Tag Archives: phenomenology

Inner Speech and Prejudice in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu

The term « prejudice » has two meanings in English: 1) a bias (a partiality) in the judgement, a prejudgement, 2) the harm that someone can do to someone else. One can, perhaps, feel that somewhere and somehow the two meanings are connected. When, to take only one example, Yanko Tsvetkov proposes an Atlas of Prejudice, a book in which he presents an analysis of what people in Europe generally think about other people living in other places of Europe — aka stereotypes —, he uses the term « prejudices » in both senses: i. e. the harm that people do to other people by the bias of some of their judgements [12]. However, the connection remains obscure and while it could be suspected to be only located in the structure of language, it could also have its roots in the experience itself. Where and how are these senses connected? Is it a purely grammatical connection? Or is this connection more profound located in the core of lived experience itself? These are the questions I would like to address in this paper by looking at the work of Marcel Proust in search of some interesting insight that would be dispersed here.


My approach will follow a three-step process. I will begin with 1) some preliminary considerations that will show the importance of looking at « inner speech » to understand prejudice. From there on, 2) I will look at what phenomenologists have said about inner speech. And from there, 3) I will turn to some pieces of literature, namely to the work of Marcel Proust, to explore the concrete meaning of what phenomenologists have shown and I myself will show the relevance of such a turn for the understanding of prejudice in its double aspect (bias and harm).

Inner speech and prejudice

What is « inner speech »? Broadly defined, inner speech covers all the things people say to themselves, the flow of their thought, as long as these thoughts are verbalised (expressed in some way) but not loudly pronounced (and thus inaudible). « Stream of consciousness » is an alternative term that is often used to describe that phenomenon, even though this term is generally connected to a sequence of authors in the history of literature who took interest precisely in that phenomenon (the term has been initially employed by William James in his Principles of Psychology, published in 1890,[6] but it characterizes a literary movement that, according to the novelist May Sinclair, appears with Proust: « Richardson comments that “Proust, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf… were all using ’the new method’, though very differently, simultaneously » [10]. Another term, also frequently used to designate inner speech, is « inner monologue » (it is the term used by Edouard Dujardin, for instance, when he tries to characterise the art of James Joyce, the narrative technique of which is inspired by his own Les lauriers sont coupés, initially published in 1876 [3]). All these denominations are pointing to roughly the same phenomenon, although they each have a particular accentuation. Inner speech can even possibly include forms of inner conversation (one can think here, for instance, at Dostoyevsky’s characters, speaking to themselves in a kind of fight against a part of themselves [2]).

Recently, this « theme » of inner speech (if on can speak about a « theme » assuming that it encompass a very large part of all human activity) seems to have regained an intense interest in the philosophical and psychological community. Indeed, in the year 2016 only, two books dealing with inner speech have been published. One is called The Voices Within: The history and science of how we talk to ourselves, by Charles Fernyough [4]. The book proposes a scientific and psychological approach. It is a broad review of works that have been published on the topic of inner speech. A second book, The Inner Speech and The Dialogical Self, published by Norbert Wiley, also in 2016, proposes a phenomenological approach to the phenomenon. Wiley has developed an investigation tool that allows him to access to some original data about inner speech [13].

I will follow this second kind of approach, i.e. a phenomenological approach, to first address the following question: Why is it important to look at inner speech to investigate prejudice? The answer is that comparing what people say overtly to what they say to themselves is like comparing leaves falling from a tree to the roots of the tree: for a single leave falling (let say, a single prejudice, or stereotyped thought actually expressed), one might have many a root embedded in the soil by which the prejudice has been nourished and reinforced. In other words, the prejudice takes its roots in inner speech. Inner speech is its first medium of expression, well before it goes out in overt expressions. A discrete bunch of sentences that might appear fortuitously in public speech could correspond to an abundant and robust formation in inner speech.

According to the definition we just gave, it is clear that people are experiencing inner speech almost all the time — in other terms, it is a very common experience. Noam Chomsky considered that the largest part of what we say — by far — is said to our self: « Now let us take language. What is its characteristic use? Well, probably 99.9 percent of its use is internal to the mind » [1]. If such an estimate is correct, a large part of the being-with-one-another (the occurrence that generally provoke speech acts) is going on through « inner » speech (being with one another is not restricted to the time we spend with the others in question, it extends to the time one speaks to them in inner speech; to say nothing about simple feelings). And this is where inner speech meets rhetoric.

Inner speech in the phenomenological tradition

When I talk to myself, I am — among other things — imagining the presence of others and thus imagining, for instance, what I would say or what I should have said or what I could say to some others. This is why it is not so simple to distinguish between speaking to oneself and speaking to others. Indeed, the others are constantly present in us, even though they are not physically with us.

There are two immediate and important consequences of these remarks. The first one is that, in one sense we are always speaking to others, even when we are speaking to ourselves. And the second one is that, in an other sense too, we are always speaking to ourselves, even when we are speaking to others (we are continuing a dialogue with ourselves).

This characteristic has been recognised since a long time in the phenomenological tradition. For instance, Heidegger writes in Being and Time, §29: « Rhetoric must be understood as an hermeneutic of being-with-others ». And he would add: « It is not a matter of chance that the first traditional and systematically developed interpretation of the affects is not treated in the scope of « psychology ». Aristotle investigated the « pathe » in the second book of his Rhetoric. Contrary to the traditional orientation of the concept of rhetoric according to which it is some kind of “discipline”, Aristotle’s Rhetoric must be understood as the first systematic hermeneutic of the everydayness of being-with-one-another » (En. tr. by Joan Stambaugh [5]).

Thus: when we speak — to oneself or to others, inwardly or outwardly — we are rhetorically convincing ourselves or others regarding the matter of the appropriate way to take things, to understand them, to interpret what happens. In that sense, inner speech constitutes a material that is as valuable as public speech to study the mechanic of prejudice. And it is perhaps even more valuable, since it is, so to say, the birthplace of prejudice.

The phenomenon is particularly intriguing and interesting since it is located at the very birth of each of our thoughts. And this particularity of inner speech has been recognised by Husserl, the master of Heidegger, very early. In his book Logische Untersuchungen (logical investigations), published in 1900, he would write: « one of course speaks, in a certain sense, even in soliloquy, and it is certainly possible to think of oneself as speaking, and even as speaking to oneself, as, e.g., when someone says to himself: ‘You have gone wrong, you can’t go on like that’ » (En. tr. by John N. Findlay: Logical Investigations, Investigation 1, Expression and meaning, Chapter 1, Essential distinctions, §8 Expressions in solitary life).

The piece of inner speech that is proposed by Husserl (‘You have gone wrong, you can’t go on like that.’) is quite limited for an analysis. Indeed, we have only a few words that are given as an example of what people are possibly saying to themselves and of the way they are doing it. As Husserl generally does, he is very short on the empirical examples he is giving.

