Bishop George Berkeley wrote The Querist as a response to the politico-economic dilemma the Anglo-Irish ruling class faced in the early eighteenth century. On the one side, the mercantilist policies of the British state made it impossible for the Anglo-Irish to carry on independent foreign trade; but, on the other, any attempt to evade these policies would bring down the wrath of the British state and perhaps stir up jacqueries among the expropriated Irish “natives.” The strategy Berkeley proposed in The Querist has been the object of some interest among historians of capitalist development,1 but in this section I would like to draw attention to the form of that seminal book. This form begs for explanation since the book contains all and only queries, 895 queries.


Primary Quality Query Form Secondary Quality Skeptical Argument Early Eighteenth Century 
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  1. 1.
    For example, Vickers (1959), Ward (1959), Rashid (1988).Google Scholar
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    Typical commentaries on Berkeley’s economic writings written by economic historians like those mentioned in footnote 1 above are not surprisingly tone-deaf to the formal questions posed by The Querist But the more philosphical and literary efforts directed to the text have been surprisingly unquizzical as well. For example, Hutchison (1953: 53) is sensitive to Berkeley the philosopher, but simply takes the question form as way to “stimulate thought and discussion and to ‘make his countrymen think’—as he puts it—rather than to lay down a rigid programme.” A more sophisticated rhetorical approach was charted by Ellen Douglass Leyburn, a literary critic, in Leyburn (1937). She saw the query series form as a way to attract the attention of and to indirectly rebuke his audience. More recently, another literary critic, Terry Eagleton in his “Crazy John and the Bishop,” notes the fact that “The Querist is cast in the form of rhetorical questions to the reader, questions confidently anticipating the answer ‘yes.’ It is, in short, a dialogical form, suitable for a man who held that we can be sure of the existence of another mind when we hear another speak to us. Yet the dialogism is strictly limited, as with the various tedious straw targets of materialist philosophy Berkeley sets up in his Platonic dialogues in Alciphron” With this brief dismissal of Berkeley’s talents, Eagleton goes on to complain that Swift did not write The Querist, for he “would have made us unsettlingly uncertain of their approximate answers,” the critic states in Eagleton (1998: 45), and then flits off to other topics. Does Berkeley’s choice of such an unusual genre deserve this treatment?Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    My approach is quite different from Michael Foucault’s treatment of Berkeley’s economic writings in Foucault (1973). He pays no attention to the details of composition and is content with imposing a “macro-syntax” on Berkeley’s work, among others’. But it is in the details, in the “parole,” that explanation is to be found. No wonder Foucault could not find it.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Logical work on questions was deeply influenced by Polish logicians, especially Ajdukiewicz (1974: 85–93). The linguistic analysis of questions is given an overview by Lyons (1977). An interesting parallelism in the syntax of interrogative and negative sentences is developed in Haegman (1995), posing the possibility of another rhetorical form: a text with all and only negative sentences.Google Scholar
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    For a spirited defense of Grice’s meticulous preservation of the Great Prosaic Myth see Kempson (1975).Google Scholar
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    Linguistic research is not only in danger of being done by beings which speak no language, but linguistic theory is increasingly becoming like those economic theories whose postulates only apply to periods of no war, no depression, no governmental intervention ... to no time.Google Scholar
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    For an interesting beginning effort in the field of questions and power see Goody (1978). Although a similar connection between questions and volition (the “power” term of the eighteenth century) was drawn in Harris ([1751], 1968). Harris wrote: “if we inerrogate, if we command, or if we wish...what do we but publish so many different volitions? For who is it that Questions? He that has a desire to be inf’ormed” (p. 16).Google Scholar
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    There has been a tendency to see Socrates as a rather shameless toady of the Athenian aristocratic class. This trend reached its zenith in Stone (1988), where the Socratic questions has been relegated to a piece of psychological warfare against the democrats of Athens, meant to confuse and demoralize the honest burgher’s virtue. This is not the place for a debate on such matters, but two points should be kept in mind: the class consequences of the Socratic questions were ambiguous, while the nature of Athenian democracy was of an imperial sort. For a recent discussion of the relation of Diogenes to the Socratic tradition see A. A. Long (1996).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    A good example of Heidegger’s “torture=question” style in his early period Heidegger (1959). The literature on Heidegger’s deep involvement with the Nazi movement and state is now enormous. For a playful contribution to this grim genre see Federici and Caffentzis (1987).Google Scholar
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    Federici and Fortunati (1984).Google Scholar
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    Descartes (1973: 48–49).Google Scholar
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    Descartes (1973: 61).Google Scholar
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    Shakespeare (1955: Act II, scene 2, lines 9–96).Google Scholar
