Tag Archives: functionalism

Stewart Goetz

[W]hile no one who is sane will deny that an experience of pain has certain relational features (e.g. other things being equal, one who is experiencing pain will act for the purpose that the pain be mitigated), no one who is sane will hold that an experience of pain is nothing more than its relational features. After all, pain feels a certain way. It has an intrinsic nature for which the only adequate description is that it hurts. And it is precisely because pain has this kind of intrinsic nature that it also has the relational features that it has. It is this irreducible, intrinsic qualitative nature of pain that modern philosophical orthodoxy is intent on either reducing to something else or outright eliminating. Were their efforts to prove successful, there would be no problem of evil because there would be no quale that is evil.

Stewart Goetz, ‘The Argument from Evil’, in William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Oxford, 2009, pp. 449-450

Jon Elster

In Marxist writings on education, bureaucracy and indeed on most topics there seems to be an implicit regulative idea that ‘Every institution or behavioural pattern in capitalist society serves the interests of capitalisms and is maintained because it serves those interests.’ Marxists seem to have lost their sense of the ironies of history, whereby societies can generate patterns that lead to their own destruction. In order to substantiate this naïve brand of functionalism Marxists have invented a special gimmick, which is to manipulate the time perspective. If, say, the actions of the State go counter to short-term capitalist interests, this has the function of safeguarding long-term capitalist interests; heads I win, tails you lose. […] Now this is not only an arbitrary procedure, because ‘any argument can be turned to any effect by juggling with the time scale’. It is also a theoretically inconsistent one, because functional analysis cannot invoke indirect strategies […]. To the extent that the state is maintained through the effects of its actions on the capitalist class, the negative short-term effects should make it disappear (or change) before the long-term positive effects come to be felt. Only intentional actors are capable of taking one step backwards in order to take two steps forwards later on, so that the short-term/long-term distinction logically leads to a conspiratorial interpretation of history, given the absence of empirical evidence for such intentions.

Jon Elster, Ulysses and the Sirens: Studies in Rationality and Irrationality, rev. ed., Cambridge, 1984, pp. 34-35.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger

[D]efense mechanisms are part of the Western intellectual’s standard equipment. Since I have frequently met with them here, I take the liberty of examining them more closely.

The first argument is really a matter of semantics. Our society has seen fit to be permissive about the old taboos of language. Nobody is shocked any more by the ancient and indispensable four-letter-words. At the same time, a new crop of words has been banished, by common consent, from polite society: words like exploitation and imperialism. The have acquired a touch of obscenity. Political scientists have taken to paraphrases and circumlocution which sound like the neurotic euphemisms of the Victorians. Some sociologists have gone so far as to deny the very existence of a ruling class. Obviously, it is easier to abolish the word exploitation than the thing it designates; but then, to do away with the term is not to do away with the problem.
A second defense device is using psychology as a shield. I have been told that it is sick and paranoid to conceive of a powerful set of people who are a danger to the rest of the world. This amounts to saying that instead of listening to his arguments it is better to watch the patient. Now it is not an easy thing to defend yourself against amateur psychiatrists. I shall limit myself to a few essential points. I do not imagine a conspiracy, since there is no need for such a thing. A social class, and especially a ruling class, is not held together by secret bonds, by common and glaringly evident self-interest. I do not fabricate monsters. Everybody knows that bank presidents, generals, and military industrialists do not look like comicstric demons: they are well-mannered, nice gentlemen, possibly lovers of chamber music with a philanthropic bent of mind. There was no lack of such kind people even in the Germany of the Thirties. Their moral insanity does not derive from their individual character, but from their social function.

Finally, there is a political defense mechanism operating with the assertion that all of the things which I submit are just communist propaganda. I have no reason to fear this time-honored indictment. It is inaccurate, vague, and irrational. First of all, the word Communism, used as a singular, has become rather meaningless. It covers a wide variety of conflicting ideas; some of them are even mutually exclusive. Furthermore, my opinion of American foreign policy is shared by Greek liberals and Latin American archbishops, by Norwegian peasants and French industrialists: people who are not generally thought of as being in the vanguard of “Communism”.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger, ‘On Leaving America’, The New York Review of Books, vol. 10, no. 4 (February 29, 1968)