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Who Will Build The Ark? (Davis, 2010)

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by Mike Davis (PDF)

New Left Review 61, January-February 2010

What follows is rather like the famous courtroom scene in Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai (1947). [1] In that noir allegory of proletarian virtue in the embrace of ruling-class decadence, Welles plays a leftwing sailor named Michael O’Hara who rolls in the hay with femme fatale Rita Hayworth, and then gets framed for murder. Her husband, Arthur Bannister, the most celebrated criminal lawyer in America, played by Everett Sloane, convinces O’Hara to appoint him as his defence, all the better to ensure his rival’s conviction and execution. At the turning point in the trial, decried by the prosecution as ‘yet another of the great Bannister’s famous tricks’, Bannister the attorney calls Bannister the aggrieved husband to the witness stand and interrogates himself in rapid schizoid volleys, to the mirth of the jury. In the spirit of Lady from Shanghai, this essay is organized as a debate with myself, a mental tournament between analytic despair and utopian possibility that is personally, and probably objectively, irresolvable.

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Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society (Marcuse, 1979)

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Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society, a talk delivered shortly before Herbert Marcuse’s death in 1979, published in Capitalism Nature Socialism, 3(3) 1992

Thank you for the warm welcome. I am glad to be able to address the wilderness class. Actually, I’m not sure what to say because I don’t see any more problems. As you know, President Carter has turned over some thirty-six million acres of wilderness land to commercial development. There isn’t much wilderness left to preserve. But we still will try, nonetheless.

What I propose to do is to discuss the destruction of nature in the context of the general destructiveness which characterizes our society. I will then trace the roots of this destructiveness in individuals themselves; that is, I will examine psychological destructiveness within individuals.

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Revolutionary Strategy in a Warming World (Malm, 2016)

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How can climate justice activists stop capitalism’s drive to catastrophe? The author of Fossil Capital considers lessons from past revolutions and proposes an action program for today.

Andreas Malm teaches human ecology at Lund University, Sweden. He is the author of Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming, and The Progress of This Storm: Nature and Society in a Warming World.


Reprinted from Socialist Register 2017: Rethinking Revolution (Merlin Press and Monthly Review Press, 2016). 


REVOLUTION IN A WARMING WORLD
Lessons from the Russian to the Syrian Revolutions

by Andreas Malm

It doesn’t take much imagination to associate climate change with revolution. If the planetary order upon which all societies are built starts breaking down, how can they possibly remain stable? Various more or less horrifying scenarios of upheaval have long been extrapolated from soaring temperatures. In his novel The Drowned World from 1962, today often considered the first prophetic work of climate fiction, J. G. Ballard conjured up melting icecaps, an English capital submerged under tropical marshes and populations fleeing the unbearable heat towards polar redoubts. The UN directorate seeking to manage the migration flows assumed that ‘within the new perimeters described by the Arctic and Antarctic Circles life would continue much as before, with the same social and domestic relationships, by and large the same ambitions and satisfactions’ — but that assumption ‘was obviously fallacious.’[1]  A drowned world would be nothing like the one hitherto known.

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Ecology and Revolutionary Thought (Bookchin, 1964)

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by Murray Bookchin [using the pseudonym Lewis Herber]

In almost every period since the Renaissance, the development of revolutionary thought has been heavily influenced by a branch of science, often in conjunction with a school of philosophy.

Astronomy in the time of Copernicus and Galileo helped to guide a sweeping movement of ideas from the medieval world, riddled by superstition, into one pervaded by a critical rationalism, openly naturalistic and humanistic in outlook. During the Enlightenment — the era that culminated in the Great French Revolution — this liberatory movement of ideas was reinforced by advances in mechanics and mathematics. The Victorian Era was shaken to its very foundations by evolutionary theories in biology and anthropology, by Marx’s reworking of Ricardian economics, and toward its end, by Freudian psychology.

In our own time we have seen the assimilation of these once liberatory sciences by the established social order. Indeed, we have begun to regard science itself as an instrument of control over the thought processes and physical being of man. This distrust of science and of the scientific method is not without justification. “Many sensitive people, especially artists,” observes Abraham Maslow, “are afraid that science besmirches and depresses, that it tears thing apart rather than integrating them, thereby killing rather than creating.” What is perhaps equally important, modern science has lost its critical edge. Largely functional or instrumental in intent, the branches of science that once tore at the chains of man are now used to perpetuate and gild them. Even philosophy has yielded to instrumentalism and tends to be little more than a body of logical contrivances, the handmaiden of the computer rather than the revolutionary.