The examples of inner speech that are given by Husserl are too minuscule to give rise to an analysis of its content. It is only pointing to the phenomenon but not entering into the detailed description of it. If we want to turn to a more general presentation of what is at stake in inner speech, we have to find an other way to enter into the phenomenon itself. Where could we find larger examples that could become the basis for a more thorough analysis? In other terms: the analysis we have presented gives us the methodological basis to address the question I was mentioning in the introduction (where and how the prejudice as bias becomes prejudice as harm). But we need more matter to enter into the question. Where shall we find this matter?

Proust and inner speech

I propose to enter into the problem of examples of inner speech through the work of a writer, Marcel Proust, 1871-1922. Not only because his book, A la recherche du temps perdu can been seen as a long inner speech, but also because it contains many insightful remarks about the way people are talking to themselves. There are two English translations of Marcel Proust’s novel: Remembrance of Things Past and In Search of Lost Time; the first one, by C. K. Scott Moncrieff later revised by T. Kilmartin has been initially published in 1922-1930; the second one has been published in 1992, translated by D. J. Enright. I will use the second translation [9].

The book deals, according to the author himself (as far as one considers, at least, that the narrator is not completely a stranger to the author; for a thorough distinction between the author and the narrator of In Search of Lost Time: [8]), with the general laws of human nature. In Time Regained, the last volume of the novel, Proust would write: « I was soon able to show an outline of my project. No one understood it. Even those who sympathised with my perception of the truth […] congratulated me on having discovered it with a microscope when, to the contrary, I had used a telescope to perceive things which were indeed very small because they were far away but every one of them a world. Where I was looking for universal laws I was accused of burrowing into the “infinitely insignificant”. »

Whether these sentences are those of Proust himself or of the character of the narrator, they indicates a kind of project in which the mechanism of the way a prejudice is built and maintained might receive some light. Moreover, Proust would publish the first volume of his novel before the first world war and will finish after the war. As a consequence, the book contains abundant remarks about the reasons that made the war happen. These reasons are to be found, as one will see, in prejudice itself (in the sense of partial bias) and they produce, of course, abundant prejudices (in the sense of harm).

This war, the first world war, and the one that will follow, constitute the main reason for the construction of « Europa » as a political project. Proust would not give any historical argument. What does interest him are what could be called the « phenomenological argument » about the roots of war which, according to him, are located in the prejudice that is at work.

From small facts to universal law

Proust would thus describe very subtle situations. But the goal, for him, is never to stay at the level of the quiet limited descriptions he first would give. It is always to formulate the general, and even the universal law that is revealed by subtle situations. And there, he would frequently meet the phenomenologists.

The analyses he would provide go, in one sense, further than those of phenomenologists when it turns to prejudice. The passage that I would like to comment to show this is located in The Fugitive. It consists in a long meditation on the suffering experienced by the narrator (and hero of the novel) intertwined with a meditation on art and politics.

The Fugitive is the second-from-last volume of In Search of Lost Time. It comes after the volume The Captive and before the volume Time Regained. The Captive and The Fugitive both deal with the character of Albertine, with whom the narrator is in love, which gives rise, as one can easily imagine, to an abundance of inner dialogue.

From these conversations with himself, the narrator would discover some general law of human nature. The passage on which I would like to focus deals with a minute error that Françoise, the housemaid of the hero, is making all the time. When she speaks about « Madame Sazerat » (a secondary character in the novel) she says « Madame Sazerin ». And she never corrects herself. Even after years of having heard « Sazerat », she continues to say « Sazerin ». Sazerat or Sazerin, that is the question. Here comes the passage:

« Everyone at Combray had spoken to Françoise for five-and-twenty years of Madame Sazerat and Françoise continued to say ‘Madame Sazerin’, not from that deliberate and proud perseverance in her mistakes which was habitual with her, was strengthened by our contradiction and was all that she had added of herself to the France of Saint-André-des-Champs (of the equalitarian principles of 1789 she claimed only one civic right, that of not pronouncing words as we did and of maintaining that ‘hôtel’, ‘été’ and ‘air’ were of the feminine gender), but because she really did continue to hear ‘Sazerin’.This perpetual error which is precisely ‘life’, does not bestow its thousand forms merely upon the visible and the audible universe but upon the social universe, the sentimental universe, the historical universe, and so forth. The Princesse de Luxembourg is no better than a prostitute in the eyes of the Chief Magistrate’s wife, which as it happens is of little importance ; what is slightly more important, Odette is a difficult woman to Swann, whereupon he builds up a whole romance which becomes all the more painful when he discovers his error ; what is more important still, the French are thinking only of revenge in the eyes of the Germans. We have of the universe only formless, fragmentary visions, which we complete by the association of arbitrary ideas, creative of dangerous suggestions. »


Proust if often interested, in La recherche, by the way people pronounce words and he often pays attention to the meaning of a certain kind of pronunciation that may appears somewhere in a conversation. However, most of the time, this interest is directed to a kind of demonstration which is at the opposite pole to the one we can see here in Françoise. Proust would show, for instance, that the way someone pronounces this or that word is influenced by the way someone else pronounces it. For instance, in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, the narrator changes his way of pronouncing some expressions as a result of his fascination for the Swanns family: « ‘How d’e do?” (They both pronounced it in the same clipped way, which, you may well imagine, once I was back at home, I made an incessant and delightful practice of copying.) » Here, with Françoise, it is quite the opposite: nothing could make her change the way she pronounces ‘Sazerat’.

Analysis of the example

Let us examine the example given here by Proust which is nothing less than a proposition of explanation regarding the causes of the first word war based on the mistake that Françoise refuses to correct in her language.

The (apparently) tiny example The generalisation The general (universal) law
Everyone at Combray had spoken to Françoise for five-and-twenty years of Mme. Sazerat and Françoise continued to say ‘Mme. Sazerin,’ not from that deliberate and proud perseverance in her mistakes which was habitual with her, was strengthened by our contradiction and was all that she had added of herself to the France of Saint-André-des-Champs (of the equalitarian principles of 1789 she claimed only one civic right, that of not pronouncing words as we did and of maintaining that ‘hôtel,’ ‘été’ and ‘air’ were of the feminine gender), but because she really did continue to hear ‘Sazerin.’ This perpetual error which is precisely ‘life,’ does not bestow its thousand forms merely upon the visible and the audible universe but upon the social universe, the sentimental universe, the historical universe, and so forth. [1] The Princesse de Luxembourg is no better than a prostitute in the eyes of the Chief Magistrate’s wife, which as it happens is of little importance; [2] what is slightly more important, Odette is a difficult woman to Swann, whereupon he builds up a whole romance which becomes all the more painful when he discovers his error; [3] what is more important still, the French are thinking only of revenge in the eyes of the Germans. We have of the universe only formless, fragmentary visions, which we complete by the association of arbitrary ideas, creative of dangerous suggestions.

We find three lines of arguments clearly separated. The first one concerns the example itself. The second one is the generalisation of the example. And, finally, the third one, is the expression of the universal law formulated in a way that is not without evoking what one could find, for instance, in the Sentences and Moral Maxims by François de La Rochefoucauld (1665)[7]. Thus, we can decompose the passage as follows and find the movement of the rhetorical wave that goes from Sazerat to the war.

