File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9802, message 35

Date: Fri, 13 Feb 1998 13:58:14 -0500
Subject: BHA: Aristotle and all that

In discussing the issue of society and causes, Howard correctly paraphrases 
my understanding of something Michael said by saying "everybody acts 
individually and then their actions summed up into a collective effect 
generate this or that social event", but he questions why that would, as I 
say, lead to methodological individualism.  A bit later Howard characterizes 
methodological individualism this way: "... everything is reduced to the 
choices of individuals.  The social outcome is completely derivative."  I 
certainly agree with that characterization, but I fail to see why the 
paraphrase above does not fall under it.  Saying that individual actions sum 
up into a collective effect to generate a social event sounds to me the same 
as saying that the social outcome is completely derivative.  I don't see a 
difference underlying the distinction, so I stand by my original remark.

If I understand RB on society correctly, he views society as emergent from 
the individual actions of its members, in which case society has some causal 
features that cannot be reduced to those of its members.  Social relations 
embody causal features that were not present prior to the emergence of 
society, and individual actions are no longer what they were insofar as
they participate in social relations.  Reverting to Aristotle, it certainly
makes sense to say that pre-existing society serves as the material cause
of current society.  Note, however, "pre-existing" and "current" qualify
that statement importantly: we are not speaking of society as such, we are
speaking of how the temporal components of society relate to each other in
an ongoing process.  I would not want to strengthen that statement to say
that society tout court is a material cause. 

Perhaps one might want to say that society, including its members and
social relations, constitutes a collective actor which is the efficient
cause of current society by operating on the material of pre-existing
society.  Maybe that is what Michael was driving at.  The caveats about
society as such vs. pre-existing society still would apply.  I don't care
for that manner of talking, but it does fit into a "History & Class
Consciousness" view: the collective actor beomes progressively more
conscious, etc. etc.

Louis Irwin

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