File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9802, message 23

Date: Wed, 11 Feb 1998 11:11:40 -0600 (CST)
Subject: BHA: Re: Aristotle and all that

It seems to me that Bhaskar's statement regarding "an efficient cause of
society" has to be understood in terms of the society-language metaphor he
uses and his insistence on the priority of the social in the
society-agency relation as well as the "hiatus" between individuals and
society.  Much of this ground has already been covered in previous posts
(though I think the point I'm making never quite emerged), so here I'll
just refer to an early one by Howard that includes the relevant words from
> When Bhaskar writes "that nothing happens in society save in or in
> virtue of something human beings do or have done" I think it is merely a
> variation on the theme that social relations are not efficiently causal. 
> When he writes "This does not, contra Benton, entail commitment to
> methodological individualism; it is merely a condition for avoiding
> reification," this is merely another variation on the same theme.  Ditto
> for "Social structures exist materially and are carried or transported
> from one space-time location to another only in or in virtue of human
> praxis."  All these quotes are at PON, Postscript, p174.  The complete
> "methodologically incorrect quote" at RTS 197, incidentally, is:
>      BEGIN RTS 197 "if society is represented by the model of a language
> it may be regarded as a structure which is always there;  which men must
> reproduce or partially transform; but which would not exist without its
> 'functionaries'.  It is methodologically incorrect to search for an
> efficient cause of society, though society depends necessarily upon the
> efficient activity of men. But a reading depends upon antecedent social
> activity; the acquisition of language by the reader.  It is in this
> sense that the facts always depend upon social activity."  END
> Social entities or phenomena or structures provide the contexts for
> agents to act, the social forms within which they act, but social forms
> are not the makers, in the efficient cause sense, of individual action. 
> To argue that they are is a form of mechanistic materialism that long
> bedeviled Marxism in its positivist dress. 

I would have to disagree with Howard's reading of Bhaskar here.  It seems
to me that Bhaskar excludes "an efficient cause of society" as a way of
eliminating methodological individualism, of avoiding what is labeled the
Weberian position in the TMSA essay.  Here's where the language metaphor
comes in: no one makes language, despite the fact it would not exist
without us.  The sense of efficient causality here, I think, includes
intentionality directed specifically toward making the greater object
(that is Language, not a statement , or Capitalist Society, not enough
money to pay the bills). There would seem to be some warrant for this, if
the illustration supplied for the four causes in the Encyclopedia of
Philosophy (which is the best source for the four causes doctrine I have
handy) is any indication: ""In the case of a city one might say that the
matter is the people, the form is the organization, the final cause is
living or living well, and the efficient cause is the realization or
acceptance of the final cause as desirable by some or all of the people." 

Thus the difference between "an efficient cause of society," and "the
efficient activity of men" lies in the hiatus between individual agents
and society.  This seems to accord w/ "Society can only be known, not
shown to exist.  It exists only in virtue of the intentional activity of
men but is not the result (or the cause) of their intentional activity."
(RTS 195).   

An interesting sidenote in this is the language metaphor for society,
since that metaphor is crucial to Levi-Strauss' application of Saussurean
linguistics to society.  But I guess the crucial point is that it stops
being a metaphor with Levi-Strauss and his offspring.  Anyway, I've always
been intrigued by Perry Anderson's critique of the society-as-language
model in In the Tracks of Historical Materialism and wonder if anyone has
any thoughts about it, or knows of any comments on or further elaborations
of it. 

Tim Dayton
English Department
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506-0701

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