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    The 1721 Essay and the 1725 Proposal can be found in Luce and Jessop (1953vi).Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Partridge (1971: 550).Google Scholar
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    Cohen (1963: 137–38).Google Scholar
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    Descartes (1973b: 352–54) includes a section on, “In what the strife consists which we imagine to exist between the lower and higher part of the soul.” Berkeley’s theory of suggestion was part of the gradual sea-change that takes place in eighteenth-century rhetoric and philosophy against the axiomatic stylistics of the seventeenth.Google Scholar
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    See Belnap and Steel Jr. (1976: 22).Google Scholar
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    The intimacy of quantifiers and questions is emphasized by Hintikka who noted in his “game-theoretic” approach to quantification that quantifiers can be treated as questions initiating a search in the context of a game with Nature (or the Devil). He writes, “One ‘language game’ in which quantifiers can naturally occur is what I shall call the language-game of seeking and finding; and it seems to me that this is by far the most important kind of language-game in which they can occur,” Hintikka (1973: 59).Google Scholar
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    For a discussion of “elenchus” in Berkeley’s work see Walmsley (1990), chapter 6. Elenchus is one of a number of dialectical procedures used for pedagogical purposes in ancient Athens. For a discussion of the history of its use from Plato’s Academy to Trinity College, Dublin in the early eighteenth century see Rembert (1988: 11–72).Google Scholar
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    There is much to be discovered about the relation between what has sometimes been called empiricism, and “Mesmerism.” They are joined by the introduction of a new gravitational force in the mind, “suggestion,” which partly echoes pre-Cartesian “natural magic,” and partly looks ahead to the non-mechanical scientific revolution of the nineteenth century. Mesmer was deeply influenced by Paracelsus, and his first work, Planetarum Influxu appears a generation after Berkeley’s Siris (1744).Google Scholar
  33. 1.
    A discussion of Berkeley’s use of the Platonic dialogue as a paradigm for the Dialogues see Walmsley (1990: 68–81).Google Scholar
  34. 2.
    “Feitico” was a Portuguese word already in use in the fourteenth century referring to objects employed in witchcraft. But in the fifteenth century, Portuguese sailors and merchants referred to the carved figurines used by Africans in their magico-religious practice with the word. It became a technical term in the eighteenth century study of religion after Charles de Brosses published his Du cult des dieux fetiches: Par allele de Vancienne religion de VEgypte avec la religion actuelle de Nigritie in 1760. Comte in the nineteenth century called an early stage of human development where all external objects are considered to be human “fetishism.” See Lima (1987: 314–17). Marx used “fetishism” ironically in Capital by transforming it from a term in the history of religions to a weapon in the critique of political economy: “the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things ... I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities” (Marx 1909: 165). With this stroke, Marx poetically metamorphized the sophisticated stock and commodity brokers of 1867 London into “primitive” people worshipping (perhaps with blood sacrifice) clay figures around a fire.Google Scholar
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    “On the mission of Christ” in Luce and Jessop (1955vi: 41). One of Berkeley’s favorite biblical texts was Isaiah 44 which explicitly details with the production process of an idol only to better satirize its worship.Google Scholar
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    Notes for Sermons at Newport (R.I.) in Luce and Jessop (1955vi: 53–55). Berkeley was embarking on an “exodus” in his journey across the Atlantic in 1728 leading his family and friends into the wilderness to found a college and a new form of life. His famous poem, “On the prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America,” written in 1726 expresses the prophetic and exilic optimism appropriate to a Mosaic persona.Google Scholar
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    For details see Murphy (1997), Chap. 15, “A Specie-less France, 1720.”Google Scholar
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    For a classic discussion of history of West African gold mining and trade see Bovill (1968).Google Scholar
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    A basic discussion of the course of Spain’s precious metal experiences and the attitude toward them see Vilar (1976). According to Eli Heckscher, the classic historian of mercantilism, the contrast between Spain—“almost the only gold- and silver-producing country in the world [and which was] forced on to a copper standard”—and the Netherlands—a tiny country without any natural advantages in production worth mentioning . . . acquire as if by the stroke of a magic wand the largest commercial fleet of the whole earth, and become superior in competition to all other nations in trade, shipping, fishing and colonial power—“gave an extraor-dinary fillip to thought on economic matters in the seventeenth century,” in Heckscher (1955: 315).Google Scholar
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    For a late twentieth-century anthropologist’s connection of pre-capitalist idolatry and capitalist fetishism see Taussig (1980). Taussig writes: “Societies on the threshold of capitalist development necessarily interpret that development in terms of precapitalist beliefs and practices,” in Taussig (1980: 11).Google Scholar
  41. 9.