Three situations are grouped under the same general law. First: a social situation ([1] The Princesse de Luxembourg is no better than a prostitute in the eyes of the Chief Magistrate’s wife, which as it happens is of little importance). Second: a love affair ([2] what is slightly more important, Odette is a difficult woman to Swann, whereupon he builds up a whole romance which becomes all the more painful when he discovers his error). Third: a political situation ([3] what is more important still, the French are thinking only of revenge in the eyes of the Germans). And in this last case, it is the destiny of countries that is at stake. All prejudices are commanded by a single law, it is claimed, and this law can even be revealed to a good observer who is looking at the way Françoise is pronouncing the name of Madame Sazerat. Where does all this reasoning takes place? In the inner speech of the narrator which is rendered in the novel. More interestingly, this inner speech contains some kind of reasoning that would have gone unnoticed if we had remained at the examples given by Husserl. And the reasoning leads to a remark that has a general value.

Prejudice as bias and harm

This law of the bias of human judgement, it is suggested, is observable in all judgements. It produces minute errors as well as major errors such as those that constitute the prejudices of people when it comes to the judgement of someone else. We have of the universe only fragmentary visions. Because of this primitive and universal situation, we have to complete our vision by the association of « arbitrary ideas ». And this is creative of dangerous suggestions. The necessity of unifying what we receive as partial is thus the basis of our bias in judgement as well as the dangerous consequence it can have as far as we believe in the associations that we are forced to produce.

Thus, we must, if we follow this analysis, exclude two interpretations that could have been proposed for the link between the two senses — bias and harm — of the term « prejudice ». The first one would have been to consider that the link is only located in a convention of language that would have put together, for some arbitrary reason, the notion of bias and the notion of harm together. The link is located in something else than language itself, since it appears to be connected to perception itself.

The second interpretation that we can exclude is that the connection of the three situations that have been associated by Proust (and that we just detailed, namely  social, emotional and political) are only connected by means of metaphor. In his erudite work, Proust et le roman, Jean-Yves Tadié suggests that Proust incorporates the metaphor as a complete sort of thinking and that this is one of the particularities of the novel[11]. This may be true. But it does not mean that all the occurrences in which one goes from one situation to another are obtained by means of metaphors. In this particular case, it is likely that another process is at stake, since the processes analysed are not only given as similar but also described as based on the same kind of process. It is not a metaphor that ensure the passage from social to emotional and from emotional to political, but rather a community of mechanisms at stake in the description.

One could go even farther and, returning now to Husserl, showing that the bias in judgement is present in situations which are again simpler than the apparently simple example Proust is giving (the mistake that Françoise is still making after many years in pronouncing a name). Husserl might prefer to talk about the fragmentary visions of a table, he would conclude in the same way: « constantly seeing this table and meanwhile walking around it, changing my position in space in whatever way, I have continually the consciousness of this one identical table existing ‘in person’ and remaining quiet unchanged. The table-perception, however, is a continually changing one, it is a continuity of changing perceptions. » Even a simple table is the result of a construction we elaborate from fragmentary visions, from fragmentary pieces of perception, that we can have from it, Husserl is claiming. When one turns to a person or to a country, this can be only truer.

By the same token, this shows how we should proceed to go to from the general law to the analysis of examples. It is neither by the free process of metaphorical association nor by the not-so-free process of grammatical habituation that we go from bias to harm when one follows the meaning of the term « prejudice », but rather by a very general necessity completing our visions. It is the very same law of perception. But now, following Proust, we can understand the danger associated with the law, which is not the case when one follows Husserl. Not because the two descriptions would be inconsistent with each other (as we have seen, far to be inconsistent, they are complementary). But because the law of perception as it is described by Husserl is too abstract to go into such human details as the way people pronounce words (which are, nevertheless, highly significant for human life). Thus, the reading of Proust allows to complete what is perhaps missing in phenomenological analyses but, at the same time, shows also their great value.


The law that Proust (or its narrator) could claim to have identified, while it does not explain why prejudice itself appears, shows, at least, that no thought is free of prejudice and it also shows why a prejudice can stay the same over long periods of time. When one turns to inner speech and performs meticulous descriptions, one can see the way prejudice is maintained, allowing perhaps to see where it is possible to intervene in the process and where it is not. It also allows to exclude two interpretations that could have been proposed for the link of the two senses of the term « prejudice » in English. This analysis, based on a phenomenological approach, can thus well be completed by the art of the novel as far as it shows how the universal laws beneath the surface of words and actions can emerge.


[1]   Noam Chomsky. Language and Mind. Cambridge University Press, 2006, Cambridge ; New York, 1968.

[2]   Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky. Crime and Punishment. Simon and Brown, tr. en. C. Garnett, 1956, Hollywood, FL, 1866.

[3]   Edouard Dujardin. Les lauriers sont coupés. Flammarion, 2001, Paris, 1887.

[4]   Charles Fernyhough. The Voices Within: The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves. Profile Books, London, 2017.

[5]   Martin Heidegger. Being and Time. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, tr. en. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson, 2008, New York, 1927.

[6]   William James. The Principles of Psychology. Dover Publications, 1957, New York, 1890.

[7]   François La Rochefoucauld. Maxims. Penguin Classics, 1982, London New York, 1665.

[8]   Joshua Landy. Philosophy as Fiction: Self, Deception, and Knowledge in Proust. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004.

[9]   Marcel Proust. In Search Of Lost Time. Vintage Classics, tr. en. C. K. Scott Moncrieff, T. Kilmartin, D. J. Enright, 1981, London, 1913-1927.

[10]   Dorothy Richardson and Gloria G. Fromm. Windows on Modernism: Selected Letters of Dorothy Richardson. University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA, 1995.

[11]   Jean-Yves Tadié. Proust et le roman: Essai sur les formes et techniques du roman dans «Ã la recherche du temps perdu». Gallimard, Paris, 1986.

[12]   Yanko Tsvetkov. Atlas of Prejudice: Mapping Stereotypes. Create Space Publishing, Louisville, KY, 2013.

[13]   Norbert Wiley. Inner Speech and the Dialogical Self. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 2016.

Site-specific Perception. Philosophical reflections on the impact of environment on perception

The question raised here is about the differences in perception between people due to different environmental backgrounds. The assumption is that we learn to perceive and that the environment is essential for this learning. This is discussed by taking a classical philosophical view on perception from Leibniz and Baumgarten’s aesthetics, recently revived in the concept of atmosphere, as proposed by Gernot Böhme. The conclusion points to questions of the consequences of the environment for our perception as well as to the importance of aesthetic education in training perception.

