File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9802, message 28

Date: Thu, 12 Feb 1998 16:43:54 -0500
Subject: BHA: Aristotle and all that 

One thing that Michael Sprinker wrote about this issue made me pause:

"RB ought to have said, I think, that society, like any real phenomenon,
must have an efficient cause, viz., there must be some agential action that
brings it into being and sustains its existence.  Now that action is
clearly complex, its agents multiple, their reasons for acting in
particular ways not necessarily all of a piece.  To have capitalist
society, both capitalists and workers are required, and they tend to
perform different actions towards different ends (not all, or perhaps even
very many, of them conscious). The effect of their collective actions is,
among other things, to reproduce the social relations of production
characteristic of capitalism.  They are, therefore, the efficient cause of
the existence of capitalist society."

Michael usually writes very carefully, so I was struck by this: "The effect
of their collective actions is ..." If he meant rather that "the collective
effect of their actions is ..." then the statement would seem to be a
straigtforward expression of methodological individualism, which I doubt
was intended.  I don't see what "collective actions" would be meant to
construe the sentence the other way.  The sentence ought to apply to a
society in which there were no collective actions at all.

Speaking of political forms and social relations, Michael says: "Those forms 
of political organization establish the conditions under which agents act, 
but without the agents' actions (the assembled citizens promulgating and 
enforcing laws in a democracy, for example), there will be no society as 
such. ... And if some decently large portion of the agents cease to act in 
ways that conform to the existing structure of social relations--say, the 
workers lay down their tools and occupy the factories--the particular form 
of society in question (capitalism) ceases (or may cease) to be."  So both
structure and agency are required, and that seems to go beyond
methodological individualism, however that insight tends to undermine the
ascription of the efficient cause of society.  If society includes both
structure and agency, then whatever 'makes' society should 'make' both.
The acts of members of society reproduce a structure, but to ascribe the
efficient cause of society to the effect of individual actions serves, in
my opinion, to muddy the waters.

Louis Irwin

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