Social action and human nature 0521326834, 0521339359

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Table of contents :
1 Anthropology and Historical Materialism
Ludwig Feuerbach’s anthropological materialism
Marx’s critique of Feuerbach
Positions in the Marxist discussion of anthropology
2 Anthropological Foundations of Social Action
Preliminary remarks on the German tradition of ‘philosophical anthropology’
Philosophical anthropology as a theory of action. Arnold Gehlen’s attempt to construct a systematic anthropology
Action and intersubjectivity. The difference between Mead and Gehlen
Human expressiveness. Helmuth Plessner’s anthropological hermeneutics
Instinct and need. Agnes Heller’s social anthropology
Human perception as sensuous cognition. The Critical Psychology of Klaus Holzkamp
3 Historical Anthropology
Control of affect and the weaving of the social fabric. Norbert Elias’s theory of the civilising process
The disciplining of the body and decentralised power. Michel Foucault’s structuralist analysis of history
Moral evolution and domination of nature. Jurgen Habermas’s theeory of socio-cultural evolution
Suggested Reading
Recommend Papers

Social action and human nature
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Publi hed by the Press Syndicateof the Gnirersit~:of ambrid~c The Pitt Building,Trumpington rreet, ambndg~ 02 1 RI 32 East 57th treet, Kew York,:--:,·10022, LS:\ . 10 Stamford Road, Oakleigh, i\klbourne 3166, Australia Originallypub\i hed in German as So:ialesHa11rle/11 1111d 111e111d1/id1e .\Ja111r b\' Campus \'erbg GmbH, Frankfurt-on-i\ \ain 1980 and© Campus Verlag GmbH, Fr:mkfurt-on-i\\ain 19 o First publishedin Englishby Cambridge Cni\'er ity Pre 1988 a Soria/actiona11dh11111a11 11a111re Englishtranslation© Cambridge uni\'cr. iry Pre





. Fr~~ the standpoint of the theory of socialisation, too, Gehlen's hngu1st1ctheory leads him to a strikingly mistaken proposition. For along with the possibility of an independent de,·elopmentof speech by the child, GehJen assumes that the infant's Jailingmonologuescan lead to a development of the capacityfor articulationby means of tile playing through of articulative possibilities, without communicationbetween the child and a competent speaker. In making tl1isclaim, he overlooks ~e fact that such a development would be undirected, since the direcllon in which the child's phonological repertoire would be developed would be entirely undetermined. The sounds iliat a child makeshimself and also perceives do not after all have the same kind of self-founded pre-givenness of things as ilie objects which the child touches and fingers; without the norm-setting demonstration by an attachment figure of how words should be pronounced and their correcti,·e utterance following the child's attempt to imitate them, the developmentof the child's ability to speak would be impossible. . The theory of language is, certainly, not the only area in which an inadequate elucidation of the intersubjectivestructure of human action ~Isa leads Gehlen to make facrual assertions that are anthropologically inadequate. His undifferentiated concept of communication,whichfirst subsumes instrumental commerce witl1things under communication, then equates this instrumental commerce with thingsin its entiretywith human action, also leads Gehlen to explain insufficientlythe relation between the development of the capability for instrumentalaction and the development of the capability for communicativeaction._Gehl~n's theoretical account of the cognitive constitution of the physicalthing, ~vhichis for him 'the conclusion, the end of all the achie,·em~ntsof°:~ 1 ll1mediate sensorimotor orientation to the world and experienceof it (Gehlen, 1~ 71, p. 195), differs from that of Mead through_i~ omission to show that there are social, tllat is, communicativecond1oonsof the c~nstitution of permanent objects. Mead's little-known theory, contained in parts of P/iilosophj,of theAct (1938) and in other posthumously Published writings (1932 pp. 119 rr.), makes it clear that Gehlen's anthro POIogy, even m . this . 'central poroon · of I11·s t11eory suffers from the , deficiencies of his concept of intersubjectivit:y. • At first glance, Gehlen's and Mead's explanations app~ar. to be identical. Both of them accept the premise tllat tile consoruoon off Perm . s· first the transference o anent obiects presupposes two processe · ' . the. scnsory experiences of the contact senses to the distance senses, .. chiefly the co-operation of hand and eye; second, ilie capab1lit)'to





change one's per pective in relation to one and the same object, d~ring which change the abandoned perspective mu t be mentally retained. This second process consists on the one hand in the elementary decentring', using Piaget's term, of indh~dual mode of perception and of their combination with one another, and, on the other hand in the intemalised co-ordination of one's own perspective with that of other subjects and hence in the overcoming of a fixation on one own body-centric possibilities. Gehlen considers the capability for cooperation between hand and eye, which lie bevond the limits of what animals can accomplish to be grounded in th~ fact that owing to the reduction of instincts in the human being, human need and wants can be uncoupled from manipulative actions. This idea appear in a ,·cry similar form in~ leads emphasis on the freeing of the human hand frorn use_inlocomotivemo,·emcnts. The capability to change per pcctive is denved by. Gehlen from the unrestricted reproducibilit) of human s~un~s, which make possible the replication of anv and e cry point of ,,ew, independent of the particular situation and th-eparticular circun1 stan:es. Both of these e).-planationsare by no means wrong but they lack ~re:isely. the component that is mo t important. The reduction of msuncts m the human being and the freeing of the human hand frorn emplovment in locomouon · constitute · · t .: only a nece sarv not a su ffi cicn condinon for the co · f h · rh .. -operauon o and and eye· accountin(T 1or tl1e fiuman ab!lityto change per pectiveswiili the inde~endcnc of vrnbols rombplarucularsit.uationsdoes not posit the cognitive use of li~guiscic sym o as th~ precipitate · · of a dialogical phase of me development 0 f h speec. of. which that use· . is mereIYtl1e ·internalisation. However, tt· then rcmams mexphcable ho •. ''. the pcrc1p1ent ubject i able to ·,denn·rv d·rrt ierent ensory expcri h. . . are them "f . ences a , own m each instance and to corn P , 1 one ,s not willingto • d ntal philo oph, th . . . assume m the manner of transccn c Me d' ) '1 e _onginalgivenne s of an ego. · a exp anauon of the · • • re 1on of permanent objects I rn° _ logicallyrigorous. In hi conSt:1tu~ operation between h d rc~on trucllon of both the capability for co spectives he has an an eye and the capabilitv for changing per' recourse to ili · • an action. ~lead found h b" . e tnlersubjective tructure of hum st ea 1htyto ch . . r to tlle human being 1·0 1 ki ange pcrspecnvcs mat I propc roe-ta' ng th 1. . perspective of other 1 ' _at , m tl1e capability to adopt . s. n even·• taking of a rolc two per pccn,•cs · f1·oll"I wh1chobjects are VJ·c d we are repre d· · ·nrt1 per pective and that of m ar sente m me namely my own ongJ 'd can succeed in integrati tner whose role I enter into. I rnu t 311d 0th ng of these perspectives into a many- ide