Continue reading Site-specific Perception. Philosophical reflections on the impact of environment on perception

Stephen Hastings-King, Looking for the Proletariat: Socialisme ou Barbarie and the Problem of Worker Writing (Leiden: Brill, 2014)



The book is about the history of the group from 1949 to 1967, and its aim is to present the movement “as something other than a merely sophisticated variant of revolutionary Marxism” (p. 3). Socialisme ou Barbarie is considered in its specific historical context, when communism is already declined in a political paradigm (Stalinism) and takes shape in bureaucratic structures and institutions. In the first two chapters of the book, the author shows how the Hegelian framework of Marxian writings and its abstract laws are called into question, together with their Stalinist and Trotskyist interpretations. In France, the former give birth to bureaucratization: there is a separation between dirigéants and exécutants, and hierarchies are built according to the role performed inside the PCF (the French Communist Party) or the CGT (the General Work Confederation, that is the communist trade union). The Trotskyists, on the other side, go against the Stalinist falsification of Marxian writings, but they are not revolutionary enough, since they have lost contact with their proletarian basis.

In the third chapter, Stephen Hastings-King points out how Socialisme ou Barbarie, through a historical and sociological interpretation of Marx, makes a phenomenological operation. It tries to assume the point of view of the worker and to analyse production, relations, and language from this perspective. According to what Lefort argues in ‘L’experience prolétarienne’ (1952), one can say that “only workers can know and write about their experience: revolutionary theory must be confined to analysing and interpreting what they write” (p. 108). Socialisme ou Barbarie is fundamentally an intellectual movement, which tries to redefine revolutionary theory through a new reading of Marx and his Leninist interpretation. However, every reflection will remain on an abstract and decontextualized level, if it does not refer to reality: in this case, the latter is represented by the productive life of the working class.

Giving his book the title Looking for the proletariat, Hastings-King wants to show that all the efforts of Socialisme ou Barbarie are aimed at understanding the workers, helping them to acquire class consciousness and to shape political actions. This is the reason why the movement gives prominence to worker writing. The fifth chapter of the book shows how the group, through the newspaper Tribune Ouvrière, tries to give a voice to the collective at the factory of Renault Billancourt, whose political context is clearly defined in the fourth chapter. Hastings-King points out similarities and differences with another worker newspaper, the Detroit-based Correspondence project. After that, the author writes about Tribune Ouvrière and the role that Socialisme ou Barbarie plays in the process of its production, printing, and distribution.

In the sixth chapter, the identity of Daniel Mothé is analysed. His true name is Jacques Gautrat and he works at Renault Billancourt. His experience as a métallo and his revolutionary ideas lead him to write several articles, all of them published in the Socialisme ou Barbarie review. His literary identity is very interesting from a phenomenological perspective, since each “version of Mothé is hyletic: a view from a particular position. Each position is shaped by a certain number of directional social relations. […] The most important of the predicates, the one on which the others rely, that organises and enables them to exist, is the narrative function” (p. 249). Mothé reflects on Gautrat’s experience through the lens of Marxism in its Socialisme ou Barbarie’s interpretation. Sometimes it is not clear if Mothé or Gautrat is speaking, but it does not matter: the idea of a “natural” or “ingenuous” way of writing, supported by the Correspondence group, is rejected by Socialisme ou Barbarie. Every text is a product of self-reflection and self-consciousness.

Mothe’s ‘Journal d’un ouvrier’ is very important to understand how Marxist ideas are experienced by the proletariat: it shows the impact of Fordism on the rhythm and condition of workers, the conflict between the latter and the trade union, which is manipulated by the Communist Party, the attempt to act through independent collectives. The language spoken by the Party has no meaning for the proletariat and sometimes it is used to justify anti-revolutionary actions. According to Mothé and Socialisme ou Barbarie, the only way to save Marxism is to take the point of view of the worker, to support direct-democratic collectives, and to help proletariat in organising its future political actions.

Stephen Hastings-Kings is very precise and punctual in describing the life of the movement, through continuous references to their historical, social, and political context, and an efficient use of their written sources. There are also a bibliography and a clear index, helping the reader to find his way through the book. This work is theoretically well supported by references to Marx and Marxism, and to pivotal authors in phenomenology, especially Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. One should also give credit to Hastings-King for the smoothness of his language.

Responsibility and Capitalism. A Phenomenological Way to Approach the Economic Crisis

1. Capitalism as the economic expression of onto-theology


It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages[2].


The words of Adam Smith, originally used to justify liberalist economy, presently sound like an act of accusation. Classic capitalism encourages pure egotism, relying on an ‘invisible hand’[3], which should promote the public interest together with the individual one. However, the hand of the market is not invisible, is pitiless. Capitalism in nothing but a pursuit of money, of more and more money. Then, as time goes by, wealth accrues in the hands of fewer and fewer people[4]. Marx already predicted the concentration of capital as a necessary consequence of free competition. However, he could not predict the birth of financial capitalism. Neo-liberalism spread over Western countries, leading to financialization, that is ‘the increasing role of financial motives, financial markets, financial actors and financial institutions in the operation of the domestic and international economies’[5].



While classic capitalism links money to production, financial capitalism is based on uncertainty[6]. Money increases or decreases according to the Stock Exchange prices. Since they are unpredictable, people could gain or lose fortunes in a day: a risky investment is nothing but gambling. In this way, the concentration of capital in a few hands comes faster. Those who are not successful go broke and damage other people: bankers and brokers lose the money of whole companies and families, shopkeepers and businessmen close their activities and dismiss people who work for them. There are not only employers and workers who pay the price, but also small capitalists. Unemployment increases and consumes decrease. In this way, even production decreases and the system itself collapses.


This is a devastating situation, depending not so much on the structure of the system, as on its moving principle. Capitalism, in its classic definition, should stimulate production and consuming, appealing to individual interest. But the course of egotism is one-way: it aims to individual affluence, regardless of its impact on the others.


Capitalist economic systems are characterized by the private ownership of property and the consensual exchange of goods and services in a free market.[7]


According to this recent definition, common both to classic and financial capitalism, egotism reveals to be their driving force. The expression ‘private ownership’ refers to individual possession and power, while ‘free market’ indicates liberty of action.


Philosophically speaking, capitalism is nothing but the economic expression of onto-theology. Exactly like the Ego of Western philosophy[8], it is regardless of the Other. The theoretical I subjects everything to its structures and the practical I cares only about its freedom. In the economic case, the Ego subdues the Other to the main category of capitalism, that is profit. The practical consequence of this philosophical statement is that an indiscriminate pursuit of money causes the exploitation of environment, animals and people. The Ego prevails on the Other, but would be powerless without Him. Profit has to be made at the expense of somebody, who cannot be too weak, otherwise he will die or become a slave. The free market disappears without a certain balance: money can circulate only among people who produce, work, and consume. This is why, if the Ego takes too much power, then will lose everything.


The current economic crisis could be seen as a critical moment when, philosophically speaking, the I is capable of annihilating the Other. The next step would be the following: a few people with a high concentration of money, laying down the law to the majority and spoiling the environment of its resources.


