DIALECTICS: FISK ON OLLMAN

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Fri Apr 21 21:05:08 MDT 1995


I want to put in a word about Milton Fisk, a Marxist philosopher who
deserves wider recognition. He tends to fall between the cracks since, as
a Marxist, he doesn't get the play he should in political philosophy and
political theory and as a--well, he'd resist the term, but facts is
facts--analytical philosopher he doesn't play well with the trendy
continental and postmodern types or even with the more Hegelian Marxist
left. And he's way out of the circuit of the Analytical marxist bigshots
(Cohen, Elster, Roemer, Wright) because he has a wider and perhaps more
idiosyncratic conception of science. He's probably close intellectually to
Tony Smith, author of The Logic of Marx's Capital, but he's less of an
(analytical) Hegelian than Smith.

I think that Fisk is a major thinker whose work will outlast a lot of the
stuff being currently discussed. His The State and Justice and Ethics and
Society present a comprehensive naturalistic and solidly class-based moarl
and social philosophy which is quite origonal and in many ways persuasive
(to me). He also advocates a moral relativism which is one of my targets
of attack in the paper on which my discussion of the direction of history
was based, but I think this is detachable from his core insights. I think
The State and Justice in particular ought to be high on the must read list
of anyone interested in (a) Marxist or other theories of the state, (b)
Gramsci's theory of hegemony, (c) ideology, (d) the moral basis of
Marxism, (f) justice and class, (g) philosophy of social science, and (h)
international relations. Which is pretty much all of us.

As Ralph says, Fisk writes in absolutely plain and utterly lucid English
completely devoid of jargon, except for a few technical terms he
introduces to help things along. Any literate person can follow him with
no specialized training in philosophy, except for a few discussions. He
writes with  awealth of historical detail and real, politically relevant
examples, always well chosen. He's a delight to read--and, incidentally,
to teach, if anyone teaches courses where a book like TSJ might fit. You
could copy his (relatively short) chapters and discuss them with
interested co-workers on the shop floor. I wish my writing were so lucid
and accessible.

Fisk is extremely wide ranging. He's working on a book on health care. He
has written (a long time ago) books in logic and in philosophy of science
and metaphysics. (Ralph: check out his Nature and Necessity--you'd like
it.) He has written papers on dialectics (I will find the reference, since
folks are interested in that), communitarianism and identity politics,
Zionism, and a lovely piece on postmodernism, defending class analysis
while acknowleding the insights of the pomos (this is in Praxis
International Jan. 1993).His work deserves our attention, and you don't
have to agnonize about what he might mean by some obscure passage, because
he doesn't have obscure passages.

Disclaimer: Fisk is a political comrade of mine, as is Tony Smith (we're
all in Solidarity), and a dear friend, as well as one of the people who
wrote many fruitless letters of recommendation for me in my ultimately
futile search for an academic job after my fall-out at OSU. Nonetheless, I
don't think all my comrades and dear friends are neglected major thinkers.
(Though people should read Tony Smith's stuff too, to see how to make
sense of Marxist Hegelianism, among other things.) And I don't devote
years to thinking through, writing about, and criticically reconstructing
the work of many comrades and dear friends. But I do Fisk's. You should too.

--Justin Schwartz


On Fri, 21 Apr 1995, Ralph Dumain wrote:

> The Spring 1995 issue of SOCIALISM AND DEMOCRACY has an extensive
> critical review of Bertell Ollman's DIALECTICAL INVESTIGATIONS by
> Milton Fisk.  Written in absolutely as plain English as can be,
> Fisk pinpoints all the weaknesses of Ollman's view of internal
> relations, contradiction, etc.
>
>
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