of the philosophical mind (next)
  4. . . .