There are two solutions to avoid this disaster: the first is destroying capitalism and adopting another economic model, communism for instance; the second is putting limits to capitalism itself. The former corresponds, in philosophy, to the annihilation of both the I and the Other, and to the birth of an anonymous subject; the latter would be the introduction of a different relation between identity and alterity, that is responsibility. If neglecting ethics is destroying capitalism, adopting ethics will save it.



2. A general lack of ethics


The present economic crisis is the symptom of a disease. Capitalism could be seen as a living organism, whose childhood, adolescence and youth were quite healthy. Some temporary illnesses, as the crisis of 1929 and the post-war situation, did not destroy it. Capitalism is, at the moment, in its maturity. After a fast and flourishing growth, it took a definite shape: at the top there are the investors (individuals, private and public institutions), who finance with their money the whole system; they fund producers and providers of services, who distribute their products and services through mediators and sellers; in order to produce, sell and put in operation, a great amount of manpower (workers and employees) is necessary; at the end, there are the consumers, who buy products and services. Every element of capitalism has to work correctly, like the organs in a living system. If one of them has problems, it affects the other elements and the system collapses.


Capitalism is presently affected by a disease and is in great danger. The most acute stage passed away, but the organism is not regaining its health. First of all, it is necessary to identify the illness and the affected parts of the organism. Fortunately, the diagnosis is not difficult: the crisis started from financial institutions and companies (Lehman Brothers and Bernard Madoff Investment Securities, for instance). Their collapse created a sudden lack of money and damaged producers, providers and money savers in general. In this way, there were indirectly affected also mediators, sellers, workers and employees, who saw their revenues decreasing or vanishing. And, since every member of the system is a consumer, products and services were bought to a lesser extent. The crisis of consumption caused, on the other hand, a new crisis of production and service-providing[9]. It is a vicious circle generating a gap between the majority of people, who progressively lose their wealth, and a few people, who hold money and power. This gap already exists, but is becoming greater and greater.


The crisis is due, primarily, to the heads of financial capitalism, but it would be a mistake to blame only them. There are also other people who are responsible in a similar way, people who hold a great amount of money and power: executives and owners of national and multinational companies, big traders and mediators. In Italy it happened, for instance, that Calisto Tanzi, President of the food company Parmalat, was guilty of bankruptcy fraud and criminal association. His immoral policy, nourished by the connivance of some politicians and bankers, led to the ruin of a great number of investors. The bankruptcy happened in 2003, four years before the collapse of the subprime mortgage market in the United States. Then the current crisis came, as a product of a diffused malpractice. When powerful people do not behave in a responsible way, they create a great damage to society. The crisis is not the disease of capitalism, but a serious symptom of it: the disease is what produced the crisis itself, that is a general lack of ethics.


Before giving a definition of what ‘lack of ethics’ means, it is necessary to define ethics itself. Capitalism is seen, in this paper, as the economic expression of the Ego of onto-theology. According to Levinas, the guiding principles of the Western I are intentionality and freedom: the former is a grasp of what is external to the subject; the latter is the ability to act through free will. Levinas takes position against Husserl, the father of phenomenology and of conscience as intentionality[10]. Even if his criticism could be considered exaggerated (Husserl had no intention to theorize a ‘tyrannical subject’[11]), the author of ‘Totality and Infinity’ is extraordinary in delineating ethics.


Morality is not added to the preoccupations of the I, so as to order them or to have them judged; it calls in question, and puts at a distance from itself, the I itself […]. The “vision” of the face as face is a certain mode of sojourning in a home, or […] a certain form of economic life. No human or interhuman relationship can be enacted outside of economy; no face can be approached with empty hands and closed home. Recollection in a home open to the Other –hospitality – is the concrete and initial fact of human recollection and separation[12].


Levinas points out the ‘separation’ between the Ego and the Other: the latter is not an alter-ego, another subject, but someone radically different. The other person is irreducible to the Ego. Notwithstanding this separation, there is an original relation between them: the subject approaches the other person in a particular ‘economic’ way. Since ‘economy’ means ‘management of a household’ (from the Greek words oikos, ‘house’, and nomos, ‘law’ or ‘rule’), every relation with something or somebody has to do with interiority. While the objects are included in the domestic dimension of the subject (as nourishment, tools or furniture), the other person cannot be grasped. The interhuman relationship is hospitality, is opening one own’s doors to the other.


According to Levinas, ethics is not only reception, but also responsibility. The identity of the subject is orientated to the alterity of the other, ‘without a prior commitment’[13]. Responsibility precedes freedom, it is independent from every choice. One is responsible of the other ‘despite oneself’[14], thus nobody can avoid responsibility.


From the economic point of view, it is a very important principle: it is not based on what one ‘chooses’ to do, but on what one ‘is’. Applying Levinas’ statements to capitalism, one could say the following: if one ‘is’ richer and more powerful, then one ‘will be’ more responsible, despite one’s choices. It does not mean that freedom is not important, but that responsibility founds freedom. Responsibility is the moving principle of ethics, while freedom is what makes it concrete. Behaviour depends on free will, which acts ‘according to’ or ‘against’ responsibility. This is the reason why a single action or a whole behaviour is responsible or irresponsible. Shortly, if ethics is based on responsibility, then moral activity will be responsible and immoral activity irresponsible.


Adapting Levinas’ phenomenology to economic analysis, one could state the following: intentionality and freedom exactly correspond to the ‘private ownership’ and ‘free market’ of capitalism. They are based on egotism and on an instrumental relation to the other. If egotism coincides, in capitalism, with obtaining profit, the other will be seen as a mean to make money. This relation to the other is absolutely unethical. Ethics, instead, is moved by responsibility and sees the other as the main addressee of action.


However, Levinas’ thought is too radical to be concretely applied: according to him, the subject should give itself unconditionally, because it is guilty from time immemorial[15]. Levinas’ ethics is oriented to non-reciprocity and, economically speaking, it is inapplicable. In order to move the market, a balance between one’s needs and the others’ needs is necessary. It would be better, in this case, to follow Ricoeur’s reciprocal ethics: one should see ‘oneself as another’, that is an intimate implication of otherness in identity[16]. Ethics requires both an original relation to the other (Levinas) and a practical bi-directional attitude (Ricoeur).  


The Golden Rule and the imperative of the respect owed to persons do not simply have the same field of exercise, they also have the same aim: to establish reciprocity wherever there is a lack of reciprocity[17].


The keyword is ‘respect’: respect of every person as the aim of morality, respect of oneself and the other in the same amount (it recalls the Christian principle ‘love your neighbour as yourself’[18]). ‘Reciprocal’ does not mean ‘claiming something in exchange’, since the logic of ‘exchange’ is based on egotism. Reciprocity is seen as a bi-directional respect, towards oneself and towards the other.