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A Sick Planet (Debord, 1971)

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Written by Guy Debord in 1971, this text was intended for publication in Internationale Situationniste 13, which never appeared. It was first published in the French edition of the present collection in 2004. It may also be found in Guy Debord, Oeuvres (Paris: Gallimard, 2006, pp. 1063-9). Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, published in English, 2008. PDF

‘POLLUTION’ IS IN FASHION TODAY, exactly in the same way as revolution: it dominates the whole life of society, and it is represented in illusory form in the spectacle. It is the subject of mind-numbing chatter in a plethora of erroneous and mystifying writing and speech, yet it really does have everyone by the throat. It is on display everywhere as ideology, yet it is continually gaining ground as a material development. Two antagonistic tendencies, progression towards the highest form of commodity production and the project of its total negation, equally rich in contradictions within themselves, grow ever stronger in parallel with one other. Here are the two sides whereby a sole historical moment, long awaited and often described in advance in partial and inadequate terms, is made manifest: the moment when it becomes impossible for capitalism to carry on working.

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Can you hear me?

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speech at UK House of Parliament, April 2019

My name is Greta Thunberg. I am 16 years old. I come from Sweden. And I speak on behalf of future generations.

I know many of you don’t want to listen to us – you say we are just children. But we’re only repeating the message of the united climate science.

Many of you appear concerned that we are wasting valuable lesson time, but I assure you we will go back to school the moment you start listening to science and give us a future. Is that really too much to ask?

In the year 2030 I will be 26 years old. My little sister Beata will be 23. Just like many of your own children or grandchildren. That is a great age, we have been told. When you have all of your life ahead of you. But I am not so sure it will be that great for us.

I was fortunate to be born in a time and place where everyone told us to dream big; I could become whatever I wanted to. I could live wherever I wanted to. People like me had everything we needed and more. Things our grandparents could not even dream of. We had everything we could ever wish for and yet now we may have nothing.

Now we probably don’t even have a future any more.

Because that future was sold so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money. It was stolen from us every time you said that the sky was the limit, and that you only live once.

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Class in the 21st century: Asset inflation and the new logic of inequality

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What becomes of class when residential property prices in major cities around the world accrue more income in a year than the average wage worker? This paper investigates the dynamic of combined wage disinflation and asset price inflation as a key to understanding the growth of inequality in recent decades. Taking the city of Sydney, Australia, as exemplary of a dynamic that has unfolded across the Anglo-American economies, it explains how residential property was constructed as a financial asset and how government policies helped to generate the phenomenal house price inflation and unequal capital gains of recent years. Proceeding in close conversation with Thomas Piketty’s work on inequality and recent sociological contributions to the question of class, we argue that employment and wage-based taxonomies of class are no longer adequate for understanding a process of stratification in which capital gains, capital income and intergenerational transfers are preeminent. We conclude the paper by outlining a new asset-based class taxonomy which we intend to specify further in subsequent work.

 

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Minima Moralia: Reflections on a damaged life (Adorno, 1951)

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by Theodor Adorno [PDF]

Dedication

The melancholy science, from which I make this offering to my friend, relates to a realm which has counted, since time immemorial, as the authentic one of philosophy, but which has, since its transformation into method, fallen prey to intellectual disrespect, sententious caprice and in the end forgetfulness: the teaching of the good life. What philosophy once called life, has turned into the sphere of the private and then merely of consumption, which is dragged along as an addendum of the material production-process, without autonomy and without its own substance. Whoever wishes to experience the truth of immediate life, must investigate its alienated form, the objective powers, which determine the individual existence into its innermost recesses. To speak immediately of what is immediate, is to behave no differently from that novelist, who adorns their marionettes with the imitations of the passions of yesteryear like cheap jewelry, and who sets persons in motion, who are nothing other than inventory-pieces of machinery, as if they could still act as subjects, and as if something really depended on their actions. The gaze at life has passed over into ideology, which conceals the fact, that it no longer exists.

