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August 14, 2007

Comments

Chris Bertram

Of course, she rather fluffed her lines, since she actually said "... only individuals and their families". But leaving that aside, a big problem with the reductionist view is that it won't support historical counterfactual statements about collectives, since the referent of the name for the collective will be different in different possible worlds.

tom s.

No no no Chris & Chris.

Margaret Thatcher talking about methodological individualism? I don't think so. And the big problem with her statement is nothing about historical counterfactual statements.

Thatcher was saying that privatizing industries was really giving British Gas to the people rather than the opposite. She was arguing that we are consumers and taxpayers, not citizens.

You are right that there is no connection between methodological individualism and neoliberalism, but Thatcher was a neoliberalist, not a methodological anything.

dearieme

Monopoly government ownership of the gas industry was a cretinous idea, and had been ever since the government seized the gasworks from the local authorities. And monopoly local ownership by the local authorities had been responsible for their doing everything in their power to obstruct the spread of the use of electricity because they viewed that as a competitor for their gasworks. What at stupid issue to oppose Thatcher on.

Bruce G Charlton

I always felt that the 'no such thing as society' line caused such hostility because it challenged the authority of public sector elites to justify their top-down prescriptions (in health, education, broadcasting, the arts etc.) on the basis that it was good for 'society' - without having to describe which individual people benefitted and were harmed.

Peter Horne

interesting article on this here,

http://inversions-and-deceptions.blogspot.com/2007/08/jamie-whyte-must-try-harder.html

Matt Munro

The reason it was "controversial" is that without "society" many pseudo professions in the public sector would have no basis for existence. Social workers, probation officers, state sector teachers etc, see their job as fixing "society". The moment you say that someone is unemployed/in prison/badly educated because of their own sub-optimal individual choices, the whole apparatus of the fluffy nanny state looks what it is, a waste of time and money.

Luis Enrique

Social workers, probation officers, state sector teachers etc, see their job as fixing "society".

Huh? All of these jobs can be seen as attempting to help individuals, to the benefit of other individuals. All have a perfectly sensible basis for their existence whether or not one decides there is something called society.

anyway, never mind that. I want Chris Betram to come back and explain the "big problem with the reductionist view is that it won't support historical counterfactual statements about collectives, since the referent of the name for the collective will be different in different possible worlds."

Chris Bertram

Oh, just this, that statements referring to collectives like France in sentences like "France would have been a more powerful European power in 1900 if Napoleon had won at Waterloo" become very problematic on the individualist view, because (on that view) "France" just refers to a set of particular individuals and that set is different in different possible worlds. The collective entity X, about which you might want to make comparative statements, doesn't really exist on that view. Of course, you could just bite the bullet on that, but doing so makes a lot of perfectly ordinary talk of history come out as nonsense.

Luis Enrique

Thanks Chris. Well, I ought to give that some more thought, but my initial feeling is that that's not such a problem. Firstly because in general I don't think we should be too worried when language, something that evolved to allow us to say 'pass the mammoth steaks', throws up these sorts of apparent problems, especially if the problem only becomes apparent when talking about imagined alternative worlds (language just has to function reasonably effectively, it doesn't have to be absolutely logically consistent in every application). Secondly, if you really want to say that France only refers to a set of individuals, then what's so wrong with having the word France refers to a (slightly) different set of individuals in your alternative world? After all, even in the contrary France-as-a-thing-in-itself case, the individuals in France in your alternative world would be (slightly) different too. In the France-only-as-individuals case comparative statements may be complicated by the thing you are comparing also being a (slightly) different entity as opposed to the same entity in different states (roughly speaking) but I think we could live with that and still have sentences like "France would have been a more powerful European power in 1900 if Napoleon had won at Waterloo" being as meaningful as they ever were. I don't think construing France as nothing but a set of individuals turns that sentence to nonsense.

Matt Munro

"Social workers, probation officers, state sector teachers etc, see their job as fixing "society".

"Huh? All of these jobs can be seen as attempting to help individuals, to the benefit of other individuals. All have a perfectly sensible basis for their existence whether or not one decides there is something called society".

They could, or they could be seen as trying to inculcate whole sections of populance with a particular world view. How else do you explain the screening of "an inconvenient truth" at schools, or the amount of recycling propaganda my son comes with. How will that possibly "help" a 6 year old ?
Social work training teaches that clients are victims of society, so by definition that, rather than the individual is where the problem is. And probation officers are just social workers who got there too late....

Roger Thornhill

While there are only indivuduals, the State has created a vast army of brainless moronic individuals who will do whatever they say.

One braincell, 5m pairs of hands.

Citizens do want to cooperate and form their own interactions, but under the current Sociofascist government and oppositions we also have the State determined to put itself between each citizen and the other and demand through force of law to control all interactions and outlaw or assimilate any that it cannot immediately control.

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