[Marxism] Action Theory

Charley Earp charley63 at mailworks.org
Sun Sep 4 13:53:31 MDT 2011

In response to Haines Brown, I'd like to offer a somewhat obscure 
reference, but one that personally led me to an engagement with Marxism, 
Scottish philosopher John Macmurray (1891-1976). His most extensive work 
on action, or more precisely, agency was published in 1954 as _The Self 
As Agent_, followed up by a volume on relations _Persons In Relation_. 
These two works capped decades of earlier work on ethics, politics, 
psychology, religion, and science. He was a Christian philosopher, but 
basically rejected orthodoxy, embraced Socialism (even Marxism for a 
time), and became a Quaker after retirement.

What has always stayed with me from Macmurray was his overriding concern 
not to reduce human existence to either labor or consciousness, but to 
transcend that division by a holistic sense of personhood-in-community 
that was neither materialist or idealist. His two-volume series can be 
read in full at http://www.giffordlectures.org/Author.asp?AuthorID=116

He is concerned in the opening chapter of the books (actually lectures) 
to champion religion and God, but not their traditional forms. However, 
most of the books barely reference God at all.

Just to whet your appetite, here is an excerpt from chapter 6 of _The 
Self as Agent 
> Since the ‘I do’ which is the absolute presupposition of all our 
> experience, contains the ‘I know that I do’ as a constitutive aspect 
> of itself, we can lay down at once a negative criterion for the truth 
> of any philosophical theory. The ‘I do’ is indubitable. It is 
> presupposed in the act of denying it: its contradictory is, therefore, 
> self-contradictory. It follows from this that any theory which either 
> explicitly or by implication denies the ‘I do’, that is to say, denies 
> that there is action, is false. This negative principle has a very 
> wide range of application. It disposes at once of any theory that 
> implies that the world is fully determinate; for to assert this is 
> precisely to deny the possibility of action, though not of course, the 
> possibility of activity. The ‘I do’ is not problematic.
> We may go further than this; for it is an immediate corollary that 
> whatever is necessarily implied in the possibility of action is itself 
> certain. We have already seen that the possibility of knowledge is so 
> implied; and consequently the possibility of knowledgeis not 
> problematic. Any purely sceptical theory is therefore false. Our 
> immediate business is to bring to light some of those necessary 
> implications which have their guarantee in the fact that there is action.
> We may begin by defining action itself—not its mere logical form, but 
> the form of its actuality—as a unity of movement and knowledge. Some 
> comments are necessary to elucidate the definition and to prevent 
> misunderstanding. In the first place the notion of/unity/must be taken 
> strictly. Movement and knowledge are inseparable aspects of all 
> action, not separable elements in a complex. To represent action as 
> consisting of a cognition which is the/cause/of a movement is to 
> misrepresent the unity of action radically. We relapse into the 
> mind-matter dualism if we analyse an action into two events, the one 
> subjective and the other objective, which stand in causal relation. 
> This is not merely untrue to experience; it is a logical monstrosity. 
> That thought moves nothing is an implicate of the concept of thought. 
> An act may indeed be analysed into a number of elements which compose 
> it, but each of these elements is itself an act, and itself therefore 
> a unity of knowledge and movement. What is distinguishable 
> theoretically is not necessarily separable in fact: for to distinguish 
> elements in a whole theoretically is merely to limit attention to an 
> aspect of what is presented. In order therefore to eliminate this 
> tendency to misunderstand the definition I propose to call knowledge 
> and movement/dimensions/of action. The use of the metaphor is intended 
> only to keep before our minds the indivisible unity of knowledge and 
> movement in action.

Peace, Love,&  Revolution! Charley
Check out my blog:

On 9/4/2011 1:32 PM, Charlie wrote:
> The main form of action for the human species is labor. If your 
> philosophy helps understand the history of labor and makes a case for 
> the kind of labor that is approaching, you might write it up for a 
> more formal platform than an email list.
On 9/4/2011 10:49 AM, Haines Brown wrote:
> The approach I have tried is to
> broaden the notion of action beyond the sphere of mind-world and to
> avoid a reification of entities standing in a causal relation: Action
> refers to any relation of open processes, be they physical, social or
> mental, that makes a difference for what enters that relation. Because
> action here is a relation that makes the difference, it is not
> dependent on other axioms. It is the relation I'm calling action that
> is the origination of the difference that open processes represent for
> each other.

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