Sunday, November 29, 2009

A. Bogdanov - Essays in Tektology

Modern European Intellectual History - 4

Tektology, from the Greek word “tekton,” which means builder, is A. Bogdanov’s[1] dynamic science of complex wholes. It is organizational science. According to Bogdanov, in our struggle with the elements our aim is dominion (which he defines as a relationship of the organizer to the organized) over nature and to that end we organize the universe. To help us do this we have developed tools, which he calls the instruments of organization.

The first instrument of organization is the word, because every conscious collaboration of people is organized by means of words. The second instrument is the idea, which for Bogdanov always appears as an organizational scheme. The third instrument is social norms (custom, law, morals and decorum), which establish and regulate the relations among people in a collective and thus strengthen their connections. These instruments are the product of organized experience. Where Engels (according to Bogdanov) expressed the content of human life as production of people, production of things, and production of ideas, Bogdanov saw the concept of organization hidden in the term ‘production’ and expresses the content of human life as the organization of external forces of nature, organization of human forces, and organization of experience. In his view mankind has no other activity except organizational activity, since the only problems are organizational problems.

He saw the conflict between societies, classes and groups as a struggle of organizational forms. He also saw the unity of organizational methods everywhere, in living and dead nature, in the work of elemental forces and the work of people. His goal was to investigate this unity through the establishment of a general organizational science.

In primitive and religious societies the organization of thought was determined by the organization of labor, whose ends it served. If a man was not acting on the instructions of another, it was assumed that he was acting on internal instructions and that he was thus his own organizer. The organizational side of man Bogdanov equated with the soul, the passive side of man that carried out these instructions was equated with the body. The unity of the organizational point of view at this point is maintained by the authoritarian mode of life in which the laws of nature and the laws of man are prescriptions of divine power.

As mankind evolved this original unity was broken up by changing social relationships, the increased division of labor and specialization of skills and by the increase of knowledge that was secular. As this knowledge grew it was organized into separate sciences. The growing specialization of society and the accumulation of facts led to increasing specialization in the sciences and their continued fragmentation. An understanding and awareness of the underlying unity was lost so that the world of Bogdanov’s day appeared uncoordinated and anarchic both in thought and in practice. In his view this is the organizational experience of the bourgeois world.

What was needed to change this was a new mode of thought, but he felt that this would only come about through a new organization of society characterized by a new social class: the industrial proletariat. In his view the obstacles to a monistic and scientifically organized thinking were specialization and the splintered system of labor, which he considered anarchic. The industrial proletariat with machine production and a generally stable social life was to be the point of departure for overcoming this specialization and anarchy. The perfection of the machine and the resulting industrialization changed the character of the role of the worker. No longer did a worker have to specialize in a trade or craft. No matter what sort of machine a worker was controlling there was a commonality with all other workers controlling machines.

In Bogdanov’s vision the social anarchy, which arose out of the division of labor and the competition and struggle of man against man would lose its influence with the growth of the labor class. Common interests with respect to capital would continue to strengthen the influence of the labor class leading gradually but inevitably to a world union. The working class would combine the organization of things in its labor with the organization of its human forces in its social struggle in a special ideology: the organization of ideas. This organization of ideas is the science of tektology.

Tektology unifies and controls the particular sciences. All the results they obtain form the basis of its work and all of their generalizations and conclusions are subject to its verification. For tektology the methods of the sciences are only modes for the organization of material supplied by existence. It is a universal natural science and the entire organizational experience of mankind belongs to it.


[1]A. Bogdanov was the pseudonym of A. A. Malinovskii, a medical doctor born in 1873. He was also a prominent Russian philosopher, economist, biologist, writer, revolutionary and political figure.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gracchus Babeuf and the Conspiracy of Equals

Modern European Intellectual History - 3

At the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, François-Noel (Gracchus [1]) Babeuf published the Cadastre perpétuel [2], which was ostensibly a guide to local authorities charged with the administration of taxes on land and personal revenues, but was actually Babeuf’s first attempt at a practical program to achieve “the common happiness of the peoples.” Among other things it proposed that money would be raised by imposing taxes upon those most able to bear them, and spent on those most in need. Since his proposed system involved confiscating the property of the rich and distributing it among the poor, Babeuf had to demonstrate that the right of property was conditional and subject to regulation. To do this he used four distinct arguments.

The first argument came from Rousseau’s exposition of the social contract. The second was based on the natural right of all to an equal share of the adequate but restricted bounty of nature. The third was an attack on the origins of feudal rights, claiming that feudal property derived originally from usurpation and fraud. The fourth was a pragmatic argument based on the number of Frenchmen without property (some 15 million in a population of 24 million). It was inconceivable to Babeuf that the majority would continue to respect the rights of the nine million property owners if that would mean their starvation. Little came of the Cadastre perpétuel, both as a commercial venture and as a political manifesto [3].