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image of the object, similarlyto the wayin whichdifferent'me' 'mu t be symhe iscd. By taking the randpoint of imaginary other and ultimat~ly by adopting the per pectfre of i\lead's 'generalised other, I can attam to a comprchen i\·e image of the object. The insight that subjective perspectivesexist objectivelyleads finallv to the reconstruction of tJ1cstructure of relationshipsencompassingm~ and_my perspective. Following this pam, Mead can take the organi mc_nn~onmentmodel as me starting point of his epistemologicalinve t1gat1on without naturalising human cognition in any rcductioni t fashion or depri\ing it of it univer al claim to truth. ow it i easier to account for the de,·elopmemof human capabilitie u ing the theory of imersubjecth'ity on mi le,·el man on me still more fundamcntal level of me co-operation between hand and eye. t thi elementary stage of sensorimotor de\'elopment, linguistic symbols do not yet play a role· however since Mead assumes that intersubjectivity develops first in gestural communication, thus by no means in merely vocal communication, he can undertake to ground even the early cooperation between hand and eve in n still more fundamental and temporally prior stratum of inter· ubjccti,·c action. Like Gehlcn Mead a ume that me constitution of permanent objects require the tran fcrencc of data from me distance ense to the contact en e · the capability to make this transference, howerer necessarilypresuppose according to .iVlead,the capabilityfor role-taking.This he explain in the following way: we perceive a thing as a thing onlywhen we impute to it an interior that exerts pressure on u as soon as wetouch it. This interior that_is able to exert pressure can never be found by dismembering or cur?ng up the object, for that only results in erer more n_e,~·urface · Th, interior must alwav be imputed to an object. I do tl11S111accordanc with the cheme of pres urc and countcrpressure which I learn of e:\'J)crintially in the perception of a pres ure exerted on my elf by ~)'self, for example, in the play of my two hands with eac~ or~er. I can ransfer this experiential knowl dge to things by repre cmmg 111m ' elf as emanating from the object, a pres urc equal to the p~es urc ~xerted by me, but that pushes in the opposite direction. This_tran~teren~e Mead calls the role of the object. If I succeed als? 111 dou~gth15 anticipatorily, then I can thereby handle tl1ingscon~cw_uly, wir h full awareness of what I am doing, and acquire expcnenoa! knowledge through . . . ·dercd rouemer with the co0 mampu 1auve actton. 0111 • operation bet\, ecn hand and e, c this fact means that the d1sta~ e en c can of the m eIvcs trigger . • ·th' hum"n organism the reaction of the 111 e "






3nd sensationof resistancecorrespondingto the manipulation of things, in point of fact do trigger that reaction. The object is then perceived as an anticipateddatum of contact sensation: we 'sec' the heaviness, the hardness, or the warmth of an object from its appearance. . Now, within Mead's theoretical frameworkno conscious percept!OO byme of the pressure I exertupon myselfmay be postulated as primary· It is a maner here of a perception analogous to the perception of {he soundsthat I produce.In order that this perception can be transferred to objects,and that a counterpressurecan be anticipated, the fundamental form of the capabilityfor role-taking, Mead maintains, must already havebeen acquired.Only experientialknowledge gained from inter~ction allowsthat with which I am dealing to appear to me as something that is acting,i.e.,that is 'exertingpressure'. If this thesis is correct, {hen knowledgegained from social experience is a precondition for the synthesis of 'things' out of the chaos of sense perceptions. i'vleaclalso therebyex1>lains whyinitially- that is in the consciousness of the small child and f pnm1t1ve · · · cultures · · ate - all' things arc perceived as anirn partners ac:ordi~gto the schema of interaction, and why it is only later that the socialobJectbecomesdistinguished from the physical object. In turn, the con~titutionof permanent objects is a prerequisite for t?e human or~amsm'sdelimiting of itself from the other objects and itsf sclf-rcfleXJve · · · of a sense of itself as a unitary body. Tl 1e self · ac.quis1t1on deveIops then ma . continuous with the forman·on o 'th' , ; ' ' process that is mgs 1orthe actor..s The concept of practica · 1 •mtersubjectivitythat Mead elaborate s in . sueh trams of reaso · • ' . • ~ r an anth O I f ~mg supphes the fundamental prereqU1s1te 0 r po ogy o social · I mentation th'1 ~ctton. n the following steps of our argu {he , s concept will b th of questionsposed and of c . _e.common point of reference the cnt1c1smsthat will be made.


Humanexpressiveness HI ·cs · e muth Pless11er's a111hropological l,er,11e//eutt In his book Die S111fe11 des O . . des of OrganismalBe· d rgamsche11 1111dderMensch(The Gra r mgan Man) fi st b . Pl ssne presented the ('. d • r pu hshcd in r 928 Helmuth e . I iun amental th . ' . )11c.t anthropologywh· h h eoret1calframework of bis ph1los0 P . ·c . . , ic s arcs w·th h 1 ahs0 1 ' Empiricalevidenc . t e atcr theory of Gehlen a natur of i'v! d' e supportmgth I'd• . .ons ea s \~orkfor the thcorvof ~ ".a1 _'I)'of this thesis an.'Perience in the manner in which in c,·erydav life "·e seek to under tand o th b · of our own hfc . situation . ' ~ . ' n e asis intentions rnani·[cs1 ted m othc ' · ' • drs e>.'Pressions of their life. Pie ncr takes o,·cr thi rnetho 6

In the German,Plcs ner mak th d' . . . d , "·hich the human bod\' c ' es c 1stJ11c11on between these two aspects un ~r. in HistoriJrhts IViirt~rb,;~, ;e ~~~3rdcd. ";th the term Leib and Kiirper.The ..aru,cle\·ol. 5, Darmstadt 198o) ttt d·'losoplue (e~ •Joachim Riller and Karlfricd ,ru nd~.;•is 3 di tinctionpe~u!iarto th aG ' cu scs this pair. of term bcb'lns: 'The tc_rm iii concei\·edas animate f~or::~:n !an~age which, ct ofTa body 1Kiirpa1,111o:ar/ ccinl word.' Dorion aims'(G . 1 fl ~ult,rud~ of the other bodies by means of •1 1 that Lti~ be rendered into Tr~m~a1111g H11mr/,The Hague, 1973) uggc.ll~wcd Cairn' sugge tion b t . gd d as ammate organismal bod\''. I gratefully f~ ...,0 t · • the•pre• u JU gc that ti,e qua1·111cr r. , anunatc' • · in tances111 was su1,crfluous ni "·r 1 • sent conte t Al . ' l ptc • !ud~ed that the econd t X 'r so b'\J~dcdby the COnlCX! of the pre cnt C l:lr )1 ;l th ob1ectu~l-ins1rumental bo~r;,1~ e pair wo~ld bcs1 be rendered into En~ 1o ex1>resin Engli h the d' .. ,_L1atthe use oftl11 compound qualifier was nccc . Sincethe di tinction/s!:~ll~n Pie _ncri making. ·(Tcrcnl noun , the unadornedterm 'be~n_,~ngli h by the modifier rather than by two d>h11,,~n bodyunder neither of the tw O ~ 1 made a\'ailablefor u c in rcferrin!:(to the 1 o contrasted a pcct . Tran~.







olo~~al f~undation of the socio-cultural sciences, while giving it a d_ecisi\'e)y1mponanc naturalistic turn: a hermeneutics of human exprcsst?ns oflife can do lhcorctical justice to its object only ifit also syste111at:1cally takes into consideration the human bein"'s organismal ~onstitt1tion.The indi,·idual modes of expression, to whichhermeneutics directs itself for the purpose of undersrandin" them arc tied to tl1e 0 . 0 ' rganismal bodilincss of the human being: ~onsequcntly,the ideaof layingtilefoundationforsensoryexperienceof the kmd appropriateto rhe socio-cult11ral sciencesnecessitatesreflectionupon problemsthat reach into the sensual-materialsphereof'life', the sphereof tile objectual-instrumcnralbody;it necessitates,therefore,a philosoph)'of nature, understoodin its broadestand mostoriginalsense.(Plessner,1975, p. 24)