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‘Anti-Semitism among American Labor’: a study by the refugee scholars of the Frankfurt School of Sociology at the end of World War II

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by Catherine Collomp

Labor History Vol. 52, No. 4, November 2011, 417–439

This article analyzes the unpublished 1400-page report ‘Anti-Semitism among American Labor’, produced in 1944–1945 by the German scholars of the Frankfurt School of Sociology during their exile in the United States. Overlooked so far by labor historians and by historians of Jewish and World War II history, this report is analyzed here with specific attention to its contents as well as to the historical circumstances of its production during World War II. The article explains the larger strategy of the Jewish Labor Committee which commissioned it. It also situates this study in the production of the German sociologists who realized it. Finally, the article argues that, in the context of the war production effort, the alleged anti-semitism of the American working class was a fluctuant and paradigmatic sign of tension and frustration which eventually gave way to other forms of literal or imaginary conflicts.  [READ PDF]

See also:

The Bourgeois(ie) as Concept and Reality (Wallerstein, 1988)

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In the mythology of the modern world, the quintessential protagonist is the bourgeois. Hero for some, villain for others, the inspiration or lure for most, he has been the shaper of the present and the destroyer of the past. In English, we tend to avoid the term ‘bourgeois’, preferring in general the locution ‘middle class’ (or classes). It is a small irony that despite the vaunted individualism of Anglo-Saxon thought, there is no convenient singular form for ‘middle class(es)’. We are told by the linguists that the term appeared for the first time in Latin form, burgensis, in 1007 and is recorded in French as burgeis as of 1100. It originally designated the inhabitant of a bourg, an urban area, but an inhabitant who was ‘free’. Free, however, from what? Free from the obligations that were the social cement and the economic nexus of a feudal system. The bourgeois was not a peasant or serf, but he was also not a noble. . . [READ PDF]

For more Immanuel Wallerstein, see:

Proletariat into a Class: The Process of Class Formation from Karl Kautsky’s The Class Struggle to Recent Controversies (1977)

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by ADAM PRZEWORSKI 

Politics & Society 7, no. 4 (1977): pp. 343-401

Workers and the petite bourgeois are the only producers of all that is consumed. The surplus produced by workers is directly and indirectly (through the state) transferred as revenue to all other categories. In this sense even the poorest of the lumpenproletariat lives off the workers: given capitalist relations of production there are objective bases to the antagonism of workers to the “welfare class”… Yet at the same time all categories other than the capitalists and the petite bourgeoisie are separated from the ownership of the means of production and forced to sell their labor power for a wage, unless they can subsist on so-called welfare. Moreover, in Marx’s analysis the labor of commercial employees, while not creating surplus value, enables the merchant capitalist to appropriate surplus value without paying the employees the full equivalent of their labor. In this sense, both the reproductive and the service categories, while living off the surplus produced by workers, are separated from the means of production, forced to sell their labor power, and in a particular sense exploited by the capitalist… Concrete analysis is incompatible with the view of classes as economically determined, spontaneously emerging subjects that simply march on to transform history. Classes are formed as effects of struggles; as classes struggle, they transform the conditions under which classes are formed.

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The Authoritarian Personality (Erich Fromm, 1957)

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What do we mean by “authoritarian personality”? We usually see a clear difference between the individual who wants to rule, control, or restrain others and the individual who tends to submit, obey, or to be humiliated. To use a somewhat friendlier term, we might talk of the leader and his followers. As natural as the difference between the ruling and the ruled might — in many ways — be, we also have to admit that these two types, or as we can also say, these two forms of authoritarian personality are actually tightly bound together.

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On the Concept of History (Walter Benjamin, 1940)

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This text was written in 1940 and is published in German in “Gesammelten Schriften I:2. Suhrkamp Verlag. Frankfurt am Main, 1974. For an analysis on the text, see Michael Löwy, Fire Alarm

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It is well-known that an automaton once existed, which was so constructed that it could counter any move of a chess-player with a counter-move, and thereby assure itself of victory in the match. A puppet in Turkish attire, water-pipe in mouth, sat before the chessboard, which rested on a broad table. Through a system of mirrors, the illusion was created that this table was transparent from all sides. In truth, a hunchbacked dwarf who was a master chess-player sat inside, controlling the hands of the puppet with strings. One can envision a corresponding object to this apparatus in philosophy. The puppet called “historical materialism” is always supposed to win. It can do this with no further ado against any opponent, so long as it employs the services of theology, which as everyone knows is small and ugly and must be kept out of sight.

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The Meaning of Working Through the Past (Adorno, 1959)

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by Theodor Adorno (1959)

The question “What does working through the past mean?” requires explication. It follows from a formulation, a modish slogan that has become highly suspect during the last years. In this usage “working through the past” does not mean seriously working upon the past, that is, through a lucid consciousness breaking its power to fascinate. On the contrary, its intention is to close the books on the past and, if possible, even remove it from memory. The attitude that everything should be forgotten and forgiven, which would be proper for those who suffered injustice, is practiced by those party supporters who committed the injustice. I wrote once in a scholarly dispute: in the house of the hangman one should not speak of the noose, otherwise one might seem to harbor resentment. However, the tendency toward the unconscious and not so unconscious defensiveness against guilt is so absurdly associated with the thought of working through the past that there is sufficient reason to reflect upon a domain from which even now there emanates such a horror that one hesitates to call it by name. 