In 1794, Babeuf started publishing the Tribun du peuple, created from the Journal de la liberté de la presse and in 1796 he became a member of the “Insurrectional Directory.” It was Babeuf’s duty to give a lead to “the party which desires the reign of pure equality,” and to “outline to the people the plan, the mode of attack.”[4] It was at this point that Babeuf, along with Philippe-Michel Buonarroti, began to work seriously on the exposition of their common dream of a communist society without private property and with a collective administration of production and distribution.

On 10 May 1796, Babeuf was arrested and the Conspiracy of Equals was ended. He was indicted on 20 February 1797, and executed on 27 May. The trial at Vendôme lasted just over three months, but as the first trial in which a verbatim record was kept of the proceedings it made legal history. As his final address to the jury, The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf was both a political treatise and an attempt to justify his actions.

Babeuf felt that society was created in order to guarantee the natural rights of man, these rights being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If society fails to guarantee these rights, the social compact is dissolved and the people have the right, even the duty, to rise up against usurpation, oppression and tyranny [5]. He also believed that the three roots of public woe were heredity (inheritance of property), alienability (ability to lose property) and the differing values assigned to different types of social product. All of these stem from the institution of private property, which thus leads to all the evils of society. Private property isolates the people from each other and converts every family into a private commonwealth that is then pitted against society at large resulting in an ever growing emphasis on inequality. The only way to avoid this is to suppress private property, set each person to work on a skill or job that they understand, require each to deposit the fruits of their labor in kind into a common store, which then (via an agency) distributes the basic necessities to all. (Babeuf uses the army as an example of this kind of system. [6])

In 1828, Buonarotti published his account of the conspiracy, at which point the socialists, including Marx and Engels, began to recognize the significance of the communist objectives of the conspirators.

Scott, John Anthony, ed. & trans., “The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf before the High Court of Vendôme,” The University of Massachusetts Press, 1967.

Rose, R. B., “Gracchus Babeuf: The First Revolutionary Communist,” Stanford University Press, 1978.

[1] After the brothers Gracchi, Tiberius and Caius, members of the Roman nobility who placed themselves at the head of the peasant movement for land distribution. They were both assassinated by their political enemies.

[2] Literally a perpetual register of the land. Before the Revolution, Babeuf had been a feudiste (a notary specializing in the legal aspects of the administration of feudal estates).

[3] R. B. Rose, “Gracchus Babeuf: The First Revolutionary Communist,” pp. 49-54.

[4] Ibid., p. 229.

[5] Defense of Gracchus Babeuf, pp. 20-21.

[6] Ibid., pp. 54-57.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

John Locke - An essay concerning human understanding

Modern European Intellectual History - 2

John Locke (1632-1704) - born in Wrington, Somerset. 1646 - entered Westminster School, studied the classics, Hebrew, and Arabic. 1652 - elected to a studentship at Christ’s Church, Oxford. 1656 - B.A., remained in residence for the master’s degree. Lectured in Latin and Greek. 1664 - appointed censor of moral philosophy. Studied medicine. 1665 - diplomatic mission accompanying Sir Walter Vane to the elector of Brandenburg at Cleves. Rejected a secretaryship under the earl of Sandwich, ambassador to Spain. Returned to Oxford and began to seriously study philosophy. Descartes. 1662 - Met Lord Ashley, earl of Shaftesbury. 1667 - became his personal physician. Assisted Shaftesbury in the framing of a constitution for the colony of Carolina. Secretary for the presentation of benefices and then secretary to the Council of Trade and Plantations. Became a fellow in the Royal Society. 1675 - visited France for his health. 1679 - returned to an England torn by intense political conflicts. 1683 - Fled to Holland. 1689 - returned to England, escorting the princess of the Orange, who later became Queen Mary. 1689 - published Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

Purpose of the “Essay” - to inquire into the original, certainty, and extent of human knowledge, together with the grounds and degrees of belief, opinion, and assent. Our understanding and knowledge fall far short of all that exists, but we have a capacity for knowledge sufficient for our purposes and matters enough to inquire into.

Ideas - whatsoever is the object of the understanding when a man thinks; whatsoever is meant by phantasm, notion, species, or whatever it is which the mind can be employed about in thinking.

No innate ideas - we get all our ideas from experience. The senses provide us with particular ideas, which the mind abstracts to general ideas. General ideas, general words, and the use of reason grow together, and assent to the truth of propositions depends on having clear and distinct ideas of the meaning of terms. We have natural faculties or capacities to think and to reason. No innate moral or practical principles, since there is no universal agreement on them. There are eternal principles of morality, which we come to know through the use of reason and experience - but they are not innate.

Source of ideas - sensation or reflection.