Plessner criticises both Dilthey's theory of the socio-cultural sciences 311dHeidegger's analysis of Dnsei11, 'being-there' (Plessner, 1976,pp. ~Boff), for their pen·ash·e abstraction from man's organismal bodilincss; according to Plessner, the claim ro offer a philosophical inte_rprctation of human life which both Dilthey and Heidegger make w h" . ' . . It in d1fferent theoretical frameworks, can therefore be realised only 10 the form of an anthropologv that incorporates the findingsof biology. Mth ~ · e odologicallv this anthropoloirv makes use of phenomenological d . -' o. es~~iption. Plessner frees phenomenology from all ontologicalpresupPosit:1ons,as well as those required by phenomenologyas a transcendental philosophy, in order to be able to make use of the descripti,·e Procedure for recording processes of consciousness, by means of which Hu sser 1sought to grasp only the acts that arc immanent · ·111conscious· ness, as the foundation of a theory directing its antJ1ropological interes1 to all of man's expressions of his life that are oriented tO his environment ~sec Hammer, 1967, chapter II, 3; also Plessner, 1979, PP· 43fT.).The _lllost intense and most immediate possible intercourse with the world ttself in experiences of consciousness' will assure the validity of the theoretical data in which Plessner considers his anthropology to be grounded. Thus he conceives of tJ1isanthropology as a hermeneutics ~at Undertakes, in the fundamcntal phenomcnologi~ala~tirude,t~ decipher the life expressions of t11ehuman being Ill his orgamsmal boctilincss. th This naturalistically radicalised hermeneutics :_rc~up?osesa,theory at helps to relate the different forms of human cxpiesswn back to the one single fundamental organismal srrucmre of human life. Plessner






pursues the elaboration of such a fundamental biological theoretical frameworkwith the aid of a hierarchical schema that works out. the organicpeculiaritiesof plants, animalsand human beings on the b~sisof the relationship to its own environmentthat is specific to each kind of life form: An ideaof themodeof existence of the humanbeingas a naturaloccurrence

andas a productofthe historyof hismodeof existencecan onlybe obtained bycontrastingitwiththeothermodesofexistenceof animatenature th~t~re knownto us. To do that a guidingthread is necessary;as such il guiding threadI havechosenthe notionof positionality, a fundamentalcharacterby whichanimateproductsof narurediffer from inanimateones. (Plessner, 1975, p. xix)

The notion of 'positionality'is of central importance for the biologic~! basis of Plcssner's anthropological hermeneutics. By means of this notion, the metaphysicaldualism is to be overcome in which, in th e Cartesian tradition,the human being was divided into an objectual and instrumentalbody,on the one hand and consciousness on the other. No longer is man to be distinguished from lower levels of organic li~e througha particularsubstance, for example,the classical anthropological entityof'mind' or 'spirit', but bv the structure of his vital relation to hi · J d s emironment, whichis proper only to him. Organisms are not clos_e upon themselves,do not repose in themselves but stand in an acove rcla~onshipwiththe environingworld. For thei; development and their survival,they require exchange with an environment with which thcY are, structurally, in a reciprocal relation. All this is expressed by ~e concept of 'pos·1t'o 1· , 'A 1·c c · t its 1 . ~a ity : 11e 1orm appears set over again~ . ~m:ronment.From It there goes forth the relation to the field in which 1~ 1s. situated . the opposne . d.irect1'on . ' and the relati'on comes back to .1t m (ibid:,p. r3r). The position of an organism in the world that is, the specific el · h'1 · · . ' ·rs . r anons P tn which its animate organismal body stands to 1 e~;1ronme_m, determines its organisation as much in the sphere of the ~ 1ectu_al-mstrumental body, as in the s~heres of cognition and of \egetauvc nervous syst Th c . fa lue fi • . th cm. ere1ore, the organic pcculianty o orm is, m , e _P_sychophysical sense neutrally characterised with th:e concept of posittonality'·th, 610 . 1 .' . ·on 1s neutral ··th ' e ogical description using this notl . h wi regard to the t d' • h vh1C appertains to the bod , r_attJonal distinction among _t at , dcr these presu . . Y,\\hat is mental, and what is psychical. Un a pposmons Plessne h . · rn as centric form of life· th, . r _c aractenses the animal orgams ·nco · e animal hves outward from a life centre and 1





~is life centre. It reproduces itself as a system of organs, the organisation of which is directed inward towards a centre· unlike the plant ' its natural life' ,,.hich is, by virtue of its entire structure, integrated into ~phere in a non-independent manner, the animal is compelledto engage in behaviour directed outward from itself that reacts to environmental ~ti1:1uli.However, as this centre of behaviour,it cann.orexperienceitself tn Its environment: Insofar as the animal is itself, it liveswhollyin the here and now.The here and now does not become an object for it, does not becomedistinct from it, remains a state or condition, a mediating 'passing through' of concretely living effectuation. The life of the animal is a livingoutwardfrom its centre, into its centre; but it does not live as a centre. The animalhas experienceof contents in the perceptual fieldsurrounding it, of what is other than it and of what is properly its own; it can also gain mastery over its own organismal body. It forms a system that is reflexiveupon itself; it constirutesan 'itself', but it docs not consciously experience itself. (ibid., p. 288)

The human being is a different matter. Wbereas the position of the animal vis-a-vis its environment is centric, man is always beyond, outside of rl1ccentred life sphere, without, however,being able, in virtue of that fact, to burst asunder the centring of his environment upon himself. Plessner begins with the premise mat the human being is naturally underprivileged, mat man is forced constantly to effect a balance between a form of existence mat is 'referred to a centre' and a form of existence that is not 'referred to a centre': In this respect man is inferior to the animal since the an'.mal does not e:\'J)cricnceitself as shut off from its physicalexistence,as an mner self or I, and in consequence does not have to overcome a break between itsdf 3nd itself, itself and its physical existence. The fact of an animal's being a body docs not cut it off from its having one. (Plessner, 19703 , P· 37)

In contrast, the brackets around all human expressio~s 0 ( lit~ are me organically based discontinuity in which the human bemg, 1~ his agency as a body, simultaneously also experiences himselfas an acong b~dy. In the human form of existence, me centred behaviour, out of which ~e anim . · bemg . a I so Iely lives, becomes conscious o f 1'tself· Thus the .human . . . lives in unceasing discontinuity between the state or cond1non,~h1chis his existence as an animate organismal body and his objectualeXISrence as an. ' instrumental body: For the human being, the sudden shift from his being within his own





