Special Universals

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Special Universals

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Let us summarise the indicators: we have the personality of an investigator or scholar, filled with scientific idealism, who determines limits that leave philosophy outside, in spite of a relationship that is quite close; a personality that is disinclined to compromise, intolerant. We have a discovery in the field of specialised sciences that is universalised. We have the founding of a school with all that this entails, especially perhaps the use of periodicals that discuss how the discovery can be applied in every sphere. We have the vulgarising of the new truism and, finally, a particularly close connection to the problem of explaining religious phenomena.

In the history of Western culture, four scientific spheres manifest the phenomenon that we have described. All four, political economy, sociology, psychology and logic demonstrate the process of universalising a particular discovery. The four epoch-making scholars to whom the criteria apply are MARX, DURKHEIM, FREUD and HUSSERL.

Let us look at how these criteria apply to the four personalities, each one of them so different.

Unquestionably, all four were deeply impressed by the idea of science, even seeing it as a kind of model and living up to its ideal in as exclusive a way as other people hitherto only lived for religion. “From Utopia to Science” is the way of Marx; to apply ‘the method of natural science to the understanding of moral and social behaviour’ is the aim of Durkheim; ‘Science is our real faith’ confesses Freud in The Future of Illusion; ‘philosophy as a stringent science’ is Husserl’s ideal.

Look at their portraits and you will se four stern, unyielding, uncompromising scientists’ heads. Their insistence on the scientific exactitude, the certainty and infallibility of their truisms makes all four oppose philosophy as knowledge and understanding that is lost in the darkness of unmeasurable, transcendental and metaphysical matters. All four are opposed to the metaphysics of great philosophical problems: Marx, in his Misère de la Philosophie and Illusions of Speculative Philosophy; Freud, in innumerable passages of his writings, where he ironically rejects what he sees as a somewhat disturbed discipline; Husserl, when he states that the period of great philosophical systems has finally ended, his philosophy representing a refutation of all that has hitherto been called philosophy – namely metaphysics and speculation – whereas he is transforming it into a kind of logic; Durkheim, when he draws explicit borders between his enquiries and philosophy proper.

Here, the one discovery or one complex of discoveries dominates the mind of the four thinkers and claims universal significance.

Briefly put, Marx formed a theory of a materialistic understanding of history; he taught that the conditions of production were the determining factor of all social being and of the development of history. Freud taught that from sublimating the biological mechanism of the sex instincts there sprouts all human culture, a blossoming of the transposed power of the libido. Durkheim sought to elucidate all the various spheres of human life, such as law, morals, religion and more in general sociological terms; as Brehier has pointed out, Durkheim applies Sociology to present and solve problems of a universal character, which properly belong to philosophy. Finally, Husserl embraces the whole realm of being in the universalism of his phenomenological method, enabling, as he sees it, an immediate comprehension of the contents of any of its spheres.

All four scholars have generated schools that discuss the problems arising from these perspectives. And in all cases, the result has been an unbearable strain on the scholar’s original, genuine intuition.
Most clearly, Marx’s determination to reduce the whole of human history to a history of class struggles and to explain all intellectual life in terms of an intellectual reflex to the conditions of production have brought out the limitations of his conception of history.
Freud’s unsuccessful endeavour to understand our cultural creations in terms of the process of sublimating the sex instinct brought to light the failings of his unilateral technique of psychoanalysis.
As to Husserl, his claim to understand mankind’s major problems through the application of his method of ‘Wesensschau’ was not borne out and the abusive application of his method by his disciples made clear the limitations of the method.
Nor has Durkheim been spared the transgression of straining the limitations of a specialised principle, as is evident from recent accounts of the dangers inherent in so-called sociologism, the endeavour to see all questions of truth and other values as relative to social developments, making sociology the basic science.

However, the success of the vulgarisations in all of these is unquestioned. Many people have personally witnessed he intellectual fashions that arose from these schools: popular sociology, vulgarised Marxism, an abuse of Wesensschau, psychoanalysis.