From: BHANDARI, RAKESH (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Fri Jul 01 2005 - 03:49:37 EDT
Away from my home computer for a few more weeks, but thougt that I would pass along this very interesting passage. The very concept of the person has been at the center of anthropological study ever since Mauss' famous essay, discused in a volume edited by Lukes among others. Among philosophers the work of Amelie Rorty seems to be oft cited. Bhikhu Parekh suggests brilliantly in my opinion the outlines of a Marxist approach to our understanding of the notion of person and elaborates on what Pashukanis was getting at. Bhikhu Parekh, Marx’s Theory of Ideology, pp. 38-39 Again in order to argue that an individual could sell his labour to others, his physical and mental capacities and activities, of which his labour ultimately consists, must be considered alienable, and therefore not an integral and inseparable part of him. The classical Athenian believed that to render any form of service, especially the physical, to another man in return for money, even if only for a short time, was a form of slavery, and unacceptable to a free man. Since the bourgeois mode of production required that men should be free to sell their labour, that is their skills, capacities and activities to others, it had to define the individual so that were not considered an integral and inseparable part of him. He had to be seen as somehow separate from and only contingently related to them, so that he is not believed to be sold when they are, and is doomed to remain free even when his activities and skills are no longer under his control. In order to say that his freedom is not compromised when his abilities, skills and activities are placed at another man’s disposal, he had to be defined in the barest possible manner. Since almost everything about an individual was considered alienable—his skills, capacities, and activities—the crucial question arose as to what as to be considered essential to him, such that its alienation was his alienation and his loss of control over it amounted to his loss of freedom. The bourgeois society by and large located his essential humanity in the interrelated capacities of choice and will. For it they represented man’s differentia specifica, and were the bases of human dignity. The individual was, above all, an agent. As long as he was not physically overpowered, hypnotized or otherwise deprived of his powers of choice and will, his actions were uniquely his, and therefore sole responsibility. It did not matter how painful his alternatives were, how much his character had been distorted by his background and upbringing and how much his capacities of choice and will were debilitated by his circumstances. As long as he was able to choose, his choices were his responsibility. The individual was abstracted from his social background and circumstances which could not be considered co-agents of and co-responsible for his actions. He stood alone, all by himself, striped of his social relations, circumstances and background, in a word, his social being as Marx called it, facing the world in his sovereign isolation and, like God, exercising his conditioned freedom of choice and will. In short their conditions of existence required the bourgeoisie to equate the individual with an abstract mental capacity, namely the capacity to choose and will, and to define him in asocial and idealist terms…. When the individual is so austerely conceived, the question arises as to how he is related to his alienable bodily and mental activities and powers. They cannot be conceived as his modes of being, the ways in which ‘he’ expresses himself and exists for himself and others; they can only be understood as something he has rather than he is. The bourgeois writers appropriately them as his properties, which in the legal language become his possessions. If ‘he’ referred to the totality of his being and not merely to the will or choice, his power and activities would be seen as an integral part of him, as constitutive of him, and therefore not as his possessions which he could dispose of ‘at will’. He would not be able to alienate them, any more than he could alienated his will or choice. And his so-called ‘freedom’ to sell his capacities and activities would appear not as freedom, but slavery.
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