organismalbody to his being outsideof his organismalbody is 3 t\VOi~l_d 115 characterofhis existencethat cannotbe abolished;it is a true rupture O nature.He livesboth on the near side and on the far side of the break'.as a soul and as an objectual,instrumentalbody, and as the psychophysically neutralunityof thesespheres.The unitydocs not, however,coverover the twofoldcharacterof hisexistence,docsnot permitit to ariseout of itself;the unityis not the thirdtermthat reconcilesthe t\voopposedterms, that effects a transitionintothe opposedspheres;it does not constitutean autonomous sphere. It is the rupture, the hiams, the empty 'passage through' of the mediation[of the t\\'Oopposedspheres,Trans.] that is equivalentfor th~ humanbeinghimselfto the absolutedoublecharacterand t\vofoldaspect0 body,consideredas both organismaland objectual-instrumental,and soul, in which'passagethrough'of mediationthe human being e:,.-pericnccs that twofoldcharacterand aspect.(Plessner,1975, p. 292) This structure of the human mode oflife is c:,.-prcssedby Plessner in th e concept of'cxcentric positionality'. It describes a behaviour with respect to an environmentthat is tied to a body, and that is constantly required to balance between being an organismal body and having an objecrual:instrumental body. In all of his expressions of his existence, man 15 compelled to live out of his organismal body and at the same time to dispose over his objectual-instrumental body. From the standpoint of natural history, Plessner, like Gehlen, accounts for this excentric positi?n of the human being by means of the organic results of an onroge~ encallypremature birth. Weakness of instincts, and primitiveness of his organs, these results of a determination of the organism that has, so to speak, not been brought to its conclusion leave man in a con st3nt tension arising from the necessity of learni1~gto have mastery over his ob!ectual-instrumental body with growing case of control, while never bemg able to OYerleaphis original condition of being an organism al bodY (see Plessner, 1976, pp. 7-81; the discussion summarised here is to be found on pp. ?~ff.)._Plessnerbases his understanding of the specificallY human capacmes directly on this distinction and this relationship between ~c organismal body and the objectual-instrumental body; speech, ~teraction and work, for Plessner the human being's supr~me mono?olies, a~e ~e capabilities in which man, on the basis of his give~ orb~amcconsntuuon, has been able with time to instrumcntalisc hJS o 1ecrualbody: Speaking,acting the f: h'10 · . 1, thC b. ' as nmg of materials in various ways 1rnP} 1 1uml an ed1hg's controlofhis ownobjectual-instrumentalbody ·whichh:1dto bc earne and which · constantmonitoring.This distance ' ·t11it1 ' requires WI



myself_and from myself is precisely what gives me the possibilityof surmounting that distance. It docs not mean a cleavageand splittingin two of my fundamentally undivided self, bur rather is the very prerequisite for being autonomous. (ibid., p. s6)

T~e capabilities for speech and action that are specific to the human be~ng can be accounted for in this manner by means of the human b~mg's excentric position, from which man must learn co dispose over his objectual-instrumental body in order to be able co sun~ve as an organismal body. Now, Plessner distinguishes between the instrumentality and the expressiveness of the human bodv in order further to differentiate the hu_manbeing's experience of his b·odyas an object, that is, his ha,·ingan ob!ectual-instrumental body, through examination of the human b~mg's hybrid condition (Plessner, 1970a, p. 51). The human being ~tther employs his objectual-instrumental body as the instrument of his interactions, in communicative and instrumental action, or he makes it ~vailableto sen•e as the means of expressinghis feelingsand intentions, ~ngesture, in mimic expressive behaviour, and in speech. The e:\-pressiveness of the organismal body, which is what this distinctionis intended to grasp, is the key concept for achie\ing the goal of a naturalised hermeneutics which Plessner's philosophical anthropology, on the whole, pursues. For, on the basis of the human being's positionality,the forms of expression of his organismal body can be classifiedaccordingto ~e role they play functionally in the balancing between being an organismal body and having an objectual-instrumental body that is proper only to the human being. Plessner's hermeneutics recognises three ~lasses of expressions specific to the human being, each of which stands m _adifferent relation~hip to the structure of the human being's bodily eXJstenccin its two aspects (ibid., pp. s6fT.):the already-named formsof c:-..-pression, speech and gesture; mimic cxpressi\'e behaviour;and lastly ~he expres_sivereactions of laughing and weeping that ~e between the i rs r two kmds of expression. Speech and gesru_rehave m commo~ th,e 11st rumental role that they assume in the domam of the huma~ bei~g.s cx-prcssionof his life; the human being can freelymake use of hn~1suc or gestural means in order to giveexpression to the inten~of an acnon or to ~n emotion - in speech and in gesture I am able ~odispose over my ~bJcctual-instrumcntal body. Both means of e;\-press1on ~ossess, therefore, a propositional content: witl1 their aid I commumcate a state of affairs. However, propositional contents can only be communicated if I







address myself to a co-subject with communicative intent. Thus, in addition to the matters they are used to refer to, speech and ge ture have in common their intersubjective structure: in them human beings establish a dialogicaJ relation with one another. \\ ith language, states of affairs can be communicated independently of particular situations; in speech, man makes use of phonic material in order to make meanings communicable in a manner that has been freed from a particular situational context: Languagemakesuse of articulatesounds as signs for meaning that can ex'Pressstatesof affair withoutbeing tied to the affect and the situation of the speaker.(ibid.,p. 47) Language is the centrally important medium of communicative experience; it is only in linguistic utterances that man becomes conscious of the intersubjectivity of the plex"Usof relations in which he lh·es: Alth?ughI can mentallyexperiencemyselfas the middlepoint of an interior that is closedaboutby myorganisma\body,as if I were in a sheath, opaque for o~ers with respect to what is happening within me; although I can exp~nencemy elf as a prisoner of my consciousncs, encompa sed b)'.3 honzontha_t,unsurmountable,unbreachablc,goes whereverI go alongwith myperccpnonsand actions,I amreleasedfromthis immanenceby language. In languagethere is no so/usipse.(Plessner,1976, p. 45) . !he human being can also communicate something to another subject m the non-linguistic · r,orm of the gesture· it is not for not g ex'J)ress1ve that we speak of the 'language of gestures 1 when ;ef erring to gestures such as the nodding of th h d th .. e ea or e ra1smg of the arm:

~ ordsarc lackingin thislanguage;the bod alone peaks and that it speak

attested' not ' but also b), the . onlv ; bv ; thc successof mutual understanding rcpresemanvcnature of the gesture (Pl 's) • e ner, 1970a, p. 5 The gestural utterance · · t ti e h is JUS as much a form of communication as 1 sp,eec abet·the ~caning content of sentences can be translated into the extraver al medium of g Pl · rn est3 bl. h db . . esture. essner interprets the gesture as a s1g. 1s e Ymtersub1ecti · ·011c movements of the body: ve pracnce that expresses meaning in 01 1 1

To be ure, gc ticulatorvI .d nd complexesas vchi 1 · f angua?c oes not make use of articulated sou1 acou tical m , c cs O meaning, but of bodily and occa ionally a 50 , o,ements· but by f ' · for~ mationand indc d . ' means o such movement it con cys in . a ymbol" ' eh • 111a manner an·1log · · · • sts thcrfl with • ous to spccch smce It m, e f ic c aracter. This wordles peech often takes the place o



sp_ok:nwords. (Gestures of command, pointing, attestation, entreaty,subm1ss10n,gestures indicating 'perhaps', 'yes', 'no', 'thanks', 'delighted', etc., play an important role in social intercourse.)And occasionally,such gestures serve to weaken or strengthen verbal discourse. In even• case ther ha,·e a meaning which they com·ey through signs and thereby q~alifyas l~nguage, not as mime. (ibid., p. 5 r)

In contrast, mimic expressive beha,iour, which we employ, as it were, only in stylised form in the sociallyconventionalisedgesture, possesses an immediacy that is incomparably more closelytied to the organismal body. The various kinds of this behaviour constitute the second class of expressive forms which Plessner distinguishes in his anthropological hermeneutics. Mimic expressive behaviour, for example,the reactions of turning pale and of blushing, of becoming rigid, or of relaxation,do nor have the very two fundamental properties that link language with gesture. With mimic eA-pressivebehaviour, the human being cannot eA'J)ressan intentionally meant state of affairs;in such beha,iour, rather, an emotional state eA'J)resscsitself independently of the individual's volition: If gesture expresses something because we mean something t,ry,it, mimic expression ... has a significance because an agitation (a condition or a welling-up emotion of the internal state) is e;1.1ernally reflected i11it. (ibid., p. 53)