    The reception of Berkeley’s philosophy began to change on his return from the Americas in 1731. After being either ignored, attacked or ridiculed in his early days, Alciphron (1732) and The Analyst (1734) put him at the center of intellectual discussion in England and Ireland. For an account of the contemporary impact of Berkeley’s philosophy see H.M. Bracken (1965), Berman (1989), and Berman (1994). Berman attributes the major change in the reception of Berkeley’s phi¬losophy to the respect he gained by going to America to begin his “benevolent project.” Certainly, by the 1730s Berkeley’s immaterialism and critique of abstract ideas was beginning to win converts like David Hume.Google Scholar
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    A fine scholarly edition of Locke’s papers on money, with an indispensible historical introduction, can be found in Kelly (1990). A book-length discussion of Locke’s theory of money can be found in Caffentzis (1989).Google Scholar
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    Locke’s views on money faced criticism long before Berkeley wrote The Querist. Nicholas Barbon opposed Locke in the “recoinage” debate on 1696 in A discourse concerning coining the new money lighter; in answer to Mr. Locke’s considerations about raising the value of money (London, 1696). He argued that the value of money is set by “official stamp” not by the quantity of gold or silver. For more on Barbon on Locke see Vickers (1959: 87–91). John Law had a more sophisticated critique of Locke in his Money and Trade Considered, with a Proposal for Supplying the Nation with Money (Edinburgh, 1705). He pointed out that money needs to have a series of qualities to satisfy its traditional three functions—measure of value, means of payment, standard of deferred payments—but that these qualities can be realized by land money, bank notes, goldsmiths’ notes as well as silver coins. Moreover, Law recognized what Murphy calls “category 2 money” that does not satisfy all the three functions of money and does not have the standard set of qualities, but it is still considered money in practice (for example, shares in certain companies or banks). Cf. Murphy (1997: 53–64).Google Scholar
  44. 12.
    Locke, after all, was often seen as the main defender of materialism and mortalism (i.e., the view that thought ends with the death of the body and resurrection requires God to literally reassemble the body). For contemporary eighteenth century ascription of Locke as a materialist and atheist see Yolton (1983: 3–4).Google Scholar
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    Caffentzis (1989: 123).Google Scholar
  46. 14.
    Berkeley’s theory of language is discussed in most general works on his philosophy, especially since Warnock (1953). Warnock pointed out that Berkeley’s “account of language” anticipated “contemporary views,” including the work of Wittgenstein and Austin.Google Scholar
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    Ian Hacking labelled Berkeley an “idea-ist” in Hacking (1975).Google Scholar
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    For more on “dumb barter” see Einzig (1966: 340).Google Scholar
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    There is now a huge literature on the expropriation of knowledge that took place in the age of expansion and colonization. A classic in this regard is Shiva (1989); see also Weatherford (1988).Google Scholar
  51. 19.
    Marx recognized this in his “Critique on the Hegelian Dialectic and Phi-losophy as a Whole” in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. He wrote: “Hegel’s standpoint is that of modern political economy. He grasps labour as the essence of man.... Labour is man’s coming-to-be for himself within alienation, or as alienated man. . . . The only labour which Hegel knows and recognizes is abstractly mental labour” (Marx 1961: 151–52).Google Scholar
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    Nietzsche (1967), First Essay, Section 15.Google Scholar
  53. 21.
    Smith (1937), Book I, Chapter 2. “[The propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another] is common to all men, and to be found in no other race of animals, which seem to know neither this nor any other species of contracts.”Google Scholar
  54. 22.