Ideas and the real world - physical realism - the ideas we have do represent real things outside of us and do constitute the links by which we know something of the external physical world.

Identity - existence itself constitutes the principle of individuation.

Origin of sensation - a man first begins to think when he has any sensation.

Simple and complex ideas - simple ideas are nothing but one uniform appearance or conception in the mind, and are not distinguishable into different ideas. Once it has them, the mind can combine simple ideas any way it likes, but it can never generate new ones on its own. With simple ideas the mind is passive, they are given by experience. Some ideas, such as pleasure, pain, power, existence, and unity, we have from both sensation and reflection.

Primary and secondary qualities - primary qualities are utterly inseparable from body (solidity, extension, figure, mobility). Secondary qualities are powers to produce various sensation. These ideas do not resemble the qualities of the body themselves (color, odor, sound, warmth, smell). They are signs of events in real bodies.

Ideas of reflection - perception is the first faculty of the mind and without it we know nothing else. The idea of perception is the first and simplest idea we have from reflection.

Memory and contemplation - the retention manifested in contemplation and memory is the second faculty of the mind. Contemplation consist in holding an idea before the mind for some time. Memory - the ability of the mind to revive perception which it has once had, with this additional perception attached, that it has had them before.

Other ideas of reflection - discerning and distinguishing one idea from another, comparing and compounding, naming and abstracting.

Complex ideas - the mind can join several simple ideas together to form one complex idea. Three categories: modes, substance, and relations. Modes are dependencies or affection of substances. Simple modes are variations or different combinations of one simple idea, whereas in mixed modes several distinct ideas are joined to make a complex idea. Ideas of substances represent distinct particular things subsisting in themselves. Complex ideas of relation consist in comparing one idea with another. The mind does not construct complex ideas arbitrarily - objective reality.

Relations - the mind can consider any ideas as it stands in relation to any other. Relations are external. They terminate in simple ideas.

Causation - cause is that which produces any simple or complex idea, and effect is that which is produced.

Identity and diversity - the relation of a thing to itself, particularly with respect to different times and places. Personal identity is consciousness of being the same thinking self at different times and places.

Language - the primary functions of language are to communicate with our fellow men, to make signs for ourselves of internal conceptions, and to stand as marks for ideas. Words, in their primary or immediate signification, stand for nothing but the ideas in the mind of him that uses them. We suppose they stand for the same ideas in the minds of others. Words stand for things only indirectly.

Definition - definition by genus and differentia is merely a convenience by which we avoid enumerating various simple ideas for which the genus stands.

Names - names of simple ideas are not definable. Complex ideas consisting of several simple ideas are definable and intelligible provided one has experience of the simple ideas that compose them. Simple ideas are perfectly taken from the existence of things and are not arbitrary at all. Ideas of substances refer to a pattern with some latitude, whereas ideas of mixed modes are absolutely arbitrary and refer to no real existence. They are not, however, made at random or without reason. It is the name that ties these ideas together, and each idea is its own prototype. Since names for substances stand for complex ideas perceived regularly to go together and supposed to belong to one thing, we necessarily come short of the real essences, if there are any. Essences are of our own making without being entirely arbitrary. The boundaries of the species of substances are drawn by men.

Connective words - signify an action of the mind.

Knowledge - the perception of the connection and agreement or disagreement and repugnancy, of any of our ideas. This agreement or disagreement is in respect to four types: identity and diversity, relation, coexistence or necessary connection, and real existence.

2 sources of knowledge: sensation and reflection. In reflection the mind observes its own action.

Propositions - where there is knowledge, there is judgment, since there can be no knowledge without a proposition, mental or verbal. Truth is the joining or separation of sings as the things signified by them do agree or disagree one with another. There are two sorts of propositions: mental, wherein the ideas in our understandings are, without the use of words, put together or separated by the mind perceiving or judging of their agreement or disagreement; and verbal, which stand for mental propositions.

Judgments - ideas are the materials of knowledge, the terms of mental propositions. They are, insofar as they are given in sensation and reflection, the subject matter of reflection. If perception of agreement or disagreement in identity and diversity is the first act of the mind, than that act is a judgment.

Degrees of knowledge - 2 degrees of knowledge: intuition and demonstration. Intuition is the more fundamental and certain - the mind perceives the agreement or disagreement of two ideas immediately by themselves, without the intervention of any other. Irresistible knowledge, no room for doubt or hesitation. The mind perceives not a third idea, but its own act. In demonstration the mind perceives agreement or disagreement, not immediately, but through other mediating ideas. Each step in demonstration rests upon an intuition. A third degree of knowledge is employed about the particular existence of finite beings without us, which going beyond bare probability and not yet reaching perfectly to either of the foregoing degrees of certainty, passes under the name of knowledge (sensitive knowledge).