In this case, a hermeneutic intet-pretntion cannot be directed at a meaning to which a subject has given linguistic or gestural expression, but instead must decipher an affect that procures eA-pres~io~ of itself ~ta level below that of subjective intentions; therefore m1m1cexpressive behaviour does not possess, in the strict sense, a proposi~on~lcontent. ~unher, it is also not tied into an intersubjectivecommumcanonnexus; 111the mimicry of the face or of the eA-pressive behaviour of the enti~e body, a subject does not communicate something to his partner, but is marked by an affect without put-posingto be so. The expressivecontent of the mimic expression lies beyond all individualintentions, hence also beyond intcracti,·e orientations: Expressive11/(ll)ements as such are immediate, spontaneous, and intrinsically unrelated to others, i.e., are without intentional character,_eve~ \_vhenthe presence of others is necessary for the release of the express10n.(1b1d., p. 52)

Moreover, the mimic CA'J)rcssive movement of the body is also immedi-





ate in virtue of the fact that the expressive content uttered in that movement cannot be represented by any other ex'Pressivc utterance. The meaning that is meant in linguistic or gestural communication can be detached from the concrete happening in a given siruation to such a degree that ultimately it lives by means of a different word in each different instance, or can be replaced in each different instance by a different gesture from the linguistic and gestural repertoire that has been established by social practice; in contrast, the expressive content of an affect cannot be objectivated to such a degree that it becomes presentable independently of the organically determined physical appearance or state. The mimic ex'Pressive physical appearance or state has no cognitive content that could be reproduced accurately in propositions or in gestures, inasmuch as its cx-pressivecontent is immediately fused with the exwessive activity or state manifested by the objectual-instrumental body: In expressivemime, psychologicalcontent and physical form arc related to each other as poles of a unity, whichcannot be separated and reduced 10 ~c relation of sign and thing signified, ... without destroying their organic, immediate,and spontaneous livingunity. (ibid.,p. 55} Thus, mimic expressive behaviour is the type of the forms of human ex-pression in which it is not the subject that embodies himself, hence disposes over his objectual-instrumental body in free expressive purposiveness, but in which rather the human organismal body obtains ex-pression for itself by means of the 0bjectual-instrumental body; in mimic c~-pression, the human being makes his objectual-instrumcntal body available to serve as the sounding-board of his feelings. A third class of human forms of expression to which Plcssncr's hermeneutics is directed refers to the dimension in which the subject can _nolonge~ maintain a balance between being an organismal body a nd havmgan ~bJecrual-instrumental body, a balance he has to maintain as a human bemg. It is a question here of the forms of exl)ression laughing and weeping. In his theory, Plessner concentrated his efforts at an early st ~g~ on the anthropological interpretation of their significance. Wi th th1s mtent he was aiming far beyond the explanatory claims that are made,_say, by a phylogenetic derivation of these two kinds of expressive behavtour from visual signals in animals (see van Hoo ff 1972). Plessner's hermeneutic. 1 · ~t erpretanon · . content ' o f the e:\.l)ress1ve o f th e se st forms of e~re~ on ts supposed to make immediately comprehensible th e determmatton of the human being's position which had been elab-




orated only categorically in his biologicallyoriented theory of the hierarchical ordering oflife forms. Laughing and "·eeping are regarded by Plessner as forms of expressive behaviour that are proper only to the human being, and that occupy a clearly peculiar intermediary locus between, on the one side, linguistic and gestural forms of expression, and, on the other side, mimic cxpressi\'e beh:n-iour. Laughing and weeping are distinguished from the expressh·e means of speech and ge~ture primarily by their reacth-e character as expression: the human b.'J)ress1vc modes of laughing and weeping, h uman being no longe fi d . . er to . r n s any mcanmgful relation hip whatev h . b' 1s o 1cctual-mstrument I bOct·i· . . · n be I . . a I mess; m hi acute disonentauo • oses control of thts bodiliness to such an extent that hi objecrual-



instrumental bod) react independenrJy in eruptions that have the character of automatic mechanisms. Plessner distinguishes between the ~vo forms of e:..'J)resion according tO the manner in which the ego is involved in the situation to which no response is possible. ~n la~ghrer, the objecrual-insrrumental body reacts for the subject to a truanonal t.rucrure in which an unequivocally meaningful relation can no longer be e rablished t0 the ambivalent, self-conrradictoI)' meaning-relations of one and the same sequence of action or linguistic utterance. The matters in response to which the human being, in the confusion into which he has been forced by the paradoxes of excitation a~d meaning of a given situation can no longer do anythingbut abandon hunself to the automatic mechanisms of laughter appertaining to the ~bjecrual-instrumental body include, at one end of their range, jubila?0n and tickling, which arc still very imilar to mimic expressivebehaviour, a ,, ell a comicalness and jokes, and at the other extreme the existential boundary situations of embarrassment and despair. In laughter, then, the tension is discharged that results from a human indi,~dual s momentary entanglement in ambivalence of sense that are by their nature u n res oh able: Unanswerableness,through (various)mutuallyexcluivepos.ibilitiesof response,sets up resistanceagain ta rebuffbythe problematical situation,i.e., the tension which is released in laughter. Thus we respond to the unanswerablein its mult:iplicity ofsense.Thus weput 'paid'to a situationwhich is vitally,spiritually and existentially'contrary'to sense... witha reaction which betrays at one and the amc time both self-assertionand self-abandonment. When a man laughs he gives way to his own body and thus foregoesunity with it and controloverit. \ ith thiscapitulationas a unityof ensouled body and mind, he as ert himselfas a per on. (ibid.,P· 1 4 2 ) In contra t, the range of the siniational causes or occasions of the expressive form of weeping is incomparably narr?\\ er. He~e, too, the h~~an being must give himself over to an automa □c mechamsm appertaining to the objectual-insrrumenta1 body because he can no longer respond to a situational strucrurc in the accustomed manner with a rneaningf ul action, a linguistic utterance, an adroit ge rure, or mimic e:,:pressive beha~our. Whereas the inability t0 react that precede laughter arises from the imulraneity in a situation of self-contradictory meaning-relations, weeping ha its origin in a ituation in which every rneaningful response whatsoever to the content of a deeply felt mentalernotional e:..'J)ericnceis impossible owing to the ubject s lack of emo-




tional distance from that content. In pain, in rage, in pity, or in devotion, all of which Plessner includes among the affective causes or occasions of weeping, we are deprived of all possibility of a morirnred response co_a state of affairs to such a degree that we are unable to place ourselves 111 any kind of a relationship to that state of affairs. In these circumstances also, the body then answers for us, as we abandon ourselves to _the anonvmous and compulsiveexpressive moYementthat we call weeping: With cryingon the other hand, the helplessnessresults from a curious immediacyin the exposureto pain, in the sudden shift from tenseness10 relaxation,and in being deeply mo,•ed.Now 'helplessness', by its. \·ery meaning,can ha\'ethe appearanceof beingonlya matter of the inabih~·to resista force.Such may seemto be the case in situationsin\'Olvingphy5ical and mentalpain.On the otherhand,in peripetcia,in remorse,overpowering joy,conversion,and in the \'ariousforms ofbeingdeeplymoved,helplessness appearsas an absenceof distance- not fromthe actualfeelingbut from the contentwhichengrossesme in the feeling,which rouses and shakes me. (ibid., p. !.!J)