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A Lecture on Ethics (Wittgenstein, 1929)

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My subject, as you know, is Ethics and I will adopt the explanation of that term which Professor Moore has given in his book Principia Ethica. He says: “Ethics is the general inquiry into what is good.” Now I am going to use the term Ethics in a slightly wider sense, in a sense in fact which includes what I believe to be the most essential part of what is generally called Aesthetics. And to make you see as clearly as possible what I take to be the subject matter of Ethics I will put before you a number of more or less synonymous expressions each of which could be substituted for the above definition, and by enumerating them I want to produce the same sort of effect which Galton produced when he took a number of photos of different faces on the same photographic plate in order to get the picture of the typical features they all had in common. And as by showing to you such a collective photo I could make you see what is the typical–say–Chinese face; so if you look through the row of synonyms which I will put before you, you will, I hope, be able to see the characteristic features they all have in common and these are the characteristic features of Ethics. Now instead of saying “Ethics is the enquiry into what is good” I could have said Ethics is the enquiry into what is valuable, or, into what is really important, or I could have said Ethics is the enquiry into the meaning of life, or into what makes life worth living, or into the right way of living. I believe if you look at all these phrases you will get a rough idea as to what it is that Ethics is concerned with.

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Behind our Backs: Moishe Postone in Conversation

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Moishe Postone, who was Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of the College, History, and the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago, passed away in March of 2018 after a long battle with cancer. A founding editor of Critical Historical Studies, he is best known for his important and novel reinterpretation of Marx in Time, Labor, and Social Domination. His passing is a serious blow; his mind and his person will be deeply missed.

In the spring of 2015, we sat down with Professor Postone to talk about everything except Marx. Our conversation focused on the authors read in the Social Sciences Core (Soc Core) sequence that he chaired from 1990 to 2016, “Self, Culture, & Society.” Professor Postone was the most formative influence on the “Self, Culture, & Society” curriculum during his tenure as chair and was a passionate advocate for general education requirements.

All undergraduates at the University of Chicago are required to take a year-long, three-quarter course in the Soc Core. “Self, Culture, & Society” (“Self”) is one of the three most popular Soc Core sequences at the University, the others of which are “Classics of Social and Political Thought” (“Classics”) and “Power, Identity, and Resistance” (“Power”), both of which are mentioned below. The reading list for “Self, Culture, & Society,” circa 2015, was roughly as follows:

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Critical Theory as Radical Crisis Theory: Kurz, Krisis, and Exit! on Value Theory, the Crisis, and the Breakdown of Capitalism

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Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen & Dominique Routhier (2019)

The essay introduces the work of Robert Kurz and the somewhat marginalized species of value critique that he is associated with: Wertkritik. On the basis of a critical historiographical account of the New Marx Reading,it argues that the theoretical and political differences between Wertkritik and other value-critical currents cannot be glossed over or dismissed as mere territorial strife but must instead be understood as an expression of a more fundamental disagreement about the nature of capitalism and the role of critique,the distinctive feature of course being the insistence on a proper theory of crisis. The essay presents Kurzs particular version of Wertkritik but argues against his abandonment of the notion of class struggle and proposes to supplement Kurzs analysis with Théorie Communistes more historically grounded analysis of the present period of capital.

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RETHINKING MARXISM, 2019 Vol. 31, No. 2, 173–193

Expropriate Everything

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by J.Blumenfeld, Brooklyn Rail, Summer 2019

It’s an unusually warm Saturday in Berlin—if it even makes sense to refer to the weather as “unusual” anymore. I wake up early, read a bit, write some emails, change some diapers, and then head out to meet some friends at the café before the big demo. The Mietwahnsinn or “rent insanity” protest is an annual gathering of tens of thousands of people at Alexanderplatz who come together to loudly and colorfully decry the seemingly unstoppable rise of rents in the German capital. Like most big protests here, it feels like a party. Strolling down Karl-Marx-Allee, a massive boulevard built in Stalinist style for East Berlin, 40,000 human beings throb to the bass—young, old, parents, roommates, co-workers, students, tenants, and activists all drifting together in common disarray, like a roving concert, shouting about rent-sharks, high costs of living, and, most of all, expropriation. The word is on everyone’s lips, not least the city senate, the big property owners and real estate companies, the struggling tenants and just about anyone else who’s read the paper, watched the news, or walked the streets where posters, banners and graffiti calling for the expropriation of Deutsche Wohnen & Co are ubiquitous. In most cities, such radical slogans would be ignored or dismissed as the infantile fantasies of an ultra-left fringe. But not here. The demand to expropriate the largest profit-oriented property owners in Berlin—in other words, to socialize over 200,000 private apartments—is a serious proposal, one that may, in fact, take place. How did this happen?