At this point, if ethical behaviour is respectful, unethical behaviour will be disrespectful. Unethical behaviour could be defined as a certain number of actions, fulfilling one’s aims and directly damaging (or putting in danger) the other. ‘Directly’ means that there could also be indirect consequences of one’s own action, not imputable to the agent. Unethical behaviour means betraying one’s responsibility towards the other. Phenomenology usually considers the other as ‘the other person’, but human actions do not effect only people. The other could be a human being, as well as an animal or the environment. They cannot do anything ‘in exchange’, but it does not matter, since reciprocity, in this case, does not involve exchange.


A concrete example of what unethical behaviour means is given by various bankers in the United States and United Kingdom. During the economic crisis, they violated ethics in this way: through ‘deception’ and ‘half truths given to authorities’ (lying), ‘violation of securities legislation’ and ‘allegations of fraud’, ‘misleading balance sheets’, promoting an ‘excessive bonus culture’, ‘ignoring internal corporate risk controls’, ‘conflict of interest’, ‘undue short-terminism’, ‘excessive risk-taking’, ‘callousness towards impoverished home owners’, ‘over-concentration of economic power by large banks’[19].


These actions are directly imputable to bankers, who violated both ethics and law. In this way, they caused a great damage to society, especially when financial institutions collapsed. Having an over-concentration of economic power gave an enormous amount of responsibility to the bankers, who used it, paradoxically, to escape responsibility itself.


Marx thought that the crisis of capitalism depended on over-production and concentration of money in a few hands[20]. The evolution of capitalism through financialization, together with globalization, changed the economic situation. The current crisis is not due to over-production, but to an indiscriminate pursuit of money. Capitalism is in danger not for its dialectical movement, but for a lack of ethics. The moving principle of ethics is responsibility, so ‘lack of ethics’ means ‘violation of responsibility’. Moreover, everyone is responsible of oneself and other people, and more power means more responsibility. For this reason, a lack of ethics is worst in powerful people than in common ones, because the consequences are more serious. An ethical revolution is then necessary and has to involve, primarily, the higher levels of the economic system.



3. A Phenomenological perspective on ethical revolution


An ethical revolution could be considered from several points of view. In this paper, a phenomenological perspective is adopted. ‘Phenomenology’ is here considered as an equivalent of ‘egology’: everything is considered, perceived, and felt ‘in first person’, from the point of view of the subject. On the ethical side, it has some interesting consequences. First of all, phenomenology claims an original responsibility towards the other.


The knot tied in subjectivity, which when subjectivity becomes a consciousness of being is still attested to in questioning, signifies an allegiance of the same to the other, imposed before any exhibition of the other, preliminary to all consciousness […]. This allegiance will be described as responsibility of the same for the other, as a response to his proximity before any question[21].


Ethics does not ‘proceed’ from consciousness, but ‘precedes’ it. The human subject has a moral character, so that he cannot avoid responsibility. The latter is part of his ontological (Levinas writes ‘pre-ontological’[22]) constitution. The subject is introduced, from its birth, in a relational world. When it lives distant from people, it is related with animals and nature. Loneliness is nothing but an abstraction. Using Sartre’s words, ‘the fact of the other is incontestable and touches me to the heart’[23]. Human beings are then relational (not only social) beings. The way in which they interact is based on responsibility. From the economic point of view, it is very important, because it implies the following: no one can avoid responsibility towards the other. An economic subject is responsible of the strategy chosen, of its application, and of its consequences. Violating responsibility implies paying for one’s own mistakes.


A second consequence of a phenomenological perspective is the singularity of both the ego and the other. Every subject has a common core[24], typical of human knowledge, perception, and feeling, but a concrete ego is absolutely unique. Moreover, it relates to an other who is absolutely unique as well.


Reason presupposes these singularities or particularities, not as individuals open to conceptualization, or divesting themselves of their particularity so as to find themselves to be identical, but precisely as interlocutors, irreplaceable beings, unique in their genus, faces[25].


Ethics refers to singular beings, either subjects and addressees. Every ego is different and relates to a different other. From the ethical point of view, no one can be replaced in assuming responsibility. Every person, here and now, is called to an original relation to the other. This relation does not consist in universal principles, belonging to universal subjects, and applied to universal addressees. Phenomenology does not theorize either norms, or rules. It does not matter ‘what’ the subject does (‘this act’, ‘that act’), but ‘how’ it does it (‘respecting’ or ‘not respecting’ the other). An ethical behaviour is that which follows one’s original responsibility towards one’s concrete neighbour.


In capitalism, it means that every single member of the system (executive, trader, worker, employee, customer) is not responsible for what the others do, but for what he or she does. The amount of responsibility is greater according to the amount of money and power one has. If, for instance, an employee behaves in a bad way towards a customer, he or she will have to pay for his or her single action. If an executive adopts an irresponsible strategy, he or she will have to pay not only for the action, but also for all that follows. In the case of people with great power, a single mistake has many consequences and involves many people.


Thirdly, phenomenology avoids two kinds of danger: anonymity and alienation. The uniqueness of both the ego and the other preserves them from the tyranny of universality. From the philosophical point of view, the singular avoids a subordination to the Same (or Being, or Spirit)[26]. In economy, it gets away from Hegel’s ethical State and Marx’s socialism. The difference between the former and the latter is that Idealism maintains private property, while communism abolishes it. In both cases, the ‘good’ of individuals is established by State institutions, which manipulate everything, from the economy to private life[27]. Equality is guaranteed, but at the price of making individuals anonymous beings.


Phenomenology also helps against alienation. In this case, it is better to adopt Ricoeur’s version: the thought of Husserl is inclined to alienate the other (‘all that which holds for myself holds, as I know, for all other human beings’[28]), while Levinas risks to alienate the subject (‘the-one-for-the-other goes to the extent of the-one-being-hostage-for-the-other[29]). According to Ricoeur, oneself is seen as another, implying respect on both sides.


This ethical principle is necessary to heal the plague of capitalism, that is the alienation of a part of the system. Marx thinks that there are only two classes, oppressors and oppressed. The former are capitalists, the latter proletarians. Workers are alienated by owners of companies, who make profit with the exploitation of proletarian labour[30]. However, financial capitalism is characterized by a more complex structure. Alienation usually concerns the parts of the system who own less money: workers, employees and small businessmen, for instance. Phenomenology leads, in its ethical and reciprocal form, to a balance between stronger and weaker members of the system.


Ethical capitalism, that is capitalism passing through ethical revolution, is a third way between communism and classic/financial capitalism. The former reduces all subjects to anonymity, the latter is a source of alienation. Phenomenology theorizes uniqueness (Levinas) and reciprocity (Ricoeur) between the ego and the other.


Fourthly, a phenomenological perspective warns against a pseudo-ethical behaviour. ‘Being ethical’ does not mean ‘having an ethical coat’. There are companies who put ‘something ethical’ in their product or in their policy, in order to attract investor, partners or customers. For example, an enterprise produces part of its eggs, breeding hens in open air. In this way, it attracts people who are sensitive to the living condition of animals. These customers will pay a higher price to buy this kind of eggs. However, there are also people who are content if hens are not in cages, even if they are bred indoor. And there are customers who do not care about animal conditions, but only about price. The latter will buy eggs produced by hens bred in batteries. This is exactly the case of the Italian company AIA:[31] its executives understood that better conditions for animals attract more customers. But the company is not moved by ethical reasons, otherwise it would limit the whole production to free-range eggs. Companies like AIA purely act for profit.