Plessner accounts for the two forms of expression, laughing and weep· ing, with the fundamentallymonologicalsituation of the subject who can no longer find, in his experience of himself as an organismal body, a proper relation to the fact of his objectual-instrumental bodiliness. Althoughthe causes oflaughing and weeping are situationally bound up with interactions, the reason why the two forms of expression are possible is to be found solely in the internal tension of the solitary subject. In _themimic expressive activities of laughing and weeping, th~ ~uman ?et~g does not react to a perturbation of the structure ~ mtersub1ecuveaction, but to a perturbation of the balance between Ins organismal body and his objectual-instrumental body. In this manner, ~lessner makes the tension within the human being between the orgai~ismal body and the objectual-instrumental bodv thus man's cxcentnc position, tl~ccons~tutional root of all capabilitie~•thatarc specific to the human bemg. This solipsistic fundamental premise of Plessncr's an· t~ropology has led Habennas to pose a question that is, in contrast, directed to th e c?n d'it1ons · · . of . of such an experience by the human being hunsel: as an ob1ectual-instrumental body conditions which arc them· selves mtersubjective: ' W d' ould'Jtnotbe moreplausible... to derivethe structureof the mirror-I - · · tfrthectly fromthe structureof linguisticcommunication- and the formation oth e self. fromthe acqui·5it1on · · of 1.mgu1suc . . competence in parucu • lar fronl e pracncalacquisitionof an understandingof the ~ystemof persona1




~ronouns: Then Lhetwofoldstruc1ureofl:mguagewouldmerelybe copied m the twofoldcharacter [of human bodiliness,Trans.] of the org:mismal body and the objecrual-instrumentalbod\·. The twofoldstructure of languageconsistsin the fact that speakersand actorsencounterone another intcrsubjectfrclyonly when they arc also communicatingaboutobjectsor states of affairs,and that, in contrast,theycan onlyexchangepropositional contents if they also enter into an intersubjective,that is, a non-objectified relation\\ith one another.(I-labermas,1973a,pp. 232-5;thepassagequoted appears on pp. 2J{f.) This criticism is as much right as it is wrong. Habermas has put his finger on the weakest point in Plessner's analysis: the fact that the human subject can perceive his own objectual-instrumental body is not accounted for in Plessner's theory by the structure of the subject's capability to do so, which is in and of itself already intersubjective; for the_~bility to identify something as one's own requires, after all, an ~nncipatory apprehension of the unity of one's own objectualmstrumental body, which unity is never perceptible as such. But Habermas is mistaken when he too hastily identifies the fundamental str ucturc of intersubjectivity with speech. It is, onrogeneticallyspeaking, be~ond all doubt that the acquisition of the ability to identify one's ~bJectual-instrumental body as properly one's own clearlyprecedes the practical acquisition of an understanding of the system of personal pronouns'. Similarly, it cannot be maintained tlrnttl1edemarcation froi:11 each other of communicative and propositional content of utterances is Prerequisite for the human being's consciousness of his bodiliness ~nder the twofold aspect of his organismal bodiliness and his objccrual1nstrumental bodiliness. A critique of Plcssncr's anthropologyfrom the Standpoint of the theory of intersubjectivil)• must avoid narrowing a theory directed at the basic structures of intcrsubjectivity down to a :eory 0 flanguagc and must develop its criticis~ ontog~nc~:~lly,drm~g perhaps upon the germinal ideas presented rn Mead s" nnngs of his late period.i . To be sure, the solipsistic foundation on which Plessner tliu~ ~rc:ts hJs hermeneutics of non-linguistic forms of e;\'Pressiononly exlti~ttstts problematical features fully in me politically oriented pans of his anth · gm·d·mg . ropology. From the outset Plessner mistrusts, as a normaove idea, the notion of commm~cation that is free of domination, such _as Pcn•asivc]yinfluences the writings of, say, Mead and Habermas. In its 7

Most exp 1·icn• .in 1.h1s . regard .1sthe manuscnpt . m . Mead ,s 1· . CS!a . 1c bcmnning withthe 11Cr3T) o· . 0rds: 'The human indil•idualhas•as a partof his self the physicalorganism';sec also omc passages in Pl,i/osop!,yof theAt1 (1938, PP· 120, 43 i).






JAL t\



stead he puts the idea of a ociet) that creates ocial distanc_eamong it members and institutionall) guarantees the psychoph)s,cal selfpreservation of the individualsubject. In the grounding of this ~onc~ption of society, which is central to all Plessner's politico-soc1ological writings, the anthropological premise of an egotism on the parl of the human being that is conditioned by his organismal bodiliness plays a cruciallyimportant role in the argumentation. The study entitled Crenze,1 der Ge111ei11scltaft (The Limits of Community), which wa published in 1924, ex'Plicitlypresents this idea for the first time in a kind of critical socio-philosophicalscrutiny of the present historical period· in contras: Plessner's later contributions to a 'political anthropology' moderate tlus line of thought in their implicit theory of societ)'. . Plessner intended the aforem ntioned study to be an anthropologicallyoriented critique of the notion of community that holds fast to the ideal of a socialgroup grounded in direct interaction among its members and in their personal intimacy with one another. I-Ic distinguished between the 'racially nationalistic' ('nationa\-vi::ilkisch')idea of the Blutsgemei11schaft, of the communil) founded upon the blood-tics of race, and the 'communistic' idea of the Sachge111ei11schaft, of the community founded upon rational discu sion of and decision about, common intere ts and enterprises and upon th~ir co-operative pursuit, as two complementaryversions of a social radicalism seeking to politicise in a Gemei11sc/wftsell10s a communitarian ethos, the widespread ~escrv_e re~arding the growinganonymityand interper onal remoteness 111social hfc. Although Plessner names neither the intellectual author nor the political and social bearers of the radical communitarian etho which he is criticising, he obviouslyhas in mind on the one hand, the c~mmu~ist and socialist critique of capitalism,' and on the other the nght-wmg conservativeand pre-fascist critique of culture. In his rudy, the two types of societal critiques become fused together a two sides of one_an_dthe same cemral, guiding idea. For both these attempts to rad,cahse the concept of eummunitv are in Pies ner's ,·iew complementary for the very reason that each of thcm made onh one moment of the · .,s 1:wo1old . r psychoph)sical existence the • · . human bemg unifying pnnc,ple of a comm . u~,·ty 1·r 11ethat ·1 opposed to a society which has b ccornc t abS ract. I_nits notion of a people united through membership in a· in_gle r~cc, ~e ideology of a Bl11tsge111einsd1aft i aimed solcl) at the phy ,cal dime_nswnof human life, from which the communist idea of a arhgememschaft,constituted by proce ses of rational agreement, ab ·tracts. ow, Pies ner shows that for the two versions of the communitarian 1

IIL:.\1.-\i'." F.XPRES


ethos to reach the limits of tl1eir applicability, it suffices to rake into ~onsideration the dimension of the human being' hybrid psychophysical exjstence that ha been excluded in each case. For if one has a clear vi w of this state of affair from which anthropology begins then it becomes evident that the communitarian consrrucrionswhich arc based on complementarily one-sided conceptions of the human being can satisf}·neither the r~taliryof ta ks of a relativelylarge social group, nor the requirements arising out of the nature of such a group. The racially nationalistic communitarian ethos must come to grief on the necessity, which is inherent in ch·ilisation of settling all human affairspubliclyand rationally, just a rhc communistic communitarian ctho is finallyfrustrared by the sociallr, unbridfl'cablc cha m between rational deci ion0 making and normatively open life in a society. It is at this point, in connection ,, ith his critique of I.he'communist' idea of free and open negotiation, bound to follow rational argument, in order to settle all socially relevant matters, that Plessner explainshis critique of the notion of communication that is free of domination as a normativeleadingidea: If our actual behaviouris scrutfoisedthroughthe magnil\inggla s of discussion- after all, accordingto the idea of a communismcarriedthrough with logical rigour, our beha\'iourwould hare ID :icceptthat in a achge111ei11schaflir can turn out 10 be correct,but irmightjustaswellturn outto be wrong ... The mind that is :ilwar organic,systematicand unequi\'ocal, ~omes to grief on the fragmeniary·charac1erof human existenceon the impenetrableambiguityof ituations.(Plessner,1972, P· so)