    Let us not forget that the triad of texts of the “empiricists” are brought together by their concern with the “human”: Essay Concerning Human Under-standing, Principles of Human Knowledge, Treatise on Human Nature. This obsession with the human is indicative of the imperial power and anxiety these intellectuals must have felt during a period of capitalist development based on the slave trade.Google Scholar
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    For another discussion of Berkeley’s rhetorical strategy in his critique of abstract ideas see Walmsley (1990), Part I.Google Scholar
  56. 24.
    The use of the word ‘mob’ is quite decisive, for it was neologism at the time and synonymous with the Biblical prostitutes and hustlers of Jerusalem, i.e., the “publicans and harlots.” A generation later North remembered the origin of word in the Examiner. “I may note that the rabble first changed their Title and were called the Mob in the assemblies of this (the King Head) club. It was their Beast of Burden and called first, mobile vulgus, but fell naturally into the contraction of one syllable,” (OED). Google Scholar
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    For a classic discussion of the issue see Rosenfeld (1941). Rosenfeld, however, does not discuss the political economy of the question. Descartes’s dichoto-mization of humans and machines (beast-machines and machine-machines) envisioned a ruling class of minds organizing the work of a class of totally robotized beings, but Locke was suspicious of Descartes’ mechanistic social Utopia. Locke was a true “empiricist” when dealing with questions of rule and he was not at all confident that the final word had been said as to the forms and possibilities of labor in Descartes’ Le Monde. Locke’s logical and moral “existentialism” made it clear that any attempt to substantialize “sub-human” beings would lead to a legal and social code that was not flexible enough. There were bound to be continually new forms of “deviance”—of the will (criminals), of the judgment (madmen), of the wit (idiots), of the body (monsters)—and their appropriate forms of confinement, exploitation, and execution. Not all “defective” sub-human machines were defective for the same reason, and a key need in managing them was the creation of a sensitive diagnostic tool that he hoped his Essay would stimulate. For example, judges making the decision to either transport or execute a convict needed such a tool. Moreover, in dealing with the Americas, the prime laboratory of labor power of the period bringing together Africans, indigenous Americans and British convicts, Locke, as the chief member of the Board of Trade (and Plantations), applied his thought in advising the King to direct the colonial governors to strictly enforce “the acts for increasing the number of white men in their colonies” like the South Carolina “deficiency law” that provided penalties for plantation owners who failed to keep a 1:6 white/black ratio on their establishments. 1:6 was not an arbitrarily chosen proposition, nor was it eternally fixed, it was the product of a kind of thought (later called “empiricist”) Locke was engaged in and wrote the Essay to propagate. For an account of Locke’s work on the Board of Trade see Laslett (1969). For an important study of Locke’s subtle thoughts on the possibilities of labor power in the Americas and his actual work on the management of the Carolinas see Arneil (1996: 148–50). For more on the complex conditions of alliance and conflict among the “sub-humans” in America see Allen (1975).Google Scholar
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    The dialectic between land and money is shadowed by their claims on the social surplus: rent for land and interest for money. Marx’s analysis of the frequent ideological confusion between rent and interest is particularly acute. See Marx (1966), Part VI, Chapter XXXVII, “Transformation of Surplus Profit into Ground-Rent: Preliminaries.”Google Scholar
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    Marx (1909: 724) writes of this “agrarian model” as a chapter of history written in the “fire and blood” of the enclosures and “[l]ike all [of capitalism’s] other historical advances it bought these also by pauperizing the direct producers.” Robert Brenner brought about a small revolution in Marxist studies of the develop¬ment of capitalism by focusing on the importance of the “agrarian model” in Brenner (1976). For an important study of the students of rent, interest, and taxes from Petty to Smith in the light of Brenner’s work, see McNally (1988).Google Scholar
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    The problems provoked by Berkeley’s bifurcating geometric concepts into tactile and visual ideas and his identification of the objects of geometry with tactile ideas in NTV have often been criticized as not providing a solution satisfying to mathematicians For example, George Warnock in his Warnock (1953: 209) com-plains that “It seems clear that Berkeley is really committed to wreaking more havoc in geometry than he recognized.” But these criticisms do not contextualize the social and technical crisis in the practice of geo/metry Berkeley was responding to. For a discussion of Berkeley’s views on geometry see Atherton (1990: 201–7; Brook (1973: 67–76).Google Scholar