If the purpose of a behaviour is other than ethical, such a behaviour will be not really ethical. However, a moral appearance is useful to make money: being good pays. An ethical film enhances profit, even if the substance is unethical. First of all, not all the people are sensitive to moral behaviour, because most of them rather prefer to avoid an immoral behaviour. Secondly, they pay willingly an higher price up to a certain threshold (30%, 50% of sustainable production, for instance). This threshold is not clearly determinable and is different case by case.[32] This is why companies do something ethical, as much as it does not hinder profit.


Phenomenology rejects such a kind of behaviour. ‘Being ethical’ means ‘acting responsibly’. When a company follows a moral conduct, it does not limit itself to some good actions. Ethics is neither charitable, nor instrumental. An ethical producer of eggs, for instance, breeds chicken in open air, provides them with healthy food, leaves them space enough to live comfortably, heals them when they are sick, avoids to raise too many hens if good conditions cannot be guaranteed. This kind of behaviour is ethical because it respects both customers and animals: it provides buyers with eggs of the best quality and, at the same time, allows chicken to have a good life. This kind of behaviour is, philosophically speaking, oriented towards the other.


If moral behaviour is, on the contrary, money-oriented, it will not be moral at all. Since current capitalism aims to profit, it meets ethics only by accident. Ethics is usually a limitation to profit: the “obsessive materialism which capitalist economy promote is one of the weaknesses of capitalism when it is considered from an ethical point of view”[33]. An ethical behaviour is not necessarily ascetical and includes material goods and pleasures: in order to avoid alienation, the ego has to preserve itself. Capitalism does not purely promote self-preservation, but an indiscriminate pursuit of materialism. As the economic expression of onto-theology, capitalism is ruled by egotism.


Phenomenology goes beyond the tyranny of the Same, of the universal subject, of indiscriminate property and freedom. Stating the importance of ethics, of original responsibility, of uniqueness, phenomenology does not destroy the subject, but makes it ‘singular’. Definitely, it has to renounce to its tyrannical power, but not to itself. What is here suggested is not to alienate the ego in behalf of the other. Building one’s own identity is necessary to self-preservation and, moreover, to have ‘something to give’. If the subject is alienated, it cannot offer anything to the other. Ethics should not imply a fission of one’s identity[34], but an equilibrated inclination to giving.


The economic consequence of such a perspective is not the end of capitalism. If capitalism is based on egotism and egotism is ‘partially’ preserved by phenomenology, then capitalism will be ‘partially’ preserved by phenomenology. Phenomenology does not accept capitalism in its current form, because it is ‘wholly’ based on egotism, that is indiscriminate freedom and property. However, it accepts a different form of capitalism, which is only ‘partially’ ruled by egotism. This new kind of system is called ‘ethical capitalism’ and is based on respectful freedom and property.


Defining what is and what is not ‘respectful’ is the most difficult task to accomplish, due to the open character of phenomenology. Phenomenology is not a normative system, but a perspective. For this reason, it does not suggest a precise behaviour, but a different way to approach the world. Classic and financial capitalism are based on individual interest; ethical capitalism is based on responsibility. One’s freedom and property are not destroyed or ‘limited’ by the other’s freedom and property. One’s freedom and property is directed both to self-preservation and preservation of the other, that is the environment and its inhabitants. Ethical capitalism is not self-oriented, but other-oriented: it is directed both to the other and to the self as another. Responsibility is opposed to alienation, because it is bi-directional. This is why a responsible behaviour, on large scale, could save capitalism from its gaps and from its ruin.


[1] Cf. Hein, E., The Macroeconomics of Finance-dominated Capitalism and its Crisis, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2012, p. 1.

[2] Smith, A., The Glasgow edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith, vol. 2a, edited by R.H. Cambell and A.S. Skinner, Oxford: Claredon Press, 1976, pp. 26–7.

[3] Cf. ibid.,  p. 456.

[4] ‘It is concentration of capitals already formed, destruction of their individual independence, expropriation of capitalist by capitalist, transformation of many small into few large capitals’ (Marx, K., Capital [Cap.], Volume 1, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1954, p. 586).

[5] Epstein, G. A., ‘Introduction: Financialization and the World Economy’, in Epstein, G. A. (ed.), Financialization and the World Economy, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2005, p. 3.

[6] In 1938, George Edwards already individuated finance as an element of instability: the current form of capitalism converts real equity in financial one. Edwards was even afraid of a conspiracy by financial institutions. See Edwards, G. W., The Evolution of Finance Capitalism, London: Longmans Green, 1938.

[7] Bishop, J. D., ‘Ethics and Capitalism. A Guide to the Issues’, in Bishop, J. D. (ed.), Ethics and Capitalism, University of Toronto Press Incorporated: Toronto-Buffalo-London, 2000, p. 4.

[8] ‘Ontology as first philosophy is a philosophy of power’ (Levinas E., Totality and Infinity: an Essay on Exteriority [TI], Duquesne: Pittsburgh, 1969, p. 9).

[9] For a specific description of this mechanisms, see Hein 2012.

[10] Levinas criticizes the thought of Husserl in several writings. Cf., for example, TI, pp. 109-110, 121-126; Id., Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence [OB], Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1981, pp. 8, 33, 63-66; Id., Discovering Essence With Husserl, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1998, pp. 74-75, 124-126, 176-177.

[11] Husserl considers the Other as an Ego-subject, but neither identical, nor subject to the Ego. ‘Each has its place from which he sees the physical things present; and, accordingly, each has different physical-things appearances. Also, for each of the fields of actual perception, actual memory, etc., are different, leaving aside the fact that intersubjectively common objects of consciousness in those field are intended to as to having different modes, different manners of apprehension, different degrees of clarity, and so forth’ (Husserl, E., Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, First Book  [Ideas I], The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982, pp. 55-56).

[12] TI, p. 172.

[13] OB, p. 153.

[14] Ibid., pp. 51, 54-56, 74.

[15] Ibid., pp. 26, 51, 87.

[16] Cf. Ricoeur, P., Oneself as Another, University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1992, p. 3.

[17] Ibid., p. 225.

[18] Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27.

[19] Thomas, R., ‘Ethics – or the Lack of Ethis – in the Global Financial Crisis 2007-2010’, in Rosamund M. Thomas (ed.), Business Ethics, Cambridge: Ethics International Press, 2011, p. 75.

[20] Cf. Cap., p. 587.

[21] OB, pp. 25-26.

[22] Ibid., pp. 43-44, 78.