[heimbalance, peculiar to man, between his existenceas an organi.m_al ody and the purposive attitude of command that he can adopt i_n relation to hi own body- between hi being an organismalbodyand lus having an objectual-in trumental body, as Plessner says later- doc not allow_ofa rational community tlrnt intersubjectil'cl}'c~me to an uoderSland111g about goals of action· despite all interpretauve efforts an_dall com~ulsive strivings to achie,c unequivocalne s tile human berng_s ~hy ical e_xistcnceretains a momenLof p~rpetual opennes~ an_dth1s Penness ts a matter that the individual subiect mu5t settle w1th himself ~lone. This fundamental idea, tinged by Lebeusp!tilo.~opli~·e now ser.·~s 1:ssner also as the foundation of a 'defence of society gomgbcyond lus Ctiti of the communitarian ethos. . 1nque th . . · d f ti c 11·mits of commumtv 1 Pi cse constructive portions of h1 ni Yo . ·' • cssner speculatively anticipates the fundamental antllropol~gical •dcas \\•I11·cI1 hc will . later · make the b10 . 1ogica · I basi· 0 f hi hermeneuac of






the non-linguistic forms of expression. He accounts for the sociocultural primordialityof social relationships of distanciation, i.~-, ~ose in which the members of a society encounter each other not 10 direct communication related to their practical affairs, but in ceremonially defined interactions, by the peculiarity of the human form of existence. He maintains that the human being is first of all an individual subje~t, not by the very nature of his bodily, physiologicalendowment, but 10 virtue of his permanent psychicaldistance from everything that in fact happens: What truly first makes an individual of him, makes him indivisible an_d unique from the inside outward, is the awareness that he possesses a soul, _15 his livingin the centre of an interior that feels, wills and thinks, that has a will of its own in relation to the environment and to its own organismal body, that is incomparable in its depth and its inner wealth of qualities. (ibid., P· 56)

Because the human being, in his psychical individuality,encounters an unceasingstream of ever new sensory experiences and emotions, so that he can never become whollyand definitivelyunequivocal even to himself, he must also safeguard himself against all social compulsion to present himself in a definitivemanner, against all pressure restrictively to define himself. On the other hand, though, because he can~ot renounce the social presentation of his ever new individuality, which objectivationof himself is necessary if he is to remain continuously comprehensible to himself, he is also, anthropologically speaking, dependent just as much on the sphere of social unequivocalnesses. The structure of his mode of living therefore forces the human being ~o balance continuouslyhis personal and experimental openness and his intersubjectivelybinding self-definition. However Plessner concludes, onlythe social frameworkof 'society' guarantees t~ the isolated individuals both the _possibilityof carrying out such a psychophysically constantlyne_cess~tated balancing act and the subjects' safety whiJc they are engaged m this balancing act. Now, againSt the background of this speculative anthropological line of thought, Plessner conceivesof 'society' as a broad system of socially established and regulated fonns of interactions that mediate between the f~milyas ~ ~rivate place of safety and the institutionalised system of publ~cly_obtami_ng n?rms. Only in a network of rules governing co~mun_icationwhich give to social intercourse a form that is both distancing and ~layful,_ can the individual subject present himself wi~out danger and without incurring obligation, and in a way that can be revised



over and over again. In the interaction forms of ceremonials,of prestigerelate~ behaviour, of diplomacy and of tact, the 'intennediary domain' of soc1el)1 continuously provides the opportunity for precisely this kind ?fbehaviour. For Plessner, proof of human beings' inescapable and ineradicable compulsion to form societies is given by the 'ethos of gracefulness': s?cial behaviour, mastery not just of written and enacted com·entions,the vinuoso use of the forms of play with which men approach close to one another without colliding, with which they distance themselvesfrom one another without hurting each other by indifference.Amiabilityis the atmosphere [of this gracefulness], not forcefulness in interaction; play and the observance of its rules, not gravity,is its moral Jaw.The forced remoteness between one human being and another is ennobled to detachment; the offensive indifference, coldness and rudeness of individuals'living-pasteach-other is rendered ineffectual by the forms of courtesy,deference and attentiveness, and a too great intimacv is counteracted by reservedness. (ibid., p. ) • 73

Plessner can mterprer · · I activity · · as a gam · these abstractive forms of socia of freedom only because he understands them as assuring the indi,~dual's · ' 1s · rea1· · the . sc If -preservation; in his view, 'human d'1gmty 1sed m ~oc_ialbehaviour of a subject who playfullyenvelopshis own individuality in highly formalised communicative forms, but also learns something new abour himself in the stylised presentation of his individuality.It is, howev · I annc1patOI}' · · · t. er, only due to Plessner's anthropologtca mterpre a1:1on of the human being as an isolated subject by his essentialnature, as ~-subjectindividually effecting a balance between his vitalopenne~sa~d is restrictive social definition that he must allowthe ne;n1sof socialhfc to shrink down to the dimenslon of strateoic action carried out among sub· • c,· Je~ts intent on sustaining themselves. . This line of argument is also Plessner's answer to the quesuon he Phosesto himself: in which dimension is social progress possible u nder ~Uc condi?ons of the human being's natural. endO\~ment?For if ~e man being's inceptive organic state forces him, ofnsclf, to _engage10 1 ayful and individual self-sustentation, then the sclf-unf~lcling_ of the th c~lllan being in the course of history must be co-extensive wi tl~c baPansion of the social relat-ionshipsof detachment upon the economic se of the domination of nature:


Affirming society for the sake of society, which has its own ethos, its own





greatness that is superior to that of community, and learning to co_mprch~nd that an exertion of the intellect which must be increased endlessly 1s required for the advancing perfection of social life, for ever greater sovereignty over nature; affirming the machines from whose social consequences the present era is suffering; to take upon oneself the whole burden of obligations of the civilisation which the West has invented and elaborated, for the sake of the growing possibilities for play offered by that civilisation - that is the true strength upon which everything depends. Not concei\'ed as the virtUe of all, but as the ethos of the rulers and leaders. (ibid., pp. 35f.)

Self-confidently,Plessner believeshe can still ascribe the societal ethos that his study seeks to describe and define from the perspective of social philosophyto a bourgeois elite that is not led by the proletarian critique of capitalism, on the one hand, or by the aristocratic masters' code of moralityon the other, to lose sight of its goal of refining the social forms of style and the social techniques of self-presentation. It is true that as early as his Grenzender Ge111ei11scliaft doubts can be heard in Plessner's writings that a mere decade later, after he had witnessed and lived through the seizure of power by the National Socialists, became radicalised into a general suspicion of ideology: The historical purpose of modern society the \Vest em world's conception of its mission: the exl)ansion of technical~;cientific civilisation founded upon subjection of the forces of nature, an C>.l)ansionthat shrinks back from no cxter~al o~staclc, that can be stopped by nothing, is starting to come into conflict with Western man's cultural consciousness. (ibid., pp. 39f.)

