determination

fellini at keynes.econ.utah.edu fellini at keynes.econ.utah.edu
Wed Mar 15 15:44:26 MST 1995



I agree with Howie Chodos in this:


> In many cases (though I do not want to suggest that either Fellini or
> Mostern necessarily wants to defend such a conception) totality becomes a
> convenient category into which we deposit otherwise unspecified causal
> influences. What I have trouble conceptualizing is how and where this
> totalization takes place. How does the notion of determination that Williams
> defends in the citations Mostern provided actually work? Williams says that
> "determination of this whole kind--a complex and interrelated process of
> limits and pressures--is in the whole social process itself and nowhere
> else". I wonder if this is similar to what Henri Lefebvre calls
> "totalisation as process":
>
> "The Whole, the Total, is not a generalised "individual" identified with an
> institution, a state or an apparatus. Such notions contain neither a global
> conception nor a definition of the goal. They indicate no direction. The
> total, which henceforth has nothing totalitarian about it, can only be
> determined as process, with a direction: the reconstruction of society as
> society, on its new industrial and urban base." (_The Survival of
> Capitalism: Reproduction of the Relations of Production_,
> London: Alison and Busby, 1976, p. 127.)
>
> I am inclined to take the idea that totalisation has to be understood as a
> never-ending process seriously. I think that it accords with an
> understanding of society as a fundamentally open process (Bhaskar, again;
> sorry, Ralph).

Howie, you are right; I should have been more careful when using the word
"totality"; I was just using it in a generic sense "as systems of
internally related aspects", following Bhaskar (again).  Here
what Bhaskar says in his Plato etc.:


"The characteristic mode of operation of a totality is holistic
causality. This may be said to occur when a complex coheres such
that:

     (a) the totality, i.e. the form or structure of the
     combination, causally determines the elements; and

     (b) the form or structure of the elements causally codetermine
     each other and so causally codetermine the whole." (p. 75)

In this respect, he says (about base-superstructure):

"A superstructure--base relationship may be looked at in two ways. First,
the polity, for instance, may be regarded assetting the boundary
conditions for the relations of production which in turn set the boundary
conditions for the forces of production (including science), the
development of which initiates or enables transformation in the relations
of production and so on. Second, the economic base may be regarded as
setting the framework conditions of possibility within which cultural
traditions and tendencies, for instance, mature or decay--in which event,
we may regard culture as an 'intrastructure'. These two models may be
employed in complementary fashion in, say, a materialist
explanation of the globalization of superveillance techniques." (p. 75)


In such a conception, the search for a unidirectional determination or
cause is quite futile. Therefore, I also agree with Chodos about the
consequences of accepting that position:

>
> I agree with Fellini that we cannot interpret the determinations in one
> direction only, but I think that we have to be prepared for the consequences
> of accepting that position. It means that consciousness can determine being.
> Not in the sense that we can invent any identity that we want for ourselves,
> but in the sense that consciousness of our capacities is essential to their
> exercise, both for individuals and for collectivities. And it is through our
> activity in the world that we create ourselves.
>
> Thus when Fellini quotes Marx as saying that "Consciousness is, therefore,
> from the very beginning, a social product, and remains so long as men exists
> at all", it seems to me that we have to supplement that with the idea that
> society, to the extent that it is the product of living human activity, is
> also the product of consciousness. How else can we understand any project of
> social transformation that requires our (self)conscious activity, including
> Marxism?
>
> Howie Chodos
>

I believe you are absolutely correct. The very idea of praxis presupposes
this '(self)conscious activity' of human beings.

Regards,

Fellini





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