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    Berkeley’s geometric-diagram refutation of Locke’s theory of abstraction has been a favorite of commentators. For example, Pitcher (1977) does not note the self-reflexive aspect of geometric proof which the early Berkeley valued over the “proofs” in arithmetic and algebra. Pure arithmetic involved the manipulations of “denominations” and algebra involved the manipulation of “denominations of denominations” and not the “things” themselves. Hence they had a lower epistemic value.Google Scholar
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    This often happens in formal studies, where a specific interpretation of a theory is crucial. For example, in the completeness theorem for formal logic the “identical” interpretation is crucial. Also, the standard interpretation of arithmetic in the realm of whole numbers is crucial for Godel’s theorem.Google Scholar
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    The classic sociology of science application of the Weberian “spirit of capitalism” thesis is to be found in Merton (1970), especially chapter 2.Google Scholar
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    The quotations are from Boyle (1970). Seventeenth-century Mechanical Philosophy had two incompatible variants: Descartes’ identification of matter with extension and Boyle’s and Hobbes’ updated version of classical corpuscularism. Book II of Newton’s Principia includes a definitive mathematical annihilation of Descartes’ vortex theory of planetary motion and as a corollary Descartes’ mechanism. But the Principia did not valorize classical contact corpuscularism either, because gravity required the recognition of forces acting at a distance. Locke’s Essay was published in 1690, four years after the Principia, and he must have been aware of the problematic consequences of “the incomparable Mr. Newton’s” achievement.Google Scholar
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    During a period of “scientific realism” (as U.S. philosophy experienced in the post-WWII period until the energy and ecology crises of the 1970s) such a promissory note was not easily questioned. But in a mood of reflexive “scientific skepticism” we might ask why the mechanical philosophy could appear intelligible, simple, and extensive enough to be the hallmark of reality.Google Scholar
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    Exchange value is not sensuous for two reasons: (1) exchange-value arises from an open-ended set of comparisons of a commodity with other commodities, as Marx pointed out, and (2) the use-value of most commodities is temporally incompatible with their exchange-value, since it is only enjoyed after it is exchanged, as Sohn-Rethel pointed out. For Marx see Marx (1909i: ch. 1), and for Alfred Sohn-Rethel, see Sohn-Rethel (1978: 22–29).Google Scholar
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    McLellan (1977: 363–64). This theme has been developed by many feminist historians of science in more and less Marxist ways. Cf. Merchant (1990).Google Scholar
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    Metallism or Bullionism was still the “average” monetary ideology of the seventeenth century. As Eli Hecksher wrote in Hecksher (1955: 176): “There are few mercantilist writings that are not mainly preoccupied with what is usually known in English as ‘treasure,’ which was without exception synonymous with money or precious metals. ... Consideration for precious metals was the constantly recurring motive of economic legislation and administration. It also influenced, more or less openly, the three closely allied fields of foreign policy, colonial policy and voyages of discovery. In fact, the hope of discovering gold and silver mines became one of the chief driving forces in the expansion of European peoples to other parts of the world.”Google Scholar
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    The ill-fitting mathematically surveyed clothing of Laputa and the collapsing “scientifically designed” houses of Lagado were Swift’s contribution to a small but spirited literature satirizing science as reviewed by Jones (1966: 65–78). The distance between Newton’s actual science and the popular scientific image can be measured by the ratio of Newton’s unpublished, covert to his published, overt work.Google Scholar
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    In post-Kuhnian philosophy of science, this forgetting is often called a “paradigm.”Google Scholar
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    An early and prescient skeptic of this equation was, ironically, one of the founders of electronic digital computers was John von Neumann, see von Neumann (1955).Google Scholar
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    The latest round of this revival in philosophy is associated with John Searle, see Searle (1995). The work being done in the intersection of quantum mechanics and the theory of consciousness is now beginning to revive a number of Berkeleyan themes as well, see Penrose (1994).Google Scholar
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    See Pitcher (1977: 110–14).Google Scholar
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    An acute discussion of the logic of the relation between knowledge to being can be found in Anscombe (1981: 3–8).Google Scholar
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    See Hirschman (1977) for a discussion of “interests” and “self-love” in the eighteenth-century discourse on the conditions of a capitalist society.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Constantine George Caffentzis
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Southern MaineUSA

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