[23] Sartre, J.-P-, Being and Nothingness. An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, New York: Philosophical Library, 1956, p. 367. Even if Sartre is better known as an existentialist, Being and Nothingness can be considered as a phenomenological masterwork. Anyway, the constitutive inter-subjectivity of human beings was first stated by Heidegger, according to which ‘being-in-the-world’ (in-der-Welt-sein) is also ‘being-with’ (Mit-sein). Cf. Heidegger, M., Being and Time, State University of New York Press: Albany, 1996, p. 112.

[24] The phenomenological epoché, theorized by Husserl, searches for a pure consciousness, abstracting from the concrete Ego-subjects. ‘It therefore remains as the “phenomenological residuum,” as a region of being which is of essential necessity quite unique and which can indeed become the field of a science of a novel kind: phenomenology’ (Ideas I, pp. 65-66).

[25] TI, p. 252.

[26] Cf. TI, pp. 46-47, 143, 269-271.

[27] Cf. Hegel, G. W. F., Elements of the Philosophy of Right, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, §§ 257-258; Marx, K.- Engels, F., The Communist Manifesto [Manifesto], New York: Russell and Russell, 1963, Chap. 2. According to Hegel, the State is the reality of reason and will, which coincides with individual freedom. According to Marx, communism implies centralization of credit, means of communication, production and education in the hands of the State. Both authors theorize, in order to guarantee equality, a strong Statism.

[28] Ideas I, p. 55.

[29] OB, p. 141.

[30] Cf. Manifesto, pp. 25-26; Marx, K., Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, New York: International Publishers, 1964, pp. 108-111.

[31] Products numbered B5110, for instance, come from hens farming to barn, while B5114 are free-range eggs. The other products come from hens bred in batteries. This is why, in 2001, AIA was condemned by the Italian Antitrust. The company showed on its egg-packages images of hens eating on lawns and the proposition ‘uova fresche allevate a terra’ (‘fresh eggs bred ashore’). It could led customers to think that they were free-range eggs, while hens were crowded into big barns (intensive livestock farming).

[32] Cf. Trudel, R.- Cotte, J., ‘Does It Pay To Be Good?’, MIT Sloan Management Review, vol. 50, 2, 2009, pp. 66-68.

[33] Groarke, L., ‘Can Capitalism Save Itself? Some Ruminations on the Fate of Capitalism’, in Bishop 2000, p. 204.

[34] Cf. OB, pp. 49, 104, 141, 180, 185. 


Sean Leneghan, The Varieties of Ecstasy Experience: An Exploration of Person, Mind and Body in Sydney’s Club Culture (Saarbrücken: Lambert Academic Publishing, 2011)

Lambert Academic Publishing (LAP) is a subsidiary of VDM Verlag, a German publisher with an opaque relation to Amazon.  I periodically look up my own dissertation topic on Google Books, and a few years ago one search in particular returned twice the number of titles than I had previously ever received.  I found that the new titles were Wikipedia articles “published” by an imprint of VDM; VDM will send you a copy of Wikipedia entries in print for a fee.  There is nothing illegal about this, but it is perplexing.  When doing literature reviews, naïve researchers will order from VDM to be thorough, not realizing that the “books” are available for free online and may be of negligible academic worth.  VDM specializes in cannibalizing the academic publishing process, and LAP is a manifestation of a strategy intended to exploit a weakness of this process.


LAP will send a recent B.A., M.A. or Ph.D. recipient an email saying that the company is interested in publishing his or her work, a dream come true for a novice academic.  The resulting “book” is published on-demand, meaning that a copy is created and shipped only on request.  LAP receives the publishing rights to the book without the upfront costs, and the aspiring academic, presumably on the job market or looking at graduate school, gets a precious book publication line on his or her C.V.  If someone orders the book—and the fact that the title gets an ISBN and will therefore appear in literature review searches ensures that there will be at least a few orders—LAP prints a copy and collects a fee, and the author gets a royalty cheque.  Everyone is happy.  The problem is that LAP neither reviews nor edits its titles, and publishes regardless of quality.  The result is that the assurances that once came with publication collapse, and the academic book market becomes flooded with all sorts of texts.  Apart from it being an integral part of an academic’s résumé, publishing could become meaningless.


LAP, VDM and publishers with similar business models defend themselves by saying that they provide a valuable archiving service.  Wikipedia articles are fluid things, which are thermometers of the contemporary understanding of a topic.  If a researcher wants to know what was thought about a topic, let’s say George W. Bush, at a particular time, let’s say between 911 and the invasion of Iraq, then VDM’s articles would be useful.  And with LAP, their titles have been approved by thesis advisory committees, which were ostensibly to have ensured that the work constituted a genuine contribution to an academic field and that the writing met high standards.  LAP saves these contributions from being lost forever.  If the thesis is not worth publishing, then why was it approved?     


While LAP offers a clever dare to academia (admit that you pass garbage, and we’ll admit that we publish it), and while what they do is legal, their business model is questionable.  At bottom they are vanity press looking to profit by taking advantage of the naïve and desperate. 


The reason I looked at LAP while preparing to review of The Varieties of Ecstasy Experience is that my initial reaction to the book was concern that it was able to earn its author a doctorate, let alone to be published by an “academic” press. 


The methodological claim of the author is that those who reduce ecstasy to a chemical and the effects it has on the brain miss an essential aspect of the drug, which is the experience of those who use it.  The experience is an intentional object constituted by a group, so only interviews with a variety of users could convey a sense of the drug’s meaning.  Unfortunately, this is where methodology ends. 


The interviews are almost exclusively conducted with the author’s fellow graduate students and friends, and rather than a rigorous account of the ecstasy experience, what is given is weekend partying stories loosely organized into a narrative running from entry to the rave scene to exit owing to boredom.  On the back sleeve, this is called a “processual morphology.”  The conclusion is that ecstasy use in Sydney, Australia is about “narcissistic hedonism” (215).  In other words, the author and his mates went to raves and got “fucked” (a definition of “fucked” is kindly provided in the book’s glossary) on ecstasy on weekends to get their rocks off.  Eventually they became bored with it and stopped.  Here’s an excerpt to give a sense of the typical interview:


 I know that when the feeling does come on, it is an instant reaction; like if anyone has ever spewed off pills, like you don’t go “Oh, I think I’m going to spewarrr…”-it just comes out. Pills are more like projectile vomit.  It’s like ARRRGRR.  A tiny little bit of spew as well, it’s frothy and disgusting.  Like I always plan for it and I never ever, spew on fucking anyone or, or I don’t spew in fucking sinks, or on the dance floor. (126) [I checked and   there are no glossary entries for “spewarrr” and “ARRRGRR”.]


It’s true that there is more to drug use than chemical effects on brains and that a serious phenomenological study of the ecstasy experience is needed, but I recommend sticking with physicalist accounts if you’re after an understanding of ecstasy use, rather than pay $112 for 200 pages of that.  Frankly, no amount of phenomenology jargon could make the six-degrees-of-separation association made by Leneghan with his work and Husserl’s (31) anything but delusional. 


The backdoor to a Ph.D. is wide-open somewhere in Sydney, which is an unfortunate situation that “innovative” publishing companies like LAP now exist to exploit.