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Theological-Political Fragment (Walter Benjamin, 1921)

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Only the Messiah himself consummates all history, in the sense that he alone redeems, completes, creates its relation to the Messianic. For this reason nothing historical can relate itself on its own account to anything Messianic. Therefore the Kingdom of God is not the telos of the historical dynamic: it cannot be set as a goal. From the standpoint of history it is not the goal but the end. Therefore the order of the profane cannot be built up on the idea of the Divine Kingdom, and therefore theocracy has no political, but only a religious meaning. To have repudiated with utmost vehemence the political significance of theocracy is the cardinal merit of Blochs Spirit of Utopia.

The order of the profane should he erected on the idea of happiness. The relation of this order to the Messianic is one of the essential teachings of the philosophy of history. It is the precondition of a mystical conception of history, containing a problem that can be represented figuratively. If one arrow points to the goal toward which the profane dynamic acts, and another marks the direction of Messianic intensity, then certainly the quest to free humanity for happiness runs counter to the Messianic direction; but just as a force can, through acting, increase another that is acting in the opposite direction, so the order of the profane assists, through being profane, the coming of the Messianic Kingdom. The profane, therefore, although not itself a category of this Kingdom, is a decisive category of its quietest approach. For in happiness all that is earthly seeks its downfall, and only in good fortune is its downfall destined to find it. Whereas, admittedly, the immediate Messianic intensity of the heart, of the inner man in isolation, passes through misfortune, as suffering. To the spiritual restitutio in integrum, which introduces immortality, corresponds a worldly restitution that leads to the eternity of downfall, and the rhythm of this eternally transient worldly existence, transient in its totality. in its spatial but also in its temporal totality, the rhythm of Messianic nature, is happiness. For nature is Messianic by reason of its eternal and total passing away.

To strive after such passing, even for those stages of man that are nature, is the task of world politics, whose method must be called nihilism.


Walter Benjamin (1892-1940): Theological-Political Fragment, date uncertain (probably either 1920-1921 or 1937-1938), unpublished in Benjamin’s lifetime. Translated by Edmund Jephcott in Selected Writings, Volume 3: 1935-1938 (2006), pp. 305-306.

Understanding Walter Benjamin’s Theological-Political Fragment by Eric Jacobson  Jewish Studies Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 3 (2001), pp. 205-247


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The Social Function of Philosophy (Horkheimer, 1939)

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WHEN the words physics, chemistry, medicine, or history are mentioned in a conversation, the participants usually have something very definite in mind. Should any difference of opinion arise, we could consult an encyclopedia or accepted textbook or turn to one or more outstanding specialists in the field in question. The definition of any one of these sciences derives immediately from its place in present-day society. Though these sciences may make the greatest advances in the future, though it is even conceivable that several of them, physics and chemistry for example, may someday be merged, no one is really interested in defining these concepts in any other way than by reference to the scientific activities now being carried on under such headings.

It is different with philosophy. Suppose we ask a professor of philosophy what philosophy is. If we are lucky and happen to a specialist who is not averse to definitions in general, he will give us one. If we then adopt this definition, we should probably soon discover that it is by no means the universally accepted meaning of the word. We might then appeal to other authorities, and pore over textbooks, modern and old. The confusion would only increase. Many thinkers, accepting Plato and Kant as their authorities, regard philosophy as an exact science in its own right, with its own field and subject matter. In our epoch this conception is chiefly represented by the late Edmund Husserl. Other thinkers, like Ernst Mach, conceive philosophy as the critical elaboration and synthesis of the special sciences to a unified whole. Bertrand Russell, too, holds that the task of philosophy is “that of logical analysis, followed by logical synthesis.” He thus fully agrees with L. T. Hobhouse, who declares that “Philosophy … has a synthesis of the sciences as its goal.” This conception goes back to Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, for whom philosophy constituted the total system of human knowledge. Philosophy, therefore, is an independent science for some, a subsidiary or auxiliary discipline for others.

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