In 1 934-S, Plessner gave a lecture in Holland expressing the views ?f the half-Jewish.emigre on the cultural and political developments_in G~rmany:_ In this l~cture, which was republished in 1959 with the ntle Die verspateteNatzo11(The Belated Nation), Plessner examined and attempted to explain the shattering of the bourgeois societal ethos by German Fascism. He adopted the increased mistrust of the ideals of Europ_eancivilisationand reconstructed the stages of German intellectual hist0ry as those of a progressive philosophical understanding of the ideologicalcharacter of all ethical norms. However he makes no fac_tual obj_ections to the result of this process of disillusio~ment, namely ~hilosop~t~al~ihilism, but can oppose to it only a postulate of humanism that is m Itself theoreticallyunfounded (cf. Habermas, 1971d, PP· 222ff.).





Instinct and need.Agnes Heller'ssociala11tliropologJ'

Like the other members of the now-dissolved 'Budapest School' of Marxism, Agnes Heller is no longer unknown in the West. In recent years, a number of works br her and other students of Lukacs during the hilosopher's late period,· namely Gyorgy Markus, Mihaly Vajda and e:~nc Feher, have been published in German and English. These wntmgs originally responded to the contradictionbetween nationalised economies and absence of politicaldemocratisation,whichis the central ~ontradiction for the socialist countries of Eastern Europe,by undertakto elaborate a d1eoreticallyoppositional interpretation of iVlarx.ism. hus the political significance of these studies lies in their authors' ~ntcrprise of making the bureaucratic forms of dominationof Eastern ~-uro~ean socialism indirectly transparent by showing that the core of tst0ncal materialism consists of an ethics and of the philosophy of ~axis (cf. Rovatti, 1976; Breccia-Boella, 1974; Joas, 1978b)._Agnes eller has sought to clothe this theoretical intent in the svstematJcform of a social anthropology. In the rnlumes that have been published • so far, 0 she l • • • fi las set herself t11etask of filling the normativeanthropological basic . rarnework of Marxism that Gvorgy Markus has ascertained in his Interpretanon · of Marx's writings· (see. above, pages 36- 40) \\l ·th a subthSlan e theory of the specificallr human capacitiesfor action.So far, the centre of this broadh· conceiv~d social anthropology consists of two Stud· . . . ics that seek to establish the pcculianty of the structure of human needs in contrast to the animal system of instincts. A mird in\'estigation ~at _treatsof the psychical structure of human feelings has also been p bhshed (Heller 1979b) Heller's studies on the dteOI)'of needs offer out1· ' · o-ivean oven iew of the compenng · anthrotnes of that tl1eo1y which Pological · theories of needs foro· the purpose of working · · 1 out a theorenca systern r ·b·1· · d tl e limita 1 • · 11 that overview are contained the poss1 1iues an tions of an attempt copresent this key concept of anthropologyt!1rough ~n examination of her investigations. Further, a book chapter aimed at tnte~ret:Jng · Heller's work cannot do justice to_the a~undancc0 _f emp~n·· ca c I information and the nuances of thcorcocal difference~ m w~1ch i:ology, behaYiourism,and above all psychoanalysis,pose th15crucmlly Porrant problem today. . .. of~ _herbook l11sti11kt, Aggression,Charakter (1977), in_wlucha cntique co nch Fromm's theory of personality is combmed with a stu~Yof d~e Ennc~ptof instinct, and the second part of which has been pubh~hed Ill glish as On l11sti11cts ( 1979), Heller deals with a wealth of find10gs of









anthropological and ethological research in order to present evidence of the plasticity of the specificallyhuman structure of needs. I~ con~rast : her book The T/JeOIJ' of Need in .Mar.\"(1976) is a more ph1lologicall) oriented attempt to demonstrate the significance of the category of need for the total architectonics of Marx's theory. The first-mentioned work is based throughout on the fundamental anthropological framework provided by Arnold Gehlen's theory; however, it gives that framework a decisivelydifferent interpretation from the standpoint of social pbilos~phy. For Gehlen, the plasticity of the structure of human instincts is accounted for by the organically unique situation in which a def ectivc life form initiallyfinds itself: the potential instinctual investmentof absolutely all kinds of human activities, from philosophy all the way to head-hunting, which arc, certainly, learned in each case, and the variations of which remain always just as conceivableas their complete cessation, is of great importance. It must be explained bv the same reduction of instincts that obvious!\"includes the recedingof ~uthcnticallyinstinctualbehaviour.1,hc dismantli~g of autl1cntic instinctualactionsapparently takes place in a complementary relationship to the morphologicalfetalisation [of the human being, Trans.] and the development of the cerebrum; but it means on the other hand a dedifferentiationof the instinct structure such that now all modes ofbeha,·iour, be they ever so highly mediated and accidental with whatever character of work or play,can appear as instinct-invested and with the capacity to satiatC(Gchlen, 1971, pp. 329f.)

AgnesHeller makes this recognition her own. She criticises all narurali5tictheories of instinct that restrict human instinct to some organically rooted tendencies, the nature or goal of which is rigidly fixed. The latter ap?ear frequently in the categorially unclear assertion that the human bemg reacts to critically important situations with his basic instincts. However, tile human being, as Heller seeks to show is not a bcha,·ioural_ organism directed by instincts. Instincts are hight; specific patterns 01 movement that arc triggered by innate automatic mechanisms in rc~ponse to species-specific crucial stimuli on the organic basis of an internal production of stimuli: by instinct . . . . I mean ' tho·sc compu1sory behaviour mechanisms or mo,.c mcnt coor?mauon~which are species-specific, and at the same time are action· s~ecific,lwhi~harc] inherited through ilic genetic code [and] elicited [i.C-, tngger~d! by internal an? external stimuli[,] which play a lending role in t1ic prcservat10nof the species within a certain stage of the development of the


t\1'D J',;F.ED


or~anism/,Jand whichsurpassthe intelligenceofthegivenspeciesfromthe point of viewof [their!positire selccth·crnluc. (Heller,1979a,p. 22)S T_hc external stimuli, in response to which the species-specific instmcrua) movements are triggered, are composed of chemical signals an~ acoustic or optical signs that hare a functional significancein the a?1mal organism's beha,·iour for the reproduction of itself and its species. As a prime example for an instinct-directed kind of animal, HeUer names insects. In addition to instincts, vertebrates also possess the capability of learning - in processes similar to human experience - to perceive events in their em·ironment as signals important for their survival and thus as instinct-triggering stimuli. The human being, though, still possesses such an orgnnically rooted system of instincts 0 1 :°-Yvestigially. At this point in the exposition of her argument, Heller cites Konrad Lorenz: Apart from certain motor forms of food-uptake(seizing,placing-in-the~outh, chewingand swallowing),mating(frictionalmo,·ements) and possibly certain automatic clements in walkingand running,an adult human being appears 10 ha,·c no cenm1llycoordinatedmotorpatterns,based on endogenousautomatisms.(Lorenz,rol. 2, 197I, p. 162) H~re actions have freed themselves from firm attachment to the system '. lllstincts. In the human being, the organic instinctual energies do nor discharge themselves in rigidly structured patterns of behavi~urthat are automatically triggered by external stimuli, bur rather consa~te a per;a~cnt instinctual potential that can enter into different socw-culturu lyinformed modes of behaviour. In order ro describe the nature of tl~e ncoupling of the strucntre of action from tl1cinstinct structure that ts cha_ractcristic of the human b~ing, I-IelJer has recourse to Gehlcn's notion of 'h·tatus ' : 0



The inner stimulus subsistsin humansas well(hormonalprocessesin ~e form of stimuli released by the central nervoussystem),bur the acnon resultingfrom them is not biologicallydetermined.(Heller,1979a,p. i6)9 The E 1· h . d com the 1-lun