The Sociology of Knowledge: An Essay in Aid of a Deeper Understanding of the History of Ideas

By W. Stark | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT PROBLEM D: THE CONQUEST OF SOCIAL DETERMINATION

(a) THE PRAGMATIST APPROACH

IN the literature of the sociology of knowledge, and more especially in the Marxist contribution to it, the concept of 'false consciousness' occupies an important place. Now this catch-phrase can be given two meanings which should be kept apart, even though they are undoubtedly akin. A consciousness can be false either in the subjective or in the objective sense of the word. A state of mind may be out of harmony either with the man who entertains it, or with the reality to which it refers. In the first case, we have false pretences, in the second, factual error. The remedy must always be more realism, but in the one instance it will have to be more realism about oneself, and in the other more realism about the world before one's eyes or under one's feet.

A figure well known in capitalist and other essentially competitive societies is the little man who conducts himself as if he were a big one --the twopenny-halfpenny grocer who talks as if he were a captain of industry, the suburban woman who gives herself the airs of a society lady. Such a person will either mislead nobody, or others, or himself; if nobody at all or only other people, his consciousness will, by definition, not be false; if himself, it will be. Such cases, which correspond to the first or subjective definition of false consciousness, are by no means rare. But they are not the concern of the sociology of knowledge as defined in this book. For these falsified states of mind are wish-determined, not fact-determined. They are ideological; and for that reason they fall into the field of psychology, and possibly of psychopathology, rather than into the area of cognition properly so called. It is precisely the absence of knowledge, of acquaintance with or submission to the facts, which makes the consciousnesses involved unrealistic, delusory and false.

The phenomenon of false consciousness in the first meaning of the word is thus beyond our ken--and so too is the corresponding

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