Limits of knowledge - knowledge extends no farther than our ideas and, specifically, no further than the perception of the agreement or disagreement of our ideas. We cannot have knowledge of all the relations of our ideas or rational knowledge of the necessary relation between many of our ideas. Sensitive knowledge goes only as far as the existence of things, not to their real essence, or reality.

Knowledge of existents - even though are knowledge terminates in ideas, it is real. Simple ideas are not fictions of our fancies, but the natural and regular production of things without us, really operating upon us; and so carry with them all the conformity which is intended; or which our state requires. All our complex ideas, except those of substances, being archetypes of the mind’s own making, not intended to be copies of anything, not referred to the existence of anything, as to their original, cannot want any conformity necessary to real knowledge. Universal propositions, the truth of which may be known with certainty, are not concerned directly with existence. We have intuitive knowledge of our own existence. We have a demonstrable knowledge of God’s existence. We have sensitive knowledge of the existence of other things.

Probability - faith was the acceptance of revelation. It must be sharply distinguished from reason, which is the discovery of the certainty or probability of such propositions or truths, which the mind arrives at by deduction made from such ideas which it has got by the use of its natural faculties, viz. by sensation or reflection. Though reason is not able to discover the truth of revelation, nevertheless, something claimed to be revelation cannot be accepted against the clear evidence of the understanding. Enthusiasm sets reason aside and substitutes for it bare fancies born of conceit and blind impulse.

Error - error cannot lie in intuition. 4 sources of error: the want of proofs, inability to use them, unwillingness to use them, and wrong measures of probability.

Science or human knowledge is divided into 3 classes - natural philosophy, practical action and ethics, and the doctrine of signs.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Adam Smith - The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Back in my grad school days at Notre Dame I took a course called Modern European Intellectual History. It was a small class, only 5 of us, and met on Friday afternoons. Each week our professor would assign each of us a reading centered around a theme. The next week we would have to present our reading and hand out a short precis of it to the other members of the class. The professor would tie them all together. It was one of the best classes I have ever taken. It started at 2pm and sometimes we didn't get out of there until 6pm, but I always felt jazzed afterwards. This is the first precis that I did.

Adam Smith - (1723-1790). Born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Entered the University of Glasgow in 1737 (attended Francis Hutcheson’s lectures). Entered Balliol College, Oxford in 1740 as a Snell exhibitioner, stayed for 7 years. In 1748 moved to Edinburgh and became the friend of Hume and Lord Kames. Elected professor of logic at the University of Glasgow in 1751, exchanged logic for the professorship in moral philosophy the next year, an appointment he held for 10 years. Published Moral Sentiments (from his course of lectures) in 1759.

Sympathy - arises from our capacity to imagine ourselves in the situation of our fellows and form an idea of what they are going through by examining our own reactions to their situation, with the understanding that our emotions will not (in general) be as strong, since we are not actually in their situation. Smith believes that this fellow-feeling is something that we all desire, and that the fact that the spectator does not feel the emotions to the same degree as the participant or principal leads the principal to tone down their own emotional reaction, to be more in line with that of the spectator. This ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, as well as the need of mankind for the society of man, forms the basis of Smith’s moral philosophy.

Impartial Spectator - viewing ourselves not as we may appear to ourselves, but as we appear to others. Analogous to conscience. The standard of our conduct is held up against what is acceptable to society, with the understanding that society is composed of humans who have sympathy for each other. In evaluating the appropriateness of our own behavior, we should examine it in the light of the impartial spectator.

Virtue - born of the combination of the impartial spectator and the ability to feel sympathy for our fellows. The ability of the spectator to enter into the sentiments of the principal leads to the virtues of “candid condescension and indulgent humanity;” the ability of the principal to bring their emotions down to what the spectator can identify with leads to the virtues of self-denial, self-government, and the command of our passions.

Smith examines at some length three virtues:

Propriety - we judge the propriety or impropriety of the affections of other men by their concord or dissonance with our own. If we approve of the passions of another, we entirely sympathize with them, and if we don’t approve of them, we don’t entirely sympathize with them.

Prudence - concerned with the care of the health, fortune, rank, reputation of the individual, those objects upon which the comfort and happiness of this life are supposed to depend. This involves a certain amount of care and foresight - hence prudence.

Benevolence - the willingness to sacrifice personal interest for the greater good or public interest. Associated with the wisdom of the Deity.

These virtues, which arise out of sympathy and through the notion of the impartial spectator should, if practiced, lead to a just society, and Smith’s concept of justice.

Justice - the concept of the impartial spectator and the desire for the approval of our fellows leads us to behave in a just manner. Though we are, by nature, inclined to think of our own needs first and foremost, if we desire to live in the society of man, we must not act upon that inclination, where such actions would cause harm to others.